Turning up the heat – the basic model

by admin

In my first book excerpt, I described the idea behind the heat model. Here’s the model itself.

In the “turning up the heat” model, we differentiate between 5 different levels of heat: burning, cooking, cooling, congealing, and solidifying. It takes effort and energy to maintain any level of heat. The dissipation of heat in teams can be thought of as ‘social entropy’.  The natural forces of entropy as described in the Second Law of Thermodynamics apply as much to social organizations and interpersonal relationships as they do to molecules or galaxies.

Why do teams, even ones that are experiencing problems, not want to change? My thesis is that most of the time people and teams are in stasis and so resistant to change. To make change occur we have to raise the heat just enough people no longer feel comfortable in their current environment. I believe that when we see teams that stop doing TDD or other practices that it’s often because the heat has been turned off. Working in a rigorous fashion I recommend that we only make one change at a time in response to problems we want to improve. This allows us time to observe the system for retrospective coherence and adapt accordingly. It also reflects the fact that changes happen with a delay, and helps us to avoid over-correction (see Dörner’s example, later in this chapter).

The use of heat has analogy in cooking – most people on turn heat on or off but as coaches we need to understand the five levels. To connect the analogy:

Burning – food tastes burnt, teams fall apart.
Cooking – flavours in food are well integrated, teams adapt to new ideas
Cooling – bacteria grows in food, teams stagnate and start to stop using tools
Congealing – teams are starting to lose their flexibility and lock in their habits
Solid/Frozen – bureaucracy has set in, there are forms to fill out and sign offs

A coach needs to recognise the characteristics of a team in each of the stages. Most often, a team will be moving between levels, unless they’ve got to the state of complete burnout or complete stasis.

In the next book excerpt, we’ll look at the individual levels in more detail. It’s challenging for me to explain them, and I find that they’re most easily defined by example.