image Many of you will be familiar with our popular series of blog posts and White Paper on the Data Zoo which explores a number of generic behaviours people exhibit towards data.

This post explores the effects on data behaviours when people are put into different teams (cages).

The various data behaviours explored in the Data Zoo (such as the Data Squirrel, Data Anarchist and Data Evangelist) typically have a range of positive and negative aspects. However, some, such as the Not Bovvered actually have no positive attributes!

We have suggested that you try to put people in teams where the positive aspects of these data behaviours are an asset to the work of the team and that you should try to discourage the negative aspects.

Sounds reasonably simple, so what might actually happen?

Most individuals work as part of one or more teams which can be formal hierarchical teams, project based teams or virtual teams in a matrix management situation.

The nature of a team can vary greatly from groups of similarly skilled employees undertaking similar tasks (such as call centre operations) to groups where the specialist skills of each member is required to accomplish an overall goal (for example, a team in an operating theatre). Data is typically a key input and output of such team activities.

Social identity theory suggests that people have an innate need to feel that they belong to a group. This desire to fit in with the norms of a group means that individuals will tend to adopt the attitudes, behaviours and practices of the group. Individual group members who are not seen to conform to these practices may be ostracised or suffer informal sanctions from other group members. So therefore, the positive aspects of someone’s data behaviours may become suppressed.

By being part of a team, a person may become deindividualised if they perceive that it is harder to identify their actions and work outputs which can result in lower levels of productivity and compliance. Therefore, the negative aspects of their data behaviours are believed to be less serious.

Being a member of a successful team can increase an individual’s motivation and performance. However, if the general behaviour and attitudes of a team are poor, then moving an individual who has good data behaviours and attitude into such a group is unlikely to result in positive changes to overall group attitudes, it is more likely that this individual will acquire the practices and behaviours of the group.

If a ‘good’ individual tries to change the behaviours of a team from within, then it is possible that they will suffer from ‘”rage in the data cage”.

How have you seen this situation manifest itself?

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2 thoughts on “Rage in the data cage

  • 16th October 2010 at 04:11

    Great observations.

    The “Rage in the Cage” syndrome does not directly apply to data, rather to the way people operate and the standards that they apply – or fail to apply.

    Low data quality is never the problem, rather a symptom of the problem.

    Enterprises who have badly designed systems, functions, processes, procedures and standards will have bad data.

    Individuals in such an enterprise who know that there is a better way, and who point this out, can be very unpopular and be given a hard time. This can be true whether they are a team member or a manager.

    Many enterprises become used to the stress and confusion caused by their inherent inefficiencies and even senior executives come to believe that their is no alternative. Their excuses will be something like, a) “our business is complex one” or b) “we have rapidly changing business needs”.

    Those individuals who see such excuses for what they are, merely excuses, and refuse to accept that there is no alternative will be unpopular. Many will find that it is easier to shut up, say nothing, keep their heads down take the money.

    It can be a very lonely place, rejecting the accepted fallacies in a group. Some would say that one has got to be very brave or very naive. We all know so well the fairy-tale about the The Emperor’s New Clothes, where the only person to see the truth was the most ‘naive’ and innocent.

    If a person really believes that there is a better way of doing things, then it can be worth persisting, if they go about it in the right way. A few simple guidelines that I would suggest are:

    o Don’t just moan about what’s wrong. Demonstrate how it can be done better.
    o List the benefits to others in their terms – not yours. These might be, less work, better job satisfaction, higher quality, better customer service, etc.
    o Get a senior member of staff on your side to ‘champion’ the cause across the enterprise.
    o Be patient. Change will come about only when a critical mass of people are aligned.


    • 16th October 2010 at 12:46


      Thanks for the excellent response.

      What this post is just touching on, and you alluded to, is the complex inter-relationships of ‘things’ in organisations. In order to identify, instigate and sustained a changed (and hopefully improved) approach within an organisation many factors need to be considered. These include:
      * People – Their needs, competencies and behaviours
      * Culture – The range of behaviours in the organisation
      * Process – Ensuring clear and optimised processes with clear hand offs to other processes
      * Systems – Stable, effective and automating this optimised process
      * Data – Of known quality, provenance and available to people and systems who need to use it
      * Governance – Ensuring their is oversight and control over business activities and that ‘issues’ are identified and resolved
      * Leadership – Do the leaders of an organisation demonstrate the behaviours and approaches they expect their staff to adopt? Is there a culture of quality and continuous improvement
      * Strategy – Is there a clear statement of what the organisation is looking to achieve and how different processes and activities support this.

      The above just touch on a few aspects to consider, but hopefully reinforce the point that data, just like most things in any organisation, cannot be considered in isolation.



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