Burn-out machine game @ agile breakfast in Zürich

On March 6, I had the opportunity to play the burn-out machine game with about 40 agile consultants in Zürich. We spent two hours with engaged discussions and insights about the very serious and highly relevant topic burn-out. We even had a good time doing so.

Two definitions

Burn-out Machine: A system of conflicting values, influences and bad job design that makes the persons caught within investing more and more energy until they burn-out or worse, go postal.

The Burn-out Game: A game based on a simulation of a software team caught in a burn-out machine where a group of players strives to understand the systematic effects around this and, eventually, break the machine.

One Learning

Besides many small personal learnings, there were also one or two quite fundamental insights. The most important seems to be the following reinforcing cycle: Our everyday actions and behaviours establish and reinforce unwritten rules and these rules basically twist and shape the company culture, in the good and the bad. This construction then again forms what we expect from ourselves and from others and changes our behaviors and actions.

The conclusion is, that in many situations, we ourselves fuel the burn-out machines through our actions and behaviors.

Slowing down and even stopping the reinforcing cycle may not always be possible. But quite often it probably can be done. It however takes some investigations to understand our specific burn-out machine and to detect the rules and behaviors established, to realize that some rules actually hurt more than they help, to question those rules and finally to dismiss them.

Obviously, such a task cannot be undertaken by those that are already in survival mode and stressed out. It needs those next to them.

Thus my request: Have a close look at the burn-out machines around you and if you detect one, help those caught within to break it!

Slides of the Session

I put together a bit of a summary of the session as pdf.

Thanks for the engaged discussions!

By the way, the burn-out machine has got a sibling: a first prototype of a “Lets give up” machine has been created and tested with a handfull of brave organisational psychologists. You can find the report (in German though) here: https://sgaop.ch/event-prototypingsgaop-vom-19-11-2019/


And Kaspar from Change Loop adopted it for a cool workshop format. Have fun!


Further interesting Readings

Thomas Verasani collected a couple of great strategies for managers and others in an organization to use power to personal benefit.