How can families stay connected and calm in a fast-paced world of school, extracurricular activities, and household chores that beg to be completed? The answer writer Bruce Feiler is offering comes from an unexpected place: the world of project management as it relates to software development.
Agile is a method used in software development that has been gaining followers for years. Small teams work together on tasks to help reach a larger goal. The core elements of this system are dividing tasks into smaller parts and constantly evaluating what is working and what is not.
Feiler gave a TED Talk explaining how this approach works in everyday life with his family and how it helps him create the ultimate family meetings. Everything from crazy family mornings to chores and attitude problems can be addressed by stealing this corporate tool and applying it to the home.
Why do we need Agile?
Feiler cites a study by Ellen Galinsky from the Family and Works Institute to show that we need change in our families. The one thing kids in this study desperately wanted to alter in their parents was their stress levels.
The constant management of our children, homes, and careers leaves us feeling the burnout. I spend many days giving directives more than communicating love, and this happens when I am rushing to finish one task so I can immediately undertake another.
Feiler found that what can lead to less stress is when our kids become active participants in the running of their homes. Our processes are more efficient, our kids are empowered by helping, and communication between family members is stronger.
Combining Agile and family meetings
Feiler's approach means families set up weekly meetings that last no longer than 20 minutes, ensuring a child of almost any age can stay engaged the entire time. These meetings address issues in the household and give children opportunities to constructively air out grievances. It's a co-facilitated situation, and everyone has a voice.
If a major concern is that bedtimes are chaos, each person helps come up with possible solutions, breaking down bedtime so that everyone knows their role in helping solve the problem. Visuals are used, such as checklists or large boards, where everyone can see what their responsibilities are.
Agile leader, Martin Lapointe, utilizes a task board where kids can see what they need to do and move their tasks around the board to different columns as they are in progress or completed.
Here's the important part: At the next meeting, the family discusses what worked, what didn't, and what they need to deal with during the upcoming week. As opposed to parents making all the decisions, kids are able to offer input, and parents receive a look into their kids' thought processes, as well as getting a more well-rounded view of how the household is running.
This approach lets kids know they are heard, keeps the family constantly adapting as things change, and teaches kids how to problem solve. It also helps them understand that a plan not working isn't the end of the world. Maybe the bedtime story system a child presented at the last meeting was too complex and needs to be modified. Children see that recognizing when something fails isn't the end of the world. They are given opportunities to adapt, a real-life skill that will serve them well.
Becoming a team
Just like businesses, families sometimes fall victim to a top-to-bottom set up. Parents (bosses), say what they want, and children (employees) are supposed to jump to make that happen.
This model often fails in the business world, and it can lead to unnecessary stress in a home. The children feel like they aren't a part of the family vision, and parents feel like their vision isn't being realized. The Agile approach offers more balance to the process.
Trusting kids to offer their views and help make positive changes teaches them to be independent and gives them a taste of both success and failure in a safe environment. Agile-loving families have been known to turn vacations and holidays into Agile events, splitting up jobs, making fast, real progress, and checking in to make changes.
Feiler's daughters now decide on the rewards and punishments they will receive, and they hold each other and themselves accountable. This is what we want: kids who make decisions, adapt accordingly, and learn how to self-regulate.
Feiler, upon hearing about this approach from other parents, doubted it would work for his family. Their problems and stresses seemed too big for a 20-minute weekly meeting and a task board to solve them. He was pleased to find out he was wrong.
Feiler warns parents not to expect perfection from their kids just because they are now in on the process. They will still act up and need guidance, but they will develop skills that, as they are honed, help them attack large issues or assignments as problem solvers and thinkers.
Kids will learn teamwork and how to communicate with others effectively, and parents will have the pleasure of watching their kids cultivate a spirit of independence. Once families go Agile, many don't go back.