Modeling How a Business Coaching Intervention Unfolds

Posted October 23, 2019 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Clean for Teams, Experience Report, Organizational Change, Systemic Modeling

OutcomesActionFeedback

Karma Cycle of Systemic Modeling

My instinct (rather than a rich data set) tells me that most of the people that are achieving excellence in organizational change and coaching are first and foremost excellent practitioners – that is, they did not earn their mark of excellence from book theory though some may have started there.  Rather through applied practice, review and improvement over many decades of trial and error, they excelled. Eliciting their unique knowledge is key to long term community growth and sustainability of their unique skills across time and continents, especially when their gifts are unusual. Establishing a learning cohort of trainees with clean language/inquiry skills (or the requisite curiosity to elicit somebody’s ‘how’ without being suggestive) seems a real win in this type of situation.

Here is one example that might illustrate this.  In 2019, 10 Systemic Modeling trainees and I joined in an advanced online training in which we were allowed to follow a current intervention as it unfolded.  Led by Caitlin Walker, the cohort has met frequently over 3-4 month period during an intervention that Caitlin had contracted for to reduce conflict in a small organization.   We have met online for regular updates on the progression of the intervention and for the opportunity to interview Caitlin on how she does what she does. She has both challenged us to think about what would work best next, and then shared what she actually would do herself as an intervention.  We compare notes, ask her questions to discover her logic and intuition.  Additionally we review what actually unfolded the following time we meet.

We have portions of the class where we can elicit more in depth from Caitlin how she:

1.) interviewed and shaped the intervention with the sponsor
2.) interviewed the group involved in the change/transformation
3.) coded (meaning interpreted against some models) the interviews
4.) decided what next intervention to hold at each step
5.) decided at each step whether to continue with the intervention.

The cohort uses clean questions (non-leading questions) to help reveal how Caitlin progresses in the moment as well as in the larger intervention as a Systemic Modeler.  Some of the answers to our questions revealed insights new to Caitlin (consciously) about how she makes her choices.  The output or the course becomes a way to generate material for her to share in her next book, or in formal training for advanced practitioners.

I felt inspired today to write this up after meeting with Siraj Sirajuddin, another person with a high level of skill in his executive coaching practice. He faces similar challenges to the ones Caitlin faces in growing his community of learners/followers to adopt his level of competence in coaching.  When I was explaining to him about the cohort, he became quite interested in this model.  
When someone reaches such a high level of unconscious competence through years of practice, it is not trivial to

1.) unpack how those unconscious decisions are made
2.) make them explicit in the form of heuristics that others can begin to understand and use, and
3.) train up a new set of people to start working (dipping their toes in) at that level. 

The unique skills of clean language trained group are a good way to do that.  And we have learned a tremendous amount along the way.

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Some of you may be interested in how the Systemic Modeling community has been developing. In 2019, I have witnessed exciting growth including:

1.) increased depth of understanding of Systemic Modeling with many trainees close to achieving Level 1 Certification.

2.) the growth in the awareness of different principles and heuristics that underpin excellence in these practices.

3.) the ability of practitioners to deal congruently and cleanly with a variety of circumstances in a business setting

4.) the number of people who have systematically applied themselves to learning the above and getting feedback within the community

5.) the number of people who express satisfaction, a sense of personal growth, and a sense of purpose in how they are applying clean in their work

6.) the growth in the number of supportive practice groups outside of formal training programs to give and receive feedback on their practice.

7.) the number of countries with practitioners rising to the level of skills mentioned above (Russia, Sweden, Germany, Netherlands, Malaysia, France, US – perhaps I have missed a few).

I’m really happy that this valuable facilitation style, and clean inspired toolset for helping business people collaborate is spreading.

Caitlin Walker and Marian Way and all who support them to promote this work have really done a fabulous job over the past several years.  I can only imagine what the the future will bring.

Retrospective Letter to Self on my Birthday

Posted October 17, 2018 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Career, Courage, Experience Report, Personal Growth, Systemic Modeling, Weinberg

Dear Andrea,

You’ve had a great year. It’s your birthday today and here is a little reflection from your alter-ego. Let’s admit it – you too need a boost. Everyone does.

Where did this all start?  Last fall, you were a bit dejected about the stress and fatigue and ineffective nature of your agile coaching gigs. You went radical. You wanted more joy in your work and you followed your instincts to deepen in the tools you had been reading about and following for years.

So, you decided to deepen in the practices and philosophies of Clean Language and Systemic Modeling.  Let’s not forget how you invested in yourself:

Clean for Teams – Sept 2017
Systemic Modeling – Dec 2017
Clean Space – Dec 2017
Clean Convergence – Jan 2018 (included Clean Interviewing)
Systemic Modeling – Sept 2018
Northern Taste of Clean Sept 2018

Way to go for ‘skin in the game’ and the great learnings you got from each of those! You are definitely better equipped from training, but also from putting it to use. Check out the following ways you put all of this to use:

You proposed and were accepted to present/facilitate Clean related topics at many conferences and meet-ups. The list of folders where you methodically keep track spans your whole iMac screen. Hey, you did that!

You hosted events with your mentor Caitlin Walker in the US 4 times this year – with the last one coming up in Boston on Oct 26th. You and she are offering 8 days of training across 4 modules. Two of those are all but sold out! 

You’ve started to build a small clean agile community in the US. You know Clean ways of inquiry and Clean Interviewing can be a super useful skills set to help organizations build anti-fragility into their human systems. Human systems impact products. Products impact humans too. So cleanagilecoaching.com was born. You birthed that!

You conducted a handful of online taster courses validating that people are happy to exchange money for learning (with you, yes!) You overcame your hesitation about teaching these skills online, even learned to effectively use a Flipchart during the Zoom session.

You started coaching agile coaches and trainers. That is huge. You’re getting paid to help some of the best, most thoughtful coaches out there take on these clean and systemic skills. Not just in the US, but in other countries too.  They came to you. Wow!

You invested heavily in technology this year as well, buying backlights, an iMac, a quality Rode Mike, and a new iPad/pen – where you can also use live drawing and share via Zoom. You travelled in Europe for a month with only a SIM enabled iPad. That magic keyboard was barely touched (hint, dictate, when you can for typing).  Everything worked like a charm (well except that your SIM card provider later texted to you that you used too much on their ‘unlimited’ plan, and their plan wasn’t meant for people living in Europe. For you, three weeks isn’t living, but you’ll have to be more sparing of data usage in the future!

You were contracted by a large university to train them for a day in the use of the clean inquiry skills – yay for first big client in the IT space – at the level of Director. They wanted to improve their listening skills, and stop talking over one another, taking time to explore topics. A perfect use for Clean. 

You have been a great volunteer out there in service too.  While you give a lot of free advice, and time to edit other peoples books and work, you also started running a Jerry Weinberg inspired book club on Quality Software Management book series; you were a voice in the Agendashift community for the Clean Language channel. Gladly, there are many there now, who are training or already properly trained in Clean, who can chime in as well, when folks have questions.

You did mourn when Jerry passed away in August – that was a very big loss for you.  So sad – and glad – you are still thinking of his work! Keep that up!

You’ve taken some risks, stayed firm and on course. It hasn’t been easy being independent, but you did that because you gained your OWN life satisfaction and ability to handle any difficult situation with congruence and curiosity using these same skills. You know the value they bring!

Just wanted to say thank you for taking time out to follow your passions and beliefs during the past year. Wherever they lead from here – the world is out there for you to explore. Don’t hold back, bring your riches. The world needs them. And you will shine wherever you go; whatever you do.  [and please don’t get rid of this blog – it may seem dated, and not up to snuff visually, but it’s a great story of your past 7 years…]

Take care Andrea,

Your alter-ego

(Thank you, alter ego!)

Jerry Weinberg, Carrying On His Legacy together

Posted August 31, 2018 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Coaching, Organizational Change, Personal Growth, systems thinking, Weinberg

August 31, 2018 – I had written this post months ago, with an eye to growing a small group of Gerald Weinberg fans eager to read his books, but I had not ever posted it. So now I offer it now in honor of Jerry Weinberg, as he very sadly passed away earlier this month. This has been hard on his whole community of followers and on us in the bookclub too.

JerryWeinberg

We originally started with Volume 3, Congruent Action of the series titled Quality Software Management, because several of the people in the Agendashift community were discussing human dynamics and I had brought up the topic of congruence. They seemed interested, so the bookclub was launched with the Congruent Action book. We are currently on Volume 4, Anticipating Change, and will cycle back to Systems Thinking, and First Order Measurement later on.  You can start anywhere in the series and still learn a lot!

I’ve recruited two fellow consultants, Steven Mackenzie, and Christophe Thibaut, to co-host this bookclub with me and it has been running for the better part of a year.  Even though two of us had read the volumes many years back, we decided that a revisit was well worth our time.  Actually Christophe has read the series twice and run a 3 year book club on this series at his company, Octo Technologies, in Paris, years ago.  Still Christophe states he learns new stuff at each new reading.

What’s in it for you?  If you want to connect with other learners, hone your skills as a manager, understand the systems at play in change work, and/or increase your toolset as a consultant, coach or software developer, do join us.

When: Every Friday morning, at 8 a.m .EDT.  We run a very tight ship with a fairly strict agenda in the way we run it, so that we finish on time.  We read just 1 chapter per week.  The approximate reading time is 20 minutes per chapter. After checking in at the start, we introduce new members, check-in, elicit for our initial high level reactions to the chapter.  Then we display the chapter’s pages from the ebook on the screen annotating it with comments as we go, sharing experiences and our connections to the material.

How: To join the discussion slack group, apply to Agendashift community here: https://www.agendashift.com/slack. Navigate to the #bookclub channel for the Zoom session link and chapter that we are on.   The meeting times are generally 8 a.m. EDT, each Friday and it is posted to the channel each week.

Where to get the books:

The 4 QUALITY SOFTWARE MANAGEMENT p-Books can be found as 4 hardbacks

  1. SYSTEMS THINKING                   (corresponds to 1,2 below)
  2. FIRST-ORDER MEASUREMENT  (corresponds to 3,4 below)
  3. CONGRUENT ACTION                 (corresponds to 5, 6 below)
  4. ANTICIPATING CHANGE              (corresponds to 7,8,9 below)

The e-books can be found as a whole set: https://leanpub.com/b/qualitysoftware or individually:

  1. HOW SOFTWARE IS BUILT
  2. WHY SOFTWARE GETS YOU IN TROUBLE
  3. HOW TO OBSERVE SYSTEMS
  4. RESPONDING TO SIGNIFICANT SOFTWARE EVENTS
  5. MANAGING YOURSELF AND OTHERS
  6. MANAGING TEAMS CONGRUENTLY
  7. BECOMING A CHANGE ARTIST
  8. CHANGE PLANNED AND UNPLANNED
  9. CHANGE DONE WELL

Jerry Weinberg has been a true hero and will continue to be an influence in the field software engineering – with many books on topics such as quality, management, testing, human interaction dynamics, systems thinking, mental models, giving and receiving feedback, design, and the psychology of programming.  His books are immensely readable and timeless in their subject matter. We never leave a session without some new insights, or connections made to the work we do or aspire to do. We hope you’ll join us on this journey.

RIP Jerry and thank you for writing these wonderful books for us !!

 

The Feedback Loop – Success!

Posted June 22, 2018 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Clean for Teams, Clean Language, Customer Journey, Leadership, Listening, Requirements

June 2018

feedback

I have just received a lovely email from a participant in one of my East Coast workshops earlier this year.  Over the past six years of quietly and gently sharing the gift of Clean questions and mindset, I’ve noticed that the real impact of what I do takes some time to show up. And it is such a joy when it does.  I’ve gotten permission to share the story, although the participant wishes to remain anonymous. I hope you enjoy the story too!

Hi Andrea,

I hope you are well.  I attended your Clean Language workshop last month. I wanted to share with you that applying what I learned in your workshop made a significant difference for my project and has helped enhance our effectiveness with our client.

Technically, I run QA for a small software company outside of [location removed]. But I am also involved in requirements gathering and other areas of client engagement. While meeting with my client, I didn’t ask the series of clean questions verbatim because I didn’t know how my client would feel about that. But I started as best as I could with a clean mind, did a lot of listening, no convincing, and asked a few questions that were, to me, a version of the clean questions you had taught us. The results felt almost magical.
Though a very nice client, the problem we were facing was that the end users of our application are Safety Inspectors for a government agency. They are older gentlemen who had been very successful at what they do, doing things the same way for a very long time. So they didn’t want to transition to using new technology to record and execute their inspections. Thus, they were presenting a lot of resistance in meetings and so forth.
My manager kept telling me that the issue we were facing was age and their related mistrust in technology. But during my last visit to the client site, I was able to discover that the real core issue wasn’t either of those things. The core issue was their fear that they wouldn’t be able to learn how to use the new technology well enough, and that would result in some kind of public safety disaster. It started to click for me when I heard them insist that they would have to hire their teenage grandkids who would know how to press the buttons on the mobile field app for them. Like I said, I didn’t bother trying to convince them otherwise.
Instead, I recommended to my manager that we implement on-the-field UAT testing for the inspectors to conduct while still in the safety net of a pre-production environment. This way, not only can we further minimize potential production issues, but we can also demystify (without a debate) the perceived threat of the new software to the inspectors. Our developers are very talented and the application is easy to use. I felt that the inspectors would realize that and gain in self-confidence as long as their initial try would yield no real world consequences.
This approach worked even better than I had imagined. Everyone on the client side was on board immediately. They even got excited and started planning the ride alongs for the on-field UAT. And there was a wave of great ideas and requirements that started to flow in from the same inspectors. Since we are agile, we are able to accommodate these new requirements.
I wanted to thank you for the workshop and also let you know that I am very inspired and continuing my study of clean language. Also, I wanted to ask if there has been any study on how we can use clean language to help more marginalized or quieter people in a team by providing them with a better platform to be heard. Is there a way that I can get involved with that kind of a study?

Thank you so much! I hope to hear from you soon.

[the author wishes to remain anonymous]

The participants of my short workshop are typically exposed to an hour of demos and exercises, a few slides with content and pictures, some story telling based on questions that come up, and they leave with a handout as well.  What I am inferring was imparted in this case was the clean mindset – listening to understand well while quieting any urge to respond with your own thoughts.  How wonderful that it had a further impact on the participant and the outcome of IT project as well!

I’ve started to collect very brief feedback testimonials on my company page.  You can find more brief testimonials here.

There’s a lot afoot in 2018 with Clean retreats, clean trainings and conference workshops.  I can help you find the best fit for learning, whether online, in person, introductory, or in-depth.

More fundamentally though I would love to connect with you and give you the space to think about whatever is on your mind, to give you an experience of being listened to cleanly and to answer questions you may have.   Email me at andrea@connections-at-work to request a free 1/2 hour conversation.

Connections At Work

Posted June 10, 2018 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Clean for Teams, Clean Language, Coaching, Listening, Organizational Change, Symbolic Modeling, Systemic Modeling, Teams

Diverse TeamRead each question slowly, and journal or reflect on whatever comes to mind:

When you are connecting with others at your best, that’s like what?

When connecting… You are like what? What do you know about yourself? What would you like to have happen?

Who are the others around you? What do you know about them? What would they like to have happen?

What are you collectively working on?  What do you know about that work?  What does that work want to have happen?

When connecting with self, others, and work and when you are all working at your best, then what happens?

I’ve had fun creating the ‘cleanish’ questions above to reflect on my company mission.  I am curious if these questions are meaningful to you! Did you gain any new insights?

I continue to help spread a ‘clean’ way of deepening connections between the many facets of work: the nodes between people, ideas, the structures, processes and improvement steps that can lead to more joy for both employees and customers.   

I am ready for even more connections in the second half of 2018 – ready to support others who are curious about how Clean Language thinking and questions might improve work and relationships. See here for training opportunities that I am leading and organizing. If those are not suitable, I can either craft something custom for you or connect you to other courses by other leading partners and trainers in the Clean Language community (Baltimore, California, Chicago, Liverpool England, Portsmouth England, Malaysia and online)

Also, I’ve got something new in the works.  I’ve opened up a slack group called Connections At Work. You are welcome to join a community of people who want to foster conversation and connections that are deeper, more curious, tolerant, and resilient than what they have now. It is easy to jump on a call, have private chats, and contribute to the dialogue and connections using this tool!

Let’s see what magic might happen when we connect well in our lives and work!

Welcome!
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For other inquiries, email me at andrea@connections-at-work.com

Gratitude for All the Support

Posted May 21, 2018 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Experience Report

Today I started my first email campaign to continue growing the community that is my audience for Clean and Agile work in the US. If you would like to sign up, hop on over to my Clean Agile Coaching website and click on the Register button!

I want to express my gratitude to the many people who have supported me in growing my network of connections.  Sometimes my work is as simple as returning the kindness with a simple thank you!

Thank you Mike!
Mike Burrows of www.agendashift.com invited me to contribute facilitation suggestions for his clean language inspired 15-minute FOTO exercise, documented on his website and in his recently published book, Agendashift. Mike’s attention to non-directive, collaborative, conversation-based continuous improvement from strategy to tactical action is heavily Clean Language inspired. His Agendashift transformation facilitation tools are a true antidote to forced top down agile transformations that don’t work! And his online Slack group is one of the best!

Thank you Daniel!
Daniel Mezick of www.openspaceagility.com invited me to present Clean for Teams in a webinar for his followers. It helped me reach agile coaches while getting me comfortable with delivering online workshops.  Daniel, who wrote the preface to Mike’s book, created another extremely compatible approach called Open Space Agility. Based on invitation, open space, and time-bound experiments using the energy of the willing, organizations should consider that approach for transformation initiation or for correcting a transformation gone wrong.

Thank you Joe!
Jochen Krebs, Scrum Trainer and leader of the www.agilenyc.com community recorded a podcast interview with me on Clean Language and then invited me to New York for an evening workshop at Agile NYC. This in turn is leading to the AgileNYC conference keynote by Caitlin Walker and a few workshop opportunities to help NYC become a hub for clean-inspired agility.

Thank you Ben!
Ben Linders, a keen agilist who specializes in Retrospectives, interviewed me for infoq.com regarding Clean Language and Coaching with Curiosity, which led to many people signing up for my email newsletter.

Thank you Richard!
Richard Kasperowski  helped advertise the first Clean for Teams training in Boston to the Agile community this past April. Richard promotes the Core Protocols, another model for interpersonal team communication that I support whole-heartedly, and which pairs nicely with Clean Language and Clean for Teams.

Thank you Simon Coles!
Simon Coles who has the first ever tech company fully running on Clean Language inquiry, from hiring to sales and everything in between gives me regular advice and guidance.

Thank you Caitlin!
And lastly, but definitely not least: Caitlin Walker of www.trainingattention.co.uk without whose incredible authenticity, skill, training and devotion to bringing clean to organizations and groups has led me to where I am in my life mission. In 2018 alone, she has planned 4 separate trips to the US to help me promote her incredible Clean for Teams facilitation tools, largely to folks in the Agile community.

There are many other individuals in the Clean and Agile communities who have done their part. I need all of you and please stay with me on this journey, as I have not yet ‘arrived’!

Collaboration Collapse from Power Distance and Hidden Bias in the Workplace

Posted May 6, 2018 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Bias, Clean for Teams, Coaching, Listening, Organizational Change, Personal Growth

Does your team ever experience lapses or collapses in effective collaboration? Are individuals less engaged with each other than they should be at work?  In the last post, we explored how to be intentional in setting up the team for success in collaborative work.  In this post, we’ll explore power distance, hidden biases and their symptoms.

Power distance comes from actual or perceived differences that convey or cause a feeling of superiority to others, often subconsciously resulting in altered behavior. This can arise from structural imbalances, such as economic power, pay differences, access to information, training and education, or biases in promotions at work. It is also caused by biases arising from things like one’s gender, seniority, religion, race, national origin, age, beliefs, appearance, or the way one processes information, sometimes called neuro-diversity.  Can you think of others? At the end of this post you’ll find a link to a Harvard University website that can help you become aware of your propensity towards the various biases.

Symptoms in the Workplace
Power distance can either have a subtle or a very strong influence in the work place. Here are several observable symptoms related to power distance and hidden bias.

  • Interrupting people
  • Mansplaining
  • Ignoring someone when they are speaking
  • Downplaying or even taking credit for the contributions of others
  • Withholding information needed by others to do their work.
  • Belittling people because of what they say or what they ask.
  • Offering to help without asking – inadvertently taking their work and learning opportunity away.

On the receiving end, a person will often clam up, withdraw, become anxious or belligerent, thereby shifting the quality or duration of any required collaborative work.  The training and awareness required to counter these effects is needed to let people know these behaviors are not ok. It takes great personal awareness, knowledge, and maturity to develop the composure to counter and give feedback to the offender.

Economic and Psychological Impact
What is the economic impact of poor interpersonal behaviors and reduced collaboration on existing teams and projects?  Because of the “metoo” movement, we have seen the impact on the careers and lives of so many women and sometimes also men, when people in positions of power have wielded their power to intimidate and control women’s careers, often silencing them with hush money.  When the problems surface fully, the people perpetrating extreme power-over behaviors also pay a price when they lose their jobs and reputation.  Another way of measuring the economic cost, is the amount of money spent on programs to assess, train and coach people in emotional IQ, leadership skills, team IQ, personality, diversity and inclusion. Couple those costs with the psychological toll of the minor infractions that barely get noticed and you begin to sense the magnitude of the issue and its effects on the workplace.

So What Can you Do?
There are several routes to increasing your own awareness about these issues. You can read more about the topic, take an assessment, or go to a workshop on biases and communication.  You can also initially simply take time to journal what you observe such as the number of interruptions you make or how forcefully and frequently you advocate your position over those of others. On the flip side, you  can log how much you pause, listen and ask questions from a genuinely curious stance towards people who are different from you.

Get help
A coach or a facilitator can help you and your team to observe its behaviors and can work systemically to foster better interactions. Personal awareness and development is a requirement for high performance teams. The best team approaches I know of have a very strong personal development component to them.

Be a role model of calm
What should we do when bias directly affects us?   One way is to be  be inspired by how Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg reacted to bias and power distance. In the May 2018 documentary of her career, we learn that even soon after she was appointed to the Supreme Court, she kept calm in the face of the blatant sexism she found in the Court.  She was and still is, at age 85, a pioneer in promotion of equality between men and women, describing her attitude when she first started on the Court: “I simply took the stance of a kindergarten teacher because the judges didn’t believe discrimination existed.” Anger, she knew would not serve her. [Note: You can learn more about the current Supreme Court by reading this article on the observed gender differences in ‘interruptions’]

What can you do if you find yourself responding emotionally to work situations? This is understandable when something about your beliefs, values, or career is being challenged or affected.  You’ll need to learn how to manage your state, and respond when it happens.  Use the power of observation, curiosity and listening first.  Confront, but do so empathically. Seek help, if you need it.  Find teachable moments. Acknowledge to others that these moments exist, catch yourself and others when you see it.

Here are some online tools to help you learn more

Remember, you are not alone.  Together with others you can help to cure these workplace ills. By adding tools and skills for developing awareness and connection, inclusivity and inquiry at work, collaborative work will be joyful.

We can increase the possibility of it succeeding by not shying away from conversations about power distance, hidden biases, and co-lapses.

Do contact me if you need help at andrea@connections-at-work. I can offer a phone consultation, training, facilitation,  personal and team coaching.