Archive for the ‘Organizational Change’ category

The Limits to Treating Only ‘the Parts’

November 15, 2016

Often the symptom shows up in one place but is caused in reality by a different part of the system.  

Question: What domain am I talking about?  

If you are a consultant or coach, or even a PM reading this blog, and you have read something about systems thinking, you’ll realize I am talking about projects or teams that run up against systemic or organizational impediments that affect their work

If you are my chiropractor, you’ll know I am talking about the body.

Why do I like this metaphor?

I have spent over $1000 this year treating myself to frequent sessions with a very good chiropractor and to excellent massages with his associated massage therapist.  I initially went to this doctor complaining about my right foot.  He discovered very soon, that treating the right foot would not resolve the issue.  He noticed that on that same side, the quad muscles were too short.  They were pulling at my back (which also had pain, but is now gone), and causing me to walk a little funny.

While the foot isn’t yet 100%, I do feel treating the whole system (body) is leading to better results. [I thought of this post while lightly jogging on the treadmill – proof of my better state]

Another thing I learned is that the way I had used chiropractors in the past was incorrect. I had gone a few times for a specific issue, and then stopped going when the local issue went away. I did not have the foresight or knowledge to understand that ongoing maintenance could be incredibly beneficial.  That means regular visits – whether every two weeks, or once a month. I prefer every two weeks.  His sessions last a full hour with a mixture of electric stimulation, ultrasound (full body), adjustments, and massage.

The analogy to the workplace and using a consultant is this: when you have had a coach help you set up a relatively stable agile way of working, with an established cadence or planning, working, demos and retrospectives, you still need to have the coach come in every now and then to help you redirect your attention to other parts of the system .  A coach helps you see the parts that you are biased in some way to overlook.  So does the chiropractor.

 What things are you working on that might benefit from a more global view?

Different balls, different games – metaphors for communication

July 5, 2015

AlistairGolf Cockburn has written that developing software is like a cooperative game.  Whether cooperation needs to occur between IT and business, program management and teams, architects and programmers – I do not often see the flow of ideas,  solutions and decision-making happening collaboratively. Coaches can not solve communication problems unless there is both the awareness and the willingness to have those kinds of problems solved.  It is a bit of a chicken and an egg issue.

I’ve recently come up with a few sports metaphors for the way the interactions go, or could go, if only deliberate learning would take place around communication excellence.  I’ll use an example to illustrate this. 

The backdrop for this setting is a large agile transformation. It has a fairly lightweight governance process but the leadership must report monthly to the business side whether the IT side is on track for the target deployment. The delivery date was set 2 years earlier and is now months away.  The pressure on IT to paint a rosy picture is high.  The program manager must update the governance reports.  Because the Program Management Office personnel who normally pull that data are on vacation, the program manager asks a coach to fill in last month’s data – using a chart the coach has not seen before. The program manager provides her only a paper copy. There are no calculations, queries or information on where the earlier data came from or exactly what it represents.

The coach  asks a lot of questions about the data behind the graph, but her questions are given short shrift by the program manager – who really can’t adequately answer the specific questions. The coach does as close to what the program manager requested as possible and provides the data – though with some discomfort.

The baseball metaphor

The coach has recreated the graph using a new sheet, augmenting it using her own ‘queried’ information for the current month in question. The coach delivers this to the program manager: “I worry when we present data that may be misleading, especially when the data I have provided is mixed with data from other queries or sources and overall I think the story it tells is different from reality. When I pulled all the data that I think represents the current state, I see a different picture.”

The program manager immediately shoots back: “The data from the tool is just that, data from a tool. It will never be accurate or up to date.” [she looks annoyed and wants to move on to her next issue of the moment. She shuffles other papers and looks back at her email.] The coach does not think that pressing the point will be helpful at this point. 

This interaction is not atypical in the IT and/or business world.  The coach (batter) has pitched a ball.  The program manager (hitter) hits it strong; the ball soars over and out of the stadium and there is nothing left to discuss. Batter wins. 

The golfing metaphor

Here’s another way this could have gone – using one of my favorite listening and inquiry tools: Clean Language.

It starts in a similar way: Coach to a program manager: “I worry when we present data that may be misleading, especially when the data I have provided is mixed with data from other queries or sources and overall I think the story it tells is different from reality. When I pulled all the data that I think represents the current state, I see a different picture.”

The program manager listens and then asks one or more of these clean questions – first repeating a portion of what she heard – clearly showing she was listening  ‘and you worry when data is used that may be misleading… ‘

     and what kind of misleading is that? [asking for more attributes]

     and what kind of worry is that?’ [asking more about state of the coach’s feeling]

     and  is there anything else about that data? ‘  [opening space for more observations]

     and where could ‘misleading’ come from? [getting at the source]

     and when misleading, then what happens? [getting at significance, if nothing happens]

Clean questions let you stay with the thinking of the person who is talking to you, rather than reacting right away.  To me, this interaction is like a golfer hitting the ball into the hole.  The coach has found a sweet spot with the program manager – a ‘time/place/space’ where the concern is heard and embraced. The environment is one in which the program manager assumes the coach has a valuable intention as well.  I imagine in this scenario, the two explore further mutual needs and resolve the discrepancy so both parties are happy and more importantly so that the program governance body gets an accurate picture – with all the consequences that might entail. 

The first conversation is frustrating because the coach wanted to ‘do the right thing’ – and perhaps was a bit fearful that not fulfilling the request for the data would be unprofessional.  She provided the data and did not argue past her initial observations and reflections to the program manager.  The program manager’s response and overall sense of urgency seemed to drown out her ability to stay present and listen.

Whether using Clean Questions or other types of listening and inquiry models, the type of attention given in the second example is rare … especially in stressful situations when it is MOST needed.  I do not accept ‘urgency’ or ‘time-pressures’  as excuses for not taking the time to listen and to investigate. It is precisely in the slowing down that in fact you can speed up with confidence. Yet it takes some training and intention to create an environment and culture where this can happen well.

The mindset shift that comes along with knowing how to use Clean Language can help projects, companies, and relationships thrive; it can create more vibrant classrooms, happier employees, better students, thriving business results. I’ve got many examples of this in my book of interviews of people who use Clean Language in their work.

If you want to learn more about Clean Language, please let me know by contacting me at andrea.chiou@santeon.com

Metaphors at work, an interview

October 1, 2014

I recently interviewed another IT coach about metaphors because I wanted a better way of speaking about the relationship between business and IT.

I am looking to kill the notion and reality of ‘silos’ in the organizations I work in. I believe that a change in the language we use and specifically, the metaphors we use, can change the mood of a conversation to that end.  There are some really useful thoughts in here about the role of conversation and dialogue, practicing when it is easy, etc.  Have a read and let me know what you think.
Here is the interview: (more…)

Book Review – From Contempt To Curiosity

April 6, 2014

Caitlin Walker has written a brilliant book recounting her own 15 year journey with Clean Language as applied to groups – a compilation of stories illustrating the models that she developed along the way which she now groups together and calls Systemic Modelling. This work builds on the work of others as well – the originator of Clean Language, David Grove, and his original modellers, Penny Tompkins and James Lawley, with whom Caitlin trained and learned. She acknowledges these and many others who assisted her in her consulting practice, Training Attention, along the way. There is a nifty appendix of the major influencing works at the back. (more…)

Building Bridges through Curiosity

February 20, 2014

This blog post is inspired by two case studies, one using ethnography and one using Clean Language – both to improve company resilience and success over time.

An international company (Tesco) recently used an innovative ‘ethnography’ approach to help turn around poor financial results. Their goal was to infuse diversity of thinking by having managers at international locations become ethnographic observers outside their own country at other Tesco locations.  This would help the observers and observed become more aware of their own local cultures by exposure. It spread ideas that worked and helped to meld the culture. You can read about it here.

That Tesco project posited that positive change can come from these steps: perceive what happens in another other work environment, uncover restrictive assumptions through questions, and explore both the new and home environments in new ways. The primary questions used were: What’s familiar? What’s surprising? What do I want to learn more about?  Training folks to be curious by enlivening their senses, taking them out of their environment and teaching them questioning skills can indeed be useful in building bridges.

While reading this story, I made immediate associations with the Clean Language group work that Caitlin Walker and Nancy Doyle, from Training Attention, have undertaken to improve interpersonal understanding in teams and groups. I recommend you read about this adaptation of Clean Language for organizations here.  Similar to the ethnography study, Clean Language and Systemic Modeling for organizations use questions to surface the way people operate and think of their life/work/environment. The Tesco experiment involved moving people to new environments to stimulate new thinking. The Clean Language work more simply involves only exposing internal thought processes and intentions to one another within a team or organizational structure. In both cases, the goal is to help folks learn how to reveal information which isn’t readily available or in their field of awareness. This increases the communication bandwidth for mutual understanding and reduces conflict.  In addition, with Clean Language Systemic Modeling the goal is that peers co-coach each other and fold Clean Questions into everyday work, conversations and meetings. Long term, there is no dependence on the Clean Language trainer. The process promotes new relationships and emergent knowledge within the organization.

That sounds great in theory, right? But where has it actually worked? I learned recently about a case study of a small software development company that Caitlin trained 10 years ago. This company provides tablet solutions to pharma labs to track their lab/research work. For ten years, this company has required its employees to learn and use Clean Language and Systemic Modeling. It has had stellar results in bridging all kinds of communication gaps. Communication between marketing and developers is vastly improved. The marketing staff, now widely using Clean Language questions, make sense (inquire more deeply) about a complex and changing market and learn much more about their potential customers before ever proposing solutions. These bridges have in turn enabled the company to rise above its competitors in what was then a crowded field, all while keeping a relatively small corporate footprint.  There are many other domains in which Caitlin and others  applied Clean Language and Systemic Modeling, including: Police, Health Care, University students, troubled youth, to name a few.

Does this spark your curiosity?

Clean Language and Systemic modeling build understanding and rapport via respectful listening and inquiry. Clean questions are particularly good at focusing attention on the words and thoughts of the person being questioned. This is because the questions do not promote advice or content on the part of the questioner. They are ‘clean’ in that sense. Here are a few of the basic questions:

  • What would you like to have happen? (intention)
  • What else is there about X? (probing for more info)
  • What kind of X? (probing for metaphors)
  • X (or that)  is like what? (probing for metaphors)

In these questions, X is the exact word or phrase used by your interlocutor. There are an additional 6 questions that inquire about location and time/space.  Extending this into organizational work, the Systemic Modeling techniques involve selective use of what Caitlin calls ‘Clean Setup’ , ‘Clean Feedback’, ‘Modeling Time’, ‘Diversity of Perception’, ‘Modeling Positive (or Negative) States’ among others. While I won’t go into detail here, these Systemic Modeling questioning tools are used in conjunction with Clean Language in groups.

As someone posted in one of the Clean Language groups I participate in, Clean Language is  also ‘simple’, ‘accessible’ and ‘sustainable’. If you want to read books, or other blogs about Clean Language and Systemic Modeling, you can learn about them via resources (books, blogs, DVDs) that I have collated here.

Why did the case study about Clean Language affect me viscerally? The case study caused me to reflect on my own past, in particular a collective team failure (losing a contract re-compete). For years, we had had our heads buried in our ‘own’ analysis, our narrow context and our problem solving work for our customer.  We did good work, not excellent work. But looking back, I see that we were all missing a sense of curiosity about ourselves and about the way the environment evolved (or stagnated) both internally and in the competitor/customer ecosystem. Knowledge work is not just a reflection of the work processes and structures we put in place – this can lull us into a sense of ‘having things covered’. Knowledge work is deeply rooted in and affected by the way people think and how broadly they think and enquire about the world around them. To change from status quo or to ensure survival, we may need to become aware of how it is that we think first. We need to pull from what may be subconscious current thought processes, make them explicit (exposing assumptions and contradictions), ask for new outcomes and then re-structure our models based on what we want (our intent). This can be done – internally and sustainably – with the help of Clean Language questioning and modeling via coaching and training.

Promoting a culture of inquiry as a way to ensure long term corporate resilience is nothing new. But Clean Language and Systemic Modelling as a tool is very new and quite intriguing.

Finally, curiosity and questions that work well are driven by a fair amount of ‘intentionality’. Here are some examples of intentionality that I have developed:

1) I have an intention to learn; therefore I may request that someone  ask me ‘cleanly’ about what I am like when I am learning at my best. And as they help me develop my conceptual landscape using Clean Language questions, they will help me increase my self awareness while also learning what works for me.

2.) I have intention to support the work done by my team; therefore if someone disagrees on some matter, they have some information that I don’t, and I want to find out  what else there is about that view that I may be missing. I then ask them ‘clean questions’ to reveal their thinking.  This enables them to be heard and understood and contrasts with normal arguments and discussions that might ensue when I reassert my own views. Instead, I learn (my intention is to learn after all) an alternate view, which then may help expand my own thinking.

3.) I have the intention to be aware about things evolving outside of my immediate work and home life – to stay curious; therefore I will inquire and ask more outside my normal channels using clean questions. This might be markets, customers, peers at other companies, former colleagues, neighbors, chance encounters in public places.

The nice thing is that no matter where I would like to exhibit this curiosity, the same Clean Language questions and Systemic Modelling techniques can be used. In brief, these techniques are deceptively simple to learn, but require sustained commitment from everyone.  Learning to use them, honing your listening, being aware of your intent and  faithful to your curiosity take time and practice. The reward is in the discovery of new landscapes of possibilities! For organizations, the reward is growth, awareness, and better flow of communication.

Confrontation with Empathy

October 25, 2013

This is part two of a series on Confrontation. The first part is here. These responses were provoked by this tweet from Tobias Mayer.

I’m beginning to think that confrontation is the most important behavior to cultivate in today’s IT organization. – @tobiasmayer

In the first post, I introduced two views, or mental models, of the concept of ‘confrontation’ – one that I call ‘collision style’ and one I call ‘collaboration style’.  In this post, I want to examine how we might modify our thinking so that we catch ourselves just as we are about to experience a ‘collision’ and transform it into a  ‘collaboration’ style confrontation.

To do this, I will introduce the concept of ‘Enemy Image’ as used by Marshall Rosenberg.  Non-Violent Communication embraces the radical notion that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong.  Yet, in our everyday thinking, we are constantly having images – based on our experiences in the world – that speak to rightness and wrongness; these are the images Rosenberg refers to as enemy images.   Every expression of anger, blame, insinuation, mistrust which comes out in a ‘collision’ type confrontation is in fact the tragic expression of unmet needs and is usually preceded by a flash-in-the-pan moment where the enemy image takes over.  What if we could become aware of those images, intercept them and transform them into feelings, needs, and requests. Let’s use the example from the prior post.

In the first post, the team lead/manager confronts (collision style) another team member on poor quality.  We might imagine that this manager has a need for some assurance that his or her own commitments and vision will succeed; a need for closer collaboration; a need for earlier feedback. But he does not express this. Instead, this manager has formed an ‘enemy image’ of the team member. The following thought has made an imprint on his consciousness: ‘I knew this coder didn’t care about quality. His introvert personality is unacceptable. He can’t even give me a heads up or a lame excuse.’  Following this image rearing its head, the manager proceeds to confront the team member.

An enemy image can be about yourself or others – and can be either positive or negative. It serves in every case to separate or distinguish you from others or you from your highest expression of yourself. Enemy images disable you from empathizing or examining what might be going on for you and the other person.  For a full explanation of how this works, please read this short introduction, taken from the book: Words that Work in Business, by Ike Lasater.

Imagine that the manager had acknowledged the enemy image in his mind before meeting with the team member. He might proceed with this thinking: Wow, I’ve boxed this person into a stereotype with no knowledge of the context. I hold this ‘enemy image’ that is preventing me from connecting in a way in which I might uncover what is going on.  Let me connect with my feelings and needs first:  I feel sad and frustrated that my vision for a quality product isn’t coming together in the output of the team.  I need to feel engaged and happy to be at work, and that usually comes from having a connection with the people and the work, especially when we produce great stuff. Right now I am not feeling that.  I want to share this with the team member and ask what might be going on for him. Maybe there is something I don’t know about; maybe there is some way I can support a better outcome; maybe I’ve never communicated what it is I need so that he might see my motivation better and connect with me better.

Do you see the difference?

This process isn’t only relevant to work.  I will tell you a  personal story to illustrate this.

Last week, I suffered from a very painful intestinal ailment.  On Wednesday evening, when my husband returned from work, I was in so much pain, I couldn’t  help with dinner. I went to lie down. After some time, when no-one came to check on me, I felt extremely lonely and sad.  I started forming an image in my mind of my husband as someone who wouldn’t be a good care-taker in the future. I thought, this image is not helpful. This is not helping me connect with him. He had a long day at work. He is doing all the dinner preparation. I haven’t really shared that much about my ailment – though I thought he knew I was in pain.  At that point I texted: I am sad that I am alone in my pain and illness. I need some reassurance and comfort that things may get better.

He replied: I didn’t know you are in pain. I thought you were just tired.

I replied: No, I have been in excruciating pain for hours.

If I had not first ‘caught’ my enemy image and then connected with my feelings and needs: I might have confronted him collision style:  ‘Can’t anyone around here think of me? Why are you ignoring me?  Can’t you see I’m sick and could use some comfort?’

I discovered the amazing power of this process through practicing it in this manner.

As you go through your day, you might keep a journal of the moments you experience where you have formed an ‘enemy image’. Work with that image to understand first what needs of your own are not met in that moment. Jot down your feelings and needs so that you might better be able to connect empathetically. From that space, you may then feel more empowered to ask for what you need and be more likely to have your needs met.

Will you try this and tell me how this works for you ?

This empathetic approach to confrontation can work even in a setting where positional power might be seen as a barrier.  I will be attending an NVC workshop this Sunday with Miki Kashtan of BayNVC that addresses just this. It is my first NVC workshop and I feel so blessed to have this chance. I may follow up with a 3rd post on this topic based on my learnings there.  Stay tuned.

Confrontation at Work

October 24, 2013

I am responding to a recent tweet by Tobias Mayer and the ensuing twitter conversations about the usefulness of ‘confrontation’ in the workplace. Some people responded that confrontation is bad, others said no, it is great. Each has a different mental model of what confrontation is. I will address that in this post. Tobias said:

I’m beginning to think that confrontation is the most important behavior to cultivate in today’s IT organization. – @tobiasmayer

I admit, I was multi-tasking when I read this tweet. I was listening to the congressional inquiry into the failed launch of the Affordable Health Care Act’s (ACA) healthcare.gov system on October 1st. I was lamenting, also via a few tweets of my own, how aggressive the grilling of the contractors was. I was feeling sad that there could not be more ‘open’ inquiry and dialogue rather than this form of confrontation: ‘Did you know…?’ Did you tell anyone..? Is that enough time..? Why didn’t you..? You had to hear the tone of voice to know that this wasn’t inquiry; this was a grilling, a confrontation. The answers came back in the form of justification and blame: ‘That’s not our part of the system’ and ‘We were told to change the system only 2 weeks before the delivery date’.

In the way that most people traditionally understand confrontation, it is more like a collision than a collaboration.

Traditional confrontation (collision): I ask a team member to meet with me; I tell him his work is unsatisfactory and why. then I tell him to go back and do it over; I may ask why, but I don’t listen. I don’t explore. I don’t ask for context. I control. I demand. I assume wrongness and I don’t allow any other explanation other than the one in my head as a possible reason. In that way, I have separated myself from this person. I exert my control. In fact, I instill fear. He/she walks away, unable to speak.

Here is a more subtle scenario: I roll my eyes at your solution during a meeting while you are looking at me.

In a collaborative environment or team, people are honest and open, and don’t take offense at each other’s comments or feedback, solutions, and suggestions – even when there are divergent views and even disagreement. People know each other well and there is humor and a willingness to learn from each other. There are some companies that actively seek to foster this type of employee engagement, and there are teams that strive to create supportive learning environments. However, the ‘collision’ type of culture is more prevalent than the ‘collaboration’ type of culture.

In the collaborative, learning environment: people know when and how to speak up. They do this when their inner voice that tells them ‘something smells fishy’, ‘something bothers me about this solution,’ or ‘I am saying I support this endeavor when I don’t understand its purpose whatsoever’. In the proper collaborative environment, or with training in how to do this type of ‘confrontation’ well, people can and will speak up. They feel and observe what is not right and don’t let it fester. When they bring their observations to the team or to management, they are heard and a discussion or dialogue ensues. This is the good type of confrontation.

I recently found a great series of videos created by BayNVC. In these videos, you watch the conflict coach, Miki Kashtan, as she coaches two role players during a traditional confrontation between two people in the workplace. She coaches them to have a more collaborative, inquiry based type of problem solving approach to the issues at hand. These are role-plays of some very typical workplace issues. The first one in the series is You are not a team player. [This is an excellent series of videos on workplace conflict modeled using techniques of Non-Violent Communication. To find the rest of the series, type BayNVC workplace into the Youtube search criteria – they are numbered in the order you should watch them.]

Tobias’ aspiration to make confrontation the next most needed skill in the IT workplace makes perfect sense to me when viewed in the light of confrontation with collaborative intent. One’s inner voice is not left to fester; judgments that ring in one’s head are shared and discussed.

I wonder how many people involved in the rollout of the healthcare.gov site can think back to moments in which they had ‘issues’ with the way things were going and did nothing about it.

In my next post, I will talk about the ‘Enemy Image’ which is a useful way to begin to break down what separates people from giving and receiving empathy during moments of impending confrontation; thereby allowing them to get closer to needs and requests that might allow for better mutual learning and solutions.

Passionate Agile Governance for HOAs

July 19, 2013

A year ago, I agreed to join the Board of our 16 member homeowner’s association that had been devilishly plagued by rancour for years over a member who was reluctant to comply with the 30 year old community covenants. They could afford a lawyer and tripled the size of their house and did a lot more I won’t mention. The then Board nearly depleted its funds hiring its own lawyer, angering its members who weren’t fully aware of this spending until last year’s meeting.

I wasn’t President straight away. But over the course of the year, the Board changed as people dropped off due to bitter emails about that as well as other matters. With the last resignation – this time the President, I knew this was an opportunity for me to bring something new and fresh. No one else wanted to be President.

So in February of this year, I became President. We still had the arduous task of getting the membership to approve the new covenants – and we had to negotiate and wordsmith the documents. We kept a nice balance between strict definitions (only on critical things like house size) and leaving many things open for reasonable discussion and decision by the architectural board. The last positive vote needed came in earlier this week. Thrilling! Next up was our community meeting which happened yesterday.

Earlier in the week, I drew a mind map to compare software development and governance to community development and governance. There was a lot in common. First you build something (houses or software). You envision what to build. You develop constraints, processes and governance. You approve or deny changes. You maintain documentation of some sort, usually not very well. Stakeholders overbuild, are not sure what their needs are and are not aligned with the structure, vision, or culture in place (or with each other). Both software and communities get really buggy (failures in code, cracks in street, homes needing repair, repainting, refactoring). People suffer.

Once I accepted all these similarities, I started to imagine I could bring much to this annual homeowner’s meeting, to maybe even start the healing process. Here is what I did and it worked.

Welcome: I told a very emotional story from years ago in the neighborhood. I expressed my hopes for healing and showed my vulnerability within the story.

Check-in : I let everyone say a few words about how they were feeling.

Facilitation: I ditched the dysfunctional Robert’s Rules protocol that past meetings used which had caused friction. Not everyone had had a voice. Many had felt it was unsafe to speak and stayed quiet. Others had raised voices and interrupted each other with frequency.

Expectations: I created meeting rules (active listening, cell phones away, no interrupting) and an agenda with Kanban post its. I moved topics throughout the meeting. The ‘discussing’ column allowed one Topic In Progress (TIP). Latecomers could see what had been covered and what was left in a glance at the wall. I wrote action items next to the Completed topics, if there were any.

Timebox: I kept the meeting on target. We’ve had 2.5 or 3 hour meetings in past years. We finished in 1.5 hours.

Venue: I changed the venue to just give us a new perspective: We used to hold them at a home, and there was drinking and food and banter. I did it at the local library. It worked just fine. Some complained, but most loved it. I wanted people to FEEL something different. Sometimes you have to change space to do that.

Closing: I let people choose from three options: Appreciations, 3 words to describe the meeting, or Pass.

I have never had so many appreciations. It felt so good. I think it was really more about the Opening, the Check In, and the Closing than anything else. The prior President who has been on many HOA boards and led many such meetings said: I’ve never been in any HOA meeting like that. It was so effective! Well done!

This isn’t a paid position, but even if it were, the only meaningful kind of payment you EVER get for connecting people is an inner satisfaction.

It is what I’m good at and I do enjoy it. And the community needed it. And received it. It was a win-win evening.

 

Seriously Snarky AgileInACan

August 12, 2012

Have you seen the Seriously Snarky AgileInACan? Have you used it? Did it work?

I really admire the people behind this initiative. They are serious coaches and thought leaders helping people be productive and most importantly, think!. They emphasize: there is no easy fix called ‘agile’.  In promoting their AgileInACan, they are inviting you to a real discussion of how they can help you in your work when prescriptive solutions fail.

Their idea caused me to do some creative thinking of my own. I wanted to see what it might take to prevent the need for AgileInACan.  My solution is admittedly team-focussed. It is a recipe but it isn’t fixed in stone. It is flexible for you, the chef, to modify as you see fit. If nothing else, create your own recipe from scratch. Use this template.

Since the ingredients are expensive, the line managers or business owner should sign off on it as they will need to provide the funding to implement this recipe.  This requires a major investment in some high quality facilitated, experiential training for team building, as well as infrastructure. As Esther Derby says of thriving teams in her article about the 60, 30, 10 rule, 30% of team effectiveness depends on the kickoff of the team. So that’s one area my recipe emphasizes. Get started on the right foot.  The recipe also contains a few pinches of methodology and process improvement training and assumes a very qualified team doing intense knowledge work (i.e. programming or the like).

Recipe

Main ingredients: 1 team of 5 to 7 people, selected for ripeness, and skill sets appropriate for the product or technology

Directions: Apply this team to the the following secret sauce;

Apply these spices to above mix, as needed:

  • Many teaspoons of various technical and agile practices (you decide which, based on context)
  • 1 tablespoon or more of Kanban\ Lean Thinking training
  • 1/2 pinch of Scrum training for good measure, if necessary
  • Coaching sessions (individual or agile oriented) can be carefully applied.

Note: Rub the spice on the team periodically adding new technical practices as needed.

Let the rub set

  • To let the rub set, the team will need to be mindful all the time. This means that their awareness of what they are doing, why they are doing it, and how they are improving must be at the forefront of their thinking. In order for this to happen, their environment must have the physical space to help them use mind/body integration practices, such as yoga, light office exercises, and meditation. Spaces to relax the brain are vital.  The kitchen area should include healthy snacks.  The purpose of their work should be palpable and they should all be in alignment. The environment should remind them of this and make them feel whole.
  • The team library needs to be filled with Books – digital and paper. The library must include all the seminal books on agile, kanban, organizational learning, as well as all the best and most recent books on technical practices and leadership. A librarian must be there to operate the library and be available to do research including finding relevant blogs and people to network with on topics of interest to the team. The team must be given time to read. eReader loaners might work!
  • The team room should be setup with all the whiteboards, wall space, stickies and markers needed. The workspace should be easily configurable for pair programming. Sufficient private space for individual work away from the team should be available.
  • The line manager for the team must ensue all other infrastructure and tooling for the project is available in a timely manner when requested.
  • If main ingredients and the spice rub have been applied properly and the team has its space, fabulous results should ensue.  For periodic boosts to teamwork, send team members to Amplify Your Effectiveness training or Problem Solving Leadership workshops.

Corrective Actions.

  • Invite in a caliber high-caliber retrospective facilitator and other specialists as needed to reboot the team.
  • Spray on some AgileInACan (or call their 1-800-RESCUE number, if they have one). Keep it under the kitchen sink, just in case.
  • If these don’t work, you are likely in need of some Organizational Therapy. For that, dial @flowchainsensei on Twitter or read his blog.
  • Other options may include 21st Century management training: Management 3.0 (Jurgen Appelo) or Radical Management (Steve Denning)

Recipe Disclaimer:  The ingredients in this recipe may be altered as you see fit.  This is based on my own exploration, training and reading in the past few years and has NOT been tested in its entirety. I have attended many but not all of the linked trainings and workshops. I have no financial interest in any of these.

[please perfect this recipe in comments.]

The Fifth Discipline

June 26, 2012

The Fifth Discipline –  a comparison to 3 other books that address improving teamwork and communication

Here’s a compare/contrast of the following books:‘The Fifth Discipline’, ‘Discussing the Undiscussable’, ‘Creating Time’, ‘More Time to Think’. I align and compare the last three books/frameworks across four dimensions taken from ‘The Fifth Discipline’. The four dimensions are –

  • Personal Mastery
  • Team Learning,
  • Mental Models
  • Shared Vision

The Fifth Discipline contains the most comprehensive view of what it takes for an organization to become a learning organization. The other books provide detailed frameworks for improved communication in different and perhaps complementary ways. I am in search of methods that address organizational and team dysfunctions and promote learning. I seek to bring this knowledge to bear in my future work.  The dysfunctions described in the Fifth Discipline are:

  • I Am My Position – and I have little responsibility for overall results
  • The Enemy is Out There – and there is not much I can do about it [cousin to ‘I am my Position’]
  • Proactiveness – it provides an illusion of solving the ‘reactivness’ problem prevalent in orgs.
  • Fixation on Events – these are a distraction from seeing long term patterns of change
  • Parable of the Boiled Frog – Maladaptation to gradually building threats, we don’t see them.
  • Delusion of Learning – We learn best by experience, but never experience the consequences of our decisions (due to time lag effect of those decisions)
  • Myth of Management Team – most managers find ‘collective inquiry’ threatening. When was the last time someone was promoted or rewarded for raising difficult questions about policies rathan than solving urgent problems.

(more…)