Archive for the ‘Teams’ category

Remotely Audacious At Agile Atlanta Conference

July 27, 2016


You can see the Kubi on the table…

This week I participated remotely in the Audacious Salon at the Agile2016 Conference in Atlanta. My friend, and fellow coach, Mark Kilby was leading a session for attendees to to brainstorm solutions to the many challenges teams face when some of the team members  are not all in the same place (i.e. working at a different office, from home, in a different country, etc.)



At the audacious Salon, I connected via a tool called Sococo – which has virtual rooms, in which you can connect by chat and video conference with  co-workers, spontaneously.  I was one of about 7 to join, including two from London.  

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The view for me of the other remote participants and the slide deck used at that moment. 

We could hear each other as well as the conversation at the table, and we were included during the introductions, but it became apparent how easy it is for the in situ people to forget about those who are joining remotely.  It takes some practice and discipline to overcome this hurdle. When one person is remote, act as if everyone in the room is remote.  What I love about Sococo though is the ability to spontaneously connect with co-workers and know where they are. Easier than email, cell phone, text, and much more effective for making connections, and getting information quickly. It is no silver bullet for all the issues on remote teams, but an interesting newish way of connecting remotely.

Me_Kubi_teleporting to the Netherlands

Teleporting to the Netherlands to see Lisette’s office space on a Kubi

I was also able to join at the ‘table’ in Atlanta, by ‘tele-porting’ into the Revolve Robotics Kubi device, which I could control remotely to check out who was at the table.  I could swivel it up and down and left and right. This enabled me to see all the people at the table without bothering them. Scroll left and right to swivel. Up to see the ceiling, down to the floor. For a fantastic example of how distance learning can be enhanced using the Kubi, watch the first few minutes of the video entitled Zoom On Kubi webinar at the Revolve Robotics website.

In a conference interview with Josh Fruit, of Solutions IQ, Mark Kilby shares that success with remote teams is not really about tools, but rather, the degree of connection between people.  He asks: 

          How do you make sure you have connection on your team?

This is not just an issue with remote teams, but one that exists on many teams. My company,  Connections At Work, has the explicit goal of improving connection no matter where the teams are located.  A few of the goals your leadership or your teams would be striving for if you asked me for help can be gleaned from this collaborative teaming article in the Harvard Business Review.  It is all about team emotional IQ.

There are a growing number of people who are collecting the body of knowledge about teams that work remotely.   One is my friend Lisette Sutherland who works in the Netherlands. You can visit her Collaboration Superpowers website and her podcast for a wealth of information. Her co-conspirator on many projects is Pilar Orti, working from London. You can see her activities, podcast, and blog posts at Virtual Not Distant.  Judy Rees is also highly qualified to help teams get the connections going remotely and has a wonderful blog post on this topic here.  Thanks to Mark Kilby and Jesse Fewell for continuing to explore, experiment with, and promote a distributed way of working in the agile community. 

As I’ve just completed the Collaborations Superpowers course, I’ll be able to start giving the same training to others who need it.  So if YOUR team needs help with the challenges of partially remote teams or connections on any team, do be in touch – contact information is also on my Connections At Work website.

Collective Intelligence with Mob Programming

May 8, 2016


2016-04-30 16.19.08

I returned on May 2nd from the first ever Mob Programming conference in Cambridge, MA.

Many people from around the world (US, England, Finland, Denmark, France, Africa, China, India) gathered to learn from Woody Zuill, Llewellyn Falco and others about a relatively new phenomenon in the IT world – that of groups interacting in the same (head) space to maximize the (coding) results while using the collective intelligence of those present.

The premise of  mob programming or ‘mobbing’ as it is sometimes called, is that people will learn together how to ’turn up the good’ in the team and in each other to the benefit their customers. The result is less time spent churning, estimating, waiting for answers, deciphering someone else’s code, fixing bugs. The greatest possible intelligence is collected into the code in a focussed and collaborative manner with the whole team (analysts, testers, programmers, and other specialists, as needed). When paired with solid tests, written first, this technique is a great way to produce high quality software that is more easily maintained. It operates more like a great team of scullers on the Charles River than a traditional IT shop.Harvard Crew

What happens in the majority of organizations that produce software is that most code writing is done by individuals using different styles at different times, at different desks, without much consultation – yet with the hope that the disparate parts will be able to be integrated.  In the status quo organization, there is not much attention paid to the ecosystem that the code ‘lives in’. Sometimes people are moved from team to team like chess pieces for short term gains.  Teams are treated as temporary constructs. The resulting software may appear cracked in places, and mis-understood, poorly formed in stressful situations.

If one developer wrote it and no one else understands it, the future ability to modify such code will be diminished. Therefore, the best way to have great code now and in the future is to put many minds at the same task, at the same time, in the same room (virtually or physically). The likelihood is higher that the best ideas from people will emerge and be used when people collaborate this way. 

2016-05-01 11.31.39I got to experience this first hand myself. I took part in a small group of coders who had to code the solution to a small problem together. Only one person ’the driver’  is allowed at the keyboard at a time and this person is not allowed to type anything other than what others in the room agree to have them type.  The screen is projected so that everyone can see.  All ideas and code must be verbally expressed and transmitted to the person in the ‘driver’s’ seat. The first time we did this, we had one designated navigator – who could direct the driver. The driver stays in the driver seat for a very short time – perhaps 5 to 15 minutes, after which the person who was driving can become a navigator and contribute again to the ideation about what to work on next, taking input from the others.  I very  much enjoyed learning and participating in this, and certainly felt there was no hesitation in people sharing their ignorance or their knowledge. Everyone learned.  In the conference setting, there were numerous opportunities to do this at beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels. The beginners used simple coding katas, and even some ‘koan’ lessons for learning to code in a new language.  Everyone had fun.

We also used simulations using other tools to teach about mobbing. One group, that I participated in briefly, produced an article for InfoQ as a mob, writing together in a very short time.  Another group used the card game ‘Set’ (which was invented by Llewelyn’s mother) to simulate a mob session for solving the puzzle.  Done in several rounds, once with a single navigator, then later with no single navigator (giving directions), it clearly shows how messy it can get -when first starting out – to have a group of people giving directions all at once.  But I observed that the time constraints work well in combination with a self-organizing team. The team learns best with trial and error how to moderate itself and inquire of each other before directing the ‘driver’ to take action.  In fact, after each change in the driver, we held a mini retrospective: each person contributed their ‘aha’, or passed.  Mobbing groups are encouraged to experiment.  Some teams are even working this way when not co-located, using video and screen sharing software.  As others have pointed out, great teams develop implicit and/or explicit protocols – you can read more about such teams here.

Whether with coding, or with non-coding simulations, the best individual performance on a challenge is almost never as good as the performance of a team of possibly less ‘able’ individuals. I took this lesson away at a wonderful simulation activity at Amplify Your Effectiveness conference in 2010. We compared the performance of individuals at estimating ten ‘Guinness Book of World Records’ to the performance of teams that worked on the same challenge together.  We observed that it is never the team with the best individual scorer that wins the team competition, even with the same 10 records repeated. 

I am quite sure that I experience both peaks and troughs in my productivity throughout the day.  I would be thrilled to be able to lean on other teammates and vice versa to ideate and produce the best possible products and deliverables.  If only managers could give up a fixation on ‘time spent’ on code, in favor of frequent delivery of valuable code for the business, I bet they would experiment with Mob Programming and find it very beneficial. And ‘valuable means too that it will be more easily maintained in the future – it won’t only be the tech lead who makes decisions and knows the history of the code’s back-alleys.  It will be collectively understood.

Finally, as you will read from Woody’s writings, and from his talks on mob programming, this technique should never be something anyone can or should mandate.  Teams should be left to choose their best way of working and be encouraged to experiment with their collective intelligence.  

I really appreciated the people who travelled from afar to talk about and practice the principles of mob programming and I would definitely attend this conference a second time.

If you need a facilitator to help you get started, please reach out to me. If you wish to read more about Mob Programming, you can read Woody’s book and Llewellyn’s books here and here and watch the time lapse of a day in the life of a team that mob programs.  On May 18th, I’ll be giving a workshop on The Core Protocols (another great team productivity enhancer) with an open discussion about mob programming at the end. These two ways of working and interacting are quite awesome for the audacious and courageous self-organizing teams.    If you are in DC, you can RSVP here. You do not have to be a woman to attend.

A last note: at the end of the conference, I offered up the idea of creating a community book about teams that are coding using the Mob Programming principles. It would involve interview questions and answers about the teams’ experiences, perhaps modeled along the lines of the Who Is Using Clean Language, Anyway? book. (That book is itself modeled after Who is Agile? book that I helped edit years ago). I would need a co-author and a couple of teams to volunteer for interviews to get started. It would evolve as a Leanpub book until we had a great cross section of teams from around the world representing different domains and challenges, perhaps 20 or 25 teams.  If you are interested, please leave me a note below or contact me via Twitter at @andreachiou

McCarthy Bootcamp and The Core Protocols – Experiencing a Team with Shared Vision

June 30, 2015

I attended Jim and Michele McCarthy’s team-building workshop – in April 2015.  It was an amazing experience learning how to create great teams within the span of one week using the The Core Protocols.  If you’ve never read of them before or want to familiarize yourself with them, you can download or print the Protocols here or buy a small printed version here.

I went to Bootcamp because I am tired of workplaces where I cannot see the innate energy, skills and gifts people have.  I see lifeless disengaged employees and I want that to change. I wanted to experience working in a different way, for a week, where people feel connection. I want others to benefit from what I learned is possible.

In this Bootcamp, experimental learning requires an individual commitment to use the protocols, including all of the built in safety features. One of the first instructions to Bootcamp participants is: You are entering a simulation and you must pretend that the Protocols will work during the simulation.  There is no doubting their efficacy during bootcamp. Use them. Experience them. You will see the results.  It’s like entering a new building. You cannot appreciate fully from looking at the floor plans alone.  I believe it is in the doing that we learn how and why.

Before Bootcamp, we had a 100 page pre-bootcamp reading assignment to prepare us for this journey. We came from about 7 different nationalities and continents – we were about 15 people in total including a 13 year old. Below I share just a few salient aspects of Bootcamp and below that some other links for those who are still curious. 

Personal Alignment

During the Bootcamp itself, before working on the product that we were assigned to deliver by the end of the week, team members get to know each other.   The Personal Alignment itself takes the the form of articulating a virtue (love, courage, trust, presence, joy, health/self-care)  – one that if the skies rained down this virtue in abundance, all the ‘blocks’ to your personal achievement would be removed.

This aspect is about individuals discovering what they want, disclosing it, and then asking the team for support in the form of a signal/response pair.   Supporting each other in getting those virtues allows the team to be be strong!

I see a lot of analytical, technical, engineering type problem solvers slaving away at their day jobs. I wonder if they find joy, connection, support, and a sense of being ‘in’ with their team on a daily basis… I wonder if they know that over time, they will burn out from not feeling connected to others at work in a deeper way.  One of the reasons I value the Protocols, specifically Personal Alignment, Check In and Ask For Help so much is that they bring this me a strong sense of being connected to each member of the team.  Work should bring joy, and with the connectedness and safety, people will produce at their best.

At camp we used the Investigate protocol to learn more about each other. It is a time of deepening relationships on the team as the Alignments are explored. One person on the team at my Bootcamp wanted more Courage.  When he shared his signal throughout bootcamp: ‘I want Courage’, anyone present at that moment would yowl like a wolf as that was the response he asked for!  Alignments allow for personal growth.  Folks are encouraged to write down the evidences they will have when they know they are exhibiting more of their virtue. They are encouraged to report those evidences to team members, and ask for help when they need it.  This is incredibly powerful.

Web of Commitments

After personal alignments, the team performs a  web of commitments ceremony in which all the alignments, signals and responses are shared. We also share our desired evidences.  It’s a beautiful creation – coming from the increased bandwidth, self-disclosure, getting to know one another.

Shared Vision

Before making products, we create a shared vision. This is a brief statement about what we want the world to be like as a result of the product we are making. We create the vision before we even know what product we will be making… it is very aspirational, very inspiring as well.  One feels lifted above the dross and worry of procuring the stuff we’ll need…. and we did need stuff – read more about that later in the Managers section.

Making Products

After the Web of Commitments, we go to work producing. Now that we are more deeply connected with one another, we will reflect our best selves in our products.

We continue to use  Ask For Help, Check In, Check Out, Investigate, Intention Check, Decider, Perfection Game, Resolution, Protocol Check liberally as we produce stuff – in addition to to sharing our alignment prompts. We are completely self-organizing using our communication tools and discovering and sharing our talents.

Our team made a lot of cool things. There were sub teams of people creating things like a Gong stand, a robotic proximity sensor with stuff bought at Radio Shack, paintings, a Greatness Manifesto, an emotion/check in cube, a game, music and so forth.  By the end of the week, our goal was to showcase our best product to the ‘Managers’.


Jim and Michelle McCarthy who hosted the Bootcamp I attended played the ‘Manager’ role.   They showed up at times, as managers normally do, seeing how things were going, to see if we were using ‘Ask for Help’ protocol.  One of the big things folks get wrong with respect to management is not asking for help enough!  This is true on every Bootcamp they’ve ever run – and I’ve been noticing this a lot as a cultural phenomenon back at work. People who need things are afraid to ask for them! We had several team members who had been to a handful of bootcamps before, and they were not shy – and whatever support we needed (stuff to make our products), we asked for from Jim and Michelle, or just procured the items ourselves. Like some of the other newbies, I fell short of asking for help enough at Bootcamp by my own admission, but I’ve been practicing more since then. For example, I asked for a new laptop at my coaching gig and got it (the desktop I had was horribly outdated and slow, but I hadn’t thought to ask). 

I’ve been observing this lack of asking by others at work. It is a pervasive phenomenon that I had not really noticed much before. 

Closing Ceremony

At the end, we presented our best product to the managers.  We had everything available to see, but getting to unanimity on the product to showcase was HARD work.  Folks had invested a lot in some of the products, but because we had the ‘Decider’, ‘Resolution’ and ‘Intention Check’, ‘Check in’ and ‘Check out’ protocols, as well as our alignments, we were able to get all onboard and the best product out the door on time.  You can see our product, the Greatness Guild, and follow it as it continues to grow as an outcome of our team’s work.

McCarthy Bootcamps  demonstrate that installing ‘software for your head’ (the Protocols) magnifies a team’s capacity by helping people communicate!  See this invitation to the Fall 2015 Bootcamp and sign up now if you want to experience it.  

If you want to dig deeper on your own after reading this post, read Software for Your Head or listen to the McCarthy Show podcasts. A good podcast to start with is an interview with a Bootcamp grad who started using The Core Protocols at Microsoft. 


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) 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 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.


Trust and Emotions in the Workplace

March 27, 2013


I will check in;
I am glad; writing this post on trust and emotions in the workplace.
I am sad/afraid; I cut out a lot of material I wanted to include. I will create future posts.
I am glad; getting better at drawing, slowly.
I am glad; respecting people’s time, wanting to be concise, wanting to keep it simple.
I am mad; not having time to write more frequently.
I am glad; I want to  engage in a discussion with my readers!

I’m in.

(I check in this way to make myself vulnerable and to gain your trust)

Why Trust?

Trust is the real fuel of a productive team. Processes may be useful to organize complex knowledge work, but without trust, even the cleverest process will suffer. Knowledge work involves creativity which involves taking risks (including the risk of making mistakes).

Great teamwork requires trust and vulnerability among team members. How do team members get to this state?

What if they started with a clean slate every day or at the start of meetings- by sharing the current state of their emotions?

When I am able to do this and be welcomed without comment, I am ready to tackle my day, my meeting or my personal interactions so much more openly. If others do the same, even more so.

Why Emotions?

I’ve been thinking a lot about emotions in the workplace, specifically how suppression of feelings can lead to so many  unproductive interactions and missed opportunities.  We may enter the workplace not feeling whole. We may say ‘Hello’ and  ‘How are you?’ to our colleagues. We leave part of ourselves behind, hidden. This is the norm.  We often don’t know what professional and/or personal stresses, joys, fears, sadness team members are carrying with them. We don’t have an acceptable way to switch on our emotional selves. Instead, we arrive home and vent our frustrations about work at the dinner table.
If, when we start our interaction with other people, either one-on-one or in meetings, we start with a ‘reading’ of where people are emotionally, amazing things can emerge – empathy, calmness, resiliency, and trust too. It is not that people want to hide; rather there is a widespread cultural notion that emotions and business settings are like oil and water and which we should not mix.  Yet, here is what can happen when we do mix them:

People can connect to my humanity (and me to theirs). Explicitly hearing someone’s feelings of sadness, anger, joy helps me trust a person faster, knowing him or her as a full, rich human, not just as an actor functioning in a process. Vulnerability, the willing to let ourselves be more fully seen is a great way to create trust.

Think about your current environment:

  • What emotions do you notice people are hiding in your workplace?
  • When is it good to suppress feelings and when not?
  • How might it feel to work in an environment where your colleagues welcome your emotions without judging you?
  • How would it feel to share and have others share observations, feelings, needs and requests instead of blaming, placating, and coping in incongruent ways?
  • How might bonds of trust between colleagues improve if you knew more about their past influences and their future ambitions?

A Culture of Great Meetings [AgileDC workshop]

October 24, 2012

In this post I cover

  • Why I care about this topic
  • What was covered in this Great Meetings session
  • What I liked about this session
  • Other related thoughts

Why I Care

Everyday I hear the same thing when I ask how my husband’s day was:  Oh very busy; full of meetings.

I reply: Were they useful?  He says: Oh no. Most of them are a waste of time. But we don’t know any better way to share information and make sure everyone is on the same page.

This sad story is repeated over and over throughout many organizations and is no doubt a contributor to our national debt and sluggish economy! I too, want to help fix these dysfunctions and ease the pain experienced daily by so many!

Attendance at the AgileDC session titled ‘A Culture of Great Meetings’, was fantastic. This topic is HOT! The room was packed with standing room only in the back.

Laura Burke (@agilenvironment on twitter) from Rally Software was the facilitator. She had the full meeting agenda up on the wall – written out in advance and legible from a distance.  She said in no uncertain terms: Electronically emailed agendas are simply NOT sufficient to keep a meeting focused!

A Readable Agenda

Great Meetings Agenda


To learn how to better engage Agile teams by practicing techniques that engage the wisdom and experience of your teams.


  1. What are our top contibutors to bad meetings?
  2. How do we open a meeting and why do we do it that way?
  3. What are some safe ways to address challenges in meetings?
  4. How do you hold a quick retrospective and why are they critical to meetings?
  5. Why do I care so much about your meetings?
Great Meetings Communicate these types of things well!

Great Meetings – Part 2

What was Covered

First Laura had everyone take stickies and write down ideas about what contributes to bad meetings. Each group put up their stickies on wall.  Each group then dot-voted on the ideas. Most of the groups generated a dozen or more and all included some variant of the following:

  • No Set Agenda
  • Inattentiveness
  • Dominating Talker

Next, Laura asked us to come up with safe ways that we might address each of the two issues that we had voted on. So we had another round of ideas to solve these issues. She used the ‘pass the pen’ technique: each person in the group takes the pen and writes his or her idea on the big poster sized sticky.  One idea for creating safe and effective meetings was the Lean Coffee technique.

She had the groups tour around the room to observe the work and ideas of the other groups. This did not work very well as there was really no room to move easily. Each group also shared verbally their top two ideas.

Laura talked a little about the Groan Zone. Every one knows what this is – when people roll their eyes in meetings, when people stop paying attention, when action and movement on making decisions is side tracked, when debates go on and on.

As Laura progressed through each part of the meeting, she referred back to the agenda, ticking off the progress we were making.  Soon, we only had 5 minutes left for the retrospective. She had us write more ideas on stickies:

  • What I liked (about the session)
  • What I wished (for the meeting to make it better)
  • What If…(some crazy idea)

The last two sounded similar at first, but some people were clever and used the What If to show contrast. For example, What If this session had been conducted by Powerpoint? Now that was some good meta-level thinking about experiential learning – thank you Alexei Zheglov (@az1 on Twitter)!

Laura posted all this feedback at the back door so people could take a look after the session.  I’m sure everyone was thinking: Wow – I could use this to gauge the effectiveness of my own meetings!

Laura Burke is an experienced facilitator from Rally Software. She walked the talk, using the very techniques to conduct the meeting/session that she was attempting to teach us.

After the retrospective Laura shared her background with us and told us how she came to love facilitation. She had studied Conflict Resolution and Peace Studies!  I was not suprised to learn that Laura’s mentor is Jean Tabaka (author of the book Collaboration Explained) of Rally Software. Jean Tabaka is one of the people included in the Who Is Agile book I have been editing and I have long thought of her as my mentor too – even though we have never met.  What fascinating ladies with such interesting backgrounds!

What I liked

  • Hands on participation, adequate supplies.
  • The room was setup beautifully, including the colorful agenda.
  • Slides were used minimally and were creative.
  • The text on the slides could be seen from the back of the room (this is often not the case)
  • The preparation and care for the participant experience could be felt. People were told that if they did not find the meeting useful, they could leave at any time.

What I wished had been better:

  • The space was sized to the audience (or vice-versa)
  • The session time was a little longer to allow for more questions and answers
  • The facilitator should always repeat the questions or contributions when the participants do not project their voices adequately A handout might have been provided for futher information and resources such as books, blogs and techniques
  • The facilitator did not have to stand in the projection path to the big screen.

What If?

What if people interested in this session could have also learned about the Core Commitments and Protocols?

These topics are compatible and complementary!  This year’s Great Meetings session was so much in much demand that I think an intro to other techniques would have been welcomed by the attendees.

[Disclaimer, I proposed a session on Jim and Michele McCarthy’s work with Core Protocols, but it didn’t make it this year; I will try again next year and/or invite Vickie Gray to do it with me! Vickie Gray has a great book called Creating Time which explains the protocols in an entertaining way! ]

We all want better work experiences and more individual and team engagement. There are solutions. Let’s publish them, promote them, train them and create better work places.

Thank you AgileDC, Rally Software and Laura Burke for a great session!!!

Please add your own insights if you attended and feel feel to comment on this post!

Intro to the ‘Ask for Help’ Core Protocol – I’m modelling how!

May 24, 2012

Asking for Help is one of the key skills your team members need to have if they would like to have successful outcomes, agile transitions, or superb products. Sadly, many people shy away from asking for help due to cultural conditioning as well as  rewards and compensation based on individual performance.

I am going to model for you the ‘Asking for Help’ protocol. This post is really about my asking you for help (see below in a minute). But first, I would love to share with you a little background on the Core Protocols for great teams.  If you are not familiar with the Core Protocols that originated with Jim and Michele McCarthy, pick up a new and valuable  book called ‘Creating Time’. In this wonderful introduction to the Core Protocols and Commitments, Vickie Gray tells us the story of the  Time-Eating Monster that lurks around every meeting and every interaction in the workplace feeding on the slightest opportunity to gobble up your precious time. The monster does this by feeding on dissonance, indecision and inaction, insecure egos and more.  But you can slay the monster and indeed you must.  The Core Protocols, of which ‘Ask for Help’ is one, is the way to slay the monster. And one of my offerings to you is to teach your teams the ‘Core Protocols’. The book does introduce a subset of the full set of protocols, interwoven with the storytelling. It makes a compelling case for improvement that you will relate to!

Now I will model the ‘Ask for Help’ protocol myself. It makes me fell a little vulnerable, but it will help me succeed!

Will you help me find an agile transformation gig in the DC area?

Saying No is perfectly ok. The Core Commitment for this protocol is not to discuss the request further once someone says ‘No’.

To help you out in answering my ‘Ask for Help’ question, I have summarized what I want to work on below.

  • Coach your teams to greatness with better communication skills, using one or more techniques such as:
    1. Introduce the basics of effective two way communication using the Satir Interaction model
    2. Train the team on Core Protocols patterns that make Good teams Great
    3. Help you develop the agile mindset/culture within your organization
    4. Teach  the principles of a ‘Thinking Environment’ culture (based on work of Nancy Kline)
    5. Teach retrospective techniques, principles of self-organizing teams, servant-leadership, and high trust cultures
    6. Teach you how to climb down the ‘Ladder of Inference’ and break down assumptions within your communication.
  • Train Kanban (using a combination of simulation games, Version 3.0 GetKanban board games and training material – I have two sets so can train up to 14 people in a 1/2 day session)
  • Coach Kanban Transition: help you model your current processes on a Kanban board and coach you through a Kanban adoption
  • Teach theory of and application of Scrum; coach Scrum teams
  • Introduce you to Principles and Practices of Radical Management
  • Help you navigate the use of social media outside your organization to improve your network of learning and support in your new initiatives
  • Make you aware of other resources, books, articles, blogs, specialized consultancies and conferences to augment your learning opportunities
  • Guide you, your team, or your executive leadership on a Temenos retreat to create a basis for developing strong teams and missions.
  • Coach individuals at all levels of your organization

Please contact me at if you know a place that needs my help!  My preferred work location is still in the immediate DC metro area. If you can’t help, thanks for reading anyway, and hopefully you have enjoyed learning about one of the ‘Core Protocols’.