Temenos Retreat – Finding Humanity in the Workplace

Posted May 9, 2017 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Leadership, Personal Growth, Teams, Temenos

Temenos Retreat 1

We laughed in amazement towards the end of the retreat after we posed to take this group picture with my selfie-stick. Why? Because we only had to take one shot to get a perfect one. There was no awkwardness or hesitation in creating this picture. Everyone is at ease, smiling, eager to create the memory of our together time.  

My first Temenos Retreat facilitation took place on May 7th, 2017.  Seven participants joined with me in an intense day of reflection, sharing and learning.  I am grateful and honored to have hosted so many amazing people who were willing to be vulnerable in order to learn with others. I’ve written this post to reflect on seven ways in which the Temenos Leadership retreat improves our ability to experience humanity at work:

Connections with Others

The foundation of connection in Temenos is the story telling we do with Influence Maps at the beginning of the retreat. From this we find the rich threads of shared experience by recognizing and acknowledging what others have done, how they have been influenced, and how they have overcome their struggles.  Temenos takes us back to quality relationships as we practice sharing our personal history and building our shared vision in small group settings.  Taking these practices back to the workplace means that we can now model this connection-making in the teams we work with, manage or coach. 

Intuition/Feelings/Self Awareness

The biggest taboo in business is to expose one’s feelings. Businesses and people could thrive if there were safe ways to express emotion. Organizations that wish to thrive need the kind of leaders who can pave the way for this. Such leaders must learn to become self aware and confident in sharing their feelings and intuitions. In addition these leaders learn to listen for for what is alive in others. Temenos participants become more able to do this as they witness others doing so. 

Meditation

We can think of Temenos retreats as a way of rebooting ourselves, meditating with others about our own life and work/life. It’s an emptying of our past disappointments and an appreciation of what is happening right now.  Breathing in and out, and cleaning the slate for renewal.  

Confidence Building

Temenos ‘containers’ are the spaces we create in relationship with others in a pair or group. Much as a child learns to walk (falling, and trying again) with the loving surrounding of parents and siblings, adults can also be more influential with the support of others.  A workplace that fosters love is one where the network of support is strong, people know each other like a family and also support each other without blame or placating.  We gain confidence acting in an environment of support. 

Risk-taking

Leadership means going beyond what might be ‘normative’ at work, and taking a risk to do something a little differently. When we encounter stress at work, we might often revert to past habits that are not effective.  In my version of the Temenos retreat, we learn about the work of Virginia Satir and her Congruence Model to explore this angle. At the end of the retreat we practice scenarios from work, learning how to improve our responses to stressful interactions.

Doing the Right Thing

Congruent Leadership meshes well with the idea of ‘Doing the Right Thing’.  Congruence means that we act and speak in accordance with our feelings, our intuition, as well as in balance with the context of our environment.  In Temenos, the context is the social container we are in and considers our self-acknowledged strengths and the feedback we get from others as well.  Doing the Right Thing means not only listening to one’s own feelings, but listening to the needs of others and striking a balance – but not running from conflict, discomfort, or uncertainty.  In the end, in any toxic, rigid, or politically plagued office environment, we learn to have more joy when we have ‘agency’ – meaning the power of choice in how we react to other people.  

Collaborative Mindset

In Temenos and with other tools that I care about such as Clean Language and Non Violent Communication, sharing and listening lay the basic foundation of collaborative work. The more personal sharing we do, the more supportive, empathetic and creative we can be with one another. We can dare to build on each other’s great qualities and to experiment with our ideas when we are bonded and aware of each other’s humanity.  

Listening for Metaphors in Interviews

Posted April 12, 2017 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Career, Clean Language, Coaching, Experience Report, Listening, Organizational Change

Here’s what I listen for when I interview: metaphors.  I use metaphor-listening to draw some tentative conclusions about a person’s thinking. I do this out of habit from the skills I’ve developed as a Clean Language coach.

Here are some metaphors used by a recruiter in a recent interview:

‘raw shootout’ to describe the competitive coaches market,   

                      literal meaning of shootout: “a decisive gun battle”

‘running you through the gauntlet’ to describe the customer interview process 

literal meaning:  “a former punishment, chiefly military, in which the offender was made to run between two rows of men who struck at him with switches or weapons as he passed”  

‘put in a pipeline’ to describe what happens to me next

literal meaning of pipeline: “a long pipe, typically underground, for conveying oil, gas, etc., over long distances” 

I soon developed an image of a big filter entering the ground, where I and other ‘resources’ who had survived duking it out, and harsh interrogations would be dumped into the delivery mechanism to fuel that Big Agile industrial complex.

These metaphors do not align with my values.  The interviewer was clearly not aware of his own metaphors.  There were no other metaphors that described an alternate reality or an alternate mental model in that interview. I do not judge, but I do notice how I feel and react. 

I am learning the realities of big placement companies with big revenue numbers that lack focus on what really matters:  the connections that people make with each other to gain trust, build alliances, create great products, and instill humanity back in the work force.

Agility is harder than you might think without this.  Connections do matter. And so do contractual relationships which need to be built on a foundation of trust, transparency, and a healthy does of shared values.

What do you listen for in interviews?
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If you are interested in forging stronger bonds, safety, trust, engagement, authenticity at work, do check out my upcoming one day (very small) retreat on the weekend of May 6th.  Accepting up to 6 people on a pay-as-you-can basis.

Agile Assessments as a Burdensome Weight or a Guiding Enabler

Posted January 28, 2017 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Conference, Courage, Leadership, Organizational Change, Teams

A few years back when I was a coach in an enterprise wide agile adoption program, I had my first head-on collision with a mandated agile assessment program.  At that time, I decided to get all my thoughts into a drawing which I’ll show you here, unaltered from that time.   You can see my view that assessments can be seen as either a burden imposed from above or as a supportive tool for the evolution of the team’s capability. You don’t have to read the text of the drawing, as I’ll cover each item below.

assessments-in-agileLet’s parse the Burden Side. This is where the two folks holding up the assessment say: ‘Feel awful we’re not good enough, and we’re not sure how to get there’

Hard to support in its entirety – a huge questionnaire may point out so many gaps in maturity and it leaves a team with the sense of overwhelm. We know that change does not happen all at once. It can’t.  If unpaired with dialogue and a strategy for improvement, the assessment is of no use.

Not outcome oriented – an assessment is devaluing  the business value/metric of what was delivered  by examining predominantly the process/methodology by which that increment is delivered. That seems backwards.  The delivery should be in support of the business outcomes – which is what should be measured.

Not Context Sensitive – one size evaluation fits all. Usually these types of assessments are not combined with narratives or qualitative interviews, and so we are assuming that we could be comparing like things via this numeric approach.  We know large organizations host systems that are so wildly different from one another that forcing a like evaluation should never produce a side-by-side comparison. Yet, these assessments are used for just that, in many cases.

Misses mindset –  the human element of change – the mindset shift that is so critical in causing an organization to change its way of working – is not elevated.  Assessments will always miss mindset – there’s no way to codify that other than through storytelling, the vibe, the cooler talk, the openness and engagement that manifests in a healthy organization

Cognitive Overload – an assessment with a huge number of prompts will be immediately forgotten by those to whom it is administered.

Misunderstood as a Rating – even if the issuer of the assessment believes in their own positive intent, the teams having to take the assessment see it as a measurement.  Measurements provoke a ranking system which is almost always seen as judgmental, evaluative, and unrelated to the needs that those in the improvement program have to actually improve

Appears as a Mandate – well no need to explain this one. It wouldn’t be a burden if the team had self-selected to take its own assessment, by choice!

Without Conversation, May Cause Misunderstanding – my head was in the sand when I wrote this- in fact I should have written ‘May’ as ‘Will’.  There is nothing easy about working in an agile manner at first without support, leadership, love, hope, and belief in the people doing the work.  Leaders and executives mandating assessments without having conversations and opening up channels of communication with those they are assessing are burying themselves in the myth of big data.

Let’s parse the Guiding Enabler Side – this is the side where the two folks standing on the strength of the assessment are saying ‘Now we know where we are heading’.

Supportive – we see the breadth and depth of what’s possible in an agile project and can use the ideas to self reflect on what improvement to make next.

Foundational – we can use the assessment framework to fully vest in the whole enchilada over time such that we don’t forget areas of improvement we might not initially consider.  Without a foundation, each person may have their own pet improvement projects, but we need to vet all options and agree on the way forward together

Provides Focus Points – we don’t have to do everything at once. We pick a few related items to work on before we move to the next.  

Used As a Launch Pad for Conversations – this means that we can take one assessment prompt and talk about what it will be like when we have that, what it will take to get us there, why kind of support we can ask for from each other and from management. We never shelve an assessment, we have conversations using it.

Agnostic As to How Assessed, by whom, when, with whom, for whom – it isn’t mandated. The team uses it voluntarily whenever they decide to use it.  With great coaching and willing learners, and opt-in view, this can’t go wrong or be gamed

Understood as an Improvement Baseline – this means that we can track our progress over time if we choose to continue to look at the assessment as a means of self-reflection

Views Follow-up Support For Learning as Critical – everyone acknowledges that assessments are not the point, the learning that happens in-between is.  Therefore, the surrounding organization should be happy to provide whatever is needed to help the team reach the next level

Can be Tailored-Narrowed to Context – we can choose to not focus on or even to not fill parts of the survey depending on where we want to focus energy.   We want to eliminate waste, and that includes eliminating survey elements which don’t apply at a given time.  They are there, but we don’t use them, for now.

Launches New Practices – for learners who love to create great products that meet client needs, the assessment is a way of reminding the team that we can do more, that we have a never ending supply of ideas, practices and experiments to address in our agile journey. The assessment can help launch those.  That could be an exciting prospect.

What would you add to either side of this analysis?

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I am VERY LUCKY to be an Agendashift partner, with an amazing Slack community where the challenges of coaching well are discussed very openly with a lot of mutual support.

Mike Burrows has developed the most wonderful Agendashift assessment tool that is used in exactly the way I describe above – it is supportive of generative discussions on how best to create a change strategy that is context sensitive.  [If you are interested, let me know and I can help you get this launched in your organization]

In the Agendashift community of coaches, we teach coaches how to use Clean Language questions to explore the assessment prompts and what people would most like to work on next.  It is a generative approach that builds on the energy already latent in the organization.

These assessments are not used to compare teams, or to provide executives a hands-off data driven view of their agile adoption progress.

This is an amazing community trying to shift the way agile transformations are initiated so that they may be truly transformative.  It takes courage to stand up for what you believe when you are in an organization that wants to go in the other direction.

Thank you Mike, Suzanne, Jussi, Olivier, and Thorbjørn for your support last week!   I am glad I remembered my old drawing!

Gratitude and Hopes: My 2016 and 2017 in review!

Posted December 31, 2016 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Experience Report, Personal Growth

I am grateful for so much in 2016 and have many hopes for 2017 as well.  Here are some highlights:
 

An Ending and New Beginning: I have ended a 29 year marriage and begun a life of economic and emotional independence.  

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Our marriage certificate from 1987

The marriage began in a far away place, was sustained as we built a family, but faltered as the kids became adults, and I ventured into a mode of self discovery, growth, learning, and coaching.  I am sad it couldn’t last through that change. And I am grateful that we both finally acknowledged our need to live apart.  Grateful for the years we did have together, even the difficult ones.

 
Vision, Action, and Results: I started my own business – Connections At Work, and have been coaching leaders, managers,and teams at Fannie Mae  as an independent contractor.  I’ve had some amazing testimonials from a few clients this year.  Here is one that came to me in a New Year’s email from my dear friend, Kathy Kidd:
“Getting the chance to know you has been one of the highlights of the year for me.   Your generosity, kindness, enthusiasm, and passion for making the work world a much more human and connected place makes such a difference.”  
I am proud of this!
 
Courage: I am more bold and audacious with my clients now, not simply teaching or supporting the agile and Kanban core competencies and practices, but reaching for the most effective experiential learning opportunities I can offer that will make a difference in how people connect, communicate, and build things that make a difference.  It is really a sort of mindset training – a way to influence people in how they think, solve problems, collaborate – and I love this work more than anything else.
 

Learning, Growth, Exploration:  In 2016, I also had 3 amazing trips. In January of 2016, I went to Santa Barbara and gave a talk on Clean Language to the Santa Barbara Lean Agile Meetup group, visited with a second cousin there, and then drove up the coast to be with Clean Language experts, James Lawley, Penny Tompkins, and Sharon Small for 10 days. That was a huge highlight of my year and truly helped sustain me throughout the rest of the year.

In April, I went to Boston – to the Agile Games Conference and the Mob Programming Conferences.  There I ran a session of Featureban game – a game I’ve been using a lot to teach Kanban concept of flow and limiting Work in Process.  I learned this game because of two leaders in the Kanban community who invented and socialized the game.  I subsequently joined the Agendashift community online (thank you Mike!) – for additional surveys and tools to help me in my consulting work and eventually met both Karl Scotland and Mike Burrows (see pic below) on my third trip of the year.  I much enjoyed the Mob Programming experience as well – getting me a bit farther back to my programming days – seeing how to get the best knowledge from the group’s individuals into the code – collaboratively.  I also got to visit my mother’s childhood home in Newton.  Memories!

The third trip was to Edinburgh, Scotland to run another Clean Language workshop at the Lean Agile Conference.   I met up with some European friends

agendashift-workshop

Agendashift Worksop with Mike Burrows and Karl Scotland

for the first time and was also able to visit with the son of my Santa Barbara second cousin – (that is my second cousin once removed), who teaches Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh.  I am amazed that I am able to connect with interesting members of my more distant family on the same trips as my conferences! I am truly blessed!  These were not the first such ventures, and hopefully not the last either!   It was, like the others, an amazing conference too.

This year, I also invested in two workshops given online by some wonderfully inspiring women. Lisette Sutherland’s Work Together Anywhere Workshop and Leslie Zucker’s Deliver Workshops that Bring In Clients. Both online workshops were well thought out and delivered flawlessly and I took a lot away for my ever growing toolkit.

 
Self-reliance: Here’s something surprising. In 2016, I returned to coding and built myself some budgeting and tracking software that makes my life so much easier, especially with my business. code-snippetI am so proud of that. And while I was at it, I learned how to do it using Test-Driven Development.  I had had this goal – to not just know ‘of’ this hugely important agile practice, but to experience it first hand. And I did that! 
 
Resilience: In between all of these things and work, I was able to clean out a substantial amount of accumulated stuff of 30 years. I have pared down by getting rid of 90% of unneeded stuff to make a move out of this house possible. I feel proud of that.  Letting go requires a lot of emotional resilience.
 
Hard work: I power washed the pool deck, the front walkways and the large wood deck behind the house. I put waterproof sealant down on the deck as well.  Only way I got through that was listening to interesting podcasts at the same time. 
 
Self care: I started seeing a chiropractor on a regular basis.  This has been a godsend for my back and physical well-being.  
 

Reliability:  In 2016, I supported my daughter in her dream to leave corporate America and start her own business.  She runs Christie Bailey Fitness now, and is coaching other young women, and very active in social media – now with 10 thousand followers on Instagram.   She is a top-five contender for bodybuilding.com’s spokesperson of the year contest and will be flown to Boise, ID, then on to Los Angeles this coming week for the finals, interviews and lots of photo shoots.  It’ll be exciting to see what comes from this experience.  I am proud that she has the courage to pursue her dreams and to not let negative things or economic uncertainty get in her way!  This is inspiring. (update on 1/7/17 —-> SHE WON!)

She and I (and my ex) have tried the best we can to support my other child, who is taking a path that is slow, unintentional, difficult, bumpy, and very far from a path that leads to economic independence…. The good news is that this child is working full time at a hospital ER as a technical aide. That gives me a little hope, and yet the night shifts and day sleep can be detrimental to health and certainly that makes taking even 1 college class challenging.  Video-gaming takes up most of the rest of the waking hours for this child. Any information anyone has on rehab for gamers – please do share – even if I can’t make force this child to acknowledge the addiction – at least I will be equipped with more information.  Further attention to the mental and physical well being of this kid will form a significant part of my effort no matter where I am or where I go… I am glad they both can rely on me, and I can support them in the best way I know how – through love and belief in them.

 
For 2017 hopes and wishes: What I would like to have happen in 2017? 
 
I would like pay exquisite attention to my own health and welfare, so that I can get my other goals accomplished!
 
I would like to reach out more frequently to ask for help from the amazing coaches I know.
 
I would like to make every week that I work include one or more of my mindset related experiential trainings.  
 
I would like to add new clients to my business.
 
I would like to design a logo for my business and publicize more about my success and techniques.
 
I would like to submit proposals to teach at new conferences and meet ups that I have not yet attended.
 
I would like to write more blogs and collaborate on a book with Sharon Small.
 
I would like to go back to Liverpool and train in Systemic Modeling with Caitlin Walker.
 
I would like to be even more supportive and find resources for my second kid – especially with respect to the gaming addiction (universe, please send me advice!)

I would like to start exploring moving to Europe – what would it take? Could I find work there? What are the visa hurdles?
 
I would like to explore selling my house so that when the time is right, it can be done quickly and effectively.
 
I wish everyone a wonderful year ahead, filled with whatever it is that YOU would like to have happen in your life! Thanks for being with me on my various journeys and do stay in touch! 
  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The Limits to Treating Only ‘the Parts’

Posted November 15, 2016 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Coaching, Leadership, Organizational Change, Teams

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?

Remotely Audacious At Agile Atlanta Conference

Posted July 27, 2016 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Conference, Teams

sococo_2016-Jul-26

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.  

2016-07-25 10.58.28

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

Posted May 8, 2016 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Conference, Mobprogramming, Teams

 

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