Archive for the ‘Leadership’ category

What Are You Daring To Do?

August 14, 2017
Miki Kashtan, Non-Violent Communication expert recently posted her evolving thoughts on ‘Why Patriarchy is Not About Men’ and what we can do about.  I posted several years ago my experience report of an all day workshop with Miki and she is not only an amazing facilitator, but an amazing human and writer.
Miki says we need to stop paying exclusive attention to the individual actions (of others) and start to measure the degree to which we take action to change or affect systems we are part of.   We need to act congruently with our espoused and actual values. To change up the patriarchal system we live in we need to push ourselves out of our own comfort zones.  Her writing is about societal systemic issues and more importantly about our personal agency for change, when our values do not align.

Do you have the courage and ability to say, even when you feel uncomfortable:

“No, I won’t participate”
“I need X”
“In this context, this does/doesn’t make sense to me’?
When have you done just that? Does it include times when it meant you could have lost your job?  Or are you more prone to recoil into the safety of your current patterns, and current job with all its perks and advantages?

I am leaving the big-agile organizational transformation coaching business because I do not believe in imposed coaching.  It isn’t that I refuse to coach in a larger organization, but I won’t have a central agile department as well as other placement agencies or prime contractors between me and my client. As long as I can be a participant in a Setup process prior to engagement, I will be able to choose whether I am a good fit for a potential customer.

I have exercised my agency. I have stepped out of my comfort zone to align my values to my work life – and looking forward to new, fresh opportunities for success.

On Hiring An Agile Coach, How to Setup for Success

August 9, 2017

Hiring agile coaches is still very much a standard practice. Many organizations hire a cohort of coaches spread around the organization to help teach, train, and lead the teams towards their specific goal of agility (usually related to: better quality products delivered in a shorter increments).  There are indeed many benefits to agile coaching in the right circumstances (i.e. the team wants the outside help). The most critical time for ensuring success with a coach starts before the engagement – the pre-contract setup meeting in which current state, obstacles, and expectations are shared.  The team or its leadership asking for a coach must reflect on its current state, the state of the product (direction or strategy for the future), the dynamics of the team, external factors, the governance and software development processes, and its main points of pain (quality, speed, effectiveness – ROI). The team needs to have a sense of where it wants to focus its improvement so that it can become more responsive in its delivery of high quality software. It will hire a coach accordingly.   In a general sense, the team will have reflected enough to know that – with respect to agility – it is 

  • stuck in one or more patterns, that prevent quality or productivity, or general effectiveness. 
  • needs additional clarity about specific goals; and ways to reach the goals.  
  • has either communication or motivational issues which require individual or team coaching
  • wants to own the change….and the results

Given the above, the setup meeting I envision will encompass the following two topics: Goal Setting and Investment Thinking

Goal Setting: The coach and coachee (e.g. leadership and team) generate a common understanding of the specific goals as well as the skills, training, and facilitation needed of the coach to reach those goals. 

Goals should be measurable.  For example, if code quality is the burning issue preventing frequent delivery of features, then a coach versed in quality issues, software craftsmanship and Test Driven Development (TDD) will be suitable. The goal might be to reduce escaped defects by 50%.  Each agile coach has her own ‘book of knowledge’  on topics in the following areas (not an exhaustive list):  team dynamics, psychology, communication, organizational learning, management, agile methods (e.g. Scrum, XP, Kanban), processes and tools, systems thinking, software development, product ownership, lean startup, technical practices (e.g. TDD, ATDD, CI/CD), and scaled methodologies (e.g. LESS, SaFE, DAD).  It is important to find a fit that suits your situation well.  Find out more about the coach candidates and their strengths.  Broadly speaking, we can divide coaches into process coaches, technical coaches, and leadership coaches (focusing on communication and motivation) – but all coaches will be versed at a high level in many of the listed areas and have depth in a smaller number of areas.  

When needed, a coach should be able to call on other coaches in the organization to fill in any gaps.  For example, an agile coach focussing on process and methodology should be able to find assistance with CI/CD – DEVOPS expertise and bring in a short term trainer to fill a gap on the team they are coaching. A technical coach who is less comfortable with running retrospectives, should be able to ask someone with that experience in team facilitation to fill in.  The coach should be able to measure the goal and help you achieve it.

Investment Thinking: The coach shares with potential sponsor/hiring manager of the agile coach the ways in which they and the team will need to invest in the coaching. 

 If this step is skipped, you will encounter many bumps.  It is not uncommon for there to be some resistance to coaching involving change.  Many times it is due to pre-existing schedules and deadlines that are said to be ‘fixed’.  It can be due to fear that some might have of losing their jobs.  If we assume that ‘learning’ is the biggest impediment to a transition to agile, and that learning takes time, and we know that ‘there is no time’, no coaching will help. A coach running behind the busy people telling them what to do, just in time, will also fail.

Agile coaching involves the team learning new habits, and communicating in different ways about the work. Initially there will be knowledge transfer through training; knowledge acquisition (cementing the classroom knowledge) will come through the hands on work.  Doing is believing. A team that is willing to drop their own resistance and invest in some new ways of working together and communicating together will succeed. Management must support this. 

A coachee (leadership and team) will benefit most from a coach when they can recognize and verbalize their own resistance patterns and be open to talking about it.  A good coach will help them recognize these patterns early on.  Any team undergoing change will first experience a dip in productivity before the gains begin to take hold.  The timeline of a coaching intervention will be heavily dependent on the context, culture, and the size of the team.  Expect to have the team spend some portion of their work on learning and improvement.  Expect to experiment, and learn from failing too. This is learning.

General Principles of Coaching

If then, the initial improvements and goals are agreed to; management is invested in its own and its team’s ongoing learning activities;  and the skills of the specific coach are aligned to the desired improvements, the coach will come on board with a higher likelihood of success. The very best coach will seek to minimize the touch time with the team over time, and leave them in their own best state for learning on their own.   

The coach will be a powerful observer whose general stance will be to keep the team on track and to help them stay accountable to each other.  Although the coach will often wear the hat of a trainer and facilitator, she will, as much as possible, apply the general principles of coaching, namely:

  • A coach focuses on the agenda of the coachee (the goals and improvements they wish to achieve). The coachee decides which goals or problems to work on, not the coach. The coach can help them discover what they want most.
  • A coach uses powerful questions to generate new learning. The coach does not teach or advise, but asks questions and listens.  During coaching, the coach will help the team by facilitating sessions to find out more about the goals and areas where the team is stuck.  Many questions will be asked and orient the team towards finding solutions.
  • A coach encourages action. The coachee develops his or her own action steps, rather than waiting for assignments of the coach.
  • A coach supports change. A coach follows-up to support personal learning, growth, and change.

The reason we want to see general coaching principles applied to agile coaching is quite simple:  a team will feel more ownership, and the coach will be helping the team to generate its own best way forward.  Specific skills and knowledge of the coach can and should be brought into the mix when absolutely needed. However, it is much more powerful for a team to become a learning team, not reliant on the coach for spoon feeding answers.  A coach can help the team feel confident in its own choice, or steer them to select a new option if the first choice is not in the team’s best interest.  Only when the team is stuck, unable to think of options – should the coach provide an answer.
It is no wonder my recent tweet 
got so much attention.

There is so much work to do to teach people how to learn on their own again. It’s an art they have somewhat lost in the top down style org

This is what using the coaching principles can add.  If you have read “The Goal”, by Eliyahu M. Goldratt, you will understand the power of these principles.

_________________________
This post was written from the vantage point of my own prior coaching experiences, many of which did NOT work out or align in the best way possible.  I have just rolled off what I hope is my last ever gig in an organization where agility is mandated and the teams do not genuinely request the coaching.

In the coming year I will be investing in Systemic Modeling training with Caitlin Walker who has achieved major cultural turn arounds in organizations seeking change with as little as 9 days of training, spread over a year with off and on remote coaching after that. I credit much of my thinking around the Setup process described above to her ‘Clean Setup‘ technique.

To hear an account of the effects of Systemic Modeling coaching, watch this video.  This type of work inspires me, and I hope that in the very near future, I can find engagements to do exactly this sort of intervention.   I am not giving up completely on agile coaching, but I will apply the above Setup criteria to whatever opportunity comes my way to ensure I am not ever in the position in which managers and leaders feign wanting the coach in a mandated agile program and then fail to invest in the coach when the coach is present.

Temenos Retreat – Finding Humanity in the Workplace

May 9, 2017
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.  

Agile Assessments as a Burdensome Weight or a Guiding Enabler

January 28, 2017

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?

_________

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!

The Limits to Treating Only ‘the Parts’

November 15, 2016

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

Question: What domain am I talking about?  

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

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

Why do I like this metaphor?

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

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

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

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

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

My ‘Intentional’ Mindful Leadership Retreat

March 26, 2016

cherriesI am planning a retreat with Selena Delesie, called the Mindful Leadership Retreat at the April 22-24th, 2016. You can read about it here, and register here.

I want to share why I am running this retreat, why at my home, and why now in my life? I want to disclose my intent!

My Intent in running the retreat is to:

1.) Share.  What holding this retreat does for me that it holds space for others to learn and share. The magic that can happen over a three day period with a small group of people is incomparably rich as compared to short  workshops. It is the ambience and generative experience I wish to replicate  – especially for those who have NOT had this opportunity before.  

2.) Invite people into my space.  Where one does one’s important life-advancing work is as important as discussing what the work is.  The learning environment you will come to has both beauty and serenity.   If you want to make a meaningful connection with someone at work, it is best not to do so with a desk between you.  Take a walk, go to a space where there is openness. That will have a beneficial effect on your communication. Learn why by experiencing it here.

3.) Spread the wealth of mindfulness and of my past influencers.  I want the effect to be far-reaching. I want to know that you’ve gotten what you needed by coming to this retreat and that I can support you even after it is over. I have my own influencers to thank. And want you to carry the torch forward.

4.) Collaborate with an amazing woman in doing something new.  Learning to go with the energy of the present moment is a gift – being able to let go of past stories, and create meaning and value in one’s life. If Selena and I can model a fresh new collaboration like ours for you, I’ll feel great – and you’ll see the reward in our faces for having tried something new and a bit scary.

5.) Create close connections between people.  Quite simply put, that’s where the magic happens and where the problems are solved. I want others to see how they can foster that happening as well.

What are some concrete Mindful Leadership exercises that you can expect from us?

Checking in: We will use checking in to launch each day in the morning and afternoon.

Temenos:  Influence Mapping / Vision Mapping – exercise in self-reflection, mapping one’s influences  and envisioning the future. Each person will be narrating their influence and vision maps during the retreat. This is story telling, a leader’s gift.

Jim and Michelle McCarthy: Personal Alignment exercise – identifying what you want, and what is blocking you from getting there. Identifying your core resources for overcoming these blocks.

Virginia Satir:

  • Five Freedoms – creating safety to speak (both at the retreat and at work)
  • Interaction Model – what happens when we are talking and responding in pairs, in slow motion
  • Congruence Model – (self, other, context) practice session with simulation of the five stances

Grove: Clean Language Questions – will be taught to help participants train their attention on others – and to remain judgement  free – a good practice for information gathering prior to reacting – for any leader.

Caitlin Walker: Systemic Modeling exercises, building up the power of the group to notice (each other) and take advantage of the diversity of experience in the room.

These tools are simple and therefore very powerful. We want you to take back some things that you can use right away!

Call to Action

Discovering, sharing and implementing your own intentions  is what Selena and I will help you do at the retreat.  The downsides of remaining with the status quo, not fulfilling yourself at work, of faltering with interpersonal or business relationship issues, and of observing disengaged workers are too many for us not to be doing this work together with you.   We do hope that if this appeals to you, you will sign up now, or join us on the upcoming webinar Q&A sessions. Details to be posted soon.


More on Intent Based Leadership

Intent based leadership is described in Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders – one of the very best leadership stories I’ve read.