One Simple Thing You Can Do Today To Become a Great Leader

Frida-cry-for-love

If your actions inspire others to dream more

To do more

To become more

Then you are a leader

John Quincy Adams

Close your eyes for a minute and think of the people in your life who did that for you?  How did they make you feel?

We’ll all describe this slightly differently but I can guess they had time for you – you felt special, they had wisdom – you listened to them, they believed in you – and you felt safe.

I know these people are special and memorable

And they’re rare – you can probably count them off on one hand

In business; my experience is that these leaders are the exception not the norm. I would like to be able to think this isn’t the case. I wasn’t born a great leader and it’s taken me a very long time to understand what it is and what it is not and put it into action.

I think like in a family, if we lack good role models, if we not shown the way – we do not know the way – some of us will eventually work it out for ourselves and come to good leadership.

Some of us never will – you know who you are, we know who you are.

I think although we know a lot of about leadership, we are still not producing great leaders or great role models as the norm.

And that’s a massive problem in my opinion

Victor Lipman in a recent Forbes article Why are So Many Employee Disengagedcites a study by Dale Carnegie Training that placed the number of  US “fully engaged” employees at 29%, and “disengaged” employees at 26% – if this is correct then nearly three-quarters of employees are not fully engaged.

And the number one factor the study cited influencing engagement and disengagement was “relationship with immediate supervisor.”

Why? Why should this relationship matter to much us? 

We have expectations of our leaders, just as we do with our parents and I don’t think many leaders/managers fully understand this psychological contract.

And they do not understand the responsibility that comes with the position.

Let’s go back to what we were talking about earlier – how good leaders make us feel. Why do good leaders make us feel that way and why is it significant?

In our personal lives we learn the difference between good and bad friendships. A good relationship should make you feel happy, confident, inspired, open to communicating and free to be you = safe. A good relationship should not make you feel insecure, unsafe, second guessing and/or afraid to speak up.

Karen Salmonsohn in her blog Signs Your In a Great Relationship talks about Jim Collins book, Good To Great. She explains that one of the most important qualities necessary to grow a company from “good to great” is the ability to speak “harsh truth” — be a “front-stabber,” as she likes to say.

Harsh-truth-speaking is the only way a company can gain needed blind-spot insights— what’s holding it back from greatness.

 Harsh-truth-speaking is essential to growth, companies that are run by nice, empathic, trust-worthy bosses tend to be the ones which grow from “good to great” —because employees are less afraid to harsh-truth-speak to them.

There’s that safety thing again.

Simon Sineck’s talks a lot about safety, Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe(check out the TED Talk). He makes many analogies about being a great parent and a great leader. These leaders build a culture of trust and  co-operation in their teams and organisations.  They give love and respect, clear boundaries, they believing in others and support them to do their best.

Your never second guessing with these leaders, they give you feedback, you know where you are – always.

Transparency isn’t overrated

I think a lot about sport and the dichotomy between what we as players or fans expect from our sports teams and what we put up with in a working environment.

I was reminded of this watching Sunday afternoon the American cultural phenomenon – football. San Diego vs Denver. I vaguely know each team gets 4 go’s at making 10 meters – the ultimate goal being a touchdown and a conversion. Every person has a position and a role to play in the team.   Your only to make any ground if you have a game play and you play as a team.

Can you imagine if team members competed with each other to get the ball? Had cliques and favourites – only passed to some and not others? What if you never took time to review the game play, what if feedback wasn’t given to team members and team members ganged on others and blamed them?

This is so farcical in a sporting sense yet so common place in our organisations.

And if we are going to call ourselves leaders, creating a culture of trust and co-operation in our teams and our organisations start with us.

“If you are going to be the best that you can be, you are going to have to front up, and get it sorted. Knowing what you want, and being prepared to fight for it puts you at the front of the pack. Fronting up becomes more important precisely as it becomes harder … that is what makes you successful. You have to decide whether to take the easy option or take the tough, sometimes painful road. My choice? Front up. Every time. This is me, and this is who I am. This is what I stand for, and this is my life. I will front up. You have a simple choice. You have to decide. Do you stand up or step aside? To be the best that you can be, front up.”

 Sean Fitzpatrick – Former All Black Captain

So what is the one simple thing you can do today to become a great leader?

Take one action and do one thing today to make your team or individuals to feel safe 

RINSE AND REPEAT 

What Got You Here – Won’t Get You There

As I contemplate this year past at 3am in the morning – when I invariably turn myself inside out – it has been a roller coaster ride. A journey of happiness and joy, satisfaction, disappointment, excitement, disillusionment, re-grouping,  acceptance, learning,coming up for air.

Its always intense. Transformations occur at a point of time when you change from one thing to another – heavy duty.  Its disruptive.

And I have always said that you learn most about yourself as a leader, that you grow personally and professionally through the toughest of times and where you are brutally honest with yourself.

Hold a mirror up and look at what looks back at you. Do you like what you see? Do you sleep soundly at night?

And as a leader I believe it is a necessity that you do endure adversity and learn from it.

So my last article for 2015 is about leadership

Dan Rock (Leadership Freak) re-tells a story in a Leader You Can’t Live Without . He’s in conversation with a board member and shares his view that truly successful leaders will constantly develop their replacement. The board member in question is shocked. He holds a common belief that leaders create value by making themselves indispensable.

And perhaps the greatest test of leadership is what happens when you’re gone.

I agree with Dan – an indispensable leader – leads a dependent organisation.

And a great leader leaves the team and the organisation with higher capability and in a better place.  And these leaders can be quiet leaders and are often overlooked.

Susan Cain in her book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” talked about how our traditional bias towards extroverted leaders (dynamic, showy ‘alpha’ leaders) has got to the point that excellent introverted leaders are increasingly overlooked.

She noted some real disadvantages regarding the alpha extrovert profile – they may be infectious, but their confidence is often wrong because they will often hold forth very confidently on the basis – that they have the answer – that they alone know best.

  “These leaders can be so intent on putting their own stamp on events that they risk losing others’ good ideas along the way and allowing workers to lapse into passivity,”

And underneath – these leaders only really care for themselves, their own advancement and making a mark.

I know – because I used to be one of them.

This is what I thought leadership was – really! I was rewarded for it and thought I was successful. I actually believed in my own hype.

Until a previous manager  in a Telco , lets call her Claire –  pointed this truth out to me – those characteristics – that I did not want to see and said simply;

“What got you here will not get you there”

And  this was the catalyst for the most significant change in my own leadership journey.  I do still wrestle with some of those characteristics and if anything have now become that introverted leader.

This can seem a dichotomy or a contradiction to others and has on occasion caused me to be misunderstood. I do aspire to quiet leadership.

And if I sit back, its because I am striving to listen. If I am not offering my own opinion as loudly as others – its because I am wanting to elicit the opinions of others. If I don’t tell you what to do – its not because I lack leadership – but I knowyou already know the answer.

I suspect I now need to be more vocal in my own leadership stand.

Enough about me  – lets talk about you.

Perhaps you’ve been feeling less confident in your leadership ability, maybe the team isn’t really humming, perhaps you’re feeling a bit isolated and lonely or you’ve been having conflict with peers and your team. Perhaps you have flashes of rare insight. Perhaps you feel no one really tells you the real story?

Perhaps you know deep down that it’s all about you.

And these are all signs that what got you here won’t get you there. Do you recognise yourself?

In a similar vein Simon Sinek in Why Leaders Eat Last says there are many leaders who aim to raise their own status without really fulfilling their responsibilities as leaders.

While we may achieve alpha status and rise in the ranks, possess talents and strengths that could earmark us for alpha status, we really only become true leaders when we accept the responsibility to protect those in our care.

Inwardly focused and intoxicated by ‘success’ some of us rising leaders don’t know or forget that our responsibility as a leader is to our people. Sadly this describes individuals and senior leadership teams in many organisations.

But it’s not all of our own fault – Steve Denning says the reality is that in traditional organisations the world of “management” is vertical. Its mind-set is vertical. Power trickles down. Big leaders appoint little leaders. Compensation correlates with rank. Tasks are assigned. Managers assess performance. Rules tightly circumscribe discretion.

Some of us know nothing else

And some of us know better

This type of company with this leadership have a hard time with innovation and they are being systemically disrupted by new players. And it’s economy—the Traditional Economy—is in decline. In stark contrast the world of start-ups and the big players in the new economy is horizontal. Vend, Xero, Uber, Spotify you know them.

Agile working, new economy working or whatever you want to call it – has spread rapidly and has established some footholds in most of the tall vertical organizations. Its benefits are obvious after all. Don’t all we all want to be more successful than we currently are?

I remain unconvinced about a traditional organisations understanding of what the true meaning of transformation to this new economy working really entails.

Because this transformation – at its essence is first and foremost behavioural. It requires every single leader in that organisation to give up old constructs of what leadership is, to reject the notion of vertical hierarchy and individual success.

This new mindset is horizontal, its purpose is to delight customers. Making money is the result, not the goal of its activities. Its focus is on continuous innovation. Its dynamic is enablement, rather than control. Its communications are horizontal collaborative conversations. And we aspire to liberate the full talents and capacities of those doing the work.

As we all take a hard earned break over the holiday season – will you reflect on your leadership stand?

Do you feel you’re a better person and your team is better because of it?

Do you really know what your team really thinks and say’s about you?

Perhaps the most important question is, what defines your character that communicates your value of people?

The answer to that question is essentially in your character and it will determine the level of ‘motivated trust’ that people will give you.

And as Dan Rock states

Leaders – who aren’t creating leaders – corrode the future. An indispensable leader leads a dependent organization

Follow The White Rabbit Neo

Matrix“We humans have indeed always been adept at dovetailing our minds and skills to the shape of our current tools and aids. But when those tools and aids start dovetailing back — when our technologies actively, automatically, and continually tailor themselves to us, just as we do to them — then the line between tool and user becomes flimsy indeed.” – Andy Clark

We are on the verge of witnessing something akin to the invention of the wheel, as epic as fire and space travel and the rapid convergence of two systems that will cause an evolutionary leap for human kind.

It is the Internet of Things.

Now that we are extending intelligent sensors into everyday objects, Jason Silva says these objects will have agency and when all of these objects talk to one another and give us feedback the world is going to become intelligent and responsive.

“Now we are going to be able to anticipate our needs, the world is going to feel like an extension of our mindedness.  When everything becomes linked with everything else – matter becomes mind.

When the tools and aids start talking back the loop will be finished, we would have fully spread our minds into the Universe – this is the Internet of Things

It promises to essentially blur the distinction between self and world

You think this is way in the future? Think now

Aimed at helping to prevent SIDS, the Mimo monitor is a new kind of infant monitor that provides parents with real-time information about their baby’s breathing, skin temperature, body position, and activity level on their smartphones.

Sensors inside equipment can monitor if any parts need a service  and automatically sends reports to owners and manufacturers. Early predictions on equipment malfunctions can be made with parts and service maintenance can be automatically scheduled ahead of a an actual part failure. Think of the implications for everyday items like washing machines, fridges, ovens & cars.

In Japan driverless taxis will be operational from 2016 in an experiment with that could be fully commercial by the time Tokyo hosts the Olympics in 2020. The taxis will take about 50 residents of Fujisawa from their homes to supermarkets in journeys of about 3km. Robot Taxi – a collaboration between ZMP, and mobile internet firm DeNa If the Fujisawa trials are successful, the cars could be used to ferry spectators around at the 2020 Games and in rural communities with little or no public transport.

Get the picture?

Gordon Hiu, HBR says that for organisations, the IOT is so impactful and so fundamental we need to be thinking now about what our  businesses will be, what we can offer when the physical world is merged with the virtual world and potentially every physical object can be both intelligent and networked.

We need to be moving towards web-based business models because when things are networked, that has an impact on how value and services are offered. It will no longer be for example the manufactured product that is the focus, but rather the web-based service that people access through that device.

The value being created does not come from the oven, washing machine or from the fridge but from the benefits that those connected devices enable. The internet of things isn’t about the “things”. It’s about service. And that idea is revolutionary.

Micheal Chui , McKinsey  Quarterly March 2010  wrote there were early warnings for companies. He stated that  business models based on today’s static information architectures would face major challenges. For example when a customer’s buying preferences were sensed in real time at a specific location, dynamic pricing may increase the odds of a purchase.

Knowing how often or intensively a product is used can create additional options—usage fees rather than outright sale, for example. Manufacturing processes studded with a multitude of sensors can be controlled more precisely, raising efficiency. And when operating environments are monitored continuously for hazards or when objects can take corrective action to avoid damage, risks and costs diminish. Companies that take advantage of these capabilities stand to gain against competitors that don’t.

As a result he says a completely contrasting business model, operating structure and culture is required. For the Internet of Things to emerge, they will collide in traditional organisations

One of the biggest obstacles will be that traditional functional departments, traditional top down ways of work wont and cant meet the needs of an IoT business model.

They must evolve or die.

Within companies, big changes in the information architecture will have massive implications for organizational structures, as well as for the way decisions are made, operations are managed, and processes are conceived.

In a previous article, Something In The Water, before I had heard about the Internet of Things,  I wrote about  Carl Jung’s Collective Unconscious theory. Collective unconscious coined by Carl Jung, proposes to be a part of the unconscious mind, expressed in humanity and all life forms.

He distinguished the collective unconscious from the personal unconscious, in that the personal unconscious is a personal reservoir of experience unique to each individual, while the collective unconscious collects and organizes those personal experiences in a similar way with each member of a particular species.

So back then I posed a question – is the web exposing and transforming our collective unconsciousness to a global collective consciousness?

The human collective consciousness seems to be wide open and wanting to connect to others and before the web we lived in relatively isolated individual worlds.

Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee in his blog said that the web is a new model of universal consciousness in which knowledge is readily available to anyone, anywhere. We have instant access to a unified body of knowledge and the potential for interconnecting with everyone else who is on the web.

The unified connectivity presented by the web has been long known to the mystic, who in meditation has access to a dimension of oneness in which everything is simultaneously present, and all knowledge is accessible.

The experience of samadhi, or super-conscious state, happens on this plane of oneness. But the Internet presents a model of a unified consciousness that is accessible on a more physical plane, to anyone who has access to a computer.

The web is not a hierarchical structure and is globally democratic and you can see it changing and it carries the blueprint of its potential—a consciousness and interrelationships that has no barriers of nationality or geography.

It is present everywhere at the same time.

He believes that we as a species are evolving and that through the expanded web of individual relationships throughout the planet – like a cellular structure – is coming alive and will continually make new connections.

It is possible to ponder that as these connections of both knowledge and people andnow devices are made – will evolve to make further connections in a way similar to how the individual brain activates and accesses information.

And here it is

At a critical point then will the interrelationships and flow of information come alive and begin to function as a unified field? When a unified level of consciousness on a global level is activated.

The full flourish of this technology promises to essentially blur the distinction between self and world. The entire world will have mind in it. Its how the cognitive phliopshers David Chalmers and Andy Clarke used to say, we’ve always been adept at dovetailing our minds to tools, but when our tools start talking back, the loop will be finished. We would have fully spread our minds into the universe

This is the internet of things

This is why it’s a game changer

And this is why it absolutely rattles my imagination

So read up on it right?

David Silva – Shots of Awe

Stepping Out Of the Dark To Agile

Frida-Fridakahlo-Endure-Muchmore-Wethinkwecan-Cats-Meow-Skulls-Goodnight-Quote- (1)

We
So tired of all the darkness in our lives
With no more angry words to say
Can come alive
Get into a car and drive
To the other side

Getting to the other side of Agile is hard and wouldn’t it be great to get into a car and simply drive there.

Yes siree

I’ve talked about metaphors, Slow Boats to China. I look back and I think helping a team become Agile is one of the hardest things you can do. Here are some of my reflections

You’ll See Some Early Success 

Gartner talks about a Hype cycle in change projects. Initially there is high visibility and great expectations and excitement. You see energy, creativity and transparency and teaming. It feels like a high – your in a flow state.  The agile systems and practices help, the scrum process, daily stand-ups and the social contract all work in concert with one another provided you have as a key condition team members who are positive willing and committed.

You see early wins and everyone agrees it’s been a great success.

Focused on the right conditions, the freedom to decide the work is done, with no obvious roadblocks and with taciturn permission to get things done with a sense of urgency we should be set up right?

Right? Like No…

We expect to repeat those early wins over and over again but as we have reach the peak of inflated expectations and the team starts to learn what it really means to be transparent, what rigour and effort has to go into inspection and adaption – it can become confusing.

The upholding of the social contract and holding each other to account, can result in team members confronting deep mental models based on traditional thinking – it can be very uncomfortable. No one has asked this of them before and you will see people grappling, resisting or embracing this in their own way and time.

And Some Failures Don’t Mean We Are Failing   

Productivity and throughput will stall as the team is still forming. Add new team members during the early stages of forming can add additional complexity particularly if they don’t have previous agile exposure. Maybe the second and third sprints were a bit of fail, maybe you didn’t work on the high value work, or you were coming to grips with the whole sprint planning process and backlog – all this playing out against a back drop a team forming and probably storming.

Still …we fondly remember that first sprint and expect seeing results like right now and when we don’t get them we might denounce the team, or even abandon our transformation efforts as a failure or talk about derailment. We think of the high we achieved and we yearn for the flow state. We keep chasing the dragon

Show People What They Need to See to Understand  

Maybe the rest of the organisation isn’t agile and you’re an agile pocket. You work iteratively – biting off slices of the elephant that you need to transform – they work waterfall and expect to see large detailed plans. You show them the roadmap, how the backlog draws from the roadmap, the backlog is visible for everyone to see and you tell them what you’re working on in this Sprint. They’re still not comfortable maybe they’ll express they can’t understand the bigger picture, you show them the roadmap again, and the epics in the backlog – you give them a gaant chart. Their happy

In the early stages of adoption you’ll see the team naturally forming, ebbing and flowing and commonly there’s several storms, you might see the team break every single element of the social contract. This is where Agile frontloads every defect, hang up, insecurity and our true mental models are exposed. It’s in your face and you cannot hide. At this point you might see some natural self-selection as people decide Agile isn’t for them.

The coaching dynamic can change here too. Another much more experienced coach  told me the team he was working with, screwed up all the backlog items and chucked them in the bin. Try not to take this too personally.

Lyssa Adkins reminds us that we cannot coach anyone if their feet are pointed away from you and instead go where your wanted. Focus on those individuals in the team that do want it and are close to crossing over into the agile mind-set. You can build up this coalition of agilists and build the core strength of the team to help the others.

Getting to Agile Takes Time – It’s No Magic Instant Fix

Agile isn’t just a new process or methodology, but a completely different ideology–a different way of experiencing and being. Steve Denning says instead of an ideology of control with a focus on efficiency and predictability and detailed plans and internal focus, it’s an ideology of enablement, with a focus on self-organization, continuous improvement, an iterative approach. This takes time and practice.

Teams that may have early success can think they have mastered Shu (follow the rules) and move too quickly into Ha (break the rules). Things can regress pretty quickly and spectacularly in this context and disillusion can set it

And a shift in ideology isn’t a little fix.

Having Clarity of Roles is Key

Scrum has three roles. The Scrum Master, The Team and The Product Owner. A self-managing team especially in the early stages of adoption doesn’t mean they are equipped to prioritise their own backlog. We underestimated the role of the PO to provide that clarity and delegating the role to a peer in the team, didn’t work either because in this case the delegated PO was also a team member which resulted on context switching and role confusion. Looking back a simple mistake based on traditional thinking. It’s been cool though to see one team member step up and really flourish as a new Scrum Master and understand this role is more than running a stand up.

You’ll Need to Be Really Persistent 

Starting Agile is hard, really hard. The first few sprints might fall flat but that does not mean it’s not working. Not repeating those early successes doesn’t mean its failed. You will cock up sprint planning and work on the wrong things, you will make mistakes and slip back into traditional thinking. But if you are dedicated and persistent, you will get to the goal (and that goal far exceeds any losses/failures along the way). Denning says when the team really lands a sprint and has break through results when they get that first successful project, it is the same as Alexander Graham Bell inventing the telephone or Thomas Edison turning on the first light bulb.”

Choose Your Agile Partners Carefully 

There is a lot of people calling themselves Agile Coaches and not a lot of understanding of the role of an Agile Coach. Sometimes used interchangeably with a project manager.  Choosing your Agile partner is really important. My husband recently spent over 3 months carefully considering who he would partner with. The Agile Coach needs to have the experience but the type of person you are certain will leave the team in a better place.

Sometimes too you see a thin Agile veneer laid on top of traditional corporate hierarchy. In these cases, sometimes organisations are doing what they’ve always done; they’re just now calling it ‘Agile.’” It fails to deliver and then Agile is blamed. This makes me sad and maybe a little mad

But when you as a team make it through the difficult transition period, take the ideology and mindset to heart, and implement it on a consistent basis, not merely adding a veneer of words, then you will get the kind of results that make the slow boat worth it.

We
Are young but getting old before our time
We’ll leave the T.V. and the radio behind
Don’t you wonder what we’ll find
Steppin’ out tonight

Agile Bal Masqué

Mask

To the people

In the new world

Haven’t you heard

Everybody’s got a great life

We’re living in the blur

Tokio Hotel

After almost a year of being lost in an parallel space and time continuum of an Agile Transformation – I’ve learnt many things, Of most importance to me?

That Agile means different things to different people.

For some, agile means adopting ‘proper’ Scrum, working in iterations, daily inspection, adaption and transparency, collaboration and team work. For others, it can mean the waterfall-style development,with some aspects of the ceremonies and practices such as daily stand-up meetings.

I have definitely become less of a ‘purist’ when considering adopting agile outside of software development than working with development or project teams. I sense its somewhere between Shu and Ha in this operational context of agile transformation. Subsequently I’ve become obsessed with spotting Agile anti-patterns.

I’ve made many mistakes – the consolation is that this is supposed to be normal.

I hope you can learn from mine.

In your agile adoption or transformation journey, when this becomes unbalanced, you will experience and see some obvious symptoms.

If your approach is very process orientated with strict adherence to the Scrum processes with less emphasis on say transparency, team work and collaboration you probably won’t have a happy or high performing team but you’ll get some stuff done.

Inversely if you choose to adopt only some of the practices and ceremonies and focus on collaboration for example but aren’t inspecting and adapting with transparency then I think you could end up with a variation of agile which isn’t ‘pure’ Agile.

And does that really matter in the end?

Regardless of where you stand in this continuum, to be an Agile organisation or business unit I’ve formed the view that you need to have the right balance of Agile strategy, mind-set – people, interactions, behaviors, culture and processes, practices and tools for you. 

Different strokes suit different folks.

I think this is particularly relevant to Agile in an operational context.

After all, as long as you have some sort of agility it makes sense, doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t want their organisation or their change initiative to be more agile?

Scrum & Agile

Let’s revisit what Scrum is and its importance to Agile.

Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland developed Scrum. The Scrum Guide describes Scrum as a framework where teams can address complex adaptive problems, while productively and creatively delivering products of the highest possible value.

Scrum as a framework is lightweight, simple to understand but difficult to master. Edwin Dando has talked about this with me many times – I now well understand what he means.

“The Scrum framework consists of Scrum Teams and their associated roles, events, artefacts, and rules. Each component within the framework serves a specific purpose and is essential to Scrum’s success and usage. The rules of Scrum bind together the events, roles, and artefacts, governing the relationships and interaction between them”.

Each component within the framework serves a specific purpose and is essential to Scrum’s success and usage

And so common is it for Agile teams to find themselves skipping over the key components that it’s got its own term and Wikipedia definition – Wagile. Agile + Waterfall = Wagile.

“….that result from slipping from agile back into waterfall, doing a lot of short waterfalls and thinking it is agile”  

I think Scrum is an important framework and I’ve seen broad adherence as well as a more looser interpretation. The loose interpretations I used to freak out about. I’ve become more comfortable with the looser approach to method because I’ve also seen that the agile mindset and ways of working – do work!

And what can you do in the future to ensure you stay on track with your Agile Transformation journey with an approach that works for you? What’s important to consider?

Recruit for Agile Mindset/Experience

You can recruit for this and it’s critical that you do. You might get push back that it doesn’t really matter. You can teach any framework but it’s much harder and takes a long time to teach Agile mindset. Perhaps you’ve inherited the team or new people have joined. Induction and expectation setting then takes on real importance    

Agile Working – What’s Importance to Us?

Being really clear about Agile – what it is, what it means, how you experience it and see it. Taking the time to explain that the principles behind say your stand ups or your planning process. What does “Team” mean and what it feels like when everyone is collaborating? How is the way we work different for an individual not familiar with Agile concepts? How does this play out day to day?

Be Really Clear on Delegation

Delegation can work differently in Agile environments. For new managers joining an Agile environment this can be confusing. Scrum is clear about the relative roles and responsibility of the PO, SM and Team. Jurgen Appelos “Delegation Poker” is good for any new manager, functional lead or team member joining an Agile environment.

What is the Role Of The Manager in Agile?  

As with delegation, being clear and discussing what the role is and what it is not in Agile is super important. Does it mean consulting the team but making the final decisions? Or is it about facilitating a high performing team and what does that look like? While a manager isn’t in the Scrum team in that role, sometimes in operations a manager may also do work in the team but take that hat off.

Be Sure to Explain Where You Are & How You Got Here 

Agile is a journey and if you are moving from a traditional to Agile environment where individuals are typically signed off on their work, to a more collaborative, team oriented process, it’s vital to factor this into your Agile transition plan.

It takes time and coaching and effort. And be aware that it’s going to take more than just or two sprints for your team(s) to find their groove. Because, in the end, Agile is far more than a process change – it’s a game-changer for the entire business.

Over a 6 – 12 month period I would view as the foundation layer, learning and making mistakes, things won’t be perfect – and it is really important to be able to tell the story of that journey and the changes that have happened.

Because without this any one new cannot appreciate or understand what has gone before, what you have learned and how you got to today. Your unpicking at scale a hundred years of management practices and notions of how work can be done.

Self-Managing Teams Don’t Just Happen   

I used to believe that teams would just self-manage to the level to what I expected them to. This was naive. A team can be engaged but may not able to self manage say to the level of dev team because of relevant levels of expertise. Outside of software development you get into to notions of relevancy. So being able to self manage to the level of capability of that team and be realistic about the level of coaching support and guidelines needed.

David Marquet showed us In “Turn the Ship Around” to give the team the keys to ship without a gradual release of delegation aligned to competency will result in confusion and failure.

Agile Is Not For Everyone  

Some peoples brains are not wired that way and despite your best efforts won’t change. Help them find something fulfilling satisfactory elsewhere.

Transition Will Cause Resistance

I believe you cannot manage change, you can only help navigate it. There are too many variables. Naturally is it not going to be all smooth sailing, your changing their world and long held belief systems. Some people will just plain not like it,

Agile Isn’t A Silver Bullet 

Agile is not magic. We can’t produce something from nothing or make other trade-offs go away.  You can’t expect to maintain the status quo AND improve. It’s simply not the “real world.” You cannot a team to become self-managing overnight. You might not see any improvement to performance quickly because your Agile programme aligns at a point of time to balance the longer term with the now. And then you’ll see results. The trick is knowing what point that is and ensuring alignment to that point,

To me Agile is all about embracing the uncertainty of change and learning how to use it to your advantage.

And becoming Agile means being open to possibilities and options.

Being Agile is understanding what innovation truly means in the same sense that an artist understands what “creativity” means.

I can explain the values, principles, practices, and dynamics of agile culture to someone, but I can’t tell them how to be innovative.

That’s something that has to come from within – the want to be truly great, to be better than you ever thought possible.

It’s uncomfortable, change.

And, through discomfort, we learn and grow.

Adventures in Agile – Going To Abilene

Aberline

I’d been reading aloud to my husband chapters from The Humane Workplace by my friend Amanda Sterling. In Collaborative Communities, she talks about the myth that an open plan office will make authentic, transparent communication and collaboration happen. She says that group think is also more likely to emerge when physical boundaries are removed, as the lack of boundaries encourages homogeneity because people are nervous about standing out as individuals.

I have seen this Abilene Paradox happen in new teams, old teams even. It can be confounding and not without irony when faced with this phenomenon in Agile teams – I personally find it the mother of agile anti-patterns to deal with.

Merely saying you want self management, self directed teams – does not make it magically happen even within the context of good and fertile systems and conditions.

So what is the Abilene Paradox? And why should we care?

The term was introduced by  Jerry B. Harvey in his 1974 article The Abilene Paradox: The Management of Agreement.

On a hot afternoon in a family is comfortably sitting on a porch, the father-in-law suggests they go to Abilene, a town about 90 km away for dinner. The wife agrees and the husband, despite not really wanting to agrees too and says, “Sounds good to me. I just hope your mother wants to go.” The mother-in-law says she wants to go as she hasn’t been tto Abilene in a long time.”

The drive is hot, dusty, and long. When they arrive at the cafeteria, the food is as bad as the drive. They arrive back home four hours later, exhausted.

One of them dishonestly says, “It was a great trip, wasn’t it?” The mother-in-law says she would rather have stayed home, but went along since the other three were so enthusiastic. The husband says, “I didn’t want to go I only went to satisfy the rest of you. The  wife says she went along to keep everyone happy.  The father-in-law then says that he only suggested it because he thought the others might be bored.

The group sits back, perplexed that they together decided to take a trip which none of them wanted. They each would have preferred to sit comfortably, but did not admit to it.

The phenomenon is explained by theories of social conformity and social influence which suggest human beings are often very averse to acting contrary to the trend of a group. It may occur when individuals experience action-anxiety — stress concerning the group expressing negative attitudes towards them if they do not go along.

This action-anxiety arises from what Harvey termed “negative fantasies” — unpleasant visualizations of what the group might say or do if individuals are honest about their opinions — when there is “real risk” of displeasure and negative consequences for not going along. The individual may experience “separation anxiety”, fearing exclusion from the group. 

Travel the road to Abilene and you’ll arrive at a place where deeply held, logical values fall victim to group dynamics. It’s a bumpy ride that can culminate in meaningless outcomes and blame, but you can skip the trip if you know how to read the signs….

Lack of Transparency

This can happen when members of a team exhibit different opinions in a group setting as opposed to one on one. If people are telling you one thing and then offering their true opinions in private, not wanting to speak up in a group setting – then its suggestive of group think. Especially where the right conditions exist, ie a social contract is in place, team self-management is being actively desired and true opinions are being encouraged.

People will often “go along to get along” if they have any doubt at all about what will happen if they present opposition.

Members Discouraged To Lead

When someone on the team offers constructive dissent or starts to lead – the homogeneity of the group can be threatened. Anyone sticking their head up over the precipice may be told they are trying to manage. In Agile teams you even hear cries of “command and control”. Leadership is not command and control. In healthy mature self-managing teams different members will come forth at different times and lead. Self-management does not mean consensual homogeneity

Members Don’t Hold Each Other Account

For fear of upsetting anyone in the group, the group often won’t hold each other to account for the work being done (or not done)  If no-one feels the freedom to point out that the work hasn’t been completed in a sprint or where the definition of done wasn’t achieved, then no one wants to take responsibility for them either.  Anyone then holding the team to account as a peer can be ostracized, no longer welcome in the clique.

Members Exhibit A Lack of Trust

Eventually this lack of transparency erodes trust. Team politics can emerge and cliques can form. I’ve seen a whole team form a clique which excluded the poor Product Owner. This is symptom of a low maturity team mistakenly viewing the Product Owner as manager and creating a “them and us” dynamic.

SO WHAT DO WE DO?  

Look at the system that is enabling this anti pattern to exist, to thrive even. Change the system.

Make Room For Individuals

I use the Sail Boat, Wind and Anchor exercise (thanks to my “roomie” Kathleen Coulton Agile Coach, Trans America). You draw a boat on the board with sails on the sea. You draw the island as the Agile team destination and talk with the team about what will be their wind in the sails, and what the anchors weighing them down, you do this on stickies as an individual exercise which you then discuss as a team. Silent brainstorming is also another good technique. Or “round robins” where you collect on stickies everyone’s opinions.

Facilitate Don’t Manage Conflict         

Don’t seek to manage or smooth over conflict. Facilitate it, call it out in Retrospectives.  Help the team with practical tools like how to give impact feedback or the use of a Conflict Dynamics Model and how they will as a team agree to surface conflict.   Dealing successfully and openly with conflict can be most emancipatory for the team

Change the Language

Avoid language that plays to agreement in groups

Canvas each person’s opinion privately and then bring those views with you to the table rather than “is anyone opposed to this, because anyone slightly opposed won’t speak up. Don’t use rule by consensus where everyone must agree – I think that’s a common myth in Agile. Use data and transparency to make the best decisions

Educate That Agile Is Not A Free For All  – Its Leadership for All!

The team will have direction set and work within certain parameters but anyone can lead at any time. In an Agile environment, we are all expected to be leaders.  Anyone can trust and delegate, have a clear vision and communicate it to others.  Any team member can ask questions and solicit suggestions. Anyone can make a stand.

Agile is Simple But Hard!

Adventures in Agile – The One About The Queen With No Heart

  Queen of Hearts 2

Who’s been painting my roses red?

WHO’S BEEN PAINTING MY ROSES RED?

Who dares to taint

With vulgar paint

The royal flower bed?

For painting my roses red

Someone will lose his head.

Once upon a time there was a girl who was smart, who got things done. She was single minded in her pursuit of the results. She was focused. She seemed to have a perfect life and all the things she could ever want. But the higher up the corporate ladder she climbed, the more self-important she became and the lonelier and unhappier she was.

She was a brittle, one dimensional, self-centered monarch and nobody liked her. Like Lewis Carrolls character  from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that he pictured as a ‘blind fury’ she was quick to decree sentences at the slightest offense. She was the Queen of Hearts She was me some years ago – and she had no heart

I have been on my own road to Damascus. When Saul became the Apostle Paul, he said don’t be selfish, don’t try to impress others, be humble and think of others as better than yourself.

Paul was an Agile guy.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a leader and I love this example of the agile leadership heart set. Picture a rough country road leading through the wilderness to a river where a dozen soldiers are working hard to build a bridge with insufficient resources and manpower. It’s 1776 and the Revolutionary War is underway. An impressive looking man approaching on a fine stallion and asking the weary workers, “You don’t have enough men for the job, do you?” In reply, the lieutenant in charge states, “No, the men will need a lot more help if we are to finish the bridge on time.” “I see,” replies the man from his horse. “Why aren’t you helping the men?  I notice you’re just standing back watching them work.” “That, sir, is because I am an officer!” snaps the lieutenant. “I lead, I don’t do.” “Indeed,” says the mounted man. At this point he dismounts his horse, rolls up his sleeves and works under the hot sun with the men for hours. ‘Upon completion he remounts his horse and says to the lieutenant, “The next time you have too much work and not enough men, the next time you are too important or high ranking or proud to work, send for the commander-in chief and I will come again.” The distinguished man was General George Washington. The impression he left for servant leadership is timeless. And if you think of all the great inspirational leaders they are compassionate and selfless. They put the needs of the people who they serve ahead of themselves. Martin Luther King, Ghandi, Nelson Mandela…. They inspire you to follow Agile leadership is the ability to internally motivate people, through trust, to accomplish the teams higher purpose, goals and objectives.  The Agile leader is defined by security, integrity, selflessness, and compassion. As with command control, without these traits, followership is typically defined by necessity, external controls, or maybe fear, which only reduces the potential of both leader and follower. I am reminded of a function I went to a few years ago, I was excited because this was the first time I had ever been invited to an ‘executive’ event and the senior management team were going to be there.  After the speeches the executive huddled around in a closed circle only talking to each other, they dressed exactly the same and laughing at the same jokes, comparing sports cars and the best restaurants. They were much smaller than I thought they would be and I remember thinking – none of you are interested in people that work for you.   And I thought your not worthy of my followship. In Simon Sineks eloquent Why Leaders Eat Last he describes those leaders who aim to raise their own status simply so they can enjoy the perks themselves without fulfilling their responsibilities as leaders. While they may achieve alpha status and rise in the ranks, possess talents and strengths that could earmark them for alpha status, they only become leaders when they accept the responsibility to protect those in their care. Selfish and power hungry, intoxicated by the chemicals, they can forget that their responsibility as a leader is to their people. Sadly this describes many senior leadership teams in traditional organisations. The ‘people’ leader in such organisations stands out because this executive is liked by the people, and is often least popular with his or her peers. Leaders are the ones willing to look out for those to the left of them and those to the right of them. Life requires leadership. What is yours? What would your family and your team say about you? Perhaps the most important question is, what defines your character that communicates your value of people? The answer to that question is essential in your character and Agile leadership stand. It will determine the level of ‘motivated trust’ that people will give you in followership. As Oswald Sanders states: “True greatness, true leadership, is achieved not by reducing men to one’s service but in giving oneself in selfless service to them.”

Stepping Out Of The Dark – Into Agile

Frida-Fridakahlo-Endure-Muchmore-Wethinkwecan-Cats-Meow-Skulls-Goodnight-Quote- (1)

We
So tired of all the darkness in our lives
With no more angry words to say
Can come alive
Get into a car and drive
To the other side

Getting to the other side of Agile is hard and I wish we could get into a car and simply drive there.

I wrote this 6 months ago and talked about metaphors, Slow Boats to China. I look back and I think helping a team cross over to Agile is one of the hardest things you can do.

Early Success

Gartner talks about a Hype cycle in change projects. Initially there is high visibility and great expectations and excitement. You see energy, creativity and transparency and teaming. It feels like a high – your in a flow state.  The agile systems and practices help, the scrum process, daily stand-ups and the social contract all work in concert with one another provided you have as a key condition team members who are positive willing and committed.

You see early wins and everyone agrees it’s been a great success.

Focused on the right conditions, the freedom to decide the work is done, with no obvious roadblocks and with taciturn permission to get things done with a sense of urgency we should be set up right?

Right? Like No…

We expect to repeat those early wins over and over again but as we have reach the peak of inflated expectations and the team starts to learn what it really means to be transparent, what rigour and effort has to go into inspection and adaption – it can become confusing.

The upholding of the social contract and holding each other to account, can result in team members confronting deep mental models based on traditional thinking – it can be very uncomfortable. No one has asked this of them before and you will see people grappling, resisting or embracing this in their own way and time.

Productivity and throughput will stall as the team is still forming. Add new team members during the early stages of forming can add additional complexity particularly if they don’t have previous agile exposure. Maybe the second and third sprints were a bit of fail, maybe you didn’t work on the high value work, or you were coming to grips with the whole sprint planning process and backlog – all this playing out against a back drop a team forming and probably storming.

Still …we fondly remember that first sprint and expect seeing results like right now and when we don’t get them we might denounce the team, or even abandon our transformation efforts as a failure or talk about derailment. We think of the high we achieved and we yearn for the flow state. We keep chasing the dragon

Maybe the rest of the organisation isn’t agile and you’re an agile pocket. You work iteratively – biting off slices of the elephant that you need to transform – they work waterfall and expect to see large detailed plans. You show them the roadmap, how the backlog draws from the roadmap, the backlog is visible for everyone to see and you tell them what you’re working on in this Sprint. They’re still not comfortable maybe they’ll express they can’t understand the bigger picture, you show them the roadmap again, and the epics in the backlog – you give them a gaant chart. Their happy

In the early stages of adoption you’ll see the team naturally forming, ebbing and flowing and commonly there’s several storms, you might see the team break every single element of the social contract. This is where Agile frontloads every defect, hang up, insecurity and our true mental models are exposed. It’s in your face and you cannot hide. At this point you might see some natural self-selection as people decide Agile isn’t for them.

The coaching dynamic can change here too. Another much more experienced coach  told me the team he was working with, screwed up all the backlog items and chucked them in the bin. Try not to take this too personally.

Lyssa Adkins reminds us that we cannot coach anyone if their feet are pointed away from you and instead go where your wanted. Focus on those individuals in the team that do want it and are close to crossing over into the agile mind-set. You can build up this coalition of agilists and build the core strength of the team to help the others.

Getting to Agile Takes Time – It’s No Magic Instant Fix

Agile isn’t just a new process or methodology, but a completely different ideology –a different way of experiencing and being. Steve Denning says instead of an ideology of control with a focus on efficiency and predictability and detailed plans and internal focus, it’s an ideology of enablement, with a focus on self-organization, continuous improvement, an iterative approach. This takes time and practice.

Teams that may have early success can think they have mastered Shu (follow the rules) and move too quickly into Ha (break the rules). Things regress pretty quickly and spectacularly in this context and disillusion can set it

And a shift in ideology isn’t a little fix.

Having Clarity of Roles is Key

Scrum has three roles. The Scrum Master, The Team and The Product Owner. A self-managing team especially in the early stages of adoption doesn’t mean they are equipped to prioritise their own backlog. We underestimated the role of the PO to provide that clarity and delegating the role to a peer in the team, didn’t work either because in this case the delegated PO was also a team member which resulted on context switching and role confusion. Looking back a simple mistake based on traditional thinking. It’s been cool though to see one team member step up and really flourish as a new Scrum Master and understand this role is more than running a stand up.

Be Persistent

Starting Agile is hard, really hard. The first few sprints might fall flat but that does not mean it’s not working. Not repeating those early successes doesn’t mean its failed. You will cock up sprint planning and work on the wrong things, you will make mistakes and slip back into traditional thinking. But if you are dedicated and persistent, you will get to the goal (and that goal far exceeds any losses/failures along the way). Denning says when the team really lands a sprint and has break through results when they get that first successful project, it is the same as Alexander Graham Bell inventing the telephone or Thomas Edison turning on the first light bulb.”

Beware of Agile Imitations

I’ve seen a lot of thin Agile veneer laid on top of traditional corporate hierarchy and politics.” In these cases, organisations are doing what they’ve always done; they’re just now calling it ‘Agile.’” It fails to deliver and then Agile is blamed. This makes me sad and maybe a little mad

But when you as a team make it through the difficult transition period, rebuild trust take the ideology to heart, and implement it on a consistent basis, not merely adding a veneer of words, then you will get the kind of results that make the slow boat worth it.

We
Are young but getting old before our time
We’ll leave the T.V. and the radio behind
Don’t you wonder what we’ll find
Steppin’ out tonight

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