I was recently asked this question:
Doesn’t Agile expect a certain amount of maturity and experience in the team for it to fully succeed?
For instance, an inexperienced or younger team member may not understand what self-organization means, since she has never been exposed to it, and has always followed orders. She may understand it in theory, but to implement it may be outside her capability. Similarly, being open would be a hurdle, since she isn’t used to talking openly about everything and sharing both positives and negatives with the rest of the team.
On the other hand, a person who has experience with working in teams (even if they have never known self organization & openness) may grasp its essence more quickly.
In other words, would the Scrum team fail because new members are unable to fit in?
I believe that openness, self organization and so on are traits that are inherent in and very native to human beings, and resonate well with everyone, irrespective of whether they have used the words to describe their experience or not. If you expect someone who has less experience to bring to the table the same skills as an experienced person, you may become disappointed. But that in no way means that the new members cannot self organize. I believe that a team with a mix of experienced and new team members will work well within an Agile framework as there will be a lot of learning happening. After all, the Agile mindset thrives in a learning environment. In such an environment I find that the newbies are very excited to learn from the experienced folks, and the experienced folks are excited to share knowledge and to mentor the newbies.
My wife, Rahmi, and I founded Conscires Agile Practices in 2010, with the intention of making more money and also out of frustration from and sympathy towards the sad state of affairs in large corporations trying to create teamwork.
I believe that we have tasted success, as we have offered our services to around 2000+ individuals from around 100+ companies in the last two years. Modest, but hey, something is better than nothing!
Along this journey, my perspective about owning a business has changed! Primarily due to my life experiences through the interactions with friends and family, the fellowships that I was involved in the past two years, and also the change in perspective brought about by Rahmi in areas like parenting, unschooling, childbirth, the food we eat, farming, to name but a few!
All these experiences made me feel that Rahmi and I owning Conscires would stand in the way of the beautiful souls working at the Company from taking more ownership in what they do. I also found it hypocritical to create a Company that relies on self-organization to get the work done but does not rely on the same principle to decide “who gets what or how much: salary, profit, etc”.
So, in April 2012, I decided to start a discussion at Conscires about turning the ownership of the Company to its employees. After a round of meetings, we decided that from 1st June 2012, any profit made by the Company would be shared amongst all its employees.
We are still trying to figure out how exactly the profit would be shared (equally, based on the number of hours worked, or on the complexity of the work) and it seems to be something that the team is uncomfortable at deciding, as it so accustomed to the “owner” deciding for them. Whatever it is, I am sure a solution will soon emerge!
Interestingly I am writing this article not because I have something to write, more because I feel like writing, so let us see what comes out…
Today was the last day of Agile Coaching at one of the clients I had been involved with for the last 10 months – Wow! It has been 10 months, time does fly! It seems like yesterday when I was invited by Tobias to join him in the coaching. I was really excited about the opportunity to work with Tobias, little did I know there was more treat in store for me.
There are three things that come to my mind when I look back at the past 10 months of coaching: FEAR, PATIENCE and GROWTH / LEARNING!
Let us start with FEAR,
- I was fearful about how to approach this coaching engagement as it involved working with teams that use Scrum outside of Software – sales, marketing and other areas of the company.
- I was intimidated by the fact that I would be expected to take forward the work started by Tobias, a mentor of mine and someone I deeply admired. I used to tell my wife that I haven’t yet found any fault with him (and I am good at finding fault with people!). How in the world could I live up to those expectations?
- I was fearful whether I will be able to connect well with the team members who are from totally different background (marketing, sales, research etc.). Little did I remember that we are born human, and not into our roles and titles.
- I was ashamed at the time of the fact that I used to do my company work when I was at the client location for coaching. I was fearful that it will lead to bad karma.
- Once I got settled down in my role (it was always unsettling!), I didn’t want to let go of the benefits that came with working with the company, even though the travel was standing in the way of spending time with my family – especially the newest addition to the family, out little daughter, Thumbi.
- Over and over, I was fearful of facilitating discussions all the way from Team Retrospectives, Senior Leadership meeting and internal meetings. I was pleasantly surprised that most of the meetings I facilitated turned out just fine.
- Others often mentioned that I was very patient during most of my coaching. Mostly importantly, I discovered that my impatience stems from my wanting things to go a certain way (MY way) instead of letting them evolve based on what everyone believes.
- Birth of our daughter during this Coaching engagement, enhanced my patience level as I discovered that there are a lot of things you cannot control and just being patient means lesser stress.
- I had to learn to be patient with the fact that even though I see clearly what is working and what is not working, the trick is to be patient and silent enough till others see it as clear as you see it. I used retrospective as a tool to make it happen.
- I had to be at peace with the fact each person interprets the same information in a different way and it is pointless to argue over different perspectives of the same incident.
GROWTH / LEARNING
- It was a great opportunity for me to work with people whom I admire and care for, and still be able to contribute and voice my opinions and have them heard.
- This experience made me realize that it is okay to be fearful of things, just go ahead and treat it as a learning opportunity.
- The work I did in the past 10 months made me realize that we need to be grateful to the companies that we work with, as they provide tons of opportunities for us to learn and grow, and still compensate for our efforts, unlike schools where we have to pay for learning.
- It was a reassurance for me that the most important thing in life is to show up and the rest will happen. I would have imagined that I would be welcomed and invited to facilitate sessions, intended at aligning the leadership at the company.
- I was reminded and learned again that if you want to be able to effect any change, talk to the people who can do it, instead of wasting time gossiping about it with people who cannot really make a difference.
- I learned that genuinely practicing, “treat others the way you would like to treated” led to better conversation, compassion and helped dialogue to move forward to action.
- I experienced that fact that behind our titles, position, wealth, power etc., we all are honest, innocent and pure human beings who want to do the best they can and make the people around us happy.
I am really grateful for my experiences and also sad that I will be away from the group of people in this company. I am happy that I will get a break, and they will get a break from me so that when we meet again, we have a lot more to contribute to each other.
I hope that the fear, patience and learning that I experienced the last 10 months continue to support me when I face similar situations in the future.
The Journey continues until I arrive again, and then depart for the next station !
It’s always amazing when a group of people pleasantly surprises and inspires us in the most unexpected ways. A couple of days ago, I was listening in on the weekly Review and Retrospective Meeting that the Conscires team conducts at the end of each Sprint (yes, we do practice what we stand for and promote!). My intention was to find a bunch of things that I could coach the team on (in this particular case, ‘coaching’ was a nicer way my mind looked at the evil intention of telling people how they can do better – in other words, how I could ‘fix’ them!)
Anyways, I was on this call while I was waiting for my flight and the team started with the review. I could hear one person talking about another’s task. I jotted down, “Why is Indu updating everyone on what someone else had done?” Right after that, she said, “I don’t know about this item and will need to wait for Deepa.” So Mr.Coach in me had to erase his comments, for Indu was only speaking on behalf of an absent member of the team. Soon, I could hear the others talking about their own tasks. Thank God I did not speak out of turn and state something to that effect in the meeting. As the meeting proceeded, I was amazed how self-organized, happy and collaborative this team is and, mind you, this is a distributed team – no one sits in the same room during this meeting (some of them are located on opposite sides of the globe), no one has met more than half of the team members; in fact, I doubt if anyone has actually met more than 6 people in the team. As I continued to listen, I was delighted at how much the team has achieved, and to see that they also take accountability for what they couldn’t finish.
The meeting, facilitated by Lisa, moved on from reviewing the work done in the previous sprint to retrospective, in which everyone spoke about how they felt regarding the way we were working. Even though I was about to board the flight, I wanted to listen in with the urge that hopefully there will be more coachable moments. The team started the retrospective with a “Perfection Game”, with each team member rating the sprint on a scale of 1 to 10, and capturing what could have made it a 10. It was encouraging to hear honest shares on how people felt and what they believe will get them to a number 10. It was so cool to see the team encouraging one of the members to move from a 9 to 10, as she couldn’t really come up with a reason as to why the sprint deserved only a 9!
Lisa then asked the team whether they wanted to do a “Start – Stop – Continue” activity or just do Shout-outs for each other and Jeena suggested Shout-outs. The “continual improvement” side of Mr.Coach wrote down, How do we improve if we don’t look at Start – Stop – Continue? Well, since the announcements were going on at the airport, I couldn’t seize what I thought was a coaching movement and come up with a question like “What action items would come out of this meeting?”
The team captured the shout-outs, applauding each other for doing a great job and acknowledging each person’s efforts in supporting others. It was amazing to feel the positive energy those conversations created. It reminded me of a discussion I had over lunch about how we lack positive feedback at workplaces and its negative impact, and also the dearth of feedback when things are going right.
I felt fortunate to see a team do so well, and was a little annoyed with myself that I would have spoiled those meaningful conversations with my coaching tips – thank God Southwest did a rather loud announcement for boarding!
Here are my takeaways from the meeting:
1. Be happy to be wrong: Keep your judgments away while you are coaching, be patient and observe what the team is up to.
2. Meaningful conversation vrs action items: What we need in workplaces is a safe environment for more meaningful conversations, instead of action-oriented meeting minutes.
3. Learn from your team: Remind yourself that learning comes from unexpected quarters, be open to learning when others expect you to teach.
4. “Management by leaving the room” is important, especially when you feel responsible for running a company or managing a team.
5. Re-invent your job as a manager: It is not that managers are evil, we sometimes put ourselves in such situations. The only solution I see is to have everyone take responsibility and manage, so essentially Quit your job as a manager.
6. Accept the greatness of the team. The team would do quite well just the way they are, without requiring anyone to fix things for them. They just need opportunities to communicate and share.
7. Love your team members: I know Lisa really meant it when she told me the other day “Everyone loves Indu,” it was evident from the Retro meeting. I would even take it further to say, everyone in the team loves each other, or am I taking that too far – ?
And yeah… we don’t always have to do START – STOP and CONTINUE to be on a path of growth, just do Shout-outs and bring on that Positive Energy!
How many of you have come across the adage, “We cannot solve a problem with the mind that created it”? If we look at a team, everything that is working (or not working) is due to the system and process – way of working – that was created by the collective minds of the company: the team members and the minds needed to create a product (may include the customer). Very often, it is difficult for those involved to objectively determine WHAT in the system is not working and WHY it is not doing so (and thus the adage, “We cannot solve a problem with the mind that created it”). This is why new mindsets like Scrum are introduced: so that they can objectively identify the inherent problems and loopholes in the system and propose appropriate solutions.
Scrum provides a clear framework for people to identify and articulate problems so that they can be solved. It creates a new approach to team work, product development, and organizational interaction; facets that have their foundation in Empiricism, Focus, Self-Organization, Collaboration, and Rhythm. Once we introduce this mindset to the team and the organization, the existing problems in the company show up and they do so with greater clarity so that the very people who created the system can now change it. So, the power is not with Scrum, but with the people. What Scrum does is that it gives them a new set of foundations and practices to grow, learn, and change their work environment for the better. For me, THIS is the gift of Scrum!
And yet, along my Scrum journey, working with varied teams and using Scrum at home, I have started wondering whether we need a greater change in the workplace itself. This is because I find that some people-related problems are a major cause for apathy and inefficiency at the work place. Some of these problems are: Employees not having a share in the input of the company’s vision (thereby making them feel isolated from the decision-makers), staff feeling no responsibility for the growth of the company (“why should I bother when I have no stake in it?”), and individuals not having the liberty to choose whom they want to work with.
Here are the areas where I believe a new approach to work would be beneficial in creating a truly liberating and creative work environment:
- Each person in a team has input and ownership of the VISION, instead of the vision being owned by one person: COLLECTIVE VISION.
- Financial ownership is in proportion to the effort and the ownership each person has on a team: CO-OWNING.
- Team members choose whom they want to work with through a democratic process: SELF-FORMING.
Could this be the next step in the evolution of work from slavery, supervisors, managers, and micro-managers? Perhaps this is the next step to Interdependent Work Places, so that WORK is GOOD!
What would be a good name for such work-environments? “COLLABORATIVES”? “THE ART of WORKING”?
What if we leave it unnamed it so that it grows into whatever it wants to become…