Should you always hold teams sacred?

Photo by sophiadphotography

Photo by sophiadphotography

When an organization adopts agile, there is typically a shift to forming cross-functional and self-organizing teams.  Create persistent teams.  Bring the work the team.  It takes time to reach high performance, so don’t disrupt the team.  Hold the team sacred because team members will learn, grow, and challenge one another in the safety that the team provides.

But what about teams that have been together for a long time and are not actively learning, growing, or challenging one another?  That are not striving for high performance?  The ones that are mired in destructive conflict?  What do you do when complacency has set in?

I vote for disruption.

Change the work and what success looks like.  Change the people.  Change the environment.  Change processes or communication to the team.  Don’t change everything, but please change something!

Agile is about teams that are striving for high performance. For excellence.  What does that look like?  I like Lyssa Adkins’s high performance tree metaphor:

How do your teams rate?  Are they striving for high performance or ripe for disruption?

What Studying Literature Taught Me About Agile Coaching

Photo by Tim Geers

Photo by Tim Geers

I studied English in college.  Many people wonder what someone does with an English degree, and I never gave it much thought since I was also studying computer science and math.  English was my ”frivolous” degree.  The one that fed my creative, side.  As an agile coach, I find that my English degree is enhancing the work that I do in the software development world.

Studying English meant reading a wide variety of literature, picking it apart, and exploring connections.  Discussing and writing about a work on its own and connecting it to larger themes.  Understanding characters’ motivations.  Learning how to convey ideas concisely and clearly as well as how to develop rich stories that evoke a reaction.  You develop abilities to analyze word choices, examine rhetorical devices, and ask questions about the author’s intentions.  Curiosity is encouraged.

As an agile coach, I read individuals, teams, and organizations to understand motivations and how things work.  I explore connections between people and larger themes like behavior, governance, and culture.  Teaching practices so they are clearly understood and applied; sharing my experiences through mentoring in a way that enhances comprehension and creates an emotional connection.  Coaching also involves articulating what’s going on in the moment, asking powerful questions to evoke new thinking, reframing a problem or situation to encourage positive action, and using metaphors to explore abstract concepts and feelings.  Studying English committed me to becoming a lifelong learner—a valuable quality in agile coaches.

How did your education contribute to where you are today?

Where to Look During the Daily Scrum

Photo by Adrian Scottow

Photo by Adrian Scottow

I was talking to a developer friend of mine recently, and I realized something about the Daily Scrum: agile coaches and team members look at different things during the event. 

My friend mentioned that he makes eye contact with team members, particularly new ones, as they give their updates to boost their confidence and encourage them.  Of course team members look at one another during the Daily Scrum!  The Development Team is sharing information and planning its work for the day, and making eye contact with your peers shows that you’re engaged and interested in them.  It seemed so obvious as he said it.

As an agile coach, I observe the Daily Scrum and note how information is being shared within the team; I pay attention to the body language of the team members and the level of information being provided. Is there something not being said?  Are team members engaged? Does the team understand how they will complete the sprint goal?

Since I am not on the Development Team, I generally do not speak during the Daily Scrum. If a team member looks at me while giving his update, I look at the ground. By looking at the ground, I gently encourage that team member to look somewhere else–hopefully at his fellow team members.  This works well in stopping team members from looking at me during the Daily Scrum, but it does not teach them where they should look or how to behave during the event!

According to the Scrum Guide, “the Daily Scrum is a 15-minute time-boxed event for the Development Team to synchronize activities and create a plan for the next 24 hours” and “the Scrum Master ensures that the Development Team has the meeting, but the Development Team is responsible for conducting the Daily Scrum.”  Agile coaches might teach the Development Team how to conduct the Daily Scrum, and the teaching generally happens outside of the event itself.  Development Team members teach one another how to behave in the Daily Scrum during the event

So Development Team members, please look at your teammates during the Daily Scrum.  It is your opportunity to teach one another how to use the Daily Scrum well.

Mid-Year Check-In: Are You Achieving Your Resolutions?

Photo by Palomaleca

Photo by Palomaleca

Inspired by another blog, I decided I could benefit from a mid-year check-in.  Back in January, I chose a one-word resolution for 2014: astonishing.  My intent was to amplify the goodness of 2013, learn more, laugh more, live more, give back more, and make a bigger impact in 2014. 

In the spirit of a retrospective, let’s move on to gather data.  What have you achieved towards your goal or resolution over the last 6 months?

My “astonishing” first half of 2014:

  • Learn more:  Registering for CTI’s classes was a bold step for me, and I’ve learned so much about myself and about coaching as a result.  That knowledge and the opportunity to assist ACI’s 3-day Coaching Agile Teams gave me greater understanding and appreciation of what coaching can do for agile transformations.
  • Laugh more: There have been a number of changes going on at my client’s organization, which means many people have become increasingly stressed.  I have been talking to people more one-on-one and using my gift-giving appreciation language to lighten the mood, provide reassurance, and share a laugh.  Plus Star Wars-, Winnie the Pooh-, and super hero-themed gifts are fun.
  • Live more: After I was promoted to principal consultant, I held a dinner to appreciate the people who helped me achieve the promotion.  It was a lovely evening with delicious food and good company.
  • Give back more: I mixed my fraternity world with my professional world: one of my Improving Enterprises colleagues gave a great presentation to the Texas A&M chapter of Theta Tau Fraternity that was well received.  I see similarities between the two organizations’ values, and I’m happy I was able to connect them to one another.
  • Make a bigger impact: I co-presented at the Dallas PMI Agile CoP, Keep Austin Agile, and Scrum Gathering New Orleans; taught a PMI-ACP prep class (our first class offered evenings and weekends); and made my first Open Space offering at Agile Coach Camp Canada.

Looking over your achievements, what insights do you notice?  Unsurprisingly, coaching plays a large role in my accomplishments, but I’m also recognizing a theme of connecting to and appreciating people.

Are you making progress on your 2014 resolutions? Share your accomplishments in the comments.

Adventurous Learning: cute/pink shoelaces/delighted

Photo by 55Laney69

Photo by 55Laney69

There’s an activity in the beginning of ACI’s Coaching Agile Teams class called Explain/Explore where each person writes a one or two words on an index card that describes his core being.  You explain your phrase to someone else in the class and continue to mingle in this fashion for a few minutes.  As an assistant, I found myself “playing in” during the activity, and I wrote down a word that others have used to describe me.  It’s a quality that is true for me but I often hide it.  

Since I joined the activity a little late, I didn’t get much chance to explain my word—it quickly passed into others’ hands as we were told to swap cards.  The card I received in return was “adventurous.”  What?  I’m not a rock climber or a skydiver or anything like that.  I gave it some thought and found where it is true: I am an adventurous learner.

Normally when I throw myself into learning, I read books and blogs and anything I can get my hands on.  Then I think and think and think about what I’ve read and what it means.  I might talk about it briefly with close friends.  The learning becomes part of my toolbox, and I use it when I need it.  I imagine it’s boring for those on the outside looking in, but it feels vigorous to me. 

At my last CTI class, the instructors asked for a volunteer to be a client in a coaching demo.  I raised my hand slowly.  Then I realized no one else was volunteering.  I was about to have my process coached in front of the class—what was I thinking??  We had seen a demo of process coaching once before, and we all remembered its intensity.  Clients can become messy in process coaching.  Emotional highs and lows were explored in no more than 15 minutes.

I went to the front of the room and sat down.  I listened, I looked, I trusted. Think feel trust talk look listen trust talk feel trust talk.  I spoke the hidden quality.  It was throughout the coaching.  It was in me.  I said that I couldn’t tell who smiled first—him or me.  He called it the Co-Active.

I had put myself out there in a big way for the sake of learning, and it created an incredibly safe environment for the rest of the class.  I struggled as I practiced the new skills, and I kept trying.  Slowly I improved.  Learning to be a better coach has been much more like learning to swing dance than learning agile or scrum.  I think that’s why I like it so much.

DFW Scrum user group - 2nd location added!

Photo by David Joyce

Photo by David Joyce

BIG NEWS! The DFW Scrum leadership team has focused our efforts to be an organization by the people, for the people, and of the people. Over the last two years, we have had various requests for remote MeetUps (simulcast, etc...) and actual satellite locations. Given that North Dallas may not be convenient for everyone and we have not been able to secure our quarterly location in Irving, we have decided to try adding a second location.

Starting with our July 15 MeetUp, DFW Scrum will now be held at two different locations across the DFW Metroplex. Our first satellite location will be in Southlake at the Sabre Headquarters-Solana (3150 Sabre Drive Room: A1-157 Southlake, TX). We have added a new member to our leadership team, Chris Palmer, to facilitate the 2nd location and are thrilled to have him onboard. Right now, the locations will likely hold different topics that suit the needs of the audiences in the locations. When we have large events (Agile Manifesto authors or industry thought leading speakers), we will work to simulcast the meeting so both locations can participate.

For now, when you look on our site however, you will notice two MeetUps occurring on the same date. We will try to keep the meetings to our 3rd Tuesday of each month and at our regular times of 6:30PM-8:30PM to afford better planning. Please be sure you look at the title of the MeetUp as the location will be the first piece of information in the title (i.e. DALLAS or SOUTHLAKE). We hope this helps those who are not always able to attend in Dallas participate in the agile community.  Our goal is to help you do better today than you were doing yesterday. 

Thank you for showing up

Photo by Terrie Schweitzer

Photo by Terrie Schweitzer

This week I found myself telling someone, “thank you for showing up," and while it made perfect sense in my head, it didn’t come out quite right. The person and those nearby didn’t know that I’ve been practicing being present.  Staying in level 2 and 3 listening with individuals and teams.  Ignoring electronics during meetings.  Thinking about what I need to do and be before I attend meetings.  Working on self-management and care.  Trying to discover “Allison” and let the masks down more.

Showing up is a BIG DEAL!

In the workplace, it’s become harder to get people’s time, let alone their attention.  Commitments are becoming weaker or missing entirely because there’s so much to do.  Emotions run higher than normal because of the stress.  Meetings are less effective because key people are not present.  Folks are reactive rather than proactive.  Dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!

Ok, maybe not the last part.  Organizations are complex, and the pace of business is super-fast.  It is all too easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of work, and we need more steadfast individuals to remind us to slow down.  The only way to go fast is to go well.

So I sincerely meant thank you for showing up, for being present, for making good on a committed action and letting people see you as a leader and a person.  That’s no easy feat.

What would it say about your character and values if you put aside all distractions to be present with someone for an hour today?  

Show up. 

We need you.

Practicing Level 3 Listening – Energy Awareness

Photo by Nancy Regan

Photo by Nancy Regan

I had the pleasure recently to assist ACI’s 3-day Coaching Agile Teams class in Dallas with my friend Long.  It had been a little over a year since we attended the class as students, and it was a great refresher for us both.  I recognized similarities between the class and the Coaching Training Institute (CTI) classes that I have been taking in Austin, which helped reinforce some concepts for me.  And Long and I practiced our level 3 listening.

Level 3 listening is also known as global listening—awareness of the energy between you and others.  Awareness of how that energy is changing.  You notice shifts in attitude. You are aware of whatever is going on in the environment. You are conscious of the underlying mood, tone, or impact of the conversation—where it is taking you and the person you are talking to.   

The role of the assistant is to hold the space for learning.  Making sure materials are available, being ready to participate in activities, and providing feedback to the instructors at the end of the day are the easy parts.  There’s something else, and I’m not entirely sure how to describe it: you shape the environment to provide a fun, positive, and safe learning experience for the students.  Assisting the class means sitting behind the students, so you end up facing people’s backs for hours.  With the instructors at the front of the room and the assistants at the back, a container is created around the students.  And we each contribute to the energy of the room--we form a force field of sorts.

Graphic from

Graphic from

So what did I do in the back of the room to practice level 3 listening?  I listened to what was being said and how it was said.  I watched people’s body language.  During group activities, I listened to the overall noise and noticed energy shifts.  I felt happy and tried to radiate that.  I loved the moments when my eyes met an instructor’s gaze, and I contributed something good in that instant.  I relished in the activities when Long and I could share observations and ask one another questions.  Most of all, I was present.

Level 3 listening requires practice since it is not how we listen normally.  It takes real effort; I found myself ready to fall asleep earlier than usual on class days.  It is a key skill in coaching, and I am delighted that I was able to practice it amongst friends in the CAT class.  What a lovely way to spend 3 days!

Open Space Summary: Creating a Learning Organization

Photo by Enokson

Photo by Enokson

I made my first open space offering!  Below are some of the points we discussed on “Creating a Learning Organization” at Agile Coach Camp Canada 2014.

As a consultant, I am often brought into a client organization to help them go from their current state to a new and improved state. Change is not easy for most people and organizations.  The Satir change model depicts the phases of change, and the change described in the model is positive overall: the performance of the system is improved.  But in the middle there is a drastic drop, the Chaos phase.  That’s where the turbulence is. 

Last year, I conducted an end-of-year retrospective at a client organization and asked people to draw pictures of what it had felt like to learn and change over the year.  There was an image of exploding brain.  A juggler.  And the one that resonated with me the most: a flower sprouting from the ground as rain falls and a rainbow soars above.  Some folks recognized that learning and changing meant rain and storms might happen but something beautiful would emerge in the end!  We called it “Over the Rainbow.”

That image has caused me to give more thought to how I help my clients.  I can help them through the change model and leave them in an improved state, but what then?  Have they simply reached a new plateau, or are they more capable to make future changes?  What if instead of a one-time radical change (like kaikaku) the client also knew how to make continuous improvements (like kaizen)? 

Clients rarely ask upfront for real transformations or to become learning organizations, but as we work with them and continue to explore possibilities, these larger goals may emerge.  Coaches do not define the client’s agenda—coaches help the client to clarify a goal or vision and take action to achieve it.  We help draw out BHAGs (big hairy audacious goals) or shining stars, and a learning organization may emerge from incremental steps to achieve the organization’s goals.  Organizations might ask why—why is it important to become a learning organization?  The more capable an organization is of learning, the less likely it is to become extinct.  Given the increasing rate of change in business, learning is a necessity to stay ahead of the competition.

In order for people to continuously improve, they must regularly try new things and learn, which means going through the stages of competence over and over and over:

  • Unconscious incompetence – we don’t know what we don’t know.
  • Conscious incompetence – we recognize what we don’t know.  Practice and making mistakes can be vital here.
  • Conscious competence – we know how to do something but doing it requires concentration.
  • Unconscious competence – we have had so much practice with a skill that it has become "second nature" and can be performed easily. We may also be able to teach it to others.

The conscious incompetence stage often means people are vulnerable, and an organization needs to provide safety for employees to be in that stage so they are able to stretch and learn.  

So as agilists, what can we do for the organizations we work in to create safety for a learning organization?

  • Introduce “options” – brainstorm multiple ideas about what to do next.  Keeping the status quo is one option.
  • Talk about “experiments” – emphasize that decisions are not permanent.  We learn by trying something for a period of time and evaluating it.
  • Create study groups – form communities of practice or book clubs to emphasize learning together.
  • Celebrate failure – making mistakes is a part of learning, and recognizing mistakes is important.
  • Collect data – observe and analyze your current state.  It is important to understand what is going on in order to determine what to change or improve.
  • Show visible support for discovery – host hackathons, introduce Google’s 20% time or FedEx Days to promote innovative thinking.

Learning is the bottleneck in software development.  Perhaps in order to improve software delivery, the learning capacity of an organization must be increased.

Other resources on learning organizations:

Believing in the Capacity of Others to Meet Your Dreams

Photo by Christopher James

Photo by Christopher James

Benjamin Zander, co-author of The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life, gave a TED talk around classical music that challenges the way we think.  It opens up possibility.  As I watched the video, I wondered if "agile" could be substituted for "classical music" and result in the same talking points.  What would it look like to believe everyone can love and appreciate agile?  As coaches, how are we creating shining eyes?  What would becoming "one buttock" coaches mean?