Letting Go of Control to Be a Better Leader

Photo by Sebastien Wiertz

Photo by Sebastien Wiertz

Stop micromanaging. No more command and control. Trust the team.

But how often do we talk about what it's like to give up control? It can feel wrong to let go. It's risky. It forces us to question what's important to us. It causes us to really think about the character and competence of those we're supposed to trust.

David Marquet believes leaders are needed at every level of an organization, which requires looking at leadership differently:

So when you find yourself holding onto control, ask yourself how you can create an environment for greatness and develop leadership in those around you. How can people make decisions as if the CEO was behind them?

Allison Pollard

I am an agile coach working with 20 teams in a large enterprise, and I love to create communities for those interested in developing their agile instincts; I mentor project managers to become great Scrum Masters and coach managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results and an organizational community that provides sustainability for agile. I am also one of the organizers of the Dallas-Fort Worth Scrum user group which hosts monthly sessions with over 60 attendees and serve on the Dallas Agile Leadership Network board.

Don’t Get Cynical: Change Your Coaching Approach

Photo by Christian Arballo

Photo by Christian Arballo

As I’ve been working on my Changing Organizational Mindset presentation, I’ve been thinking about how easy it is for someone coaching agile teams to become cynical. Because there often comes a moment when the coach feels frustrated by a lack of progress and thinks, “they just don’t get it!” They could be anyone: a team, a manager, or a stakeholder… In that moment, the coach feels stuck.

That’s the moment you need to pivot in your coaching. Instead of teaching, try facilitating. Stop mentoring and ask powerful questions. Start with those closest to changing. Access your creativity and find a new way of approaching the situation.

I am reminded of the farewell speech that Conan O’Brien gave when he left The Tonight Show:

All I ask is one thing, and I’m asking this particularly of young people: please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism, for the record, it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.

You can do amazing things as an agile coach if you can recognize when you’re feeling frustrated or stuck and choose to change your behavior rather than blame or give up on people. And it will make you appreciate again how hard it is to change.

Allison Pollard

I am an agile coach working with 20 teams in a large enterprise, and I love to create communities for those interested in developing their agile instincts; I mentor project managers to become great Scrum Masters and coach managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results and an organizational community that provides sustainability for agile. I am also one of the organizers of the Dallas-Fort Worth Scrum user group which hosts monthly sessions with over 60 attendees and serve on the Dallas Agile Leadership Network board.

Zombies of Scrum

Photo by Dave Mathis

Photo by Dave Mathis

You’ve probably seen it: a team that has a standup meeting each day to provide status updates. A team that demos their work to stakeholders but rarely receives real feedback or changes. A team that works in “sprints” but may or may not have potentially releasable product at the end of the timebox. And the team is ok with this state of being.

I feel like these are the zombie teams of Scrum. Teams who have Scrum events but are not getting the value of them. They have lost sight of the pillars of empirical process control—transparency, inspection, and adaptation—and fallen into a mode of rinse and repeat instead.

These teams need a refresher on Scrum. Feedback. A purpose.  I coach teams out of their zombie state so they are more engaged and productive.

Let’s keep zombies where they belong—dancing in classic music videos:

Allison Pollard

I am an agile coach working with 20 teams in a large enterprise, and I love to create communities for those interested in developing their agile instincts; I mentor project managers to become great Scrum Masters and coach managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results and an organizational community that provides sustainability for agile. I am also one of the organizers of the Dallas-Fort Worth Scrum user group which hosts monthly sessions with over 60 attendees and serve on the Dallas Agile Leadership Network board.

Dallas TechFest - Not Just for Developers!

I am excited to be presenting again at Dallas TechFest, and while the conference is packed with sessions about the latest in development, it is not just for developers.  Yes, that's right: there are sessions for those of us who work with developers but don't sling code ourselves.  I'll be doing a lunch presentation with Mike Rieser on Technical Excellence Doesn't Just Happen--Igniting a Craftsmanship Culture and co-presenting later in the afternoon with Chris Murman on Changing Organizational Mindset.  No code involved in either talk.  Check out the schedule, and I hope to see you there!

Allison Pollard

I am an agile coach working with 20 teams in a large enterprise, and I love to create communities for those interested in developing their agile instincts; I mentor project managers to become great Scrum Masters and coach managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results and an organizational community that provides sustainability for agile. I am also one of the organizers of the Dallas-Fort Worth Scrum user group which hosts monthly sessions with over 60 attendees and serve on the Dallas Agile Leadership Network board.

You Get Out What You Put In

Photo by Juli

Photo by Juli

“Garbage in, garbage out” seems to generally understood, but how often do we wish it wasn’t true?  If the results are related to the effort we put into something, then we should take responsibility and reflect on what we can do differently when we don’t like the outcomes we’re getting.  Bye-bye, blame and justification—those won’t help here!  We see the impacts of garbage in, garbage out in software often:

  • Don’t like the quality of your software product? How are teams trying to bake quality in rather than add it at the end?
  • Don’t like the features that have been delivered? How are requirements being communicated?

It doesn’t end there.  Don’t like interacting with a particular coworker?  How are your actions contributing to the situation?  Yeah, that’s right—the problem isn’t solely on the other person.  There’s an issue within the relationship, which means you can make changes to improve it.  And that can be really hard.  We want to stay in our comfort zone, even if it means being a victim.  We don’t feel strong enough to make the change, whether it’s behaving differently or saying our truth to the other person.  Or the possible benefits don’t outweigh the perceived effort on our side.  It's ok to not change as long as you realize the impacts.

So the hard truth is that we might be getting the results we deserve, whether we like them or not, and changing the results requires work that we may or may not be ready to do.  But being a professional means recognizing the part we play in the world around us.

Allison Pollard

I am an agile coach working with 20 teams in a large enterprise, and I love to create communities for those interested in developing their agile instincts; I mentor project managers to become great Scrum Masters and coach managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results and an organizational community that provides sustainability for agile. I am also one of the organizers of the Dallas-Fort Worth Scrum user group which hosts monthly sessions with over 60 attendees and serve on the Dallas Agile Leadership Network board.

Knowing What I Want and Asking for It

Photo by Ashtyn Warner

Photo by Ashtyn Warner

Over the last year, I've practiced saying "yes"--to speaking at conferences, to making new friends, to going outside of my comfort zone.  In doing so, I've learned about myself and even how useful "no" can be.  I recognize more quickly now when I have overcommitted myself.  And I realized how hard it is for me to ask others for things.

Requesting is a powerful coaching skill, and it is first evident as the coach and client design their alliance—to create a safe and powerful relationship for coaching, both parties make requests about how to handle certain topics or situations that may come up.  I’ve seen how making requests can strengthen other relationships too; in sharing the impact of an action and asking for something to be done differently in the future, bonds between people are tightened.  The relationship health increases as requests are offered and received.  Trust is enhanced as the requestor is open to a true “yes,” “no,” or counteroffer (otherwise the requestor is making a demand).

I understand how to make requests and the good they bring, and yet I sometimes struggle to answer prerequisite questions like:

  • How am I feeling currently?
  • What would I like this relationship to feel like?
  • How can we work better together?
  • What would help me bring my best to this relationship?

Simply put, I don't know what to request!  I’ve been looking for opportunities to practice requesting, and they’re hard for me to see.  There have been windows to ask for things I didn’t think I’d actually get, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how easily people say “yes” and support me—I love that.  When it comes to things that really matter and require more vulnerability in the ask, I am at a loss.

How have you learned to make requests?

Allison Pollard

I am an agile coach working with 20 teams in a large enterprise, and I love to create communities for those interested in developing their agile instincts; I mentor project managers to become great Scrum Masters and coach managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results and an organizational community that provides sustainability for agile. I am also one of the organizers of the Dallas-Fort Worth Scrum user group which hosts monthly sessions with over 60 attendees and serve on the Dallas Agile Leadership Network board.

Growing as a Person -- the Goo

Photo by plancas67

Photo by plancas67

While caterpillars are in a chrysalis transforming into butterflies, they become goo.  Yes--goo.  And this image of metamorphosis is often what I think about when I consider transformations.  Big organizational transformations and individual ones.  My personal transformation of becoming a Co-Active Coach.  Many times I've thought, "ugh, I'm in the goo."  Pleasant thought, right?  Makes you feel like you need a shower.

But I don't think that humans or organizations are like butterflies.  We are constantly undergoing changes, both big and small.  We live in a state of being caterpillar + goo + butterfly all at once.  That's rather amazing to consider.  My coach and a few friends have been challenging me recently to go beyond my comfort zone.  And I am quite fortunate to have such folks supporting me to show me where I am a caterpillar, be with me in goo, and highlight where I am a butterfly.  It makes me a better coach for others.  So I ask you: how might more goo enhance your life?

Allison Pollard

I am an agile coach working with 20 teams in a large enterprise, and I love to create communities for those interested in developing their agile instincts; I mentor project managers to become great Scrum Masters and coach managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results and an organizational community that provides sustainability for agile. I am also one of the organizers of the Dallas-Fort Worth Scrum user group which hosts monthly sessions with over 60 attendees and serve on the Dallas Agile Leadership Network board.

"Creepy" User Stories

Photo by Dan and Fern Treacy

Photo by Dan and Fern Treacy

Most of us are familiar with the idea of scope creep--when the understanding of work grows, and the effort involved is larger than originally expected.  A coworker was talking about the problem of scope creep and how it can be due to discovering technical debt in the codebase that needs to be addressed or it can be related to the complexity of business requirements.  When this happens, he said, the user stories can be called "creepy."  I love the term, and I wonder:

Does your product lead to a lot of creepy user stories?

Allison Pollard

I am an agile coach working with 20 teams in a large enterprise, and I love to create communities for those interested in developing their agile instincts; I mentor project managers to become great Scrum Masters and coach managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results and an organizational community that provides sustainability for agile. I am also one of the organizers of the Dallas-Fort Worth Scrum user group which hosts monthly sessions with over 60 attendees and serve on the Dallas Agile Leadership Network board.

The F-word (Feedback)

Photo by Valerie

Photo by Valerie

A friend told me that how the brain responds to the question, “May I give you feedback?” is similar to how the brain responds when you encounter a bear in the woods.  And I think part of why we respond with panic or anxiety at the thought of feedback is because we rarely receive open, honest, and direct words from those around us.  Instead we do the best we can with the information we have available: the confusing words and behaviors of those around us + our own thoughts and feelings.  With our inner critics, saboteurs, and imposter syndromes, it’s no wonder that we fear feedback from those around us—they might confirm the worst things we think about ourselves!

I remember a coworker telling me that I receive feedback well, and I was surprised because I felt like it was hard in the moment to do.  I remember a client nailing me with spot-on feedback about something I could have done better that increased my respect for him.  And I remember how happy I felt as a coworker and I made requests of one another that would strengthen our relationship. 

There are so many ways that we can receive and interpret feedback, and it can impact our relationships positively or negatively.  What if we were able to give and receive feedback more frequently to build more trust into our relationships?  To make them antifragile?

Allison Pollard

I am an agile coach working with 20 teams in a large enterprise, and I love to create communities for those interested in developing their agile instincts; I mentor project managers to become great Scrum Masters and coach managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results and an organizational community that provides sustainability for agile. I am also one of the organizers of the Dallas-Fort Worth Scrum user group which hosts monthly sessions with over 60 attendees and serve on the Dallas Agile Leadership Network board.

Learning to be with Conflict

Photo by John Morgan

Photo by John Morgan

I've joked recently that some people call me a "process coach" because I am not a technical coach, but given that the Agile Manifesto values individuals and interactions over processes and tools, it might be more accurate to call me an "individuals and interactions coach."  And since I focus on individuals and interactions, I have quite a bit of experience with conflict--from simple disagreements about tasks all the way to someone might be destroyed in the end.  It isn't always easy stepping into a team and witnessing conflict when it has been festering.

So why put myself there?  Because I can help the team navigate the conflict when they are struggling to do so on their own.  By letting them know that conflict is normal, I can make it safe to talk openly about what's going on for them.  Sometimes I walk into a meeting knowing about one conflict within the team only to discover that there are multiple conflicts present!  Being able to facilitate so team members are willing to say their truths and helping them to hear one another can be exciting--you can feel the energy in the room shift as the conflicts are revealed.  The discussion unfolds, and the energy becomes more positive.  That's a wonderful feeling.

To better understand conflict and learn to be with conflict, I suggest watching this video:

Allison Pollard

I am an agile coach working with 20 teams in a large enterprise, and I love to create communities for those interested in developing their agile instincts; I mentor project managers to become great Scrum Masters and coach managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results and an organizational community that provides sustainability for agile. I am also one of the organizers of the Dallas-Fort Worth Scrum user group which hosts monthly sessions with over 60 attendees and serve on the Dallas Agile Leadership Network board.