One of the techniques I have come to greatly appreciate as a facilitator is the diamond of participatory decision making (see “The Leader’s Guide to Participatory Decision Making”, 1998 by Sam Kaner). This technique/framework allows facilitators to better harness team’s collective intelligence.
What problem does the diamond solve?
As part of a business writing course I took years ago I learned about writer’s block: a state of mind in which professional writers (such as a novelist) cannot find it in themselves to write. The phenomenon is understood in that our brain has different faculties or “hats it can wear”. One of those faculties is that of creative thinking: coming up with new ideas, exploring new topics, thinking out of the box. Another faculty of our brain is that of critical thinking: removing flawed ideas, to identify – for example – style problems that need to be revised. Both faculties are important, serving different purposes.
The problem comes in when both creative and critical faculties of the brain are trying to be active at the same time, and as a result interfere with each other to the point where one shuts the other down. So when an author tries to write new, innovative ideas, BUT the critical part of her brain is dominant, she will not be able to come up with anything creative and is hence “blocked” from writing. The problem can be addressed by taking turns: only wear one hat at a time (eg. now I am thinking creative, simply spitting out ideas without worrying about quality or style; in an hour I will sift through my creative writing to fix style or grammatical issues and unweed the lesser ideas).
The diamond of participatory decision making follows a very similar pattern, but at the group level: the facilitator makes space for divergent thinking (creative, out-of-the-box), contemplation (discussion, debate), and convergent thinking (shortlisting of ideas) at separate, successive times, rather than at the same time or not at all.
How does the diamond work?
In short the diamond suggests 5 stages to a decision making conversation:
Business as usual - conversation that does not challenge status quo
Divergent zone - brainstorming, thinking outside the box
Groan zone - contemplate and debate ideas
Convergent zone - narrow down ideas to those most feasible
Close- decide on a way forward
The diamond framework teaches us that divergent thinking and convergent thinking cannot happen at the same time, as they interfere with one another. The facilitator must make space for both separately.
The process of convergent thinking is also very important: not all ideas can be implemented, lest we create bloating, systems that conflict with each other, or that do not have enough benefit because the underlying ideas were not appropriate to start with. In this case we must dismiss some ideas and advance others.
And the groan zone is equally important: moving directly from diverging ideas (generating insights) to convergence (decide what to do) can mean that ideas are not sufficiently contemplated and understood by the group. If this happens, the group will not have the understanding it needs to make the best decision possible.
The trick is that these three stages must not take place at the same time. For example: the facilitator must not allow dissent on ideas by the group when the brainstorming is still happening. Sometimes you will notice that one person in the group ‘critiques’ everyone else’s brainstorming ideas as soon as they are being spoken. This is because they are unaware of their critiquing brain functions being active. However, if allowed to continue, this behaviour will seriously impede ideation because a) ideas that are poorly articulated, but are otherwise great ideas, won’t see the light of day and b) the group will not feel safe to express new ideas for fear of being criticized.
Many good ideas started as something that at the surface seemed odd or even silly, only then to evolve into something highly valuable.
The 3M stickies often are used as an example of this. It was originally thought that there was almost no market for them. Imagine if someone hadn’t given these a chance, where would agility be without them? ;)
Why agility and the diamond go hand in hand?
Agility and the diamond share several beliefs that make them highly compatible.
Participative decision making gives a voice to everyone on the team, and allows team members to contribute to end results in a meaningful way. Lean and agile believe that team empowerment and self organization is important (agile principle #5, 11);
Making space for convergent thinking can help reduce bloating scope (agile principle #10) - this is more important than may first be apparent: too many teams and organizations suffer from unhealthy levels of work in progress in part because they lack a robust mechanism for saying “no”;
Finally, the diamond encourages focus on identifying a concise way forward at the team level, obviously to the end of an improved future. Compare that to agile principle #12: At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.
The Diamond and Retrospectives:
While there is a large variety of different ways to have retrospectives, many of them will have much in common with what the diamond stands for. One popular outline for retrospectives was introduced in “Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great” by Esther Derby and Diana Larsen (2006), and I will compare it here side-by-side.
Another important perspective is that Derby & Larsen’s outline could be seen as a string of diamonds, and we can go through a separate divergence/groan/convergence process for each phase. For example, when gathering data you first want to get as much information as possible (divergence), then group the results (groan zone) and then dot vote to pick the most important topics (convergence) for generating insights.
The Diamond of Participatory Decision Making offers many more insights and techniques that are worth exploring, for example how to draw out good ideas from people, and how to teach team members to internalize the facilitation function.
In agile environments - and especially in cross functional teams as you would find in Scrum settings - we want every team member to chime in and add to the ideation pool, believing that good ideas can “come from anyone”. We do not want to lose ideas that could prove valuable, even if at the beginning they might seem a bit odd.
Retrospectives often follow an outline that resembles the participatory decision making framework that was researched and documented by San Kaner in 1998: diverge-groan-converge.
As described by Kaner in his book, a few tips are worth keeping in mind:
Share with the team that you are using the diamond and how it works, so they are informed.
Do not try to diverge and converge at the same time, as great ideas might be discarded prematurely. That means stopping people that critique the ideas during the brainstorming phase.
Draw out poorly worded ideas by asking questions.
Do not skip the groan zone - moving directly from diverging ideas (generating insights) to convergence (decide what to do) can mean that ideas are not sufficiently contemplated and understood by the group. If this happens, the group will not have the understanding it needs to make the best decision possible.
Use diamonds within diamonds: diverge/groan/converge at each phase of the retrospective, as well as looking at the retrospective end-to-end as a diamond.
Converge properly: do not walk out with 150 action items. You know none of them will get done. Walk out with 1 or 2 and be sure that they will get implemented.
Take a moment to reflect... can you recall a time when your critical thinking kept interfering with your creativity?
… Have you observed times when someone in a group kept ‘critiquing’ ideas during brainstorming and soon they were the only ones voicing new thoughts?
… When is the next time your team will be thinking out of the box?
Creditreform, the business magazine of the Handelsblatt publishing group, just published an article by Tanja Könemann on agility as a way to meet the demands of customers and the fast-paced modern marketplace.
The article includes discussions with business leaders, CEOs, consulting experts, and an interview with Marion Eickmann, who explains how an agile transformation begins and progresses, and the role of leadership in changing organizational culture to achieve greater resilience. The article is available online in German, or you can download an english translation here.
“…but I still haven't found what I'm looking for…”
Having worked in NGOs and development agencies for years, in my professional and academic work, I had always searched for a model, or an approach, which would help me organize myself. The classical to do tasks, project schedules and Gantt charts which I used with the belief that “this time it will make me a very organized and a very efficient person”, soon proved to be of limited use. I lost my enthusiasm and self-motivation each time I delayed, canceled a task or extended the project duration.
I always wanted a framework which would help me define my objectives clearly, list and prioritize my tasks, estimate the time I needed to finalize them, and which I could follow up easily day by day. This tool was shared with colleagues so that we could collaborate better. Besides, I wanted to feel in control. I mean, in the classical way of planning things, I felt the responsibility to remove any obstacles all by myself as if I could control everything which impacted my work. In real life, it is not the case. I did not know that well and could not do as planned.
Sometimes all we need is a fresh start
When I started as the MEAL (Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability and Learning) Manager in Support to Life, it was the first time I needed to support that many team members. Our team consisted of a manager (which was me), a team leader and five officers, and each of us was based in a different location somewhere in Turkey. I found myself in the middle of a very unfamiliar way of working, with my team physically away from me, collecting, analyzing the data of our projects and reporting continuously. We were mostly on email and rarely on Skype, and I was trying to comprehend what they were doing and how they were doing so that I could support them better, so that they could become highly productive and happy.
A flash of inspiration came to me. I had heard about Scrum and I already had started using Kanban by myself in my previous position. Since I was an industrial engineer, I already knew about the Toyota production system, lean management, Kanban and continuous improvement. Now my team consisted of the ideal number of team members for Scrum. As part of my small talks with my friends and my colleagues, I starting telling them about Scrum and asking if they knew it and if they used it. I discovered that my best friend who was a high-level manager of a company had been using Scrum for years with her teams. It was an essential part of her daily work routine. Our Information Management Advisor also mentioned that he used Scrum in his past workplaces, and told me how much they gained as a team.
Unfortunately, the cost of a certified ScrumMaster training was quite high. As an organization, we were short of funds at that time, and there was no previously allocated budget for such a training. There were two options: (1) I could ask my best friend to teach us how to Scrum or ( 2) I could ask the leading training company in Turkey, to give me a scholarship so that I could attend their Scrum Master training program.
I knew there was some value in the Scrum Master and Product Owner trainings, because those trainings were the product of a specific expertise. I believed in expertise. I wanted us to do Scrum “according to the book”. So I was closer to the second option.
After getting to know each other better and coming together physically once, I mentioned Scrum to the MEAL Team members, without giving much detail. We started holding Daily Scrum morning meetings on Skype, in which we would ask the three questions about
The time we spent was from 40 minutes to 70 minutes!
Then, I asked if anyone could help me understand this “Scrum” better by reading the official guides and watching some videos with me. Ayşe Nur, who previously worked as a project manager in STL, was eager to find efficient ways of managing our work and promoting collaboration within the Team. She volunteered willingly. In our second face to face meeting in Diyarbakır, Ayşe Nur and I shared our quite superficial knowledge and the videos we watched about Scrum, with other members of our Team. We asked ourselves if it was worth investing time and effort to learn and use Scrum. The terminology was quite confusing: user stories, sprints, backlogs, story sizing... We were not even sure how to define our “product”.
A very common warning in all Scrum resources was that Scrum training should be given to team members and meetings should be facilitated by a trained professional. If you learn it wrong, you do it wrong, and that is worse than not using Scrum. The MEAL Team had past experiences and lessons learned about new technological tools. At the end of the day, we decided to be quite sure-footed about it.
We decided to go on holding Daily Scrum morning meetings on Skype, and the Team charged me with researching and finding an Agile – Scrum training company or an individual Scrum Master, who would be interested in voluntarily teaching us Scrum.
agile42 & Support to Life Synergy
As soon as I got back to Istanbul, I made my research and found agile42. I read about their work and their approach. Why wouldn’t agile42 Turkey teach us Scrum and make Support to Life’s MEAL Team faster and more efficient? So we could increase the speed and quality of our protection efforts towards thousands of refugees, children in seasonal agriculture, and other populations in post-disaster emergencies.
I contacted Ebru Yalçınkaya from the agile42 Turkey team for support. We had a talk about what we were looking for and how we work as the MEAL Team, and how autonomous we were as a team. She confirmed that Scrum was appropriate for us and explained how they would support us to overcome the difficulties we were facing. I was so happy. After the talk two agile42 coaches Ayşe Turunç and Figen Yalçınkaya would work with us during our journey. We knew Ayşe and Figen normally had a hectic schedule of trainings and we were grateful. We arranged a 2-day training at STL headquarters during the last week of March 2018.
“mura, muri, muda”
The MEAL Team was gathering face to face for the third time. Other colleagues from other teams also joined us for the first day of the training. It was an interactive training with lots of discussions, games, coloured drawings, questions, team work, and laughter. I still remember very clearly the exercise in which we failed to plan in an agile way. We realized how difficult it was to separate ourselves from the traditional project management thinking, and to adopt the agile way of thinking – mura, muri, muda :) The second day was only for the MEAL Team. During that second day, our training was not only about being Agile. Figen and Ayşe reflected the spirit of the Team. We became aware of what we saw in ourselves and what we saw in each other; we discovered why we liked to work together; and we discussed about what could make us faster and better.
Ayşe and Figen did not leave us alone in our Scrum journey and closely coached us in the sprint review and retrospective meetings. We learned so much during the coaching. We are learning still.
Now our morning Daily Scrum are a maximum of 20 minutes (please forgive us Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland). We gave ourselves a 5 minutes bonus for Skype-related technical reasons such as sound distortion, which steals from our time. We have the sprint planning meeting on Mondays, sprint review and sprint retrospective meetings on Fridays. Each meeting takes around 1 hour. Starting from the last week of May, the duration of our sprint will be two weeks. We will see if it works better. We are experimenting and we are learning from the experience.
What is different now with Scrum?
The first and most dominant feeling of all team members is the feeling of being more planned and organized. I know this is not the very first aim of Scrum, but as a start, I think it was something we needed. We are more transparent to each other and we try to increase collaboration even more. And for your information: getting grisp to Scrum takes time. We did not become super agile either in one day or in two months. Honestly, every day we are slightly more agile than the day before.
As a manager, Scrum provides me with speed in sharing information, and opportunity to make collaborative decisions as a team. Thus we have the collective responsibility and ownership of what we produce. In this process, I am what I want to be, a humble and servant leader. And my work is much less boring than any work usually is. We rarely have long meetings, but we are able to make use of each other’s experience and innovative ideas.
What I like most about Scrum
What I like most about Scrum is that it supports a team to be a better team, because Scrum makes everyone equal. Scrum makes a silent team member talk more and a long talker... a fast presenter. Scrum encourages us to be innovative and collaborative rather than dull and lonely. Scrum makes us think about how we can clear our way from impediments and get faster and more efficient. Each member becomes a strategic planner and plays a role in our individual and collective professional development. Most of all, I love seeing everyone in the morning and experiencing the Monday syndrome and the Friday joy altogether.
Thank you Ebru, Figen and Ayşe, Thank you agile42, for being a supporter of Support to Life and for being an inalienable part of our neurons forever :)
Thank you Ahmad, Ayşe Nur, Büşra, Miran and Mustafa, for everything we are and we will become
I will be presenting a talk on "Growing an internal agile coaching capability in a large organisation" at the HR Goes Agile Conference taking place in Johannesburg, South Africa on the 12-13 June 2018.
HR Goes Agile is the first conference in South Africa that specifically focusses on the role of HR in guiding and facilitating organizations in becoming agile. In doing so it will inspire, motivate and empower employees and unlock the true potential of their companies. We are very happy to be a sponsor of this event. Read more online.
We are currently engaged at one of the major banks where we are helping 1400 people to transition to agile methods. Our main strategy is to build an internal agile coaching capability that will enable the bank to become self-sustaining in their journey to agility, which we know, will take many years to reach maturity.
The case study that I'll discuss in my talk will cover very briefly the genesis of the Scrum Master Academy, the journey to create the programme, and how they are going about the current programme and what they are learning right now about what works well and what remains a struggle.
The business-oriented magazine Discover Germany just published an article about ORGANIC Agility in its issue 62 of May 2018. The article is available in both English and German, as customary for the publication which aims to promote the Germany/Austria/Switzerland (or "D-A-CH") area to the international public.
The text by Marilena Stracke explains to a larger audience how the concept of ORGANIC Agility grew out of deep roots in the agile values and principles, and becomes a way to leverage these in a conscious and strategic way in the context of an organization.
Becoming Agile is a lifelong journey. Incorporating Scrum values and Agile principles into your world of work takes diligence, patience, and a commitment to continuous improvement. It’s now the time to aim for greater competence and Agile skills in order to meet the growing demands of the workplace.
The Advanced Certified ScrumMaster (A-CSM) and the Advanced Certified Scrum Product Owner (A-CSPO) training, part of the new Scrum Alliance Advanced Certification path that started in 2017, are designed to build on your foundational knowledge with enhanced skills for the implementation of Scrum and Agile techniques within your company and teams. We are very happy to start offering these certifications to qualified professionals.
The first set of Advanced CSM classes will start in Berlin, Stockholm and South Africa (Johannesburg and Cape Town) from June to October.
agile42 coaches are also partnering with US-based trainer Aaron Sanders to organize the first set of Advanced CSPO classes in Europe next September. Aaron’s effectiveness results from experiences spanning over two decades in technological and interpersonal disciplines and he consistently seeks out people to co-train and coach with. We are very happy to have him in this training tour of Europe.
Places are limited, please choose the location most convenient for you and check the details and the registration options:
In research, psychology, and any other field in which someone is intended to be an impartial observer, there is a phenomenon known as the Observer Expectancy Effect, or Observer Bias. This bias happens when an observer expresses their thoughts and expectations about a situation through tone, word choice, and body language in a way that influences how the people they are observing behave.
The observer expectancy effect can be subtle, but it can also be quite profound. In some research, the observer has been shown to unconsciously change the way a subject performs in a test based on whether the observer was told they were “smart” or “dumb” subjects.
Right about now, you’re probably thinking “Well I wouldn’t do that! I’m a professional!” and there I have bad news for you. We all do it. Because it’s largely unconscious, we can’t help it. The only way that’s been found to consistently address the problem is to not have any expectations, and that is really difficult. Even if we can enter a situation with none, human nature causes us to start forming them very quickly. As coaches, our opinions and unconscious biases can mislead or misdirect those we are coaching. Therefore, it is important that we are aware and careful of this effect.
At agile42, we use a structured approach to change on teams called the Team Coaching Framework (TCF) to limit or negate the impact of any observer bias we might bring to the table.
Structured Coaching through Coaching Cards
In TCF, we leverage a structure that helps us avoid jumping ahead of ourselves in coaching. This structure starts with observations, then makes hypotheses about why those observations exist, co-created with those we are working with wherever possible. Once we settle on a hypothesis to work with, we set a goal and ways to measure that goal. Finally, we select tools to use to help get to this goal. Following this structure pushes our own opinions as far out in the process as possible in order to reduce the likelihood of influencing the process accidentally.
“The ScrumMaster is the center of conversation for the Daily Scrum.”
Does this sound like an observation to you? It isn’t. It’s actually an inference about a pattern of observations. If that sounds pedantic, that’s ok – in many cases like this, it is a fair inference about a real pattern. But when we come to our hypotheses, this nuanced difference might really matter.
When we look at the actual events that occur, we may see that every person only speaks to the ScrumMaster. Or, we might see that people primarily speak to the ScrumMaster but they also update the board and occasionally speak to each other. Both of these patterns could be expressed as the ScrumMaster being the center of the conversation, but in the first, we may hypothesize that there is a structural component leading to the behavior, while in the second it is clear that nothing is blocking the team from speaking to each other – perhaps there is a social pressure or a habit leading to this behavior.
Reflecting back on these “micro-observations” can free us from anchors we’ve formed in our perspective.
Pairing or Coaching Groups
Having an extra set of eyes will almost certainly result in a different set of observations. Comparing these after-the-fact can help both coaches in removing their bias from the coaching. When doing this, the coaches can either decide to both watch everything or they can choose to have one coach focus on a very specific thing while the other takes a broad view in his or her observations. This second approach is particularly helpful when you are coaching a team through a particular challenge or new skill.
Multiple HypothesesOne of the most common problems when formulating hypotheses is that we select the hypothesis that most closely matches our preconceptions or past experiences and then look for information that shows this hypothesis to be true.
In order to avoid this, we try to brainstorm multiple hypotheses in each coaching card. We will usually pursue only one at a time, but taking the time to come up with multiple hypotheses helps break us out of our own assumptions.
Coaching Tip: If you do this as a group, other coaches may come up with hypotheses you would never have thought of.
Invalidate Your Hypothesis
"It is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail." - Abraham Maslow
We are bombarded with a lot of information and our brain subconsciously filters out everything that we don’t think is relevant. When we try to validate a hypothesis, we can unconsciously filter out information that doesn’t support the hypothesis. This is called confirmation bias. One way to avoid this is to specifically look for information that disproves your hypothesis. Because you’re specifically looking for it, you are less likely to subconsciously filter it out.
The team coaching framework from agile42 can’t solve the problem of observer expectancy bias, but it does give us a number of ways to combat the impact it has on our coaching. If you’re going to be at the Mile High Agile Conference in Denver, join Daniel Lynn on Tues, May 22nd at 1:10PM to hear more about this topic. Make sure to stop by our table and share with us on how you avoid this effect in your coaching.
Note: I recommend looking at the works of Robert Rosenthal, which primarily studied the effects of biases in childhood education.
In 2017, Gia-Thi Nguyen attended a Certified ScrumMaster course in Berlin. What follows, in his own words, are his experience, success, and joy.
I have been with Siemens for about 16 years and worked in different functions. At the moment I am the Head of Operational Excellence within the Digital Factory (DF) division and responsible for several processes in our regional companies all over the world. Working in the financial realm, I believe that an agile mindset can be applied to any environment and it was important for me to have the necessary competence to understand and apply Scrum methodologies to drive our own internal Digital Transformation activities. You can read more about our ongoing Digitalization story.
I have colleagues who have joined different training institutions but the overwhelmingly positive feedback was about agile42. As a bonus, Berlin is always a nice place. My aim was, firstly, to understand in an experiential way the methodologies of Scrum and, secondly, to validate and challenge what I knew/thought I know. I was really excited by the extremely high level of positive energy in the room coming from both trainers and participants and I enjoyed the diversity of backgrounds. The context (food, location, setting, etc.) was very cool as well. In the end, what stuck with me was the importance of focusing on being agile, rather than just doing Scrum. By the end of the course, not only had I experienced Scrum and secured my own knowledge, but I felt confident enough to pass that knowledge on to my colleagues.
The overall impact of the course on my working life has been incredible. I lead different Projects on a global scale. Now, when I start projects, I do not plan with lengthy timelines, but focus on what I can deliver and by when, using monthly sprints. Furthermore, no more excel or powerpoint for status tracking; just a picture of a Product/Sprint Backlog and reviewing delivered value. My team is always pulled and not pushed, especially when I am building it up. I used to have 10+ team members (pushed) when I took over the project, but now, for this initiative, by pulling the right set of competences, we ended up becoming only a team of 3. We have no more business requirements, but simple user stories. Adding constant incremental value means no more timelines with year-long phases!
We used Sprint planning for our milestones, regional on-site workshops which were a task from our backlog. The aim of the workshops was to go thoroughly through the processes of a regional company to jointly define concrete actions aimed at achieving our shared goals.
After 5 Sprints, a lean team of 3 process experts has conducted nearly 30 on-site workshops in different countries with the aim of supporting the local processes in order management through concrete measures. This was achieved in one year, although initially this process was planned to take more than 2 years. The process was very natural, and the faster progress happened despite having to spend a lot of time and energy in the beginning to “explain” why we do it the way we do it. These changes have created a faster, leaner, more motivated organization with better collaboration. In addition, we increased our initial planned financial targets by more than 70% and had the first savings much earlier as well.
Going into the future we feel confident that this was no fluke and that we will reproduce the results on an even larger scale in different fields by applying the same mindset and practices. And so the journey continues.
Last Thursday, April 26, I spoke at the latest event of the Agile Piano Meetup Berlin, taking place in the former piano factory, where Aperto (an IBM Company) is based, in the heart of Berlin Mitte. It’s a meetup that brings together agile employees from digital agencies and companies from Berlin and Brandenburg.
In this session, I introduced the foundation of ORGANIC Agility by presenting the 5 core principles, and how they have been successfully or not implemented by some well-known organizations. The purpose was to share the approach, experience and collect feedback with a session that was a mixture of sharing, lecturing and interactive small exercises.
The world is changing faster than we think, and most of the changes are driven by technology changes, directly or indirectly affecting macroeconomic. In such an environment what organizations need to survive and possibly outpace their competition, is the capability to adapt very quickly to changes, in more rigorous terms, organizations need to grow more resilient and possibly antifragile. This is the main reason why so many enterprises in the past 5 years have turned towards agility as an opportunity to gain more resilience. While there are well-documented frameworks supporting agile within a development environment, there isn’t much out there that helps an organization to understand how to change, and what to change, in order to become more resilient, as a whole. ORGANIC Agility is a unique approach which combines the values and principles of the agile manifesto, with complexity thinking, and aims at enabling organizations to grow more resilient, and possibly outpace their competition.
Here are the slides and a video of the presentation (unfortunately the beginning got cut).
Following the announcement of the public launch of agile42 in Sweden, we bring our series "Meet the Coach" to Stockholm to meet Giuseppe De Simone. Born in Italy, Giuseppe is a Certified Enterprise Coach and Certified Team Coach and his relationship with agile42 goes way back. We exchanged a few words while he plans for busy weeks ahead.
How did you start as an Agile coach and how many times did you cross path with agile42?
I attended my first Scrum training is 2009 and encountering Scrum has been a life-changing experience for me. The trainer of that class was a guy called Andrea Tomasini, so you can understand what was my imprinting into the agile world!
Then at beginning of 2010, I had the luxury to kick-off the Agile transformation in a big development organization of around 2000 people at Ericsson consulted by agile42. I got to spend 3 months in Greece, together with other 18 apprentice trainers and coaches from all over the world and 9 international Agile coaches and trainers, including many CEC/CSTs (Andrea Tomasini, Richard Lawrence, Bob Sarni, Dave Sharrock, Brad Swanson, Ralf Kruse, Björn Jensen, Roberto Bettazzoni and Paolo “Nusco” Perrotta). I had always believed in a more human work environment where colleagues could embrace each other as persons, collaborate and focus on doing the right things. I got so inspired by all of them and learned so much in those three months that I realized that Scrum could be a concrete actualization of my beliefs in a humanized and productive personal and working life.
After that experience I have always stayed in touch with agile42, considering them not only my mentors but a group of friends. In 2014 I became a Certified Enterprise Coach and joined Andrea as the only 2 Italian speaking CECs in the worlds: one more reason to stay connected. In 2015 I was invited as a customer to speak at the first agile42connect conference and there I met many of the other coaches and realized once more that this company could be the right professional community for me to belong to, contribute and grow together.
How is different coaching at a large corporation from freelancing or helping smaller teams?
There are commonalities and differences as well as learning on both sides. By working as an internal coach in a large corporation I definitely learned the practice of patience but especially the ability to dance with the system to help things move forward.
An organization is a complex network of people: it is extremely important to know the organization you are working with very well and look at it as a whole system:
Learn not only about the official and visible structure: learn much more about the invisible networks, the inner relationships among people, who is friend of whom, who is most sensitive to certain subjects and who counts more or is more decisive on certain tables, whether he has a formal power or only a subtle influential leadership. You cannot imagine what competitive advantage this will give to your effectiveness.
Act on different levels. Challenge the status quo and don’t limit yourself to the most obvious actions. Prefer actions who affect the environment around or the process to do things, instead of addressing directly a specific problem: they will have more and lasting impact.
Talk to people, with a preference for informal chats – coffee machines are a perfect place sometimes :). Try to find initiators and innovators to help you and sponsors to support you in difficult situations. And, whatever level you want to affect, consider acting also one level up.
These are abilities which I still find essential, especially when working with leaders at medium-sized or big clients.
On the other side, when you work as an internal coach, the risk is to find yourself soon become too embedded in the system and lose the outside perspective and the clarity of distance which are necessary to stay effective as a coach.
This is instead one of the benefits of working as a consultant and maybe on multiple clients at the same time, which also accelerate learning about different domains and meet a wider diversity of people and cultures. In the new endeavor, I have learned how to make an impact in a very short time.
What are the plans for the new Swedish market?
Our plan is to establish agile42 as a well-known brand in Sweden, a role model of customer collaboration and a synonym of high-quality education and high impact enterprise and team coaching. A growth in the market should just be a natural consequence as we are already observing in the first months of operation.
More long-term, my vision is to make agile42 the preferred partner for whoever wants to upgrade their organizational culture to something more fit to the challenges of 21st century and develop the leaders these companies deserve. In that way, we can contribute to change the world of work by helping individuals have more productive lives and organizations create more human workplaces.
You recently wrote a nice blog post about Agile Education at a primary school in Italy, what did you learn from that?
The blog post is about an experiment I did with my brother who is a primary school teacher in Italy.
During my years as an Agile coach and trainer, I learned that people find it difficult to pick up the agile principles and I know that this is a common experience for every Agile coach and trainer. This is because adults have many assumptions about work that have to be unlearned before they can take in new paradigms. By working in non-agile environments and cultures, we start taking things for granted and form mental models of mutually reinforcing components. Neuroscience tells us that it is basically impossible to break these models.
So my question was: What would it look like instead if you could educate people who have no preconceptions? And what if we create a more “agile friendly” brain wiring from the beginning, starting with school kids? How would they react? Does agile thinking resonate better with their mental models of the world? And what do they think about this all?
At the same time, my brother was interested in ways to innovate the school experience for his students and make their learning more effective.
So we used Scrum to create a learning environment which encompassed the following:
Being more adaptable to a kid’s specific learning needs
Being a meaningful experience involving feelings and physical emotions
Fostering self-development and co-education
Training skills which are crucial in the 21st century but schools and companies are not good at teaching
We managed to have a first-hand validation that using Scrum and teaching agile practices and principles in a primary school class is doable, that kids positively enjoy it, that they can learn skills they normally don’t in a traditional classroom environment but which are essential in modern organizations (e.g. self-organization, leadership, ability to replan, imagination, self-reflection, dealing with uncertainty and the unknown). And, most surprisingly, that their parents like it too.
I will speak about the experiment and the results at the upcoming XP 2018 conference in May in Portugal with a talk called “Growing Agile minds”.
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