Posts Tagged ‘learning’

Getting ready for an uncomfortable conversation

October 23, 2016
Like many people, I’d prefer to avoid tough conversations. Yet, addressing such topics is the only way to improve our relationships, our results, and the status quo.
Here are a few tips that I’ve learned from @LyssaAdkins to setup the conversation up for success…
First, take a few minutes to think about the issue from three different perspectives. An exercise called 3-2-1 guides us to envision ourselves first in the 3rd person perspective observing the conversation, “they”. Then, a 2nd person perspective “you”, imagine saying “you did xyz, you Abc”. And then finally an inclusive perspective saying “we” and inviting a shared solution.
Next, I write out what I intend to say and how I want to be received.
And finally, just before the actual conversation, I review my intention as written above.
Try it, you will be amazed at the clarity with which you enter the conversation and with your ability to stay present and on track in the heat of the moment. This will honor the other person and enable productive dialog.

Lenses and Landscapes

May 28, 2013

Following an inspiring talk last week by Lyssa Adkins and Michel Spayd of the Agile Coaching Institute  at SV-ALN, I started to think about lenses. Frames of reference. Perspectives. As usual, their ideas resonated and inspired me. The very next day, we were already putting one of the models (lenses of I, We, IT, ITS)  into practice– collaborating with a colleague who had also attended the same meetup. I am so happy also that from my new company, five of us attended the meetup. Five of us drove to San Jose to be part of this agile learning community.  A very good sign!


And since I am a new employee, joining a large company. I wanted to apply this idea of lenses more broadly to my onboarding. In the book, The First 90 Days, Michael Watkins talks about areas of focus and structured learning.  Combining the ideas from Lyssa and Michael with the ideas from this book – I have the following learning lenses: people, interactions, place, technology, software architecture, market, processes, tools, product, strategy, cadence and timing, All of these are ways of understanding my new systems.


Back in my Xerox days, I was part of a research project on work process and culture. There were many interesting things I learned from PARC, including the notion of anthropological research; approaching customers as though I were an anthropologist. And after a year of being exposed to PARC as a place and as a community, the anthropolists on that research project coined a new term to describe me — they pegged me as a “landscaper.”


At the time, I was a young manager of a team of devs members of the technical staff, developing a sytem to receive compressed streams of objects ready to print onto rapidly moving sheets of paper. You can read more about the technologies in these patents.  Color was all new to most of us. We were experts at black-and-white digital printing and scanning. So it was exciting to create space, vision, and community for learning and developing color technologies. I could see that we could become SMEs in this whole new area. And we did!


As a landscaper, I am someone who studies a system , and then maps out future visions for the system. A field of possibilities. As an agilist, I have added collaborative to that mix. Collaboratively mapping out future vision.


A system can be a community, a complex software system, a loosely coupled group of people, a team of teams, a product portfolio, a federation of competitors and cooperators.


I have lots to learn about the new systems that I am now a part of J so that we can collaboratively develop this field of possibilities…


Be a collaborative leader, part 1

June 1, 2012

Collaboration is a word that we generally associate with teams, not with leaders.


Teams collaborate, and leaders lead, right?


If a leader wanted to be collaborative with an individual, what would that look like? With a large department or group? With other executives?


This may sound attractive in theory, but it can be difficult to recall examples of what this would look like.


So, you want to be a more collaborative leader?


Here are 10 practical, real world examples of how this could look for a manager today inside a corporation….


1)       When it’s annual budget planning time, invite team members to suggest what will be needed next year, when and why. Include “nice to haves” too along with rationale. This can take the form of a shared spreadsheet on Sharepoint or GoogleDocs.


2)     When it’s time to assign work or tasks, try asking for volunteers instead. For extra credit, try assigning responsibility instead of tasks. Delegate. It’s empowering!


3)     When you do need to assign something to a specific person, still ask… “Would you please “… and leave space for the person to decline, if they feel strongly. Give as many choices as possible. Choice is collaborative and it is also empowering.


4)     Create space for things to go right. Find a way to have vision that the team can succeed. If you have doubts, the team or team member will sense your doubts. Share the concern and then ask how they feel and ask what is needed to mitigate. If the concern is with an individual team member, communicate one-on-one. In either case, be hard on the issue, and soft on the person.


5)     As a collaborative leader, it’s important to say what you think. But, if your emotions (including anger) are still fresh and unchecked, the timing may not yet be the best. Try reflecting on your intention first. What do I hope will happen as a result of this sharing? What is my intention? Speak the truth in love.


6)     Make a “travel” bag of collaborative tools – sticky notes in several sizes and colors, blue painters tape, index cards (in while and maybe an extra color or two). Let team members know that they are welcome to take this bag to gathers too…it’s a shared resource. Keep it stocked and ready to go.


7)      Share information openly whenever possible. Share it in a way that allows people to quickly know if this is optional to read versus if it is integral to their day-to-day mission. For example, if several times a week you have “FYI” info, consider posting to an internal blog, board, or even an email with a easy to categorize title. For example – Just FYI #1, Just FYI #2, or Learning about our customers #1. Learning about our customers #2, etc.


8)      To develop annual performance goals for and with a larger group, start a collaborative space on a team wall with print-outs of the related missions, goals, and visions that we want to align with. Then, start writing sticky notes with brainstorm ideas of potential goals. Invite team members to contribute with this silent brainstorming method. Write new sticky notes with updated summaries of what looks best for the team. Encourage participation. Leave the wall up for a while so that people can see the connection between suggested goals and what was decided.


9)     When a few people are remote and the rest are “all in one” room, leave a webex with chat window open and projected onto an easily visible screen so that the remote folks can chime in with written ideas and questions and even a “raised hand” via chat during the conversation. Because it is very hard to collaboratively join in when you are a single remote person to a team. Of course you can use a webcam based system to give the remote person visual cues.  But the running chat window along with webconferencing or other tools like googledocs or Confluence is a practical alternative.


10)  Another collaborative idea for including remote team members is to post snapshots of the team idea walls and boards every week and post to a shared location. Our admin (who we love) takes the pix and posts to Sharepoint every Monday. Would be great to add occasional photo’s of the team, too. and ask remote team members to share pix from their life as well. Even pix of their backyard or the recent snow story can help to bring us closer.


What’s your collaboration story?

Be a collaborative leader, part 3

June 1, 2012

I am inspired to write this series because I am learning that being “agile” is not enough. Starting up 15+ scrum teams is not enough. Hearing that team members that are happier in self-organizing teams is not enough.  Even delivering frequent, iterative value is not enough. Without Collaborative Leadership, we will revert back to the old way. Slowly. Surely. Sadly.

I am a manager inside a large enterprise. There are the ways that I am learning and practicing Collaborative Leadership… try it, you’ll like it!

1)        Hiring is a critical time. People make the difference. How will you collaboratively find an A player who will fit with your collaborative environment & who can do the work? Be collaborative Send a draft job description to the team members who will work with the new person. Invite their edits and comments! Invite their referrals for the position – after all, who better to recommend a great candidate? Invite these same team members to collaboratively build a set of interview questions and invite them to contribute to the interview timings and structure as well. And after a round of interviews is completed, invite the interviewers to a collaborative sharing and discussion of the candidates. This collaborative candidate review is powerful and revealing.

  1. Before we start the interviews, I would like to request your ideas and input on the interview process ..


  1. In some cases, team members enjoy interviewing their potential manager in pairs. People have shared that they found this helpful because they were also able to observe the candidate answering other person’s questions. And they learned from one another how to improve their own interviews for the future – by that observation. Is this something that you are interested in trying?


  1. We will hold a group debrief following the interview so that everyone can share their impressions with one another. I am finding that this is very valuable because it allows us to hear different perspectives upfront, before hiring. And also to build together a stronger picture of what we need in the new member and why it matters to us. For example, in the past debriefs, several people commented that they felt that a given candidate would “go to bat for them.” This was significant because two different people commented this about two different candidates. Now we know that our candidate will need to be strong in this quality.


  1. On the second round interview, we are also trying something new. The candidate is holding an interactive session … we are simulating a team meeting. The candidate is presenting on the topic of “10 things I’ve learned.”


  1. I would also love to hear your ideas on who we want to be on our interview panel. Who is effective at interviewing?


  1. PS: here is an interesting article

#39 – How to interview and hire people « Scott Berkun

2)      Be vulnerable. Share your own learnings. Your own mistakes. We don’t learn by always being perfect. In fact, none of us is perfect!

3)      When it comes time to Celebrate – plan the celebration together. Enjoy celebrating as a group and ask team members for celebration suggestions.

4)      Everyone loves to be appreciated. And yet appreciations are infrequently shared. Try making an Appreciations wall with sticky notes and public appreciations. Go first, add the first appreciation note, sign and date it so that older appreciations can be aged out.  Appreciate teams too! So much of what goes right is due to successful team collaboration.

5)      Keep gardening – this is how we soften the ground, it’s a marathon without a single destination, not a sprint a. Use internal blogs & newsletters to encourage and nurture new ideas and soft ideas. I recently wrote an internal blog post called “I’m bored”…I can already see that this will be a “best seller” post because it is hitting a nerve. People care. People read. People talk. Give them something deep to talk about, insightful, meaningful, challenging. Plant seeds.

6)      When facilitating meetings, remember the facilitator motto of “all voices heard”… ask everyone to participate. Ask people for their ideas and opinions by name. It’s engaging to be addressed by name. It is energizing and collaborative. And it can be a bit stressful too – so as a facilitator, make it OK for the person to remain quiet – “Great, you are in agreement with what has been shared” or “We’ve got everything covered so far, good to know.”

7)      Sometimes, you will still need to “take charge.” Being a collaborative leader doesn’t make you a fulltime facilitator, a wallflower, or worse yet, road-kill. Some decisions need to be made independent of the team. The world is not a black and white place. There is a lot of gray, and fuchsia, and aqua, and many other colors! Ask yourself, “with more time, would I be able to make this decision more collaboratively?” and if the answer is no – then stop pretending that the decision is still open for collaboration. Instead, get open with the team and explain both the decision and your rationale.

8)      Relationships & alliances matter– you are not the lone ranger or even the lone facilitator– this is a system we are talking about. And relationships matter more than hierarchy. More than titles. More that org charts. To get more of a sense of how alliances form an energy pattern, reference Michael Spayd’s work with Constellations here and here.  Whenever you sense tension in a relationship, then in fact there is tension. And it’s good to keep that in mind if you are expecting the other person or group to collaborate with you, your team, or your initiative.

9)      Create (mental and emotional) space for teamwork. A)  Welcome and thank people communicating bad news early, B) Say “we” more…especially when taking credit!, C) Say “I” when taking a failure bow, read the rest of this post here

10)   Develop collaborative leaders – everywhere you go, commit to be a force for developing collaborative leaders. You are a collaborative leader, you believe in agile values, help others to step up into this role, too. Start with vision, see others through a lens that highlights the positive and the collaborative. If they come to you with a problem, listen and ask powerful questions, ie If we had everything we needed for this then how would it look? Assume that they want to become collaborative leaders themselves. Assume the best. Act “as if.”

It’s your turn…

Retrospectives that work

March 14, 2012

Retrospectives are integral to an agile practice. This is our time of reflection and growth. This is the time when we tell each other what we want to change and why. And we commit to one another one thing, just one thing, that we ourselves will do differently over the coming sprint.


Two of the agile values are enabled with Retrospectives are: valuing “Individuals and interactions,” and valuing “Responding to change.” With a retrospective time, we listen to one another, all voices are heard.

A team retrospective can be short, or it may be long. Some sprints will take more time to process and learn from. Reflection and a decision to practice something is the way that we improve.


With the agile team that I was the scrum coach for last year… we started our retrospectives with a simple and quick style. Sometimes we were complete in 15 minutes, sometimes we went on for 60 minutes. It depended on the team, where we needed dialog and discussion.

A simple and quick way to start a retrospective:

1)      On a flipchart or a whiteboard draw a table with 3 sections. A “happy face” section, a “puzzled face” section, and a “commitments” section.

2)      Give a stickies pad to each team member and ask everyone to write one item per sticky and place onto the board. This usually takes 5 minutes. Though, give it more time if people have more to say.

3)      Stand up around the board and re-group the stickies all at once. Talk about the groupings and the patterns

4)      Give each team member one index card and ask everyone to note one thing that they personally will commit to do differently over the next sprint

5)      Ask each person to read their card to the group and place it onto the board

6)      That’s it!

Works well to post this “retrospective” “board” near your task board. And at the start of the next retrospective, first ask everyone to check in with their commit card.


There are many more ways to hold a retrospective. Many! It’s also a great idea to switch up the questions, the style, facilitation, etc. I highly recommend reading this blog post by Jamie Dinkelacker, a Senior Engineering Manager at Google…


And of course the book Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great by Esther Derby & Diana Larsen is a goldmine of ideas, too!

Coaching Stance – holding the space

November 28, 2011

I was fortunate to be an assistant in the November Coaching Stance class… with Lyssa Adkins, Michael Spayd, and Cynthia Loy Darst, what a great learning experience. I highly recommend this class – this learning and practicing experience!

My big takeaway – Wow it is much harder to be an assistant rather than a student. Being a student I get to focus much more on me. On my learning. On what I am taking in. On what I am practicing. And when I am a student all of the other students are my peers, my fellow learners. We are connected with relationships. We see one another, we meet, we interact, we connect.

Being an assistant is all about helping the students and the “front of the room leaders” to be successful. It is a chance to practice a continuous level 3 focus. A soft focus – tuned into everyone else’s learning. Tuned in to the system of people in the room, the whole environment, the place. Lyssa explained that it is about both holding space energetically and also holding the space for B.O.D. Beauty, Order, and Design. I notice that this is often my role. When I am leading a meeting at work, I am responsible for both facilitating the meeting and for holding the space   … how much nicer it would be to have an assistant – someone helping to “hold the space”… I will ask for that help now that I see the value and importance!

On the second day, I was a participant for part of the day – which I loved, now double valuing the chance to both build relationships and learn new ideas about coaching. One of my favorites was a game where you take turns coaching someone else – with a twist that the coach is given frequent prompts to try specific practices – like comment on Level 3. It made me very much more aware of where my questions and comments are coming from at any given moment. We laughed a lot!

I also loved the chance to meet and interact and learn from a great community of coaches.  We are coaches now. Because we WANT to coach and help others. It doesn’t mean that I am a great coach, or the best coach. Still –all of us in the class, we are all coaches now!

As usual, I have posted my notes … here are the images.


Let me know what you think…

Learning through games

November 17, 2009

Last week I was a student in Tobias Mayer’s Welfare CSM course. What a great experience!  Almost all of the learning came via interactive games. I loved this, reminded me of Agile Open California in some ways – like no powerpoint, no sitting in rows of chairs facing the speaker… Even though Tobias clearly is a scrum expert, he set up the class so that much of our learning came from experiences like the spaghetti game, the three things game, an unpredictable variation of the ball game, a collaboration improv game, and more.

And we walked away with some new friends. Remembering everyone else’s name … valuing people over process a bit. Turns out that when we are being “me” centered, we just want to explain and tell.  Interestingly, Creativity happens when we are curious, when we are curious about others then we move into a mode of exploring with the other person. Exploration is central to creativity.

In another game we saw that failing fast led to many more ideas and success than too much talk and indecision. I don’t particularly like failing – so this was not a particularly attractive concept. On the other hand, I do have a huge bias for action, so then again this is looking like a winning strategy after all!

The biggest lesson was that scrum is an evolving framework…that as we practice we will iterate our own thinking about what works, and why. Scrum is not something we learn just once… It is a form of continuous improvement … we get to “done” on our sprint stories, but we are never “done” with our learning.