All posts by Valerie Senyk

Valerie Senyk is a published author, a trainer/teacher of improvisation and a voice coach for public-speaking. Valerie is a Scrum Master and holds a Masters Degree in Theatre – with over twenty years’ experience working with university students, production teams and casts of large-scale public performance. Valerie has consulted with many organizations and is an active practitioner among the Agile community. She has published numerous articles on AgileAdvice.

How Valuable is Feedback, and Can it Help us Improve?

Do we use feedback to improve what we do?

For five years I have been monitoring the feedback and testimonials from BERTEIG’s training events, from CSM, to Kanban, to SAFe classes and everything else. Our feedback “forms” and questions have evolved over the five years, starting with paper forms then becoming electronic; and from being required to being optional.

BERTEIG’s policy is to use testimonials/feedback in two ways: 1) to learn from each class and consistently improve the quality of our training and customer service, and 2) to use testimonials to communicate our strengths.

In the first case, our trainers have become aware of their capacities and skill-sets, both strong and weak, and have endeavoured to constantly upgrade their presence in the “classroom.” They consistently work on soft-skills that help others learn, and on upgrading their knowledge. As well, those offering “customer service” learn what is required both before and after training is offered.

For the sake of specificity and transparency, here are some examples of feedback that has spurred our trainers and company to make changes (all names withheld):

Problem: Maybe I didn’t read the write-up properly but I was expecting _____ to lead the bulk of the course. _____ was great, covered the material adequately, etc but ______ was the person recommended to me. He clearly has superior anecdotes and real-life experience and if I sign up for a course with him, I don\t expect to be taught by someone else for the bulk of the material.

Solution: Emails to registrants now include the names of all trainers who will be facilitating a class. i.e. “The class will be led by _____. Everything you will need for your learning is provided at the seminar. The class will also be led by _____, who is in the final stages of becoming a Certified Scrum Trainer, supervised by _____.”

Problem: I had the impression that we didn’t catch the trainer on his best day. He seemed nervous and uncertain at times. I’d offer the advice that he should be cautious of his body language and focus when talking.

Solution: The trainer is becoming more aware of the need to improve his delivery and clearly focus on the students.

Problem: I like the course but I think should consider that some people we are completely new and don’t assume we already have knowledge.

Solution: All registrants are clearly encouraged to do the recommended reading prior to class.

In the second instance of feedback use, our event training site has a plethora of solid testimonials and high praise for our various courses. I do not know to what extent people, looking for training, read these. However, I do know that BERTEIG has gained a reputation in the community for having a culture of learning and excellent training, and most often people attend our classes through ‘word-of-mouth.’

Still, I pose the question: how valuable is this feedback?

Jerry Doucett, Senior Consultant and Trainer at BERTEIG, has expressed it this way:

To me, feedback is the critical part of the PDCA cycle for an instructor. If there is no feedback then an instructor shouldn’t really be confident they are adjusting their approach or materials to improve. They may try to guess what to improve, but without feedback they won’t know for sure.

Tying it specifically to Scrum, feedback may be seen as the fuel for empirical process design, and it enables the Scrum pillars (Transparency, Inspection, Adaptation) to support and sustain the Scrum Values.”

Not everyone agrees that feedback is useful. Take this article from Forbes Magazine regarding employee evaluations:

I agree with you that making every employee fill out an evaluation form and sit down to talk about it every year is a huge waste of time and energy, and most employees hate performance reviews.

If the relationship is healthy between the manager and the employee, they’re having regular conversations anyway —including quarterly and annual planning sessions. If that isn’t happening, I can help managers fix that — but having more conversations doesn’t require an evaluation process.

I eliminated performance reviews at my last company and everyone was happy about it.

Of course, employees need to be able to get feedback when they need it. If they can get that feedback without being graded like elementary school students then it’s a win-win for everybody.

In an interesting article on LinkedIn, the authors explore the top 20 reasons managers (for example) don’t want to give feedback:

Another view of feedback’s importance comes from David Anderson, founder of Lean Kanban University:

STATIK Step 2: Understand sources of dissatisfaction with the current system.

This is done in two steps: ask the customers what they are unhappy about; ask the service delivery organization if they have any internal sources of dissatisfaction – things which are preventing them from doing a good and professional job and delivering on expectations. Often the sources of unhappiness on each side, external and internal, can be matched – fix one and you fix the other. For example, a customer might complain of unpredictable, late delivery, while internally, workers may complain of being interrupted and disrupted with unplanned or additional requests taking a higher class of service. If we can address the sources of unplanned, disruptive demand, we can eliminate the interruptions and the service delivery becomes more predictable. Fixing one problem can make both sides happier – the workers are not interrupted and can focus on doing a good professional job, and the customer receives delivery within a reasonable tolerance of their original expectation.

Sources of dissatisfaction provide input for the kanban system design. We will try to design the kanban system, its capacity allocations and its classes of service to eliminate as many of the problems as possible.” 

How do we handle feedback that is critical? It’s too easy to become defensive. Here’s a tip from the Harvard Business Review:

Receiving feedback well doesn’t mean you have to take the feedback. Being good at receiving feedback means just that: that you receive it. That you hear it. That you work to understand it. That you share your perspective on it. That you reflect on it. That you sit with it. That you look for that (even tiny) bit that might be right and of value. Then you get to decide whether or not to act on it.

Whatever you decide, circle back to your feedback giver to share your thinking. If you don’t, they will think you didn’t hear them, or didn’t care. Letting them know you took their input seriously will strengthen the relationship even if you ultimately go in a different direction.

I believe it’s safe to say that feedback from customers and stakeholders in all realms is a necessary step toward creating a culture of learning and improvement.

For people who have attended BERTEIG training, how would you like to engage in the continuous improvement process beyond the feedback you’ve given in a class? Contact me with your thoughts at

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A Case Study of Netflix’s High-Performance Culture

A year ago I attended Certified Agile Leadership  (CAL1) training. As preparation for the course, we were to prepare a case study of a few suggested companies, such as Netflix, which has a high-performance culture. The facilitator of CAL1 focused on company culture, stressing this idea throughout the leadership training.

I was fascinated to learn that Netflix has a strong focus on its culture. It describes itself as being in a creative-inventive market. No one can doubt their success. So I was quite curious to research the company and see what I could learn.

In universal terms, Netflix prides itself on having a culture that embraces the two pillars of freedom and responsibility. It lists nine qualities and behaviours that it values:

  1. Judgement – make wise decisions, treat root problems, prioritize work

  2. Communication – be concise and articulate, listen well, be respectful and calm under stress

  3. Impact – accomplish great amounts of important work, reliable, focus on great results rather than process, avoid analysis-paralysis

  4. Curiosity – learn rapidly and eagerly, seek to understand, broadly knowledgable, and contribute beyond own specialty

  5. Innovation – find practical solutions to hard problems, challenge prevailing assumptions, create useful ideas, minimize complexity

  6. Courage – say what you think even if controversial, make tough decisions without agonizing, take smart risks, question actions inconsistent with values

  7. Passion – inspire others to excellence, care about company’s success, celebrate wins, tenacious

  8. Honesty – candor and directness, non-political, no backbiting, admit mistakes

  9. Selflessness – seek what’s best for company, ego-less regarding best ideas, help colleagues, share information pro-actively

(Of course, as I reflect on the above values, I do a simultaneous self-evaluation…)

Managers at Netflix use a unique employee evaluation tool called “The Keeper Test.” It goes like this: “Which of my people, if they told me they were leaving for a similar job at a peer company, would I fight hard to keep?”

To understand this better, the idea of hard work is not relevant to the Netflix culture. Sustained B-level performance, despite one’s efforts, will win a generous severance package. To counter that, a sustained A-level performance, despite minimal effort, gets more responsibility and great pay. This high-performance culture is made for those who thrive on excellence, candour and change. They value those who are self-motivating, self-aware, self-disciplined, self-improving, and (this I especially love!) those who act like a leader but who will pick up trash from the floor.

One surprising idea in Netflix’s culture is that they believe that optimizing processes is a negative. Instead, they pursue flexibility over safer efficiency. Their option to growth and chaos is to “avoid chaos as you grow with ever-more high-performance people – not with rules.” This allows them to leverage self-discipline and attract creativity.

They use a quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupery, author of The Little Prince, which speaks volumes about their culture:

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the people to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

I believe that that quote almost encapsulates the Agile way.

To read more about Netflix, go to

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The Agile Family: How Agile Can Improve Family Life!

Do you have an Agile Family? Contrary to common opinion, Agile is not just for the business world. It can be an amazing way to further more bonding in families, and to introduce the idea of teamwork.

Some years ago, on a Saturday, I watched my eldest son create a list of household clean-up items on post-it notes, and then all four children had to choose one item to start. When they chose an item, it went into the “in progress” line, and when they finished a task it went into the “done” pile. After a task was “done,” each child would choose a new task, until all the work was completed. At that time, I didn’t realize my son was using an agile strategy to encourage everyone in the household to participate in chores. I thought he was just very clever, and why hadn’t I thought of that when I had younger children?

Soon after, when I began working for BERTEIG (my son’s company), and I had to learn a lot of new ideas from the business world, I realized he was using Kanban/Scrum methodologies at home.

In writing about this, my purpose is to introduce readers to this insightful online article called Strategies of Agile Families. I believe it will prove to be very helpful. Enjoy!

Also read this previous Agile Advice article, “Family Kanban for Cleaning”

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Is There a Flaw, a Discrepancy, in the Agile Manifesto?

Recently, Mishkin Berteig recounted that one individual attending a Scrum training class with him argued that there is a misalignment, a discrepancy, in the Agile Manifesto  between these two statements:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools” (1st Value), versus Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software” (1st Principle).

This left me pondering the difference between a value and a principle. My dictionary tells me that value refers to the worth, usefulness or importance of a thing.

A principle is a fundamental truth or law as the basis of reasoning or action.

Therefore, although they seem to be related, the idea of value is something that is held dear, while a principle is something one uses to reason and act from. Perhaps one can say the former is subjective and the latter is objective.

The first value,individuals and interactions over processes and tools” means, to me, that all individuals, employees and customers alike, are valued more than processes and tools. The manifesto makes it clear that “processes and tools” are still important, but not as important as individuals and interactions: That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

Comparing this value with the first principle of Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer…” does not appear to be a contradiction – in fact, I believe they work hand in hand; they are “both, and.” Here’s why.

When a company values its interactions and individuals, employees will likely create products most satisfactory to their customers. Happiness and satisfaction are infectious. The principle of “early and continuous delivery of valuable software” becomes possible because both employees and customers are valued.

In another part of the online Agile Manifesto, one can read an essay on its history written by Jim Highsmith, one of the signatories to the Manifesto. For me this brief paragraph from that essay encompasses both the value and the principle in question:

At the core, I believe Agile Methodologists are really about “mushy” stuff—about delivering good products to customers by operating in an environment that does more than talk about “people as our most important asset” but actually “acts” as if people were the most important, and lose the word “asset”. So in the final analysis, the meteoric rise of interest in—and sometimes tremendous criticism of—Agile Methodologies is about the mushy stuff of values and culture.”

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Interview with Janice Linden-Reed, CPO at Lean Kanban Inc.

Janice Linden-Reed was asked to help our readers understand the efficacy of Kanban training, as well as its relationship to Agile frameworks. The following is her response (republished from the REALagility Newsletter, Nov. 2017).

“Kanban is useful in any situation where the flow of work is uneven, and/or people are swamped with too much work. It is not a replacement for Scrum; it can be overlaid in any current system a business may be using. Kanban helps organize and manage, so that everyone understands customer demand versus individual capacity. Kanban enables one to sort out, and get back into control of, their work.

There is lots of debate around the relationship between Kanban and being agile. David Anderson, Kanban’s founder, had been experimenting with applying Lean principles to knowledge work in particular. In a sense, Kanban combines being agile with Lean principles. Kanban can create order just in time for changing conditions (disruption). Kanban is not in an either/or position with Scrum; the two can be combined.

Around 2005 David Anderson was approached about a complex project at Microsoft, and started to apply what he’d been learning. By 2010 his book, Kanban: Successful Evolutionary Change, was published. In 2011, the Lean Kanban University (LKU) was established because the capacities of people who were teaching Kanban varied greatly. The university ensures people use the right materials and learn all the elements of a successful Kanban curriculum. Thus an Accredited Kanban Trainers (AKT) is endorsed by LKU.

Kanban teaches: start where you are now, whatever your situation, whatever framework you may be using. The challenge with Kanban is simply knowing what you’re doing at any given moment. Kanban can help you start with getting visibility of the work, so that everyone – managers and employees alike – are on the same page. Kanban is very free about then allowing change to occur.

Kanban is used by the agile community worldwide, to differing degrees, offering both shallow visuals or deep risk management. It works mainly for knowledge and service work, i.e. insurance companies and banks – work that is essentially invisible, and is of different sizes. Because knowledge work is not visible, management may not know how much an employee has on his or her plate.

A trained AKT understands systems thinking and a pull system, all the way to applying advanced techniques to improve flow and predictability. The training will be eye-opening – time well-spent!”

Read more about Kanban at:

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Scrum Guide Revisions: from a Webinar with Ken Schwaber & Dr. Jeff Sutherland

If you’ve not had a chance to view this webinar which explains changes to the 2017 Scrum Guide, I offer this brief review.

Some History

The Scrum Guide by Ken Schwaber and Dr. Jeff Sutherland was first formally presented in 1995 at an OOPSLA Conference in Texas. The first version of the Scrum Guide was released in 2010 as the official “Body of Knowledge of Scrum.” This was posted in a neutral open space for anyone to access, and the authors received tons of feedback.

The 2017 Scrum Guide, according to Schwaber, provides a minimal approach to Scrum to enable people to use it, but not be restrained by it. He adds that this 2017 version was motivated by people’s feedback and input.

So what’s new?

  • The uses of Scrum – Scrum has expanded far beyond IT

  • Refined role of the Scrum Master – SM is responsible for promoting and supporting Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide, by helping everyone understand Scrum theory, practice, rules and values; and, as much as is possible, within the culture of the organization, and according to the SM’s organizational and political skills, and patience. It’s a very tough job.” (Schwaber)

  • Clarifying the purpose of the Daily Scrum – The daily scrum has been a problem area; it’s more than reporting your action; it’s about replanning and refocussing, and moving the backlog to “done.”

  • Time boxes – only require a maximum length; clarity has been added around time boxes using the words “at most” to remove questions that events have to be a certain length.

  • Sprint Backlog – includes feedback from the sprint Retrospective; it’s about continuous improvement; the sprint backlog makes visible all the work that the development team identifies to meet the sprint goal; it includes at least one high priority process improvement identified in the previous Retrospective meeting. (The authors struggled with this, worried it would be too prescriptive.)


Schwaber and Sutherland also address common misconceptions in the webinar. One topic they emphasize is that Scrum is not only relevant to software delivery, but can be used in many different domains, from products to services.

They also address the idea that releases may be delivered at any time, not just at the end of the sprint. Sutherland calls this “continuous deployment.”

Another misconception the authors discuss is whether or not Scrum and DevOps are competitive.

Jeff Sutherland states: “The biggest problem in attempting Scrum is not using every part of it.” The parts are interlocking, and all need to be synchronized. In other words, use all of Scrum!

The Future

Scrum may be needed more than ever. The rate of change in the world has accelerated beyond being linear. The authors outline three universal dimensions of change:

  1. People – including markets, population, distribution, social and religious organizations

  2. Technology – !

  3. Mother Earth – including climate, desertification, oceans, etc.

Changes in these three areas cause great cultural instability. The sweet spot of Scrum is vision with a team of people who can create something new and needed!

The webinar contains valuable nuggets of information, plus it’s fascinating to watch these two innovators. Enjoy!

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The Art of Agile Learning Events 101: Thoughts on Good Teaching

Teaching is an art form. Good teaching requires the softer personal skills more than hard facts and knowledge. In fact, great teaching requires consistent learning on the part of the instructor. That’s part of being agile. Every class and every new group of students, whether you’re teaching Scrum, SAFe or Kanban, is an opportunity for a teacher to learn and perfect his/her art.

by valerie senyk

The points discussed here are not an exhaustive list; they are a starting point for anyone struggling with figuring out how to train/teach anything agile – or anything, for that matter!

First impressions go a long way, so be at your best. Smile and warmly welcome your participants. Smiling helps people feel more comfortable. Try to make eye contact with as many as possible. Your introduction should be energetic. It’s a lot like writing a short story or news article – the reader’s attention has to be captured in the opening lines, or the story goes unread. When you are teaching, it does not matter if you happen to be tired or had a fight with your spouse. Participants  have paid to be there, and no matter what your personal circumstances are, you are there to deliver.

It’s a given that you know your subject and you know what to cover in the class. Do your best to state important ideas and principles with clarity. The essence of teaching and learning is communication. Consider this statement:

One of the chief attributes of a great teacher is the ability to break down complex ideas and make them understandable.”

Recounting relevant stories is one way to illustrate complex ideas, and the more personal your story is, the more effective it will be with your listeners.

How do you respond to tough or challenging questions? The same web article continues with this thought: “Sometimes the best answer a teacher can give is, ‘I don’t know.’ Instead of losing credibility, she gains students’ trust, and that trust is the basis of a productive relationship.” Acknowledging what you don’t know shows that you’re still learning. No one is perfect or knows everything, and the more you can be yourself, the more relatable the students will find you. Remember, too, that teaching is a dialogue, so listen carefully to your students when they have a question or comment.

Since you don’t need to be worried about not knowing all the answers, that gives you more opportunity to use humour, even to laugh at yourself, if it’s warranted. The Canadian Humber Centre for Teaching and Learning places great emphasis on this aspect. Humour is ranked as one of the top five traits of effective teachers. Laughter helps everyone relax, even the instructor, and gives the learning experience a more agile feel. Laughter definitely enriches the learning experience.

Be passionate about what you are teaching. Expertise is not enough. Passion is infectious, like a fever that your students can catch. When you care about your subject, your students will also care. Your passion also helps you change up the rhythm of your speech, so that sometimes your speech will be more emphatic, and that helps create focus in certain areas of your content and greater interest overall.

Now for the gold: it’s not about you; it’s about them. Your focus should be almost 100% on your students (and you will improve as a teacher as a result). Certainly the material you’ve prepared is important, but your preparation should be such that your awareness need not remain there. Be aware of every response;  read body language constantly. Keep them with you every step of the way. If you  love what you’re doing, and make every effort to communicate, you will not be concerned whether you yourself are doing well; you will be concerned that THEY are doing well. This is the best secret to good teaching, and will enable you to learn so much from those that have come to learn from you.


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Build Positive Relationships With Trust in Your (Work) Life

Trust is an exceptional quality that we humans can develop with each other. It goes a long way to building positive relationships. We hope and strive for trust in our families, and with our most intimate connections. Yet do we expect trust in our work lives?

Can you imagine the  relief you might feel entering your work space, knowing that you can do your work with confidence and focus? That encouragement rather than criticism underlies the culture of your workplace? That a manager or co-worker is not scheming behind your back to knock you or your efforts down in any way? That you’re not being gossiped about?

Trust is especially key in today’s work spaces. Teamwork is becoming an essential aspect of work across every kind of business and organization.

Here’s what one team development company writes about this subject:

The people in your organization need to work as a team to respond to internal and external challenges, achieve common objectives, solve problems collaboratively, and communicate openly and effectively. In successful teams, people work better together because they trust each other. Productivity improves and business prospers.

It Starts With Me and You

As with so many qualities in life, the idea of trust, or being trustworthy, starts with me and you.

It is essential that we take a hard look at ourselves, and determine whether or not we display the attributes of trustworthiness.

To do this, I might ask myself some of these questions:

  • Do I tell the truth?
  • Do I avoid backbiting (talking about others behind their back)?
  • Do I do what I say I’m going to do?
  • Do I apply myself to my work and do my best?
  • Do I consciously build positive relationships with all levels of people in my workplace?
  • Do I encourage or help others when I can?

There are many more questions to ask oneself, but these offer a place to start.

One website proposes a template to assess employees in terms of their trustworthiness:

Trust develops from consistent actions that show colleagues you are reliable, cooperative and committed to team success. A sense of confidence in the workplace better allows employees to work together for a common goal. Trust does not always happen naturally, especially if previous actions make the employees question if you are reliable. Take stock of the current level of trust in the workplace, identifying potential roadblocks. An action plan to build positive relationships helps improve the overall work environment for all employees.

This snippet comes from “Lou Holtz’s Three Rules of Life,” by Harvey MacKay:

“The first question: Can I trust you?”

“Without trust, there is no relationship,” Lou said. “Without trust, you don’t have a chance. People have to trust you. They have to trust your product. The only way you can ever get trust is if both sides do the right thing.”

Asking questions helps me to be more aware and to learn. What might you change to help create greater trust with your colleagues or team?

As well, what actions can you take to help your team to experience greater trust altogether?

You can read more about Trust at

Valerie Senyk is a Team Development Facilitator, Blogger, & Customer Service Rep at BERTEIG. You can learn about her Team Dev workshop at

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Do You Want Love in Your (Work) Life?

Do you want love in your work life? Is it a possibility? Would love in your work life give you a happier step as you leave home each morning?

To be clear, romantic relationships with colleagues at your work place is not the topic. The love I’m proposing is love for your work, and loving affection from and for everyone you deal with in your workplace. So if your answer to the question is “yes,” then read on.

Personal History

I previously taught Theatre Arts and Drama at universities for over 20 years. I loved my subject. I loved watching students transform from insecure, self-conscious, wary creatures to confident, trusting and expressive actors. How did this happen?

In my approach to teaching, I made every effort to nurture students with care and affection, to create a safe and trusting space for them, to provide them with the best learning tools I could find to strengthen their capacities. I treated each one as an individual, trying to understand his or her particular needs. I truly cared that every student would advance.

My door was always open to them outside of classes. They could come to me with personal problems that ostensibly had nothing to do with their course work. I listened with empathy. I made sure that I was trustworthy in all my actions.

For example, I never asked anything of my students that I myself wasn’t willing to perform. I nudged them, sometimes gently, sometimes a bit aggressively (depending on their nature), to move outside their comfort zone. This often resulted in exhilarating experiences for the student.

In other words, I loved my students!

What Creates Safety?

When people are polled about which cultural attribute is most important to them in their workplaces, the highest percentage list “safety.” By safety, they usually mean things like “feeling safe to express my self;” “safe to have a difference of opinion;” “safe to sometimes fail without negative repercussions.”

If we look for the root of what helps us feel safe, I think we can trace it back to receiving human affection and loving care. This is what causes us to stay with a marriage partner over time. It creates lasting bonds with our children, family members, and long-time friends.

How often have you asked yourself the question: “Do I stay in this job that I intrinsically like, but have the urge to flee because its culture is unsafe and unloving?”

Imagine when you were a kid in school and had a favourite teacher. Who was s/he? Why was s/he your favourite? Was s/he especially kind or affectionate? Encouraging? Generous with her time? Think of the way s/he managed her class of several children.

Now think about a person in your workplace with whom you do not feel safe, and imagine that this person is actually like the teacher who was your favourite. How does that change how you feel about that colleague? How differently might you react to him/her?

Giving Love

It may sound flakey, but it has been proven that one of the ways to receive love is to give it. It can start with your thoughts toward a difficult manager or colleague. Reflect on this statement:

When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love. Thoughts of war bring destruction to all harmony, well-being, restfulness and content. Thoughts of love are constructive of brotherhood, peace, friendship and happiness.

A wonderful article by Sigal Barsade and Olivia A.O’Neill in the Harvard Business Review discusses this subject of love in the workplace. Here’s a snippet from their article (which is worth reading in its entirety):

We conducted a follow-up study, surveying 3,201 employees in seven different industries from financial services to real estate and the results were the same. People who worked in a culture where they felt free to express affection, tenderness, caring, and compassion for one another were more satisfied with their jobs, committed to the organization, and accountable for their performance.

Love in the Business World?

I first encountered love as a conscious factor in the business world when I joined BERTEIG. Its founder, Mishkin, spoke often about the importance of expressing love in his training, consulting and coaching events. I found this fascinating, because my impression of big business was that of cool efficiency.

On the BERTEIG website, you can find this Vision Statement:

We co-create sustainable, high-performance organizations where continuous improvement is deeply embedded in the culture. We believe truthfulness is the foundation of improvement, and love is the strongest driver of change.

For the past four years, I have seen the benefits of that vision of love being a strong driver of change in the BERTEIG team. Thus, despite being a very diverse group of people, we have a great deal of affection for each other. This affection enables us to grow, to continuously develop our capacities, and to offer our best. Clients who attend our training courses sometimes gush (yes, gush) about their trainer. Affection not only helps our own internal collaboration but our external as well. When we commit to a project/ job/ event, we follow through because we care.

And, too, one of the beautiful things about love is that it will radiate out to whomever we work with, and to whatever social spaces we participate in.

Now – You!

Do you want love in your work life? Do you believe love can be the strongest driver of change? If so, how can you action this in your own workplace?

Valerie Senyk is a Team Development Facilitator, Blogger, & Customer Service Rep at BERTEIG. You can learn about her Team Dev workshop at

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Unpacking the Fifth Principle of the Agile Manifesto

The Agile Manifesto was signed and made public in 2001. It begins with short, pithy statements regarding what should be the priorities of software developers, followed by Twelve Principles. In this article I want to call attention to the fifth principle in the Agile Manifesto, which is:

Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.”

Although it appears to be a very simple statement, I suggest that it is jam-packed with profitable guidance, and is essential to, and at the heart of, real Agility. Human qualities must be considered.


The first part of the principle urges us to build projects around motivated individuals.  What does this imply?

The idea of “building a project” makes it a process, not necessarily a fait accompli. It can change and be altered as one works toward it. There may be a structural roadmap, but many details and aspects can change in the “building.”

The second part of the statement describes motivated individuals. The verb “motivate” is an action word, meaning to actuate, propel, move or incite. Thus, in this line, is the “project” the thing which will “move or incite” those being asked to carry it out?

Or do we understand this to imply that the individuals are already “motivated” in themselves, which is an emotional condition of individuals? Is this motivation already there prior to starting a project?

The topic of motivation is rich. How does motivation occur? Is it the culture and environment of the company, lived and exemplified by it’s leaders, which motivates? Or is motivation an intrinsic quality of the individual? It may be both. (Daniel Pink, author of “Drive,” uses science to demonstrate that the best motivators are autonomy, mastery and purposeful-ness – ideas which are inherent in the Agile Manifesto.)

In any case, the line itself suggests that the project may be a) interesting to pertinent (perhaps already motivated) individuals, b) do-able by those same individuals, and c) contains enough challenges to test the mastery and creativity of the individuals. In other words, it’s going to be a project that the individuals in your company care about for more than one reason.


The second line from the fifth Principle has two distinct parts to it. The first part, “Give them the environment and support they need” puts a great deal of responsibility on whoever is assigning the project. Let’s look at the idea of environment first.

In a simple way, we can understand environment as the physical place which influences a person or a group. It can be any space or room; it can refer to the lighting, the colours, the furniture, the vegetation, the walls, whether water or coffee is available – physical elements which will certainly affect the actions of people and teams. For example, creating face-to-face collaboration environments is also part of the Agile Manifesto.

But we must remember that environment also entails the non-physical ie, the intellectual, emotional, or even the spiritual. Is the environment friendly or not? Cheerful or not? Encouraging or not? Affirming or not? We can think of many non-physical attributes that make up an environment.


These attributes allude to the second part of what’s to be given by an owner or manager: “…and support they need.” This idea of support pertains not just to helping someone out with tools and responding to needs, but that the environment is supportive in every way – physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. This may be a more holistic way of considering this Agile principle.

The last part of the statement is of great importance as well: and trust them to get the job done.

If you as product owner, or manager have created motivation, environment and support, then the last crucial requirement of trust becomes easier to fulfill. There is nothing more off-putting than being micromanaged, supervised or controlled with excessive attention to small details. Trust means you have confidence in the capacity of your team and its individual members. It also implies that they will communicate with transparency and honesty with you, and you with them, about the project.


The principles of Agile do not exist in a vacuum, because, of course, other principles such as the following, are relevant to this discussion:

The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.”

At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behaviour accordingly.”

This fifth principle has application far beyond IT projects. I wanted to reflect on it because it speaks to human qualities, which must be recognized as a key factor in happy work places, and in any high-performance team.

Valerie Senyk is a Customer Service agent and Agile Team Developer with BERTEIG.

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The Importance of Emotional Intelligence in the Agile and Corporate World

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is a topic that has not been fully addressed on this site, nor in the agile or corporate world, yet it has great ramifications for anyone choosing or hoping to practice Agile and/ or Scrum.

I obliquely touch on it in my article: The Soft Skills Revolution: Why You May Want Team Development and I think I can safely equate most “soft skills” with “emotional intelligence.”

My purpose is not to connect the dots for anyone, but simply to introduce the idea. If you go to the site below and read the materials and watch the videos, you may understand for yourself the importance of emotional intelligence in all that you are endeavouring to do. Thanks to John Hawthorne for pointing this out to me – enjoy.

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The Soft Skills Revolution: Why You May Want Team Development

If you go on line and type “soft skills” into your browser, you will come up with a plethora of sites. That’s because soft skills are being touted as the most important skill set for any individual in any career. Soft skills are becoming de rigeur in job applications and leadership training of every kind. One might say that there is, in fact, a soft skills revolution occurring in every sector of society.

What is motivating this revolution? Perhaps the more automated our world becomes, we see that our more human characteristics and relationships are needed to balance such a high degree of automation. Perhaps it’s become clear that human characteristics are what drive everything forward in either a positive or negative fashion.

Wikipedia describes soft skills in this way:

Soft skills are a combination of interpersonal people skills, social skills, communication skills, character traits, attitudes, career attributes, [1] social intelligence and emotional intelligence quotients among others that enable people to effectively navigate their environment, work well with others, perform well, and achieve their goals with complementing hard skills. [2]

By another definition, soft skills are those skills that are difficult to measure.

With the advent of the Agile Manifesto ( and agile processes permeating business and organizational cultures more and more, people are abandoning the silo mentality and striving to create a more communal environment and team consciousness. Many organizations and businesses are learning that teams rather than individuals are more effective at accomplishing goals.

When a team of people have to work together, there is an expectation that they will all do their best to get a job done. On the other hand, it’s also normal for people on a team to encounter hiccups and even conflicts, whether it’s issues of personality, ego or disagreements of one kind or another. Then there are those team members who do not feel safe to offer their opinion, or those who harbor a prejudice against a certain type of person they may be required to work with.

By putting people together to work alongside each other day after day, we are creating a potent mix. Human beings are extremely complex and diverse after all. There are volumes written about both the need for and the difficulty of people working and achieving together.

From a recent Insight BTOES newsletter about hiring practices:

If they’re the best there is in their craft but would prefer to just do their job and be left alone, it isn’t likely they’ll engage in team improvement activities and become a contributing part of the new culture. It’s simply not worth taking on the resistance/non-engagement that you’ll have to deal with until your patience runs out and you’re right back where you started…”

Many corporations now claim that soft skills are the number one priority when hiring, Hard skills can be easily taught but soft skills make the difference whether a person is even teachable and flexible enough for a corporate environment.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, because soft skills have not been the focus of our education systems, and those who have them need continuous practice and improvement. But everyone has the potential to become more empathetic, cooperative, supportive, and respectful.

Whether it’s learning to communicate effectively, or to create a sense of cohesion in a team, there are many pieces that can be put in place to help any team (and its individual parts) be more powerful, effectual and happy.

One very basic ingredient that can make a world of difference to a team’s work is to feel safe. Safety comes with having clear and consistent goals. Team members feel safe to speak his or her mind without fear or judgement, even if their opinion is different from others. A team feels safe to experiment and to succeed or fail. Safety is built on the very essential idea of trust.

Psychologist, author and consultant Harvey Robbins has written extensively about the idea of trust as a key element of any team. He describes trust as follows:

· Trust means setting clear, consistent goals. If people don’t know exactly what they’re supposed to, they will feel set up to fail…

· Trust means being open, fair, and willing to listen. This requires more than making a thoughtful, considerate face. It means listening to the words other people are saying.

· Trust means being decisive… It’s a challenging thing to say, but sometimes it’s better to make any decision – good, bad, or indifferent – than it is to make no decision at all.

· Trust means supporting one another…Your team belong to you, and you belong to them.

· Trust means sharing credit with team members. You are there for them, not vice versa. If you are a glory hog, you are stealing from the team.

· Trust means being sensitive to team members’ needs. You should know what legitimate secondary agendas they may have, and be willing to help them achieve their personal goals.

· Trust means respecting the opinions of others. The worst thing a leader can do is denigrate or dismiss or ignore team members. If they’re no good, move them off the team. But even then you owe them your respect.

· Trust means empowering team members to act. It means trusting that they are up to the challenges that you trained them for…

· Finally, and ultimately, and most difficultly, trust means being willing to suffer… The ordinary leader exposes his people to all the risk. The trusted leader assumes risk himself.

Article Source:

When a team has clearly articulated goals, it helps build a sense of cohesion, in that every member is aware of what they are working toward. When team members are allowed to work out an action plan toward achieving a goal, this gives everyone a stronger sense of purpose and ownership.

If you’re wondering whether a Team Development workshop would be of benefit to, or is necessary for your business or organization, here are some thoughts from MindTools that can help you decide:

  • Are there conflicts between certain people that are creating divisions within the team?
  • Do team members need to get to know one another?
  • Do some members focus on their own success, and harm the group as a result?
  • Does poor communication slow the group’s progress?
  • Do people need to learn how to work together, instead of individually?
  • Are some members resistant to change, and does this affect the group’s ability to move forward?
  • Do members of the group need a boost to their morale?”

Everyone has the potential to grow their soft skills. However, a company may not have the resources to help unlock this potential in its employees.

If team development is not part of a company’s culture there may be discomfort in dealing with friction arising from a lack of soft skills. In this case, an external facilitator or coach can be a very helpful resource to guide a work team, using thought-provoking activities and role-playing, to find greater connection and trust amongst themselves, and to address issues with a detached point of view.

Organizing such a workshop for your team does not mean they are not doing well or failing. It means you, the team lead/ manager/ CEO/ HR person, etc, care about your team’s best interests, highest achievements and happiness.

Valerie Senyk is a facilitator for Team Development with BERTEIG, and can be contacted by going to

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Practicing Scrum (subversively): you CAN do it!

photo by V. Senyk
photo by V. Senyk

by Jerry Doucett and Valerie Senyk

You want to be practicing Scrum! You’ve taken Scrum training, received your industry certification, and perhaps even experienced being a Scrum team member. In your heart you believe Scrum is the right tool and approach for you, and you believe your current organization and your customers could really benefit from Scrum practices. 

However, for whatever reason your organization is either hesitant to consider Scrum or believes it’s a bad idea. Perhaps there was an experience with a poorly executed pilot. Perhaps your leadership see it as being too risky.

What do you do?

This article explores how you could subversively practice ScrumMaster-ing in your workplace without getting into trouble or breaking the rules. (Ssh…we won’t tell!)

Before you even begin strategizing, you need to ensure that what you do aligns with the Scrum values, namely:


Doing Scrum subversively will certainly take considerable courage, focus and commitment on your part. Be aware you will be challenged to respect the existing organizational culture and norms, and your organization may push back on your efforts.

You also need to acknowledge that the very act of being subversive means you are not being completely open or transparent that you are trying to practice Scrum.

Or you could tell your workmates, “I’ve had this terrific training in Scrum and could we try a few of the techniques to see how they work?” Then introduce something as simple as time-boxing or holding retrospectives with your colleagues.

You will also want to ensure what you do is harmonious with Scrum Theory and the pillars of empirical process, which are:

1. Transparency 2. Inspection 3. Adaptation

Normally, one could say there’s a direct conflict between being transparent and being subversive. Keeping this in mind, it is imperative you be absolutely transparent on the actions you are taking and what the specific goals, outcomes or learnings are that you hope to achieve.

However, given the circumstances you’ll likely choose to not use Scrum terminology to describe what you are doing. In other words, describe the practices and activities that you are implementing or recommending, express their benefits and what you hope to accomplish, but don’t explicitly call them by their Scrum name.

As for Inspection and Adaptation, those approaches should be perfectly aligned with your intent to try to help your company become a learning organization. That means you will need to park your ego at the door and accept the results. If your learning shows your subversive Scrum activities do not provide the benefit you’re aiming for, you will need to stop them regardless of whether you think they should work.

Let’s explore some activities and practices you may want to tactfully consider to help your organization benefit from Scrum (without actually “doing” Scrum).

1. Lead by Example

As someone that appreciates the values of Scrum, you should aim to educate others and provide them with a similar understanding. That means practicing these values in how you show up and in everything you do, even explicitly calling out certain actions when they are a prime example (whenever it is appropriate).

This does not mean preaching! Instead, it could be sharing your thoughts about something when contributing to a decision, or simply pointing out when and how something that aligns with the values contributes to a better team, a better experience, or a better solution.

Leading by example also means being human and honest when mistakes are made or when failures occur. This can be particularly risky in an organization that has not embraced Agility, or where failure is frowned upon. That is where you need courage, and a commitment on your part to hold improvement of the work above your own individual career needs.

2. Communicate More

Make a concerted, conscious effort to communicate with your team and partners more. For example, get up out of your seat and spend more time in informal face-to-face discussions rather than sending e-mails or chat messages.

Perhaps you can have short, informal meetings with just the team either daily or several times a week to see what’s been done, what needs to be done, and what challenges the team is facing. The key here is to keep it short, focus on what is needed to move work forward, and define actions to address issues. Then always follow up and make sure the actions are being pursued and that progress is shared with the team.

3. Be Open And Transparent

Although you may consciously choose to not use the proper terminology and language of Scrum, the key is to always be honest about what it is you are trying to do, why it’s important, and what the desired outcomes are.

To this end the goal should be to become an organization that “learns about learning”, constantly tries to improve, delivers value faster, and applies new knowledge in the best possible way. Scrum may be a fantastic catalyst for that, but there are many other approaches that will achieve similar results.

4. Use Better Meeting Practices

Another approach to consider is improve meeting experiences by time-boxing and defining a specific scope for each meeting. Setting a time limit and outcomes for a discussion helps create a sense of urgency, manage expectations and focus the conversation on the most important topics. The facilitator will need to enforce these constraints, otherwise you lose the effectiveness of the practice.

5. Have One or More Key Stakeholders Empowered to Make Product Decisions

This may be a considerable challenge in organizations where there is little appetite or understanding about Scrum practices, but do what you can given your authority and influence. If possible, try to have a single voice (key stakeholder) defined as the person with the final authority on the product or service that your team is delivering. Work with that individual to set them up for success by connecting them with the other stakeholders, perhaps facilitating discussions with them, and showing the key person(s) effective techniques for prioritizing the work that is being asked for.

6. Limit Efforts to What Matters Most

One practice that is important to apply, but often difficult to master, is focus. Limit work and discussions to the most important tasks and activities, and request that other discussions on lesser-important work be delayed. Always try to focus the conversation back to what is currently the most important work.

On occasion you may even want to point out times when plans were well-defined in advance but ultimately changed a lot when the actual work was in progress. This indicates the waste in planning too much up front and in constant task-switching. When done in conjunction with time-boxing this practice becomes a little easier.

On a macro scale, try to limit development to smaller chunks of end-to-end deliverables. In other words, deliver small things often all the way to completion as much as possible (e.g. to a staging environment). Then show the outcome and deliverable to stakeholders and customers, explaining that although the final product may not be done, this is to get them something fast and gather feedback.

7. Reflect on Learning

When possible, ensure that reviews of completed work happen frequently. Ensure the outcomes, functionality and value is shown and that learning (for the product as well as the methods) are part of the discussion.

Without becoming intrusive, seek stakeholder feedback frequently and informally. Be willing to demonstrate an ability to pivot plans based on that feedback.

As a team, hold informal retrospectives of how you worked together. If the term “retrospective” is contentious, consider calling them something else, such as a debriefing.

8. Visualize and Display Work

Have your own personal backlog and list of current activities visible at your desk. Use post-its to represent all work that you have on your plate, and ensure it is always up-to-date. Prioritize the work items you have coming up, and visually represent this as a rank-ordered list of things that you have to do.

It won’t take long for people around you to notice what you are doing and ask about it. Use this as a great opportunity to educate others on the values of transparency and focus.

9. Keep Your Team Size Appropriate

If you are on a particularly large team, see if it is possible to split that large team in to smaller groups. The benefit is more face-to-face time and interaction across the new team, an increased sense of belonging and commitment to the new team’s purpose, and it should also be easier (in theory anyway) to get decisions made and increase alignment.

The challenge will be finding a logical way to split the teams to mitigate dependencies of people, skills and products, and ensuring the new teams can still collaborate with one another. Geography might be a good way to split the team if you are distributed, but you would need to ensure all the skills to deliver the solution exist on all new teams.

10. Push for Automation

If you are in a development environment where tools, automation and engineering practices are not currently being used, and they could be of value to your organization, then start investigating whether it is possible. Tools and automation aren’t cheap or easy to implement, but they dramatically encourage you and your teams to collaborate better and they enable the adoption of Scrum practices such as fast delivery of value.

Final Note

Be confident that your own creativity may help you unlock ways of practicing Scrum methodology without disrupting your organization’s practices.

You may or may not be able to implement all of the above actions but, as one Agile coach says, “it’s all about how YOU show up, how YOU are.” In the final analysis, your example, your enthusiasm, your courage will be the best you can offer.

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Learning About Kanban

From Essential Kanban Condensed by David J Anderson & Andy Carmichael

Kanban is a method for defining, managing, and improving services that deliver knowledge work, such as professional services, creative endeavors, and the design of both physical and software products. It may be characterized as a “start from what you do now” method—a catalyst for rapid and focused change within organizations—that reduces resistance to beneficial change in line with the organization’s goals.

The Kanban Method is based on making visible what is otherwise intangible knowledge work, to ensure that the service works on the right amount of work—work that is requested and needed by the customer and that the service has the capability to deliver. To do this, we use a kanban system—a delivery flow system that limits the amount of work in progress (WiP) by using visual signals.

I’ve been reading the above book on Kanban (the alternative path to agility) to familiarize myself with the method before taking the Kanban course by Accredited Kanban Trainer Travis Birch.

Two points from my learning are the principles of “Change Management” and “Service Delivery.”

Kanban regards “Change Management” as an incremental, evolutionary process as Kanban is utilized. For example, Kanban starts “with what you do now.” A business agrees to pursue improvement through evolutionary change, which happens over a period of time, based on experience and understanding. If one is using Kanban for the first time, there may be some awkwardness at the beginning, with a number of people trying to understand the principles, and how the visual board works. As the work goes on, understanding is increased, and with the new learning, change occurs in a very organic way. Acts of leadership are encouraged at every level. Changes can occur in all sectors: within individuals, within the environment, and in the cumulative outcomes of the work.

“Service Delivery” in Kanban requires that there is an understanding of and focus on the customer’s needs and expectations. The work is managed by people self-organizing around the work, and by the limiting of work-in-progress (WIP). This can help people feel that they have the right amount of work to accomplish with the right amount of time. WIP limits are policies that need to be made explicit in order to establish flow. The work on the board is “pulled” into the in-progress section only as people become available to do the work. An employee can focus on bringing higher quality to the work, and not feel threatened by a backlog that is crushing them. Policies are evolved to improve outcomes for the customers.

Of the nine values outlined in Kanban, three are directly related to change management and service delivery. The first is “respect;” by limiting the work-in-progress, respect is shown for the employee’s time and efforts, along with respect for the customer’s expectations. “Flow” refers to there being an ordered and timely movement to the work being done that is not overwhelming. “Transparency” occurs because everything is visible on the Kanban board and it becomes clear what is being done, when and by whom.

It’s been proposed that Scrum is for teams and Kanban is for services. In that way, they are both essential to the improvement of many organizations, especially those in which pure Scrum is not enough. They are complimentary from the perspective of improving business.

If you’re interested in the training with Travis Birch, AKT, go to:(

Kanban has principles and general practices, but these must be applied in context, where different details will emerge as we pursue the common agendas of sustainability, service-orientation, and survivability. As a result, the journey is an adventure into unknown territory rather than a march over familiar ground” (from Essential Kanban Condensed)

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How a Non-Agile Big Corporation Lost Out

The Scenario

In a search for new vistas and growth, my husband had been scanning employment ads across the country and applied for a job he was well-suited for with a large corporation. He received two interviews by telephone and SKYPE. The new job would require us to move several provinces, leaving family, friends and a community we were attached to.

He received confirmation by telephone that the corporation wanted to hire him. We spent a few days agonizing over a decision, consulting with family and friends, praying about it, and decided my husband would accept the job. After his verbal acceptance, a contract followed a few days later, which he duly signed and sent back. He was told it had been signed at the other end and he could now announce the new job publicly.

He gave notice to his present employers, as did I mine, and we proceeded to take steps to put our house on the market, search for housing in the new city, and pack. We had begun to say good-bye.

Three days later a phone call came from the HR Department of the corporation saying they had to rescind the contract as someone “higher up” had not given approval for it.

We were stunned. There had been no hint in any part of the process that the job offer was in any way tentative or not thoroughly vetted. We had taken many steps forward, and now had to backtrack several steps.

My husband had to go, hat in hand, to his current employers to see if he could retain his job. After a painful good-bye session with my team I had to inform them that I was not leaving.

This whole experience has brought to mind the importance of what my employer, BERTEIG Inc, is attempting to do through agile training, consulting and coaching.

The “Agile Manifesto” proclaims:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.”

And, further on: “Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.

These are prime values to be lived by small and large businesses.

Admittedly, Agile was initially created for software developers, but more and more corporations and organizations are seeing the value in being agile, and are responding to this necessary change of culture in what is currently a time of deep disruption.

What If?

What if the corporation my husband was contracting with had honored the implications of “individuals and interactions over processes and tools” and “customer collaboration over contract negotiations?”

If some “higher up” had not actually given approval for this hiring, once the contract was signed at both ends (which it was), could this higher-up not have responded with more agility, more compassion, and more ethically?

What if he had acted in such a way that, even if he did not approve the contract, he acknowledged the good intentions of both sides and let it go? After all, his corporation was getting a highly-qualified, experienced employee.

What if he was transparent and acknowledged that the contract was not to his liking, and asked would my husband consider some other version of it? And then consulted directly with my husband and HR over certain changes to the contract? And made sure everyone was agreeable with the changes?

What if the “higher-up” just called my husband directly, apologizing that the contract was made without his say-so, that they were not in a position to hire him, and offered two-months salary for any damages – material and emotional – that had been incurred?

The above scenarios could have changed the situation from one of loss, to one of win-win for both sides. Agile frameworks are clearly proving to be of great benefit to employers and employees alike.

Hundreds of eager attendees take Certified Scrum Master and Certified Product Owner training from us. Many have taken our Certified Agile Leadership offering in cooperation with Agilitrix. Do the corporations they belong to welcome the changes these attendees are prepared to make? Are corporations taking steps to truly alter their culture?

The Losing End

My husband was almost employed in that organization, where hundreds of others are employed. I wonder how often their employees experience this type of trauma, since this neglectful handling of my husband’s contract is a likely sign of ongoing cultural problems within.

This rescinding of a contract was a losing situation on both ends. The corporation in question lost a highly-talented employee who would have been extremely loyal and hard-working (as was determined in the interviews). My husband lost professional credibility having to backtrack with his current employers. We lost the challenge of a new adventure.

We’re recovering, despite this having a huge emotional impact on our lives. We’ve been agile enough to say: we’re still here, we still have jobs, we can make the best of it all.

I just wish that Big Corp would get it. And soon. Before more is lost.

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