Category Archives: Agile coaching

The Soft Skills Revolution: Why You May Want Team Development

Learn more about transforming people, process and culture with the Real Agility Program

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 (www.agilemanifesto.com) 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…”

http://insights.btoes.com/hard-skills-or-soft-skills-more-important-leadership-culture-transformation

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: http://EzineArticles.com/716760

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?”

https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTMM_52.htm

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 http://www.worldmindware.com/AgileTeamDevelopment


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How HR Can Save or Destroy Agile

Learn more about transforming people, process and culture with the Real Agility Program

“Business engagement alone is a necessary but not sufficient condition for Agile to succeed”

It’s taken a while but now it’s well understood amongst seasoned Agile practitioners that Business engagement is necessary for successful Agile implementations. Just when we thought engaged Business owners were enough, we’re now realizing Business engagement alone is not sufficient. The impact of corporate shared services, especially Human Resources (HR), on Agile adoptions or transformations are often overlooked. In fact, Agile practitioners often bypass HR in their zeal to quickly change the way they work and the related people processes.

“Companies are running 21st century businesses with 20th century workplace practices & programs”

– Willis Towers Watson

It’s not just IT departments practicing Agile but 21st century businesses overall that are characterized by flatter organizations and an insatiable appetite for small ‘a’ agility. Agility that is pushing and breaking the envelope of current HR processes and tools. Agile individuals and teams are very vocal when it comes to calling out technical obstacles in their way. The same could be said when it comes to HR related obstacles that impact Agile individuals and teams. If we listen, here’s what we would hear:

  • “Can we team interview the candidate for attitude and fit?”
  • “I was an IT Development Manager. What’s my role now?”
  • “My manager doesn’t see half of what I do for my team. How can she possibly evaluate me?”
  • “With no opportunity for promotions in sight, how can I advance my career?”
  • “Why do we recognize individuals when we’re supposed to be focused on team success?”
  • “Charlie’s not working out. Can we as the team fire him?”

As the volume increases, how will HR and HR professionals respond?

“2016 will be the year of Agile HR … most HR teams have no clue what Agile HR means”

– HR Trend Institute

The reality is that most HR teams have no clue what Agile is, never mind how it will ultimately rock their world. Most Agile initiatives emerge from the grass-roots or are driven independently by IT functions with little to no involvement from HR. HR  sits on the sidelines and watches IT “do their thing”. There is a misconception that Agile exclusively falls under the IT domain; overlooking the fact that the core of Agile is about the people and culture – the sweet spots of the HR profession.

There are three significant change movements gaining momentum:

  1. Reinventing the way we work – whether it’s IT adopting Agile or an organization becoming more nimble.
  2. Reinventing HR – where HR is moving beyond its historical focus on basic people administration, compliance and transactions to a valued place at the executive table; ensuring context and alignment across the business to generate Customer delight.
  3. Reinventing organizations – as the level of human and organizational consciousness evolves from valuing meritocracy, accountability and innovation to valuing self-management, wholeness and evolutionary purpose. (See “Reinventing Organizations” by Frederic Laloux: http://www.reinventingorganizations.com/)

All three have the common denominator of people; an integral part along the entire timeline of each movement. As these three movements overlap – at the intersection – will be HR. So, who better to help navigate the emerging paths of each change than “the People’s people”?… otherwise known as “HR”.

An analysis of the Human Resources Professionals Association’s (HRPA) Competency Framework shown below can help guide which HR competencies will have the greatest impact (on a scale of 1 to 10) on Agile.

“How do we get HR started towards their destiny?”

If you’re an Agile team member, invite HR to start a conversation about what Agile is and how they can help you and the team.

If you’re an HR professional, here are some suggestions:

  • Learn about Agile
  • Visit with your Agile teams during sprint reviews or daily scrums
  • Talk to your friends and colleagues about their Agile experiences and challenges
  • Review in-progress HR process & tool changes through an Agile lens
  • Partner with IT and other Agile implementation stakeholders to guide the success of Agile

To help HR take the first step, here are some suggested Agile learning resources:

It’s time for HR to get off the sidelines and get in the game.  HR needs to be a “friend” to Agile, not perceived as a “foe”.

Borrowing from a Chinese proverb,

When the winds of change blow, some will build walls while others build windmills… the harnessing of your greatest natural resource, your people, into power.

Build windmills.


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14 Things Every Agilist Should Know About Kanban

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So you are embarking on an Agile transformation. One important thing you need to figure out (and hopefully you have some consultants helping you) is how many Scrum Teams you will need for product development and how many Kanban teams you will need for operations, deployment, support, maintenance, keeping the lights on, etc. Because when you create a bunch of cross-functional teams they will have gaps in their Agile engineering practices and their definition of “done” will have to be limited by several organizational factors. The teams won’t have access to many of the environments and there won’t be enough specialized resources to assign to each team. Plus, the nature of the work coming into the ops and support teams are much more finely grained and varied than user stories in a Sprint Backlog and it’s important that the Scrum teams focus on their products and are not disrupted by every little change request from the business. So you need Kanban teams to do the work that the Scrum Teams can’t do yet as well as the stuff that you don’t want your Scrum Teams to be distracted by.

That’s more or less the popular consensus on the role of Kanban in the Agile community. Some acclaimed thought leaders have even written popular books and blog posts about it. But if one digs a little deeper, one finds that there is much more to Kanban than meets the common agilist’s eye (although clearly this is changing, evidenced by the existence of this piece of writing). So here are the 14 things that I can think of off the top of my head:

  1. The Kanban Method is not about transformation. At least not the radical, deep Satir J-Curve brand of transformation that has been attempted in many organizations. All too often with the radical approach, there is enough resistance to change and enough ensuing chaos for the leaders of the organization to lose patience with the change initiative before the system has a chance to recover.
  2. Moreover (and dangerously), many so-called champions of change are not aware that Satir was a psychotherapist and that her J-Curve method was employed to change the identity of her clients, breaking them down and building them up again. What’s important here is that Satir was a psychology professional working with willing clients to help them transform into the people they wanted to be. This is not the case with most professional knowledge workers. Knowledge workers tend to not be seeking this kind of service from managers and coaches. A more brutal version of this technique has been employed to transform teenagers into deadly soldiers.
  3. Instead of deep J-Curve transformation, the Kanban Method proposes small, rapid J-Curve experiments. This approach to change provokes less resistance, avoids extended periods of thrashing in chaos and the severe testing of leadership patience. Well-designed small J-Curve experiments produce just enough organizational stress to stimulate change without drop-kicking people into deep chaos and despair and forcing the regression of an organization to lower levels of trust and maturity.
  4. The Kanban Method is a management system for the design and evolution of the interdependent services of an organization. Such services are often composed of several Scrum Teams, shared services, managers, senior staff and specialists and are often themselves served by other services. Every service is delivered via a system of stages of knowledge discovery (rather than hand-offs). See more on this here.
  5. The design of a system determines the fitness for purpose, flow of value and quality of the service (as demonstrated by Deming’s Red Bead Experiment). It’s not about high-performance teams. It’s about the performance of the system.
  6. Transparency of the system empowers knowledge workers to self-organize around the work because they understand the system and are trusted to know what to do in order to deliver the service.
  7. Kanban managers are systems managers, not people managers and not coaches.
  8. Team-level Kanban is actually a form of proto-Kanban—still Kanban, but in an immature state, an incomplete rendering of a service delivery system.
  9. A Kanban system is a pull system. The capacity of the system is calibrated for optimum flow. New work enters the system when there is sufficient capacity to absorb the new work without overburdening the system and disrupting flow. Demand is balanced against capacity.
  10. All demand is potentially refutable. When there is capacity in the system to start new work, sources of demand collaborate to determine what is the most important work to start next and the system is replenished.
  11. Deciding what to start next is based on economics—transparent and rational risk assessment.
  12. Once the system is replenished and there is a commitment to deliver the newly-started work, risks are managed with explicit policies such as classes of service, work-in-process limits, pull-readiness criteria, feedback loops and relevant metrics (i.e. not team velocity).
  13. Average lead time from project or feature commitment to completion is a basic metric. Improving the system results in a reduction in both lead time and lead time variability. Delivery forecasts are based on historical lead time data. Deadlines are also managed with lead time data (i.e. deciding when to start something).
  14. All of the above is the responsibility of management. This should leave little management capacity for monitoring individual performance and story point velocity of teams (white bead count). A sign of a mature Kanban system is that managers have improved their behaviour and are focused on improving the system and that knowledge workers are free to self organize around the work as skilled, adult professionals.

If you are interested in the history of the Kanban Method, start here.

Best starter book: Essential Kanban.


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Building New Capacity

Learn more about transforming people, process and culture with the Real Agility Program

One concept that is integral to BERTEIG’s vision is for the company to grow organically through systematic capacity-building of its team…Which is one reason why I attended Coach’s Camp in Cornwall, Ontario last June. However, I discovered that my understanding of coaching in an Agile environment was totally out to lunch, a universe away from my previous experiences of being an acting and voice coach.

Doing a simulation exercise in a workshop at Coach’s Camp, I took the role of coach and humiliated myself by suggesting lines of action to a beleaguered Scrum Master. I was offering advice and trying to solve his problems – which is, I learned, a big no-no. But I couldn’t quite grasp, then, what a coach actually does.

Despite that less-than-stellar attempt, I was curious to sign up for Scrum Alliance’s webinar called “First Virtual Coaching Clinic,” September 13, 2016. They had gathered a panel of three Certified Enterprise Coaches (CEC’s): Michael de la Maza, Bob Galen, and Jim York.

The panel’s focus was on two particular themes: 1) how to define and measure coaching impact, and, 2) how to deal with command and control in an organization.

The following are some of the ideas I absorbed, which gave me a clearer understanding of the Agile coaching role.

Often, a client is asking a coach for a prescription, i.e. “Just tell me/ us what to do!” All three panel members spoke about the need for a coach to avoid being prescriptive and instead be situationally aware. A coach must help a customer identify his/her own difficulties and outcomes correctly, and work with them to see that achieved. It’s helpful to share stories with the client that may contain two or three options. Be as broad as possible about what you’ve seen in the past. A team should ultimately come up with their own solutions.

However, if a team is heading for a cliff, it may be necessary to be prescriptive.

Often people want boundaries because Agile practices are so broad. Menlo’s innovations (http://menloinnovations.com/our-method/) was suggested as a way to help leaders and teams play. Providing people with new experiences can lead to answers. What ultimately matters is that teams use inspection and adaptation to find practices that work for them.

A good coach, then, helps a client or team find answers to their own situation. It is essential that a coach not create unhealthy dependancies on herself.

It follows that coaching impact can be measured by the degree of empowerment and courage that a team develops – which should put the coach out of a job. An example mentioned was a case study in 2007 out of Yahoo which suggested metrics such as ROI, as well as asking, “Does the organization have the ability to coach itself?”

Other indicators that can be used for successful coaching have to do with psychological safety, for example: a) on this team it is easy to admit mistakes, and, b) on this team, it is easy to speak about interpersonal issues.

When it comes to ‘command and control’ (often practiced by organizational leaders, but sometimes by a team member), the coaches offered several approaches. Many individuals are not aware of their own behaviors. A coach needs to be a partner to that client, and go where the ‘commander’ is to help him/her identify where they want to get to. Learn with them. Share your own journeys with clients and self-organizing teams.

A coach needs to realize that change is a journey, and there are steps in between one point and another. Avoid binary thinking: be without judgement, without a definition of what is right and wrong.

The idea of Shu Ha Ri was suggested, which is a Japanese martial arts term for the stages of learning to mastery, a way of thinking about how you learn a technique. You can find a full explanation of it on Wikipedia.

Coaching is a delicate process requiring awareness of an entire organization’s ecosystem. It requires patience and time, and its outcome ultimately means independence from the coach.

Have I built capacity as a potential Agile coach? Not in a tactical sense; I won’t be hanging out a shingle anytime soon. But at least I‘ve developed the capacity to recognize some do’s and don’t’s...

That’s right: capacity-building IS about taking those steps…

Watch Mishkin Berteig’s video series “Real Agility for Managers” using this link: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCBZPCl3-W1xpZ-FVr8wLGgA?feature=em-share_playlist_user


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