Does your organization have a meeting-driven culture? Not sure? Ask yourself how much time you spend in meetings. Are they effective? Search the Internet and you’ll discover that we spend way more time in meetings than we’re comfortable admitting. The Harvard Business Review claims that the figure has doubled in the last 50 years.
The designers of Scrum recognized this and deliberately kept the formal meetings to the bare minimum. It adds up to around 12-15% if you use the entire time box. Contrast this amount to many organizations and you will discover that Scrum is quite efficient.
Many organizations I’ve consulted for don’t have deliberate rules on how to conduct meetings. They’ve allowed the meeting culture to evolve on its own. As such, meetings are not very productive.
However, practising Scrum doesn’t automatically make you immune to this meeting burden. Teams still operate within the same office and with the same people. Scrum and Scrum Masters can help teams have better meetings.
Here is a typical example of the transition from meeting-driven culture. I was coaching a Scrum team and worked in the team room alongside the development team. On several occasions (over several weeks) I asked the team to review the product backlog and make estimates. They brushed it off and refused to do this work. Instead, they did this at Sprint planning, despite complaining that it made the session long and exhausting.
I wondered if the ‘familiarity’ of the team room discussions made the backlog work appear less important. So I created a meeting outside the team room and sent an invitation via Outlook. Everyone accepted.
I kept the meeting as a regular occurrence, and the backlog review work got done ahead of Sprint planning. The team was much happier.
Why did this work? It succeeded because the organization had a meeting-driven culture—that is, planned events sent a signal that important work requires a meeting. The extra meeting clearly wasn’t necessary, but it succeeded.
This exercise helped me realize that organizations have so many meetings because they have few ways to engage.
Many office cultures don’t promote face-to-face meetings. Could it be the desk arrangement? They don’t value the serendipity of impromptu meetings. In the absence of frequent, short, high-quality meetings, people are forced to meet in rooms away from their desks.
If you see this meeting-driven culture in your organization, it’s likely an expression of what it values. Improving it will require discussions on what you value more. Shall we plan a meeting?
When I train Agile classes (Scrum, Kanban), I ask the attendees to make a list of activities that they can start right after the class. Number one on that list is co-location. That is, move your team to the same space so that they are sitting beside each other.
We occasionally see people confusing the terms “consultant” and “coach”. Some people tend to use those terms interchangeably while other people see them as distinct. I believe a consultant and coach normally serve two different purposes, however I also recognize the overlap in their abilities and responsibilities that may often lead to the confusion.
To me, a consultant is a referential expert who understands a particular domain or field. They are often brought in to observe and provide domain expertise and knowledge, and it is usually conducted ‘on site.’ A consultant typically provides specific directives, recommendations, suggestions, data or case studies to help their client (company or individual) make informed decisions and avoid pitfalls that might otherwise not be known. They may act as a sounding board to a company’s expressed needs and offer specific guidance on how to achieve those outcomes. Typical reasons for bringing in a consultant include but are not limited to a need for a timely or quick resolution, or a need for a single-event decision (e.g. where the knowledge or decision will not likely be needed in the future).
A coach is also a referential expert who understands a particular domain or field. They also are most effective if they are ‘on site’, however their approach differs substantially from a consultant. A coach observes and typically provides guidance and suggestions, but they do not normally give answers. A coach is usually there to help a client realize the answers through exploration and discovery, and in doing so grow the client’s domain knowledge and problem solving skills. A coach will often use tools such as asking powerful questions and reflecting what they are observing back to the client. Anecdotes, examples, data, and parallels may be provided by the coach when they are helpful at providing context. A coach often acts as an agent to help a company grow their own expertise on how to achieve their business needs and outcomes, as well as to continuously improve how they work together, and in doing so become systems thinkers and a learning organization.
Organizations generally will hire either a consultant or coach when they have goals and they need domain expertise to achieve those defined outcomes. These goals may be determined by various factors, such as a wish to grow the company, or a need to respond to disruptions in the business world that make change a necessity. Either way, this usually means the client has a need for more agility, and the consultant or coach can help them achieve those outcomes.
The choice whether to engage a consultant or coach is often a complex one. However, when needs are urgent in a company a consultant will often be brought in to expedite the solution by providing advice and expertise. Meanwhile, a coach will usually address longer-term goals to help a company grow and realize their own solutions. As such a coach typically is a longer-term investment, however they usually provide longer-term assistance to a business to grow on many fronts or at an enterprise level.
A key difficulty from a company’s perspective is knowing what problem needs to be solved or what the baselines should be for their defined goals. To help with this decision, reputable companies will provide proper guidance and pre-sales support. For example, BERTEIG has created the Real Agility Assessment, which is a tool designed specifically to identify the problem(s) that require addressing as well as what the baselines are. Based on the results from this assessment an organization may determine which type of support is required including whether a consultant or a coach is more appropriate (or even required!)
Regardless of whether a consultant or coach is required, an organization would be wise to ensure the expert they bring in will be compatible, empathetic, considerate, inclusive and respectful towards their existing culture and environment. Certainly the skills and domain knowledge of the expert are critical factors to success, but equally important is whether this external individual will know how to connect with the individuals and the organization so they may be effective. When you know they are aligned with your culture you can also ensure they will be accountable for helping you achieve your outcomes.
At BERTEIG we recognize how critical culture is to determining success so we ensure our consultants and coaches are compatible with an organization to help them achieve their desired outcomes. Please take a few moments to learn more about our team, or learn more about our coaching and consulting engagements in these case studies from Suncor and SickKids Foundation.
Header Image: CC0 Public Domain. Free for personal and commercial use.
Preface: To be transparent in my agenda, I firmly believe there are strong parallels between Agility and Human Rights, and I believe that is a purposeful and direct by-product of the primary outcomes of the Agile Manifesto. However, I have attempted to make this article a little different from others by more subtly embedding the learnings and patterns within the messages and on several levels. As such I hope the connections are still obvious, and that you find this article refreshing, insightful, appropriate and useful.
It seems everywhere I turn lately there is a scandal of greed, lust, abuse, harassment, violence or oppression in both the workplace as well as personal life. I’d like to believe the number of despicable activities is not actually increasing but rather I am simply exposed to more because we live in an age when the speed and ease of access to information is staggering. Certainly recent events are no exception to human history that records thousands of years of oppression, subjugation, control, and violence. My question is: as a supposedly intelligent species, why is it we have seemingly learned very little over the millennia?
I propose we have actually learned a great deal and made significant advances, yet at the same time we have experienced setbacks that repeatedly challenge that progress. These setbacks are often imposed by select individuals in positions of authority that choose to prioritize and exert their power, individual needs or desires over the rights and needs of others. However, I believe if we can truly harness the power of unity and collaboration we can make a significant positive difference, and that is what I seek your help in doing.
“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
Finding a Beacon in the Darkness
Every day I find it disheartening to bear witness to people being physically and mentally hurt, abused or taken advantage of. In their personal lives and at home. At the workplace. In wars and conflicts. In human created environmental disasters. It seems there is no end to the pain and suffering or the countless ways to inflict it.
Meanwhile I sincerely believe many of us have the desire to make the world a better place, but given our positions and busy lives it can be daunting to make a real difference. In many instances we feel powerless to change the world because someone else has authority over us or over the system. It may also seem pointless to commit to change something we as an individual have little to no control over. It can also be risky to draw attention to ourselves by speaking against others in a position of power who may and sometimes will exert their influence to attack and hurt us as well as those we care for.
Despite the temptation to hide from the noise we must remain strong and acknowledge that by creating transparency and visibility in to dark and sometimes painful events we are actually opening the door to the opportunity for positive change. Obscuring truth does nothing to help a worthy cause or to better society. Remaining silent about an injustice does not provide the victim with any form of respect or comfort. Pretending something didn’t happen doesn’t make the consequences and outcomes any less real for the casualty. Inaction does not provide any benefit except perhaps the avoidance of an immediate conflict.
Many times, shining a light on something does provides tangible benefit. It creates visibility and awareness, and provides opportunity for the truth to be exposed. Although transparency itself may not solve a problem, reflection and openness should make the misalignment more critical and obvious. I believe the majority of us want trust, and honesty wherever we are, whether it be in the boardroom, on the manufacturing floor, in a political office, or even in a private home.
“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
~ Robert Kennedy
However we must also acknowledge that sharing truth may often be painful and uncomfortable, and in order to create the opportunity for truth we must first provide individuals with safety so they may find the courage to do what is right. Without safety people fear reprisals, embarrassment, retribution, consequences, and loss of respect. History has taught us that without safety and courage we can not expect most people to bridge the chasm from fear to justice, and as a result the silence will continue. With silence there will be no hope for change. So in order to help define expectations and to foster a safer environment for effective communication we need a code to live by; one that provides standards and creates safety – that serves as a beacon in the darkness so that we may uphold ourselves and one another to it.
To be absolutely clear, I am not saying that policies, processes and tools are more important than people. Instead, I am acknowledging that the right combination of policies and processes with appropriate tools and a method to uphold those ideals should serve to provide opportunity for fairness for people, which is the desired outcome.
A Disturbing Retrospective Leading to a Hopeful Outcome
At the end of World War II when “relative” safety was finally achieved, people were exhausted, shocked and appalled with the magnitude of human atrocities they bore witness to. Given the darkness of the times it may have seemed less painful to move on, put it in the past, and perhaps even obscure disturbing facts rather than revisit them in the pursuit of learning. Instead, the leadership of that time chose to leverage careful inspection to uncover truths and provide visibility with the aspiration that something good could flow out of the evil. In the end the aim was to use the learnings to create a shared understanding and define standards and expectations for a safe environment in the future.
“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
~ George Santayana
To this end I believe we already have a code to live by, but I surmise most of society doesn’t give it the continuous, serious consideration and support it deserves. The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was created on December 10, 1948 as a direct outcome of the learnings from World War II, and in this brief but impactful document are 30 articles that define human equality and set the standards for safety. Despite some of its choice wording and age (at almost 70 years) I believe it is still directly relevant and bears serious attention.
The UDHR document transcends political borders, gender, orientation, race, religion, boardrooms, workplaces, homes, family, and economic status. Every person on this planet should not only just read it, but actively live, work, and explicitly honour the values it represents. The UDHR should become the definitive core learning article for every child. If we all continuously make a firm commitment to hold ourselves and others by the standards in the UDHR I believe we could collectively create opportunity for better safety, transparency, respect, and courage in the workplace, at home, and abroad by putting focus on what matters most – equality and the value of and compassion for human life.
The UDHR document may be policy, but with continuous effort, unilateral agreement and support it enables and empowers people. It may not be perfection, but it is aspirational towards it. It focuses on individual rights but strongly values human interaction. It promotes balance, harmony and partnerships. It demands mutual respect and caring. It is elegant in its simplicity. It promotes collaboration and shared responsibility. It defines clear expectations for a safe environment.
“Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking our potential.”
~ Winston Churchill
I believe the UDHR is the manifesto of real, human agility, and if enough of us embrace and enforce it I believe we could collectively make real, positive change.
Now, A Challenge
I challenge each and every one of you to take time to read the UN Declaration of Human Rights. I don’t just mean on the train on the way to work, or over morning coffee, or while your kids are playing soccer or hockey, or whatever you do to pass a few minutes of time. I mean take time to really, truly and deeply comprehend what each of the thirty articles are saying. Reflect on the value of wisdom that it provides and how that wisdom came from pain and learning. I then encourage you to share it with every family member (adults and youth) and ask for constructive feedback on what it says about them and personal life. I encourage you to share it with every co-worker and then have an open, honest dialogue about what your company culture and leadership either does or fails to do to provide a safe work environment and to promote equality, truth, transparency and human rights.
Then, I challenge you to ask every single day “Given the declaration, what small positive adaptation or change can I make right now to help our family, friends, peers, coworkers and humanity achieve these goals and outcomes?” You could start with something as simple as a brief conversation, and see where it goes.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
I asked myself that very question after visiting the UN General Assembly and Security Council Chambers in New York late last year. In response, one of my first actions in 2018 is to publish this article in an effort to re-establish awareness about the UN declaration and how it may bring hope and positive change if we can rally enough people behind it. How about you?
A secondary (and arguably less important) challenge I am issuing for Lean and Agile enthusiasts is for you to identify the patterns and key words in this article that I have borrowed from various facets of the Lean and Agile domains (hint: there are at least 20 different words – can you spot them). I purposefully embedded these patterns and key words in this article to explicitly highlight the parallels that I see between Agility and the UDHR and I hope you see them too.