Performance Coaching – Helping People GROW


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Performance Coaching

As an agile coach I get the opportunity to have mentoring and coaching sessions with scrum masters who are in a rut.  They usually have tons of potential but don’t know how to take the next step forward.

In order to facilitate these conversations, I use the popular coaching model GROW.

G – Gather Data

R – Reality Check

O – Obstacles and Opportunities

W – Way Forward

Throughout the conversation I shift from a position of mentor to a position of coach in order to help the scrum master gain perspectives, come to conclusions, and create a plan to move forward.

During the Gather Data portion of the session I step into my role as a coach. I ask them questions that will help us both understand how they see the role of scrum master and where they believe they are presently.  We talk about where they think they are strong and where they think they are weak.  We also talk about where they would like to see themselves in a few months and in a year.

This time is important because it causes the scrum master to think about things that they often have not considered prior to the conversation.  In my experience, I find that when people are in a rut it is because they have no vision for the future and no plan to get there.  They simply don’t know what to do next so they just keep doing what they’ve always done.

When we shift to the Reality Check segment I step into my role as mentor for a while and I give them my perspectives of their current performance.  I point out areas of where they are doing amazing things that they don’t even realize are amazing.  I tell them about the potential I see in them that they can’t see.  I also point out areas where I see opportunity to move to the next level.  I fill gaps in their understanding of the role and help them to believe in themselves so they will be ready to move to the next level.  Then, I get their feedback on the things I shared and help them get clarity around where they believe they are and where they want to be.

I shift to coach again as we transition into the Obstacles and Opportunities part of the session.  This is the part where the scrum master does some heavy lifting.  One technique I use is to give them some sticky notes and a marker which are some of my favorite tools of the trade.  I give them a time box and ask them to write down what they see happening with their teams that they, as scrum master, have the power to impact and help change.  I also ask them to write down the things about themselves they want to change.

They hang these items on a wall where we can look at them together and I ask them questions to help them clearly define what things they have the power to impact and what the obstacles are that are standing in the way of change.  We talk about ideas they have for helping the team grow and what success looks like in each of the areas.

When I see that the scrum master has created ideas about what they can do over the next couple of months to improve themselves and help the team become higher performing we shift to the Way Forward portion of the session.  During this time, I remain in my coach role and ask more direct questions that will move them to action like:

  • “Which options will have the greatest impact on the team?”
  • “Which options appeal to you the most?”
  • “What will you commit to in order to move forward?”
  • “What will you do first?”
  • “When will you start?”
  • “How will you hold yourself accountable?”
  • “Who do you need to help you implement this plan?”
  • “Will this plan bring you closer to the place you define as success?”

At the end of a successful session the scrum master has a plan to work with over the next few months.  They are invested in the plan because they develop a clear vision of where they are headed and how they will get there.

As a coach, I can have a vision for what success looks like but my vision isn’t what’s important.  What’s important is helping those I coach understand how they define success.  What is critical is that I support them and help them figure out how they can take practical steps towards their goal.

I can’t force people to see what I see or to desire what I desire.  I can’t tell them what success looks like.  I can’t make them do what I believe will bring them to what I think is success.

I have to help them discover what they really, really want and how they will get there.  My role is to inspire them to imagine a different tomorrow.  My job is to help them find the courage to change.  My desire is my mission:  To leave them better than I found them with each encounter.

Why are we standing?


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A few months ago as I stopped to check in on a team during their daily scrum and I saw something really interesting happen.  This team was co-located in a team room and were all sitting around a large conference table working collaboratively.  There were two large whiteboards on two walls of the team room and one wall held a large scrum board.

When it was time for the daily scrum one member of the team said, “It’s time for the scrum,” and started making open handed stand up motions to everyone encouraging them to rise from their seats for the “stand up” meeting.

The team all rose from their chairs and stood in position looking at one another and proceeded to answer “the three questions” diligently reporting the status of the work they were responsible for completing.

Again, a few weeks later I experienced a repeat of the same behavior from another team.  They were all working collaboratively in a room together when someone announced that it was time for the scrum.  Everyone stopped collaborating.  They stood up in their places around the table and began to give their status on the three questions.

Why is this behavior strange to me?  My question in response is, “In these circumstances, what value is standing adding?”  I know that there is a common teaching that teams should stand during the daily scrum because this contributes to the ability to keep the meetings short.  I’m not opposed to this opinion.  What I am opposed to is doing things that simply don’t make sense and contribute to waste.

The purpose of the daily scrum is for the team to collaborate and to make a plan for the next 24 hours.  I believe that pulling the team together to collaborate, especially if they can gather around a white board or a scrum board and actively discuss the work they are planning that standing adds value.  By not sitting down to have these quick planning sessions and holding them as stand-up at the white board or scrum board and collaborate sessions they stress that this is intentionally a quick brainstorming and planning session.  Sitting and camping out has the potential to turn a quick planning session into a much longer event.

But, for a team who is already actively collaborating to stop collaborating just to stand up and start giving a status report — this is an anti-pattern.  Or for a team to stand up and face one another when there is a white board and a scrum board that would enhance collaboration – standing up is simply wasted effort and quite possibly an example what many call cargo culting.  i.e. They don’t understand the value of what they are doing.  They are just doing what they have seen others do because they like the results they have seen others get.

Pushing the Limits


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In my role as a coach I often have to conduct hard conversations with people that push them beyond the limits of where they are comfortable living in order to bring them to the place they say they want to be but only I can actually visualize. 

Their reactions to these conversations at first are often defensive because they think I am unreasonable. 

The payoff comes when they return and say thank you for provoking me. I got really angry at first but then I started thinking in a new way and these are the changes I have made and what a difference it is making!!!

Introverts, Extroverts, Ambiverts – How Life Impacts Us Differently


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Three very different people types: extroverts, introverts and the very little known ambivert. I find that people have great misconceptions about what people with these three personality types can and cannot do. In general, I hear comments that extroverts do outgoing jobs that involve people and they are very successful, introverts don’t play well with others and they hide in closets, and ambiverts…what’s that?

Introversion, extroversion, and ambiversion are often misunderstood because people believe that the term refers to what people enjoy. However, the term actually refers to the source of energy input and depletion.

Extroverts gain great energy from interacting with people. Other humans are like fuel pumps. The more they interact with other people the stronger they feel. After spending an eight hour day talking to and meeting new people they are so energized that they feel like they could climb a mountain.

On the other hand, if they spend too much time alone they feel the energy draining from their body. After an eight hour day working in a room with no other humans and not a single conversation they feel so drained that they can barely make it to the dinner table before falling into bed exhausted.

Introverts, are the opposite of extroverts. Interacting with people drains the energy from them. This doesn’t mean that they don’t like people. Many introverts function in jobs where investing in people is the primary reason they exist. Pastors, counselors, coaches, teachers, doctors, nurses, etc. No profession or calling is off limits to introverts. However, being an introvert means that after a very fulfilling day of interacting with people they are completely exhausted and need time alone to recharge their personal batteries.

Introverts who work in high human interaction careers are more likely to close their office door and read a book during lunch than hang out with co-workers. Don’t take offense. This is not an indicator that they are not a team player. This is an indicator that they recognize what that need to gain strength to make it through the remainder of the day.  Tell an introvert that they can spend a week in a little cabin in the woods all alone and they will tell you that upon their return they will be ready to conquer the universe!

Ambiverts are an entirely different animal.  These are the ones who both get their energy from other people yet are completely drained by direct human contact.  Being isolated for too long completely wears them out and they have to find humans to bring them back to life.  Ambiverts might tell you that their favorite activity is being alone in a public place.  People watching at a restaurant while dining alone is a comfortable welcoming experience that gives them life. Going to a party means hanging out on the sidelines contently watching as the extroverts work the room meeting everyone.  Just being at the party with other people gives them energy.  But, having to personally interact and have one on one conversations with too many individuals would quickly turn a potentially energizing evening into a night that could leave them completely exhausted.

Whether people are introverts, extroverts, or ambiverts they can all enjoy or dislike the same activities.  All can enjoy being alone.  All can enjoy being with other people.  How they physically and mentally feel after these experiences is where the real impacts come into play.

In my next post, “A tale of three consultants” I’ll talk about three consultants who all speak regularly at conferences.  One is an extrovert, one is an introvert, and on is an ambivert.  All three love speaking at conferences.  All three are affected by the experience differently.  All three cope differently.  Their differences are quite amazing … so stay tuned.

7 Tips for Delivering an Engaging Conference Presentation


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As a consultant one of the things that I enjoy most is speaking at conferences to help people gain knowledge about various topics that they can take back to their workplaces and implement.

Often, after a session, people will ask for tips about how they can become better speakers. So, I thought I’d use this blog to give some of the tips I often give them…

1 – Connect with your audience – No one likes to attend a boring monologue at a conference! There’s nothing worse than sitting in a 90 minute session and listening to someone talk to themselves.

  • Engage the audience in conversation – Find out who is in the room.  By understanding who you are talking to you will be able to cater your topic to the individuals in the room and ensure that you say the right things to the audience.  Don’t assume that you know who is present just because you are at a particular type of conference.  People from all types of roles attend various sessions.  By understanding your audience you can deliver the correct message.
  • Ask the audience questions – Get them talking and responding to what you are teaching.  Use them to help you teach.  Ask questions that will lead them to the things you want to say so that they become involved in the presentation.
  • Use reflective listening – Not everyone in the room will be able to hear responses so repeat what people say or rephrase it “properly” if they have a near miss.  Use a lot of praise for their input while you are reflecting back their responses and NEVER tell them they are wrong!  Find the one good thing they said and elaborate on that.

2 – Connect with your topic – Remember people follow passion.  If you don’t believe in what you are speaking about neither will the people listening to you.  Don’t ever talk about something that you can’t connect with.  If you aren’t connecting with the presentation you are preparing, come at it from a different angle or pick a new topic.

  • Make sure that you know the topic well enough to speak to it from the hip and to answer questions that you don’t expect to receive from the audience
  • Passion is not learned or researched, it is cultivated.  Believing in a topic goes beyond what you learned from others.  It means that you have opinions that are truly your own and can answer questions from experience.  It means you have formed opinions that you haven’t necessarily learned from someone else or can’t reference in a book.  
  • Be energetic, smile, act like you are enjoying what you are doing and the people in the room will enjoy the session also.

3 – Check your attitude – Do it because you care more about the success of others than your own success.  People are intelligent and intuitive.  They are fully able to discern your motives even when you can’t.  

  • If you want to speak at conferences just to advance your career, you aren’t ready to start quite yet.
  • If you want to speak at conferences just to get popular or famous, you aren’t ready to start quite yet.
  • If you just want to make money, or sell books, or network, look smart, or feel important, you are not ready.
  • If you want to see people learn and grow and are willing to give a part of yourself to help them become successful, you are ready.

4 – Check your slides – Slides are meant to be a reference point during your presentation but there is an art to using them properly.  They should not over power you and they should not frustrate your audience.

  • Use fewer words – Your slides should only contain very short bullet points with key words.  Too many words on a slide are monotonous and frustrating.  People feel compelled to write down every word on the slide and they stop listening.  Fewer words make it easier to cater the presentation to the audience in the room.
  • Speak to the correct content on the slide – If you don’t this will make some people extremely frustrated and they will focus on the slide waiting for you to cover the content.  They will feel cheated because you aren’t talking about what the slide promised.  
  • Don’t skip over slides during the presentation.  People feel cheated when they see you breeze past slides.  If you don’t intend to use the slide, hide it from the presentation.
  • Use fewer slides – People came to hear a presentation not to see a slide show.  Only have slides for the absolute key points you want people to walk away with.  If you can use images to send those messages, use them.  People retain images longer than words.
  • Don’t forget to give proper credit to people, books, websites, etc., where you got images or ideas. 
  • Don’t forget to create an introduction slide so people will know who you are.
  • Don’t forget to give your twitter, linked in, and other social media contact information so people know how to contact you.

5 – Watch the clock – There is nothing more frustrating than a speaker who runs over time and doesn’t finish his presentation!  

  • Plan ahead.  Conferences have a very strict schedule and will tell you exactly how much time is allowed for your presentation.  You will not be allowed to violate the time box.  If you have too much content for the time box, re-plan and remove some.  If you don’t have enough, either add content, an interactive exercise, or figure out how you will fill the space.  Be very careful if you plan to fill the space with a question and answer segment.  If you aren’t experienced with engaging the audience with this type of activity and can’t pull conversation out of them you may find yourself trying to fill a lot of dead space.
  • Know which slide you need to be on at critical points during the session and work to the clock.  If you are moving too quickly, slow down.  Engage the audience more.  If you are moving too slowly, don’t interact quite as much.  Make sure to manage the time box well so you finish the entire session on time.
  • Don’t forget to plan for introductions and for closing – Make a quick introduction and tell people who you are and why you are talking to them.  Begin with a  “What I’m going to tell you”.  Then, after you’ve told them what you came to tell them, conclude with a wrap up of “What I just told you,” to make sure that they really got the point.  

6 – Watch your words – What you say is as important as how you say it when you are presenting in a professional setting.  People pick up on tone as well as attitude.  Remember, the reason for presenting at a conference is to help people learn new skills.  Some of the things you are talking about will be completely new to them so be careful to speak in a way will not frustrate someone at an advanced level while allowing intermediate and beginner level attendees to still keep up easily.

  • Explain your acronyms – Not everyone in the room will know all of the industry terminology so when you use insider words define them within the context of the sentence the first couple of times you use them in a way that doesn’t make people feel like you are talking down to them.  Those who know the words will just be in agreement but those who don’t know them will be very thankful that you are helping them learn and keep up with what you are talking about.
  • Don’t use all of the sophisticated or overly educated words in your superior vocabulary to prove that you are the smartest person in the room.  Instead, use a common language for the education level of the average attendee in the session.  If you speak beneath the average attendee, people will be offended because you aren’t intelligent enough to teach them.  If you speak above the average attendee, people will feel like you are talking down to them and won’t receive the message.
  • It may seem elementary but using swear words in a professional presentation will detract from your survey results. Don’t do it!  Just don’t do it.  It may make you feel powerful but it makes you look unprofessional.

7 – Review your abstract – Often times there is a large gap of time between when an abstract is submitted and the actual conference.  Be careful to ensure that what you cover in the conference actually delivers on what was promised in the abstract.  Conference attendees decide which sessions they will attend by reading the abstracts provided in the program.  If you change plans and don’t deliver what they expect they don’t get the value from your session they were promised.  Regardless of how good your session may seem to you, if an attendee came to hear specific information or to learn a specific promised activity and had known you were not going to deliver what was promised they may have chosen a different session.  Attendees pay $150-$3,000 registration fees plus accommodations to be at conferences and many have to take vacation days.  It is always okay to deliver more than what was promised in the abstract but if you fail to deliver what was promised too many times your reputation in the industry will suffer damage. 

Why They Need Agile Coaches


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Over the past several weeks I have encountered multiple people from completely different companies that are implementing scrum.  Some have been trying this for a few weeks.  Some have been doing it for a couple of years.  Others are somewhere in between.  Some received formal training.  Some read books.  Others supplemented with You Tube videos.

Everyone I spoke to had a different reason for meeting with me, an agile coach.  Some were people I was interviewing for clients to hire onto their full time staff.  Some were clients and potential clients.  Others were people in the agile community that asked for mentoring.

They all had something in common – doing it alone.  In each case, they got information about scrum and tried to implement change.  In each case they are struggling.  Half of the struggles they are facing are around simply understanding how to implement the scrum framework properly.  This stems from brain overload and trying to cram too much understanding into their minds from a two day class or a book and attempting to remember it with no context to their real world.  Then, trying to implement the things they learned in their own environment while not forgetting anything.  Yeah, right.

The other half of the struggle they are facing is a much larger issue.  This issue can’t be solved as easily in books, videos, and a two-day class.  This is an issue of a shift in mindset.  In each case, these people were trying to change a set of behaviors but they didn’t really grasp the mindset change that needed to happen in order for the behaviors to make sense.  The behaviors alone won’t bring agility to an organization, or to a team, or to an individual.  Agility is a way of thinking, a way of believing, a way of life.

This is why we say that learning scrum is easy but implementing it is so hard.  I can teach you the basic scrum framework in a couple of hours.  I extend it to a two-day course so I can teach you about the agile values and principles and try to let you experience how to practice the scrum framework.  But, organizations that want to be really successful invest in more than just a two-day training class.  The two-day training class just sets the groundwork. Organizations that want to be successful invest in coaching.

Having a coach on site to work with teams and with managers to help them on a day-to-day basis while they get started is an investment that far outweighs the price tag.  A coach helps teams to understand how to implement concepts the two-day class and books only talk about theoretically.  The coach helps the team sort through misunderstandings and watches for bad decisions that will lead them to bad behaviors.

A coach teaches teams how to think in new ways, challenges them to make decisions they would have never made before, to do things differently, to self organize, to build high performing teams, to live the scrum values, to properly live the agile values and principles, to identify when they or others are acting in anti-patterns and how to respond to break those anti-patterns.

A coach works with management and human resources to change the culture of the organization so that job descriptions reflect the new culture, the correct employees get hired, and the proper decisions are being made that lead the entire company towards and not further from agility.

A coach helps the company see where to spend less money in the right places and make the right investments that will save them money in the long run by creating a better return on investment and reducing technical debt. When something comes easy to you it is sometimes hard to understand when others struggle.

I’ve been coaching for about five years now and I love when people start getting this stuff.  But, I’m having a pretty rough week.  I realize now more than ever how hard this is.  It makes me so sad to see people struggling when they don’t have a way to get help.  I’m just one person.  Even if I could do this for free there’s not enough of me to go around.

Well, I can’t change the world – that I know.  But this week it all came to a head for me and I developed a personal mission statement to keep me focused because even though I can’t change the world I can change the people in the world.  I can do my part. This is what it’s all about for me – My Mission:  To leave you better than I found you with each encounter.

Failure Must be an Option


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I have heard people say all my life, “Failure is not an option,” and today, I would like to challenge this belief and say that in order to succeed, failure must be an option.

One of the things you learn when training to be a coach is the art of deep listening.  When practicing this art with a team, the coach is listening to people and hearing what they are saying.  You also listen to things like tone of voice because much information can be heard in what is not said.  Changes in tone, pace and volume when they speak and the inflection in their voice can give clues to what the speaker is thinking and feeling.

The coach is listening for things like passion and energy when people speak, they are listening for things that reveal the teams core values, strengths and areas of weakness or greatness where probing questions can begin to push them to new levels or wider areas of thinking.

Another thing that the coach is listening for is false assumptions and any limiting beliefs that the team or individuals on the team may have that are holding them back from success or from breakthrough.  The belief that failure is not an option is an example of a false assumption or limiting belief that can hold a team back.  This belief undermines the scrum value of courage and needs to be broken in order for a team to become higher performing.

If a person or a team believes that failure is not an option, they may be unwilling to take risks that will enable them to succeed in big ways.  They may be unwilling to be innovative or try new ways of solving problems and will instead remain stuck in old thought patterns and safe ways of doing things even if those ways limit success or are not the best thing to do for the company, the team, or the customer.  Safe is better than failure because failure is not an option.

When the coach, or scrum master acting in the capacity of team coach, identifies that their team is stuck with a limiting belief and can’t seem to move forward, one technique to help them can be to ask powerful questions.

Powerful questions cause people to think outside of their normal thought patterns and step outside of their limiting beliefs.  They cause people to start to form their own solutions to problems which empowers them to take ownership of actions and moves them forward towards actually solving problems faster.

Powerful questions are curious, open ended questions that don’t try to push the listener (coachee) to a specific answer.  The job of the coach is not to trick the listener to the solution they have in their mind, but to just be curious and ask questions.  The answers of the listener set the pace – the listener is in the driver’s seat – the coach is just being so curious that the listener discovers new information through the questions being asked.

A few examples of powerful questions to break the limiting belief of failure not being an option might be:

What could you try?

What would an experiment look like?

What’s the worst that could happen?

What’s already working that you could build on?

How could you deliver success incrementally?

If it was safe to fail, what would you try?

Whose support would you need to try an experiment?

How do you know that failure is not an option?

Who do you need to ask for permission?

Who can help you succeed?

Who can clear the obstacles?

What do you need in order to feel safe to try something different?

What could you learn if you tried and failed?

Coaching Teams Tips from the Trenches


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Earlier this week I met with a group of coaches of various experience levels from different backgrounds to talk about coaching teams.  We discussed together our successes and failures in attempts to learn from one another.  What follows is a list of the results of what we discovered together.

  1. Create an environment where it is safe for people to fail – In order for teams an individuals to learn and grow they must be able to experience both success and failure.  Most of us learn more from our mistakes and failures than we do from our successes.  When we protect and buffer teams from failure we cripple them.  When we give them all the answers to their problems and provide solutions for them we stunt their growth.  As coaches, we have to step back and  help teams have the courage to make decisions, investigate new ways of doing things, take risks, and explore areas they have feared to enter previously.  They can’t do that if we will not move out of their way and allow them space to succeed and fail.  Failure is a learning experience.  We can’t always just take over when we see them struggling.  We have to give them room to grow.  We have to be confident enough in our ability as coaches to help teams navigate their way back up from failure to success that we have the courage to allow them to experience enough failure to grow and become higher performing.  This doesn’t mean that we should stand by and watch them walk head first off a cliff.  As experts, we should know when to blow the whistle – but use the whistle sparingly only when it is no longer safe to fail.
  2. Believe in people in ways that give them the courage to believe in themselves – As coaches we have to look beyond what we see standing in front of us today.  We have to be able to look at what is in front of us today and see characteristics in people and in teams and roll those things forward weeks, months, and years ahead in our thinking in order to see the great things they have the potential to become.  We can’t think of it as what they might become.  We have to see it as who they are.  Coaches have the power to activate and unlock dormant gifts and talents in people by believing in them in ways that they can’t even believe in themselves.  People don’t need someone to patronize them, they need someone who truly has vision for who they are and can articulate specifically what they see in them and why those things are powerful and amazing.  They need a coach who can point out the simple yet amazing things they do and the impacts that those actions have on the team and on their career so people can have a light shining on the path that shows them what direction to walk.
  3. Use The Language of Appreciation - Speaking to people in an encouraging language that tells them that they are valued and appreciated motivates teams and individuals and makes them want to move forward.  It builds a solid connection and helps to form a trusting relationship with their coach because they see that the coach cares about them and believes in them.  (See the other posts in this blog for more about the Language of Appreciation.)
  4. Ask Powerful Questions – Serving as an expert has a place in coaching when it is time to teach.  Becoming a mentor and walking hand in hand with people also has a place, but true coaching involves taking on a different role of allowing people to enter a place of self discovery.  Asking powerful questions is an art that helps to facilitate this discovery process.  Asking powerful questions can help people move outside the box of their normal thinking.  Questions help them to develop their own conclusions and solve their own problems which means that they actually take ownership of the solutions and plans they make for their future.  When people design their own futures instead of having those plans handed to them they are more likely to succeed at accomplishing the goals they set because they are motivated by their own ideas and empowered to make changes along the way to reach what they define as success.
  5. Treat each team as individual and allow them to have their own culture/don’t create a mirror image of yourself – Every team we coach has a different group of individuals in the makeup and should be encouraged to develop a culture based upon the individuals on the team.  Even if the teams have a similar purpose they should have their own characteristics that are developed from within the team.  I often view the multiple teams I coach like I view my multiple children.  Each of them has their own unique character, strengths, and weaknesses.  Each of them must be coached differently in order to become high performing.  Each team must be assessed individually and the proper techniques must be applied that will help them grow.  Making the mistake that we can duplicate the exact same methods, techniques, and cookie cutter process to every team we coach is harmful.  We cannot expect that every team will look the same or to look like us – in fact, I dare say that if they do this is the sign of an immature coach.  When I enter organizations and see teams that are identical I immediately think about the cargo culting phenomenon where people do things that they see others doing because they think they will get some set of results.  However, since they don’t really understand the underlying reasons why the first person took those actions the repeat of the behavior adds no value.
  6. Don’t get in the middle of conflict – force them to storm instead – Teams need to have constructive and healthy conflict.  Sometimes the conflict turns unhealthy and people don’t want to deal with it properly.  There is a very real temptation to try to solve the problems of the team by getting in the middle and handling it for them.  Bad idea.  As a coach it is our job to teach people healthy ways to resolve conflict so it is better to help individuals form a plan for confronting and dealing with conflict or to create a way to surface the conflict with the team.  In order for teams to become high performing they must first go through the process of forming, storming, and norming.  Unfortunately, too many teams never really storm because they never learn to have healthy conflict.  The elephant stays in the room and everyone just walks around him.  Teaching individuals and teams to address the elephant together using appropriate and safe communication styles, healthy conflict resolution techniques, and problem solving skills serves a better longer term purpose than getting in the middle as a go between to make today more peaceful.


Servant Leadership in Action


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Earlier this week I attended a retrospective with team I am coaching and watched as a growing scrum master stood up and started the retrospective saying, “Ok guys, I’m going to step completely out of my comfort zone again today.   You didn’t like the activity that we started the retrospective with last time so I’m not going to make you do that again.  Instead, I came up with something else that I hope you will like a little bit better…”

What he did was really cool and very simple.  He asked his team to take a post it note and write down 1-3 words that described how this sprint was different than the previous sprint.  He collected the notes and put them up on the white board in the form of a circle.  The team briefly discussed the items and this allowed both the team and the scrum master to get a feel for their overall perception of the success of the sprint and if the team was moving in a positive or negative direction as far as overall improvement.  This opening “set the stage” activity broke the ice perfectly and gave him a wonderful springboard into his “gather data” activity – which he did with genius style!

Kyle Duke, who has incredible raw talent to be a great scrum master, proceeded to use the 4L activity (Liked, Learned, Lacked, and Longed For) to draw information and conversation from his team.  I sat on the sidelines astonished as I watched him introduce this in a way that I had never seen before and almost died laughing.  He was amazing.  When he transitioned into this activity, Kyle said, “Ok, team help me out … what are our quadrants?”  He drew four quadrants on the board and proceeded to get the team to “help” him label them.  Since they had only used this method once before no one knew the labels.  It was hilarious to watch Kyle guide them letter by letter into each square until they guessed the labels.

I saw Kyle do other really amazing things like ask for permission from his team to combine post it notes together when he thought that they meant the same thing – instead of just assuming that he could make the decision for the team.  When he wanted to make a clarification on what someone wrote on a post it, he asked, “Do you mind if I write that on here?”  These actions provided a place of safety for his team and also create an environment where the team knows that the scrum master is not a manager of the team, but a member of the team.

I was really proud.  Kyle did a great job.  His team felt safe.  They opened up and talked about the stuff that really mattered and they had a great time.  I love seeing scrum masters coming into their own and really having the courage to do things that are outside of their comfort zone in order to help their teams succeed.  This is true servant leadership in action.  This is scrum.  This is why I love being an agile coach!

This Shouldn’t Be a Status Meeting … Improving the Daily Scrum


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How can I keep the daily scrum from becoming a daily status meeting? But if we are all answering three questions then who is supposed to be asking the questions?  If we are gathering to give our updates on these three questions every day on what we are doing then that sounds like a status meeting to me – what am I doing wrong?

These are all questions that I have heard new scrum masters ask.  The daily scrum seems like it should be the simplest thing we do, right?  The team self organizes daily for a time box of no more than 15 minutes and talks about three things:  What I did yesterday, what I am going to do today, and what is standing in my way.

So, why is it so hard?  In my experience … mindset.  Often, scrum masters learn a process to implement but they don’t recognize the mindset that must change in order for the process to have any value.  Being self organizing and collaborative, like being agile, is a mindset.  It’s not just something you do – it’s something you are.  It’s something you become.  It’s about individuals and interactions over process and tools. What I’m finding is that when teams are struggling with the daily scrum it’s about them putting the process and tools over the individuals and interactions.

When I encounter the struggling scrum masters I find that they have been given a process that they are trying to implement:  Meet for 15 minutes, everyone on the team answer three questions about what they are doing, don’t talk about anything else, break ~ scrum master you are responsible for making sure that the process is followed and that the team understands how scrum works so go make it happen.

But the thing they seem to miss in the equation is that the daily scrum is about the team coming together daily to collaborate and plan how they will work together to deliver the highest priority user stories today or as soon as possible.

Are you struggling in this very thing?

What would happen on your team today if instead of everyone taking a turn answering three questions about what they did on some random user story yesterday and will do today towards the sprint goal, you would all look at the scrum board together and focus on only the top priority one or two stories?  Then, collaborate and discuss what you can do as a team to get those stories completed today or tomorrow?

Tomorrow you can do the same only start by adding to the conversation any progress you made since the last time you met or what stopped you from making the progress you each thought you would make.  Then figure out together what you will do as a team to remove those roadblocks and how you will get the remaining work on the story completed before the next daily scrum.

If one or more of the stories gets finished by tomorrow’s daily scrum celebrate that success and add the next priority story to the conversation.

The advice and method I’ve just described is really nothing new, it’s just putting the individuals and interactions over the process and tools.  It’s all about what we focus on.  When we focus on the questions and the time box and governing the scope of the conversation to make sure we don’t deviate from the questions we lose the collaboration and the true heart of what the daily scrum should be.


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