A Fixer

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While attending the Agile Coaching Institute’s Coaching Agile Teams class a while back the instructors read this poem to the class.  It served as a powerful reminder that as an agile coach, or a scrum master/team coach, we must see people and teams as naturally creative, resourceful, and whole if we want to empower them to grow and move forward.  As a coach I must be a servant to those I coach.  I’m not here to be better than them or to have all the answers.  I’m here to serve them in their quest for greatness.

It’s often a first reaction to want to jump in and fix things and fix people.  It’s so easy to have all the answers.  It’s empowering to play the super hero.  But the real power is in allowing people to identify their own solutions.  The real power is in self restraint and waiting for people to grow and change on their own.  The real power is in stepping back so other people’s greatness can shine forth.

This poem serves as a daily reminder that it is impossible to both be a fixer and a servant to others.

A Fixer*

A fixer has the illusion of being casual.

A server knows he or she is being used

in the service of something greater,

essentially unknown.

We fix something specific.

We serve always the something:

wholeness and the mystery of life.

Fixing and helping are the work of ego.

Serving is the work of the soul.

When you help, you see life as weak.

When you fix, you see life as broken.

When you serve, you see life as whole.

Fixing and helping may cure.

Serving Heals.

When I help, I feel satisfaction.

When I serve, I feel gratitude.

Fixing is a form of judgment.

Serving is a form of connection.

*Author Unknown

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Rubber Duck Productivity

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Today, one of our team members taught me about rubber duck productivity.

This was an experiment where people found that they were more productive when they kept a rubber duck on their desk. When they encountered a problem they were having trouble solving they would talk to the duck and tell the duck the problem.

In the course of explaining the problem to the duck they would usually discover the solution. Thus, being more productive than just trying to solve problems in the reaches of their own mind.

The moral of this story: Talk it through with someone – quit trying to solve it on your own!

An elephant and a monkey went for a walk last sprint …

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This week I was walking past a conference room where a Scrum Master was preparing for the team’s retrospective.  I had to stop and take a picture because I really loved what I saw.  Here are a few of the things that really impressed me:

  1. The team’s improvement plan from the last retrospective is represented. This helps to solidify the value from the last retrospective’s suggested improvements.  By circling back around and discussing the team’s experience with the past action plan it helps the team to measure to see if the changes actually impacted their ability to become higher performing.  This also helps the team intentionally create ways to ensure that they act upon the plan they create because they re-evaluate how they implemented them and if the changes need to be adopted as part of the working agreement or if they were not valuable enough to continue.
  2. It is creative and fun.  You don’t need to be an artist to draw pictures for a retrospective.  In fact, I’ve found that scrum masters who can’t draw well but do it anyway have the most success!  Being willing to really put yourself out there when you know there’s an obvious lack of talent shows the team that you are willing to bring your full self in order to help them grow.  It helps to foster trust and relationship because you aren’t hiding your weaknesses from them.  The lack of drawing skill usually becomes a fun joke for the whole team as they try to identify what your pictures represent.  (In this retro the big joke was, “What in the world is the monkey doing?”  Answer= He’s pulling the elephant’s tail and frustrating him!)
  3. It uses the coaching skill of metaphor. This picture represents the teams experiences through the last sprint.  It helps the team to look at the sprint from multiple perspectives.  The perspective of positive things like things that specifically are helping us to do well and be better and things we want to celebrate.  It also helps the team get real about what’s frustrating them and what is really holding back their growth and progress in areas.  These perspectives take the team deeper than just what went well and what didn’t.

Agile 2015 Learning and Highlights

Presenting at agile 2015

Sunday, as I got on a flight and headed to Washington, DC for Agile Alliance’s Agile 2015 conference, I was looking forward to spending a week with other like-minded people who believe in living the agile values and principles and who are investing in themselves and in others to grow in their craft. I anticipate this conference all year because I love the full saturation of agile. I love the networking and new ideas. I love the opportunity to see what others in the industry are up to and to learn from them. And I love meeting new people who teach me great things!

Allison Pollard and I were given the opportunity to present a coaching topic called “Change Your Questions ~ Change Your World” this year. It was exciting to see Allison again and partner with her on this great topic and it was an honor to invest in the agile community at large.

Mornings were filled with “Lean Coffee” which is a facilitation game for having discussions about a range of topics with a group of people who self organize for the purpose of learning and communicating. So many coaches, scrum masters, product owners, managers, software engineers, and quality engineers had such great input and valuable perspectives to share. I had a ton of take-away items from the “Lean Coffee” sessions including ideas about new books to read, ways to manage workflow, how to inspire others, how to develop curiosity, and about interviewing techniques.

One particularly interesting thing I am bringing back from the conference is the use of improv with agile teams. I learned multiple improv activities that help agile teams learn valuable lessons and it completely blew my mind! I’m also bringing back a card game called, “The Product Owner Game” that helps product owners learn to balance cost and business value in order to select the most valuable features and user stories to work on each sprint. I attended a session on user story mapping that provided a great exercise I’m going to be able to walk through with product owners and scrum masters to help them learn this technique and bring it back to their teams for quarterly planning improvement.

There were multiple sessions about coaching in the midst of culture transformation and organizational change. One particularly interesting session provided me with a new tool called an empathy map that I can’t wait to use! Sessions about conflict and toxic environments provided exercises to help people discover their own triggers in order to learn how to deal with them in a healthy manner. I learned how to create an influence map that helps you look at an organization in a way that provides insight to areas where coaching can have the largest impact. I learned a new coaching model and attended a session on executive coaching that was fascinating. I learned from master coaches how to sharpen my professional coaching skills specifically for use in an agile environment and I learned more about how to take a coaching approach to mentoring.

In all this was one of the most successful learning weeks I’ve had all year. The return on investment for this conference was incredible just in the things I’m bringing back to the organization to help others grow. There are many ways companies can invest in its people to help them grow in understanding of agile. In my opinion, Agile Alliance’s Agile 201X conferences gives one of the highest rates of return of any conference I attend.

The Power of Daring to be You

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This past weekend I attended CTI coach training.  For three days I was able to experience coaching from an entirely different perspective.  This experiential training in a group setting was very powerful. During this weekend I didn’t just meet a new group of people – I met myself!  It was amazing to experience the insight and deep intuition of people on a level that made me feel understood, seen, and heard.  There were times when I felt like they knew me better than I knew myself – or maybe they were willing to pull out of me what I have spent so many years burying.

During one session, we did an activity where we took turns sitting in the focus seat and others called out what they were seeing in you.  It was amazing and encouraging to hear the impressions that people had of me after just 14 hours together.  Then, they shifted and identified what they caught glimpses of but really wished would emerge.  In the next step, the class began to suggest metaphorical archetypes that captured the part of you that isn’t being fully embraced – who you really are deep inside that needs to be tapped into.

My archetype is a wild child on roller skates.  It stands for the part of me that needs to learn to let go of being responsible and selfless and fully embrace having fun, being free, and taking what I really need for myself.  This is who I never dare to be – the one who I dream of being able to become when I need her to show up.

The next part of the exercise was to coach and be coached from the perspective of that archetype.  How would that person show up as a coach?  What would they do?  How would they present themselves?  The power of this exercise was amazing.  I coached from a place that I would never dare to go with most clients.  I pushed hard.  I challenged them to go further.  I became someone on the edge.  I dared them to do things I would never suggest to a client.  I was relentless in helping them see what was possible if they just let go!

It was really interesting to be in this safe environment coaching in a way that I have never considered coaching a client.  But then, I realized that for some clients this might be exactly the coach they need to show up in a session.  The exercise wasn’t about me changing who I was as a coach; but about being able to embrace every part of who I am and bring it when the right circumstances presented.

Being coached from this perspective was a pretty powerful place to be also.  What would happen if I just got selfish in some areas and stopped giving everything I had to other people?  What would happen if I took what I really need and stop giving myself completely away?  How would my life and the lives of those in my world change if I allowed that woman to emerge?

The reality is:  I can’t be that person all the time.  But being able to see the possibilities for just 16 minutes caused a new awareness to rise up in me.  The impact that part of me had on the person I was coaching was incredible and scary.  The impact it had on me as the coachee told me that it is okay to embrace this person deep inside me when I need her to show up.  She is good for me.  And she is good for others in my life.  When I show up as my authentic self they can become who they are deep inside without me getting in the way.

Sometimes you just need to laugh …

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This is the glass door I ran into on my first morning in a new office.  Five minutes after I arrived.  And I had to laugh at myself!  “Way to go brainiac.  Good thing no one was watching that one.”  Then I giggled.

Messing up, making mistakes, looking stupid in front of others – these are things that often cause people to put up walls around themselves as a means of self preservation.  No one wants other people to look at them and roll their eyes.  No one wants to be “that person.”  Unfortunately, the need to self preserve hinders a team’s ability to be transparent, take risks, and share ideas openly.

As a scrum master or coach we need to be aware of the human nature that says, “protect yourself,” and help develop a culture of safety so team members can learn to trust one another and bring out the best in one another.  Part of the scrum master’s role is to help the team have the best communications possible.  Safe discussions in a team happen when everyone’s ideas are valued and respected.  Great ideas come forth when no single idea has to be the winner.  Instead of allowing people to fight for their position like there is a trophy at stake, teach them how each person can contribute to the ideas of the others and build the best solution for the problem at hand so everyone can win.

Facilitating brainstorming sessions can help a team to foster the ability to throw a bunch of thoughts together and safely come up with the best solution possible.  Help them dream a little using post it notes, index cards, or white boards since all of these are easily disposable.  No ideas are out of bounds.  If you had no constraints how could you solve this problem? Everyone throw out at least 3 ways we could solve this problem – include at least one logical, one risky, and one fun resolution.  This is your timebox – Go!  Once every serious, crazy, risky, and logical thought is on the table the team can review them all and dream and laugh together.

The premise of this method is that no one holds too tightly to any ideas.  Having them throw in multiple resolutions that include the outrageous and risky along with the logical helps them to have contributions that they know we may decide not to use.   What can be really amazing is when an idea that the contributing person thought was dumb or outrageous is just what the team needs to move forward.  Using this process teaches the team to put every option on the table.  Then, sort through those to see what pieces they can put together or add to in order to solve their problem.  The ones that don’t fit into the best solution just get set aside and the best solution wins.

Don’t underestimate the power of laughter.  An individual who can laugh at themselves can learn that they don’t have to prove that they are the smartest person in the room.  A team that can laugh together can dream together safely.    A team that dreams together relies on the collective wisdom of the whole.

Oh … by the way… this … is the second door I ran into … on the afternoon of my first day!

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We all need a little help sometimes …

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To many travelers this just looked like a moving walkway in an airport in Philly, PA.  To me, it looked like exactly what I needed!  Exhausted from being on the road and meeting a bunch of new people over the past few weeks, the thought of having this thing hold the weight of my bags and help me get across this big airport was very comforting.

After my amazing, but slow ride I started thinking…these walkways are like Scrum Masters!

Sometimes agile teams need a little bit of help.  They get stuck in the same cycle of thinking when trying to solve problems and can’t seem to move forward.  The scrum master is helps them by asking powerful questions that cause them to think in new ways.  They gently lift them up and help them move successfully from one place to another.

Sometimes the team has things blocking their path.  The scrum master jumps in and starts clearing the way for them when they don’t have the power or energy to move forward on their own.

Sometimes teams don’t know how to collaborate well and just communicating among a bunch of personalities gets to be a heavy burden.  Scrum masters remove the burden by facilitating scrum events and helping to ensure that everyone on the team has an equal voice.

I’m looking forward to the opportunity to step into a scrum master role for a while where I can have direct impact on the success of a few teams.