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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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.

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!!!

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!