Posts Tagged ‘team building’

Walking in sync

Agile & Lean | Posted by Doc
Aug 29 2013

At the client facility where I’ve been doing coaching and facilitation/training, they have large, long corridors floored in tile.

The other day, as I was walking out – about the equivalent of three city blocks – I heard footsteps behind me. Click click click of hard heeled shoes. I glanced over my shoulder and saw a woman walking in the same direction I was going. No big deal.

I faced forward and continued walking.

I heard the sounds of another person coming into the main corridor from a side corridor. Now the sounds went

Clickclick click click click…click clickclick click click clickclick…

As I listened it changed to

clickclick cliclick clclick click click click click

Just in case that’s not clear (LOL), what happened was that these two women started to walk in sync. It continued for a few more seconds until it was clear that they were walking perfectly in sync with each other.

meetingI turned to look and saw that they were not together in any way, and were walking on opposite sides of the corridor.

I blurted “You synchronized!” They looked at me, looked at each other, and laughed.

Now let’s consider the larger implications of this simple experience. Two people who apparently did not know each other, organically beginning to move in sync with each other.

How does this play in teams? (You knew I was going to go here, didn’t you? 😉 )

Consider a group of people who may or may not have worked together before, who have different work styles and rhythms, who see things differently and understand things differently. Throw them together in a modest sized room, give them some guidance on how they might work together, get them started, and coach and guide them. Mightn’t they also begin to walk in sync?

Walking in sync doesn’t mean that they become identical. The two women walking down the corridor behind me were not the same height, were no doubt thinking about different things, were carrying different things in their hands, wearing different shoes, and so on, and yet they naturally fell into sync with each other. Their differences remained, and yet they began to “work” together organically.

This is what we expect to see on Agile teams: organically beginning to work in sync, to develop rhythms and patterns that belong to the team, as much as to the individuals. We see this on high performing teams consistently.

Are you fighting the rhythm or letting it flow through you?

Being a Parent-Manager

Coping and Communicating, Leadership Lessons from Robin Hood | Posted by Doc
Apr 24 2010

[This is the second story in the Leadership Lessons from Robin Hood series]

One day Robin asked “Little” John how he was so successful with the band. John had taught many of them to fight, hunt, cook, build shelters, and work together in many ways including while on missions against the Sheriff’s men.

At first, John was hard put to come up with an answer.

“I just ask them to do things, maybe I show them, maybe I do it with them, and then they seem to do them,” said John.

“But that’s not all, surely!” said Robin. “After all, there must be disagreements and confusion and such. How do you handle those?”

John thought some more. This was quite a challenge, since as is true with many of us, he didn’t always know what he did or why it worked. Frequently, it was just “doing what I do” and it seemed to work.

John said, “Well, Robin, you know that I’m married and that my darling wife and I have a bit of a brood, right?”

“Yes, of course, John. What does that have to do with anything?”

“Well,” said John, “I just realized that there are many things I’ve learned in dealing with my wife and children that have just become automatic. And so without thinking about it, I do the same things with our band, here.

“For instance, when I want to teach my oldest son to chop down trees, I don’t just tell him ‘go chop down trees’. I first show him the axe, explain how to use it, maybe I explain how to keep it sharp and shiny, and then I take him into the forest and show him how to chop down a tree.

“Chopping down a tree seems like a simple thing, but I have to teach him how to think about where he wants it to fall, and what angle to chop, and so on.

“Once I’ve shown him what to do, then I give him the axe and watch him try it. I give him lots of encouragement, point out what he’s done well, and try to steer him away from developing any bad habits.

“When we’re done, which might take more than one tree (and fortunately the forest has plenty), he knows how to chop down a tree. He also feels good about himself and what he’s done, and our relationship is stronger than ever.”

Robin pondered this for a bit. “But that’s an easy one. I see that you have a strong yet gentle hand with your son, and that you treat him as a man, not a boy, and give him the respect and encouragement that any man would want.

“And I can also see that you don’t push him too hard, but that you don’t take it too easy on him.

“I can even see how that could apply with our band here.

“Now tell me how you handle the discord and disgruntlement that we find occurring from time to time.”

Once again, John pondered. As we saw, John did a lot of these things “automatically”, and it took some pondering to bring it to the surface.

“Well, Robin, here’s how I think it goes.

“Let’s say that two of my young ones are throwing unkind words back and forth. I could just bang their heads together. Or I could just send one out to collect mushrooms while the other chops firewood.

“But if I do that, neither one of them learns how to deal with the other. They just learn to either avoid me or avoid each other. But I want my children to enjoy each other’s company, to love and respect each other, and to work well together when they have chores.

“So I talk to them. First, I find out what they’re on about. Not just what they might say about it at first, but I try to find out what it’s really about. For instance, Luke might claim that Bryan stole his favorite plaything. Bryan, of course, would likely deny that. And then they’d go back and forth, accusing and denying, denying and accusing. I can only take so much of that. And I would be sorely tempted to bang them together!

“But what I try to do is figure out why there might be bad blood between the boys. And I might find that Bryan did take Luke’s plaything, but that he did so because Luke got the better cut of meat at dinner the night before. And Bryan was feeling hurt because he thought that I was favoring Luke.

“At that point, I’d ask Luke about dinner and whether he felt like he was being favored. We’d talk about actually talking about things that bother us, rather than doing something. Bryan was punishing Luke, but it wasn’t really Luke that had upset him. It was me and Dorothy, my wife.

“Finally, we’d see if we couldn’t find a better way to deal with it if it comes up again. Knowing my boys and girls, Luke would probably offer to make sure that they both got equal portions the next time.

“This is just one example, but maybe it helps you to see how I do what I do.

“Finding not just what’s on the surface, but what’s under the surface, is usually the best choice.

“It’s like feeding your family from the lake – if you only collect what’s floating on the surface, you’ll likely go hungry. And even if you don’t go hungry, you surely won’t have very interesting meals!”

Robin went off on his own for a bit to think about what John had told him. It was a bit of a struggle initially, to understand how John-as-father lessons applied to John-as-leader. Robin understood that John used the same techniques, but was still confused as to how John could use them without offending the folk the band. How could John be fatherly to them without them feeling like they were being treated like children?

Robin did the obvious – he asked!

Once again, John was forced to ponder. He didn’t normally think much on it – just did it as well as he could.

John said, “I don’t act like their father, nor do I treat them like children. What I do is use the same techniques that I have learned as a father with the folk of our band. It’s like chopping two different kinds of tree – I don’t pretend that oak is cherry, and I may chop each somewhat differently. But I use the same basic techniques of chopping. I don’t invent a whole new kind of chopping for cherry, after chopping oak. And I don’t pretend that the cherry is oak.”

This set Robin back a bit on his heels. When John said it so simply, it seemed so obvious. And to Robin, of course, it made great sense. While it didn’t matter what kind of target he shot at with his bow – bale of hay, tree, or living – he used basically the same techniques. He might vary them slightly, but the techniques were the same. And when he thought about it that way, he realized that it was true!

And with that, Robin realized that he had been doing much the same thing, also without knowing it. He treated Little John and Alan a Dale largely the same, dealt with the issues they brought to him using the same basic ideas and techniques. But he never treated Alan as though he were John, nor John as though he were Alan.

And neither man ever complained that “you treat me as though I were him!”

Robin also realized that if he were ever blessed with wife and children, he might also be able to use what he had learned today to make a happy family!


The lessons from any part of life can, and frequently should, be applied to other parts. This doesn’t mean that you are treating your dog as though he were your child, or that slicing an avocado is the same as cutting down a tree. But the lessons may apply.


Icebreaker Game: Count-Off

Facilitation | Posted by Doc
Apr 19 2009

I don’t know if this game has another name, nor where it comes from originally.  I learned it in ThoughtWorks Immersion in Pune, India in July of 2008. If anyone knows the origin, let me know. Mostly I call it the 5/7 game, but have decided to give it a more official-sounding name. 🙂

Set-Up

Have the entire group stand in a circle (or any geometric shape in which they can all see each other). Standing is important. If you have someone who cannot stand – someone wheelchair-bound, for example – they can play as long as they have a way to turn in a circle in place.

Instructions

We’re going to count off, starting at one and going around the circle clockwise, each person saying their number aloud. Just to be clear, the first person says “one”, the second person says “two”, and so on.

When you say a number that is a multiple of five, you clap your hands.  Yes, that includes five and ten and so on.

When you say a number that is a multiple of seven, you turn around in place. No, it doesn’t matter which direction you turn in, so long as you turn around. So that includes seven and fourteen and twenty-one and so on.

When you say a number that is a multiple of both five and seven, do both things – clap and turn.

Is everyone clear?

Now, if you don’t do what you’re supposed to do – clap or turn – or you do what you’re not supposed to do, you’re “out” and you step out of the circle – you can sit down or whatever you like, as long as you don’t interfere with the game.

If we’re not sure whether someone did or didn’t do something, the group as a whole will decide.  We’ll see when we come to it.

Ready?

Notes for the Facilitator

There will be some things that will likely come up:

  • “Oh, I didn’t know I was supposed to do BOTH things!” (on 35)
  • Lots of laughter
  • When the group gets down to seven people, the seventh person will be turning around every time around the circle, and turning and clapping every fifth time around the circle
  • When the group gets down to five people, the fifth person will be clapping every time around the circle, and…
  • If someone is a little late with clapping or turning, let the group decide whether they’re out or still in
  • Having something – some little trophy or toy – to recognize the winner is fun – let them hold it either until the end of the event, or until the next game/round (I’ve done more than one in longer events, because it’s so much fun and the first round is very short for some people)

Personally, I’ve never been in a group that got higher than 80-something.  And that was getting pretty challenging. Feel free to play or not as you choose. If I play, I don’t throw the game.

With a large group (the largest I’ve done it with is about 25), it can take a while.  And it’s worth it.  The ones who get eliminated keep up the spirit, rooting for their favorites, taunting their friends, and helping to decide on the close calls.

Looking…

Agile & Lean, Coping and Communicating, Musings | Posted by Doc
Mar 21 2009

Okay, so my last post about retrospectives brought up a lot of interesting stuff, much of it from comments. In fact, it stimulated more comments than any other post I’ve done.

I thought I’d take some time to revisit the issue of looking backward, looking around, and looking forward.

I’m not going to deal directly with retrospectives, but rather look at the question of how we go forward.

One of my favorite comments comes from Scott Bellware:

…when what we’re actually doing is “interventions” but calling them “retrospectives”, it’s time to call much more into question than retrospectives colloquially allow.

So what I interpret Scott to be saying is this: look around, and as you see something that needs addressing, address it now with all of your skills. If I wait until later, then I have done myself and my team a disservice.  If my interpretation is correct, then I agree.

Earlier, another Scott – Scott Andersen (“The Other Doc”) – said:

So, can looking back ever take you forward?

My gut says that motion backwards will always end up stalling a meeting rather than keeping the flow.

I’m not sure how he got “motion backwards” from “looking back.” What I can’t figure out is how to go forwards without at least (a) knowing where I am now and (b) how to distinguish forwards from backwards. I mean, forwards just means I’m looking towards my front – I could be going in circles, or just marching off a cliff, or effectively going backward by continuing to loop around until I get back to where I was.

Without backwards, there is no forwards.

So my premise is that I have to have consciousness of where I’ve been and where I am to know how to go forward.

Patrick Kua says it quite nicely:

I think there is still value in looking backwards. Part of implementing change requires people to see a problem that needs solving. Without looking backwards, it’s hard to understand what impact the problem has, how people view it, and often, what the root causes were.

More importantly doing this as a group is sometimes an essential part to gain a shared understanding of the problem and consequences. Without this, conversations break down into four different solutions as everyone perceives the problem differently.

The only problem I have with this is the word “problem.” Going forward (whether in a retrospective or otherwise) is not always or solely about problems. If we take “going forward” to mean “evolving, getting better, getting more efficient, or otherwise changing for what we mean by ‘the better'”, and replace Patrick’s “a problem that needs solving” with “a status quo/situation that could be better,” then I agree.

It’s Patrick’s second paragraph that makes the point for me – achieving a shared understanding, a shared pool of meaning – that is essential. And where does that shared understanding come from? Common history, which comes from either looking backward together, or from looking around together over time and having achieved a common understanding of what we see.

Any discussion of looking forward or moving forward, regardless of context, cannot be complete without distinguishing then from now from future.

The Tale of Will and Tom: Leadership and Management

Leadership Lessons from Robin Hood | Posted by Doc
Mar 12 2009

As the band grew, so Robin found the need to split it up into teams. Some teams would go foraging, some would go hunting for food, some would see to the health and safety of their camp, and some would do “the work of the band” – revolution!


You may have heard of Will Scarlet – renowned throughout that company of forest green and earth brown-clad folk for the flamboyance of his attire. Bright reds and oranges and such were not the best choice for disappearing into the surrounding forest. But Will had his style, and was willing to make adjustments to his behavior in order to indulge his fancies.

Will rapidly became the leader of one of the teams in Robin’s band of insurgents. And Robin observed that Will’s team always acted with great spirit. Where Will led, his team would follow. What Will was passionate about, his team was passionate about. When Will had his rare moments of discouragement, his team was there to remind him of all the good he and they had done. And back he’d bounce!

Will’s clothing, in many ways, reflected his personality: flamboyant without being loud; full of life and energy; bright and shining and easy for those around him to follow. His team took to wearing bits of red and orange and yellow about them – never as flamboyant as their leader, but absorbing what they could and imitating him from their love and respect and admiration.


In contrast to Will was Tom. Tom came from a small village that had been destroyed by Prince John’s soldiers. Tom was born to a woodsman and his wife, and was used to spending time alone in the forest, being very self-sufficient and self-reliant. Tom’s parents were quiet folk, leading simple lives. Their home was small but always seemed neat and well cared for.

When Robin first met Tom, he thought “Here’s a fellow who will quietly go about his job, getting things done. There will be neatness and order, but no passion. I don’t imagine he’ll ever be much of a leader.”


But, of course, being a good leader Robin had early realized the importance of trusting his lieutenants and giving them the authority to make decisions. So when he found that Tom was leading one of the teams, he went to Little John to ask about it.

“My large friend,” began Robin, “I see that our friend Tom has become the leader of a team. I admit to some surprise.”

“Why so?” asked John.

“Well,” said Robin, “Tom always struck me as the quiet-follower-get-things-done type. He never really seemed to me to have the qualities of a leader of men.”

John, as was John’s wont, paused to think before responding to Robin. Up until that time, he really hadn’t thought about exactly why he had made Tom a leader. It just seemed to have happened over time.

“As I think about it,” John said to Robin, “I see that it was that quiet-get-things-done quality that caught my attention, Robin. I’d give him a task to do, and it would get done. There was never any fanfare or foofaraw, just quiet competence.

“Now I understand what you mean when you say that he didn’t seem to have what it takes to be a leader of men. But I found that when a task assigned to Tom required more than one man to accomplish, he would quietly organize a work group and get it done.”

Robin pondered this for a bit. He wondered, at that moment, about what he’d always assumed about “leadership.”

After their conversation, Robin and John both found themselves watching Tom and thinking about how he always seemed to get things done.

And Robin also noticed that while Will’s team always “went at it with a will,” the results were rarely as neat and tidy, or as workmanlike and solid, as were those of Tom’s team.

And yet if you were to have asked Robin at the outset who would be the more effective leader of the two, Robin would have named Will without a moment’s hesitation. And even now, Robin would say that Will was the more effective leader, but that Tom was better at getting things done.

Several weeks after their initial conversation, Robin and John came together for another chat. Each of them had observed some interesting things, and they wanted to share.

Robin found John sitting on his favorite tree stump, looking over the camp area. Robin pulled up a log and joined John. They sat in companionable silence for a time, watching their band going about their tasks.

“I’ve been thinking,” began Robin. “I’ve been thinking about our conversation about Tom and his team.”

“As have I,” said John.

“I’ve also been thinking about Will and his team,” continued Robin, with some thoughtfulness in his tone.

“I’ve noticed that Tom’s team never seems to get excited, always seems to get their tasks done, and with a minimum of fuss and mess. When they’re done, you’d never know they’d been working, except for the results.

“Whereas Will’s team always seems to go about their work with a great deal of energy and noise. One always knows when they’re about a task, from the very storm and commotion. Happy? ‘most always. And it’s clear that they would follow Will into the very jaws of death.

“But it seems that their tasks are never quite as well done, nor wrapped up as neat and tidy, as are those of Tom’s team. What think you, my friend?”

John, being John, pondered. Not that he hadn’t been pondering for quite some time, you understand. But John rarely spoke without pondering.

“Robin,” began John, “you are a fine leader. You have drawn to you a group of people who might never have come together for a lesser man. You have shown them your vision, have shared with them your mission, and have captivated their hearts and minds.

“As a hunter, you are without peer. As a fighter, you are feared and respected throughout the forest and the land. When it comes to giving rousing talks to lighten and charge the hearts of the band, there is none better.

“But I’ve found that when it comes to cooking supper, chopping wood, or making sure that a fighting team has enough arrows, there are others of us who are more suited to these things.”

This certainly gave Robin pause! He had never really given much thought to why his band worked as well as it did. He had just assumed that his leadership had made it happen.

But John’s observations, as always, cut simply and cleanly to the heart of the matter.

“As you say, John. And if that is so, then it seems to me that while my strengths lend themselves to drawing folk to me and to giving them of my heart and spirit and thought, yours is to get things done. I’ve found, almost from the day we first met, that you were able to ensure that folk were fed and housed and clothed and were therefore able to pursue the vision and the mission.

“And if that is so, then perhaps the same is true of Will and Tom. Will has the same fire and passion as I do, and seems to be nearly as adept at firing up the team. Tom, on the other hand, quietly goes about his tasks, getting things done.

“Do you suppose that that’s the key difference? That those of us who are seen and thought of as ‘leaders’ have the knack for reaching men’s minds, hearts, and spirits, while there are those of us who might be called ‘managers’ who ‘manage’ to get things done. The ‘managers’ are those who see to the feeding and clothing and housing of the bodies while the ‘leaders’ see to their minds and spirits.”

John pondered. He never liked to speak before he’d had a chance to think, and always liked to think before he spoke.

“I think, Robin, that you are largely right. Perhaps it’s a bit simple, but I think we’re on the right track.

“Perhaps I’d put it this way…

“Leaders are those who draw folk to follow them down the road, shouting ‘Hurrah!’ and waving their banners.

“Managers are those who make sure that the folk are fed and clothed and have a place to sleep at night.

“I think that Managers might need to be Leaders, as it’s hard to get folk to do things without at least a bit of inspiration.

“But I think that Leaders need not be Managers, as long as they have Managers with them.”

And when they parted, they agreed that they would combine Tom’s and Will’s teams. For, perhaps, Will’s Leader-ship and Tom’s Manager-ship would make for even more success from the new team.

Robin and John watched, in amazement, as that is just what happened. The team’s forays against enemies, their hunting trips, their projects to build, feed, scout, or clean all seemed to be done with more spirit than either team had showed before, and to be done with greater precision and success.

We’ve all heard that “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”
This is true with styles and personalities.

< Continued from The Tale of Little John

The Tale of Little John: Transference of Learning and Teaching

Leadership Lessons from Robin Hood | Posted by Doc
Mar 11 2009

One day Robin asked “Little” John how he was so successful with the band. John had taught many of them to fight, hunt, cook, build shelters, and work together in many ways including while on missions against the Sheriff’s men.

At first, John was hard put to come up with an answer.

“I just ask them to do things, maybe I show them, maybe I do it with them, and then they seem to do them,” said John.

“But that’s not all, surely!” said Robin. “After all, there must be disagreements and confusion and such. How do you handle those?”

John thought some more. This was quite a challenge, since as is true with many of us, he didn’t always know what he did or why it worked. Frequently, it was just “doing what I do” and it seemed to work.

John said, “Well, Robin, you know that I’m married and that my darling wife and I have a bit of a brood, right?”

“Yes, of course, John. What does that have to do with anything?”

“Well,” said John, “I just realized that there are many things I’ve learned in dealing with my wife and children that have just become automatic. And so without thinking about it, I do the same things with our band, here.

“For instance, when I want to teach my oldest son to chop down trees, I don’t just tell him ‘go chop down trees’. I first show him the axe, explain how to use it, maybe I explain how to keep it sharp and shiny, and then I take him into the forest and show him how to chop down a tree.

“Chopping down a tree seems like a simple thing, but I have to teach him how to think about where he wants it to fall, and what angle to chop, and so on.

“Once I’ve shown him what to do, then I give him the axe and watch him try it. I give him lots of encouragement, point out what he’s done well, and try to steer him away from developing any bad habits.

“When we’re done, which might take more than one tree (and fortunately the forest has plenty), he knows how to chop down a tree. He also feels good about himself and what he’s done, and our relationship is stronger than ever.”

Robin pondered this for a bit. “But that’s an easy one. I see that you have a strong yet gentle hand with your son, and that you treat him as a man, not a boy, and give him the respect and encouragement that any man would want.

“And I can also see that you don’t push him too hard, but that you don’t take it too easy on him.

“I can even see how that could apply with our band here.

“Now tell me how you handle the discord and disgruntlement that we find occurring from time to time.”

Once again, John pondered. As we saw, John did a lot of these things “automatically”, and it took some pondering to bring it to the surface.

“Well, Robin, here’s how I think it goes.

“Let’s say that two of my young ones are throwing unkind words back and forth. I could just bang their heads together. Or I could just send one out to collect mushrooms while the other chops firewood.

“But if I do that, neither one of them learns how to deal with the other. They just learn to either avoid me or avoid each other. But I want my children to enjoy each other’s company, to love and respect each other, and to work well together when they have chores.

“So I talk to them. First, I find out what they’re on about. Not just what they might say about it at first, but I try to find out what it’s really about. For instance, Luke might claim that Bryan stole his favorite plaything. Bryan, of course, would likely deny that. And then they’d go back and forth, accusing and denying, denying and accusing. I can only take so much of that. And I would be sorely tempted to bang them together!

“But what I try to do is figure out why there might be bad blood between the boys. And I might find that Bryan did take Luke’s plaything, but that he did so because Luke got the better cut of meat at dinner the night before. And Bryan was feeling hurt because he thought that I was favoring Luke.

“At that point, I’d ask Luke about dinner and whether he felt like he was being favored. We’d talk about actually talking about things that bother us, rather than doing something. Bryan was punishing Luke, but it wasn’t really Luke that had upset him. It was me and Dorothy, my wife.

“Finally, we’d see if we couldn’t find a better way to deal with it if it comes up again. Knowing my boys and girls, Luke would probably offer to make sure that they both got equal portions the next time.

“This is just one example, but maybe it helps you to see how I do what I do.

“Finding not just what’s on the surface, but what’s under the surface, is usually the best choice.

“It’s like feeding your family from the lake – if you only collect what’s floating on the surface, you’ll likely go hungry. And even if you don’t go hungry, you surely won’t have very interesting meals!”

Robin went off on his own for a bit to think about what John had told him. It was a bit of a struggle initially, to understand how John-as-father lessons applied to John-as-leader. Robin understood that John used the same techniques, but was still confused as to how John could use them without offending the folk of the band. How could John be fatherly to them without them feeling like they were being treated like children?

Robin did the obvious – he asked!

Once again, John was forced to ponder. He didn’t normally think much on it – just did it as well as he could.

John said, “I don’t act like their father, nor do I treat them like children. What I do is use the same techniques that I have learned as a father with the folk of our band. It’s like chopping two different kinds of tree – I don’t pretend that oak is cherry, and I may chop each somewhat differently. But I use the same basic techniques of chopping. I don’t invent a whole new kind of chopping for cherry, after chopping oak. And I don’t pretend that the cherry is oak.”

This set Robin back a bit on his heels. When John said it so simply, it seemed so obvious. And to Robin, of course, it made great sense. While it didn’t matter what kind of target he shot at with his bow – bale of hay, tree, or living – he used basically the same techniques. He might vary them slightly, but the techniques were the same. And when he thought about it that way, he realized that it was true!

And with that, Robin realized that he had been doing much the same thing, also without knowing it. He treated Little John and Alan a Dale largely the same, dealt with the issues they brought to him using the same basic ideas and techniques. But he never treated Alan as though he were John, nor John as though he were Alan.

And neither man ever complained that “you treat me as though I were him!”

Robin also realized that if he were ever blessed with wife and children, he might also be able to use what he had learned today to make a happy family!

The lessons from any part of life can, and frequently should, be applied to other parts. This doesn’t mean that you are treating your dog as though he were your child, or that slicing an avocado is the same as cutting down a tree. But the lessons may apply.

< Continued from “Building a Band of Merry Men”

Continues with The Tale of Will and Tom

Building a Band of Merry Men

Leadership Lessons from Robin Hood | Posted by Doc
Mar 10 2009
[This is the first in a series of stories I wrote about leadership, using the context of Robin Hood to tell them. While these stories are available on my “main” website, I know that many of my readers are only reading my blog. So I’m reproducing them here.]

We all know the stories of “Robin Hood and His Band of Merry Men.” What we tend to forget is that they weren’t really all that merry when it all started.

Picture the time and place – 12th Century England, when the Saxons – the English – were under the rule of the Normans – the French-speaking descendants of the Vikings. People were largely dirty, hungry, and ill-clothed. When it was cold, they were probably cold. When it was rainy, they probably got wet.

Merry? I don’t think so!

And this is where Robin Hood comes in. His band was no doubt made up of a group of men who couldn’t quite fit in elsewhere, or were outlaws or outcasts or just too poor to live anywhere but in the forest.

Robin was a revolutionary and a patriot. He believed in his king and his country, and wanted to set things right. And he set out to do it with the ill-washed, ill-fed, unhappy, cold and wet denizens of the forest. There’s a challenge for you!

I imagine the situation something like this…


Robin is strolling through the forest, one dreary day. He comes upon a strangely cheerful fellow sitting and playing on his lute. “Good day to you, sirrah!” says Robin. He’s got plans, after all, and is generally friendly to folks in his forest.

“And a fine, if somewhat dreary, day to you as well,” responds the fellow.

“What brings you out into the forest, friend?” asks Robin.

“Let me tell you my story,” says the fellow. “I’ve been happily working as a performing minstrel in yon town for some time now. But with our noble King Richard abroad, things have been changing steadily for the worse.

“Recently, I had sought to gather a small performing troupe, as I’ve found from time to time that I can get groups of folks to work together. Alas, the minions of Prince John and his lackey the Sheriff told me that I must pay a ‘license fee’ in order to gather such a group and perform.

“Upon due thought, I decided that a life in the forest, playing for the wild animals and the random passers-by, was preferable to staying any longer in the town.”

Robin, having been exposed to his fair share of human nature, is a bit skeptical about the real reasons for the fellow’s departure. But having no reason to argue, he lets it lie. Robin asks “And may I know your name, friend?”

To which the fellow responds “Alan a Dale, Bard and Minstrel! And you, sirrah?”

Robin hesitates briefly, as he is already making quite a name for himself in the forest. But he decides to take the risk and shares his name.

“Art truly the Robin Hood?” asks Alan a Dale.

“Indeed, I am he,” responds Robin.


As unimportant as this conversation might seem, it was a critical time for Robin, and meeting Alan a Dale was destined to be a pivotal event for Robin. After all, Robin was in many ways a visionary, and while he had a picture in his head of what he wanted to do to set things in England to rights, that’s very different from having a plan and making that plan into reality.

As they got to know each other, Robin discovered that in spite of seeming to be flighty and uncaring, Alan a Dale was really quite the pragmatic. When it came to finding wood for a fire, Alan seemed to know where to look. When it came to knowing how to prepare food, Alan seemed to have those skills as well. But most important, Alan had the knack and the skill of moving and organizing people.

Although Robin was no slouch in these matters, he knew very early on that he would need skilled lieutenants if he was to succeed. And so Alan a Dale quickly became Robin’s lieutenant.

Now while skills at organizing people weren’t all that important when Robin and Alan first met, they soon began recruiting other unfortunates they found in the forest. Having been forced out of their homes and driven to largely unhappy, solitary lives, these men and women were not really anyone’s definition of the perfect choice for building a tight-knit band of revolutionaries.

  • Some of them were highly independent, but not all.
  • Some of them were highly intelligent, but not all.
  • Some of them had special skills, but not all.
  • Some of them had experience working well with others, but not all.
  • Some of them had experience leading others, but not many.
  • And when they first met, none of them had Robin’s vision of the future.

Robin was lucky – he had an able lieutenant to help him.

They began by explaining the mission – helping to unite an English (Saxon) England in preparation for the return of Richard the Lionhearted; promoting peace as much as possible, but using violence where necessary; helping the poor and disenfranchised to survive.

And they shared the vision – a united, peaceful England where people could live and work without fear of death or starvation.

Alan, as Robin’s first lieutenant, and being a minstrel, set about creating some songs and rhymes that told of Robin’s vision and his mission. And he spent his time teaching those songs and rhymes to their growing band. Many times, the members of the band would wander through towns near and far singing, whistling, and rhyming, spreading the message as far as they could.

But Alan was just one man, and he was largely a man of peace. Robin needed at least one more lieutenant who could also teach members of his band to fight and make weapons and heal each other and so on.

And just when this need was becoming a worry for Robin, he met “Little John”. We all know, of course, that John was a towering bear of a man, both fierce and gentle. John was also a master of the quarterstaff, and no slouch with a bow. Of course, John was nowhere near Robin’s skill with the bow, but who was? And most of the members of their growing band had no experience at all.

In fact, while Robin’s skill with a bow was legendary, it was his role as visionary and leader that was most important to the cause, not his ability to shoot his bow. After all, it’s far easier to teach someone physical skills with a bow than to teach someone how to develop and share a vision or how to be a leader of people.

And as time went on and as the band grew, Robin saw a change. Alan a Dale had not only made songs and rhymes to spread around the country, but he had also made songs and rhymes just for the band. And as Robin watched, over the weeks and months that the band grew, he saw that these beaten, desperate, hopeless, cold, wet, and hungry people began to have a positive outlook.

Robin was thrilled, of course. He figured that happy fighters would be more effective fighters. And fighters who believed in the cause would be even more effective. But he was still a bit surprised at the change.

In Robin’s mind, here’s all he’d done:

  • Walk through the forest, recruiting people who looked like they could either use the help his band could offer or who could contribute to the cause;
  • Explain his vision and his mission, mostly to his lieutenants;
  • Lead groups of band members on various missions and projects, sometimes to battle, sometimes for things as simple as gathering food; and
  • Spend time with the members of his band, when they had a few minutes to relax.

Robin had done nothing special, in his own mind. He’d really counted on Alan a Dale and Little John to do most of the organizing and such. He stayed focused on the big picture – England!

So how did this group of lost souls start becoming a band of merry men?

What was it about Robin, Alan, and John that changed them and their outlook?

Robin had the vision and defined the mission. And Robin was out there, leading and participating in the activities of the band.

Alan spread the vision and the mission to the band and to the world at large. And Alan was with them, singing and rhyming and fighting and hunting – doing whatever needed to be done.

And John taught them how to do what they needed to do to accomplish their mission. And then he did it with them.

Of course, it’s never quite that simple. Roles are not that clear cut and results rarely that obvious.

But somehow, in the middle of dark times and miserable circumstances, Robin and Alan and John formed the Merry Men!

Leadership is not a solitary exercise, but rather requires the collaboration of those being led.

Continued with \”The Tale of Little John\” >

Endings and Beginnings

Coping and Communicating, Musings | Posted by Doc
Feb 11 2008

From Teamwork Is An Individual Skill by Christopher Avery:

I won’t pretend we can do much to avoid endings. They are as inevitable as beginnings. But I have observed that we can improve the quality of endings by avoiding three things:

  1. Burning bridges
  2. Harming reputations
  3. Being inhumane to oneself and others

Reading this took me back to the first time I was an owner of a company. I had a partner, Duane Roberts, who is 12 years older than me. Our company was what would be called an outsource software developer these days, based in Silicon Valley. We had one customer who was becoming very troublesome and obnoxious.

I wanted to just cut them off and tell them what I thought of them.

Duane said “don’t burn your bridges – you never know when it’ll come back to bite you.”

Wise man, Duane.

It’s so easy to leave the intimacy of a team, relationship, environment and figure you’re just done. “Ah, hell, I’m gone – I don’t have to worry about being nice anymore!”

Not so. You never know when someone you used to work with will be in a position to make a difference in your life or career.

The golden rule: treat others as you would like to be treated (my phrasing).

The platinum rule: treat others as they would like to be treated (also my phrasing).

I don’t know of any rules that say “treat others like crap.”

What’s in it for them?

Agile & Lean, Coping and Communicating, Musings | Posted by Doc
Feb 04 2008

Originally posted on another blog on February 4, 2008


As I’m reading (and sometimes re-reading) Christopher Avery‘s wonderful book Teamwork Is An Individual Skill, my thinking gets stimulated. I really like Avery’s perspective on things that relate to teamwork, team building, and our personal responsibility.

Here’s a great excerpt:

Examine the logic contained in the following five statements:

  1. Everyone alive has hopes, dreams, and wants for themselves.
  2. People who have no hopes, dreams, or wants are dead.
  3. When people get out of bed and go to work, they have linked what they are going to do that day to their hopes, dreams, and wants in a way that makes sense to them. Or they wouldn’t get up, would they?
  4. Therefore, all of us have our own excellent reasons for investing in work projects–even if we have learned to deny or hide those reasons, sometimes even from ourselves.
  5. The best way for me to serve fellow workers is to help them uncover and focus on their own motivations–even if they attempt to convince me they have none.

If you agree with this logic, you can stop trying to dictate other people’s motivation today. The next time you need to motivate someone, try asking, “What’s in it for you to work on this project with this team?” and keep the other person in conversation until he comes up with the personal benefits that motivate him.

Isn’t that simple and lovely, yet exceptional. Ask the other person for their motivations. How well that ties into the concepts of teamwork.

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