Posts Tagged ‘team’

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?

I&I over P&T

Agile & Lean, Coping and Communicating | Posted by Doc
Aug 16 2010

One of the value statements from A Manifesto for Agile Software Development is:

Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools

For those who are not familiar with the Manifesto, what it says about the value statements is: “…while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.”

So this bit says “while there is value in Processes and Tools, we value Individuals and Interactions more.”

I always enjoy this one, when presenting or sharing it. First, because I work for ThoughtWorks, where we are experts on processes and tools. 😉 Beyond that, though, is the relevance and power in this value statement.

Why do we have processes and tools? I’d argue it’s in service of having to think about those things – the mechanisms and details – less, so that we are free to be creative, productive, and do things other than thinking about the processes and tools.

It’s like my “shower principle”: I wash myself the same way every day. The process is the same every day. As a result, I don’t have to think about the process, and am free to think about other things.

So from this perspective, processes and tools are enablers. They should free us to do the things only we can do, and save us from spending a lot of time thinking about the processes or tools. Developers will frequently tell you that they have strong attachments to their tools-of-choice. Why? Because they know how to use them and don’t have to think about the tools. As a result, they spend most of the time thinking about their code – how to make it better, how to make it satisfy its goals, how to be more creative,…

One of the many things I like about “Agile” and the Agile Manifesto is that they apply to far more than software development. That’s part of what I liked about my exchange with my brother the other day (see “Family Self-organization“). As a brief follow-up, when my brother said to his daughters “I’m offering my iPhone to one of you and $XXX to the other. You decide which is which.”, the girls decided within minutes.

I like this statement from Simon Baker: “Put the right people in the right environment and trust them to get things done.”

Yes, Simon, yes!

Push-Me, Pull-You

Coping and Communicating, Facilitation | Posted by Doc
Aug 10 2010

Do you remember the special animal in the movie “Doctor Dolittle“? The pushmi-pullyu?

The challenge these animals faced was this:

“They had no tail, but a head at each end, and sharp horns on each head.” and “…no matter which way you came towards him, he was always facing you.”

I always thought that an animal like this would die out, because if the heads were equal, it would never be able to go anywhere.

We all know about “too many chiefs and not enough Indians”, which has a similar problem.

So how do you handle a situation where there’s either too much push or too much pull?

In t’ai chi ch’uan (commonly referred to as just tai chi), one of the techniques has to do with pushing. Pushing takes on many different aspects, from forceful lifting/pushing, to a gentler slower movement. As I think about how we work with teams and organisations, it occurs to me that all too often we’re either pushing too hard and too directly, or not enough.

Consider, first, what happens when you try to push someone. What do they do? They brace themselves, at a minimum. Sometimes, they prepare to push back, and then they do push back.

How about if you come up on them gradually? Let’s say you’re standing next to someone, and you slowly shift your weight so that you’re leaning on them – pushing – more and more, little by little? How do they react? Most typically, they will notice when you cross some threshold that is very specific to them. Many times, it will be when some “significant” amount of pressure reaches their awareness. If you were walking down the street, then they’d realize at some point that you had steered them by either physically leaning on them or by entering their “personal space”.

If we are working with a group, team, or organisation, in helping them to adopt new principles, practices, and/or methodologies, some of us – myself most definitely included – have a tendency to push. To be emphatic, zealous, excited, energetic, passionate, insistent,…

We must be aware and wary of creating resistance through our pushing. We must consider whether it’s more effective to lean on them rather than to push them.

Video of a webinar I did – Group Wisdom, Group Genius, and Leading Agile Teams

Agile & Lean | Posted by Doc
May 06 2010

Group Wisdom, Group Genius, and Leading Agile Teams from Steven ‘Doc’ List on Vimeo.

Identify, Isolate, and Remove

Facilitation | Posted by Doc
May 01 2010

This week is a two-event week for me. First was the Agile Boston Open 2010 in Waltham, Massachusetts. The second is Alt.Net Houston 2010 in Houston, Texas.

While in Boston, I got to spend a good chunk of time with Dan Mezick (InfoQ writer, founder of Agile Boston, founder of New Technology Solutions). Dan was the organizer and driving force behind Agile Boston Open 2010, which had about 250 participants. The event was a hybrid: programmed sessions in the morning, which included Ken Schwaber, Amr Elssamadisy, and Michael de la Maza; true Open Space in the afternoon, including an opening, agenda creation, and closing.

In the evening after the Open Space, Agile Boston held their regular monthly meeting, and I was privileged to follow Jean Tabaka on the program. Jean presented Twelve Agile Adoption Failure Modes. I presented Facilitation Patterns & Antipatterns. The synergy between our presentations, and between us, was exceptional. It was GREAT fun!

The following day, Dan and I did some walking and sightseeing in Waltham and Boston. During that time, we talked a lot about topics that interest both of us, much of it around group relations, group dynamics, facilitation, and working with Agile teams.

At one point, our conversation focused on how to deal with disruptive individuals in groups. My focus was on meetings and events, while Dan’s was on working teams, during this conversation. As we were discussing this, Dan casually said “Identify, isolate, and remove.” That really caught my attention, because it’s such a clear, simple formula.

The challenges with that formula are twofold, for me:

  1. It may apply to a working team. In fact, I’d say that there are circumstances where it clearly does. I feel that it does not apply to meetings and events. Isolating someone and removing someone from a meeting is countereffective, as it will engender the wrong feelings in the target, and negatively affect the group.
  2. It’s so simple that I fear it could become a mantra, and misapplied because it’s so easy to remember and apply.

I’m not disagreeing with Dan, or arguing that I don’t like the formula. I find it compelling, if only for its simplicity. I’m just being cautious that it doesn’t get misused in the wrong circumstances.

That said, I give Dan full credit for spontaneously articulating something that is so effective as a model.

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.


Insights you can use

Coping and Communicating, Musings | Posted by Doc
Apr 10 2009

Three Myths about Teams

Myth #1: All a team needs to get them working well together is a clear goal and sufficient pressure to perform. I’ve never seen a team without a clear and compelling goal gel; but I’ve seen plenty of teams who did have a clear goal flail and fail. Until a group of people decides to work as a team and decides to agree, they won’t function well as a team.

Myth #2: A manager can discern individual contributions to team results. While a manager can tell certain things about the way a team is functioning, in most cases, it’s impossible to tease out individual contribution. And when managers try to assess who has made the biggest contributions, they are often wrong. Taking action on an incorrect assessment can have devastating effects on the team, and makes the manager look foolish.

Myth #3: If the team isn’t struggling or working long hours they aren’t working hard. Teams that are working well together make the work look easy. They work at a purposeful, yet relaxed pace. They even look like they are having fun.

via insights you can use.

Esther Derby frequently has valuable insights that I can use. 😉

I would call these “The Three Start-Up Myths About Teams,” having worked at numerous startups over the years. These have certainly been among the guiding principles that most of those startups lived by.

A recent job put the lie to this being about startups for me, though. The CEO seems to have these three myths as his mantra. He would make comments about the people who left “early” (although they might have been there for ten hours), who didn’t have the right spirit (even though they were working from home into the wee hours), and who weren’t contributing enough (even though he didn’t have a clue, couldn’t read code, and didn’t really understand what we were doing). He was proud of his MBA and his alma mater, and claimed success in startups.

Of course, this company was not a startup, did not have a clear vision of what it was trying to do, did not have any market research to support its product plan, and whose owner has no idea of what it means to be a leader.

These myths are not about teams, of course. They’re about managers, ineffective false leaders, and their failing attempts to get groups of people to work together as though they were a team, while actually creating dysfunction.

I think that Esther has done us all a valuable service, in identifying these three myths.

Look for them carved into the lintel over the door – if you see them, run!

Inside or Outside?

Coping and Communicating, Musings | Posted by Doc
Mar 29 2009

I found Liz Strauss’s blog today, and particularly this post (there’s lots more – this is just the basics):

Two weeks ago, I wrote about finding your voice when the tribe has spoken. Losing a job is a sure a way to feel we’ve lost our tribe, but it’s not the only one. A relocation, a divorce, a huge setback of some sort, or some way of thinking can make us feel apart.

Lots of folks have lots of reason for feeling we’re on the outside.

It’s almost overwhelming. The world can seem to be one huge tribe and we can seem to be the only one who’s not a part. Of course, that’s flawed thinking. Ever met a group of people who could agree on anything huge for very long? The whole world is too big to hold a meeting about who belongs.

via How to Find Your Tribe in One Word – Liz Strauss at Successful Blog – Thinking, writing, business ideas … You’re only a stranger once..

It got me to thinking, once again, about where we live and how we relate to others.

As I’ve said before, we live in our own heads. Everything we think we know about the world around us is really inside us.

And yet, somehow, we form bonds and join tribes. Multiple tribes. For instance, I belong to the husbands tribe and the fathers tribe and the photographers tribe and the specialized tribe of fathers with multiple children. I belong to a technical professionals tribe and a facilitators tribe.

Isn’t it odd that that belongingness is really all in my head?

Admittedly, it’s reinforced by the behavior of the other members of my tribes. They treat me as a fellow tribe member. At least I interpret their behavior that way.

What happens when I no longer feel like a member of a particular tribe? What happens to me when I lose that sense of belonging?

I feel isolated, maybe lost, scared, and I wonder whether I’ll ever belong to a tribe again.

That leads me to think about how important it is for me to treat other members of my tribe.

Like an agile team is a tribe. Like my family is a tribe.

It’s that Golden Rule again.

A model for understanding retrospective impact (from Patrick Kua)

Agile & Lean, Facilitation, Musings | Posted by Doc
Mar 25 2009

Steven List asks the question, Are Retrospectives an Anti-pattern? Of course, retrospectives are a topic close to my heart so I naturally wanted to share my view of them. The conversation apparently started on the Kanban Development mailing list and Steven’s post already captures some great discussion. I won’t repeat it here, but I find the dialogue echoing the same sentiments about other agile practices and whether or not they’re useful. For me, it’s too extremist and not particularly helpful. They make it sound like you need to choose from two positions: Either you run retrospectives, or you don’t.

I think the more interesting question is, “When are retrospectives most useful?” To help explain my thoughts, I’ve put together the following: A Model for understanding Retrospective Impact (click on it for a slightly bigger view).

via thekua.com@work » A model for understanding retrospective impact.

This is very connected to my earlier post, and well worth reading and commenting on.  Patrick has done some excellent work (hence his inclusion in my blogroll) on retrospectives, team building, training, and agile methodology. Go, read his whole post, and join the discussion of his model.

I don’t like you

Coping and Communicating, Musings | Posted by Doc
Mar 25 2009

The nature of the world, and specifically the world of work, being what it is, sometimes you have to be with someone you don’t like. Right now, I’m thinking about the challenges of working with someone you don’t like.

“Don’t like” may be as simple as mild distaste or as extreme as despising. It may manifest as a mild discomfort or as actual physical symptoms like trembling or what feels like uncontrollable anger.

So how should I go about handling that? For me, it doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.

What I’m wondering is how you handle it, or suggest handling it.

Hopefully, I’ll get enough comments/responses to make this interesting, and to continue it into another post where I can summarize and think some more.

So how do you handle it?  How do you handle the circumstances where you’re part of a team, and you just don’t like/don’t like to work with one of the other members of the team?

Is it different for an agile team than it is for some other kind of team?

Do you take action? Do you take it to someone else?

Okay – that’s it – no more hints or suggestions from me.  Please share your thoughts.

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