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Can anything be learned about the practice of an art, except by practicing it?
Erich Fromm

If you see agility as an “art” then you might have some reasons to read what follows! Practicing an art it’s not that simple! And practicing and demonstrating agility is not simple either! To my experience there are no prescribed steps that if followed will help, you, your teams and your organization to get the benefits of being agile.

For sure there are many guidelines, there are many frameworks trying to give solutions in different problems, there are many courses and certifications and hundreds of books that could help someone to get some knowledge but these are not enough. Each one of us is different and each context has it’s own specific needs. What worked in one context it’s hard to meet the needs of another one.

To get the benefits of being agile there is one and only way. You need to practice agility in your own context! And as in every art, practicing agility has certain requirements or preconditions that could be considered prior starting with. These requirements and preconditions might be helpful for all of you that you are not expecting the “10 steps to master agility” and you are willing to follow the hard way, the way that will require effort to practice, to experiment and to commit in continuous learning and improvement

Agility requires discipline. If you are willing to demonstrate and get the benefits of agility in your specific work context you need to practice the various agile practices in a disciplined way. You will not master agility if you are not following the rules when you start experimenting with the various practices. You might feel that this is not very agile but learning new stuff requires a certain degree of discipline. There are so many practices you can start experimenting and as an advice you can try those first that might help you get some quick wins. Those practices that might resolve your first observed bottlenecks in your system.

Keep in mind that if you practice them when you are in the “right” mood, when you have time, when there is no crisis it might be fun but you will never master the art of agility. You need to insist applying the various practices even in hard times even if when it’s hard to see the anticipated benefits.

Experiment with various practices in a disciplined way for as long as it is needed to create new wires on your brain and new habits! Feeling comfortable with the practices will give you the space to reflect on the outcome and think of improvements and adaptations closely to your specific context and needs.

Agility requires focus. As with every art, while practicing agility you need to be focused and concentrated on what you are doing and why you are doing. It’s really important to observe while you are experimenting with the various practices, reflect on the outcome and try always to learn either from positive or negative ones.

To keep your focus try not to start many things in parallel. Focus on a few vital practices as said that might help you get some quick wins and resolve your first bottlenecks, instead of starting a wide and complex program aiming to resolve all of your problems. Thing big, but focus on those small steps and on a few initiatives otherwise you will end up starting so many things and evaluating just a few or even get lost while trying to manage complex systems like humans, teams and organizations.

Agility requires patience. If you have ever tried to master an art you might already know that you need time and patience.  And agility requires your patience. It’s about creating new habits and change your mindset on the way you have learned in getting things done. The agile manifesto requires this shift on your mindset and the practices related to this new mindset requires effort and patience. Changing people’s mindset and expecting them to learn and create new habits,  requires time.

It’s a common belief that we are wasting our time if we are not seeing quickly some benefits of the new things that we are trying or learn. We are impatient! And for that reason many agile initiatives are abandoned when the first dysfunctions are observed or when the benefits are taking longer than expected. So patience is crucial to master agility and get at the end the benefits of it.

Agility requires a great concern. If you are not seeing agility as something really important for yourself, your  teams and your organization you might become good but you will never master it! Agility requires passion, continuous learning and improvement,  learning from either success or failures, resilience, commitment, empathy  and strong interest from all those that are involved and affected!

Discipline, focus, patience and great concern could be seen as the requirements to master agility and the get the benefits of it. You need to keep these preconditions in your mind prior starting practicing agility. It’s not a few steps that need to be followed to reach a destination, it’s a journey that you are devoted to it. You need  continuous practice to keep your self, teams and organization “fit” and ready to adapt to emerged needs!

Mastering the art of agility it’s a journey worth to take it!

.nikos

inspiring reading

zen in the art of archery

the art of loving

39-34

“Be Proactive” is the first habit of highly effective people as Steven Covey described in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. Being proactive is about taking responsibility of your actions, of your behaviours and focus your energy and time on things that you can control!

responsibility

One characteristic of proactive people is that they feel responsible for what they are doing and take responsibility of their own lives. They do not blame circumstances, conditions or other people. They act from a responsibility state and take ownership of their actions, outcomes, opportunities and problems. Being proactive it means taking control and making things happen rather than just adjusting to a situation or waiting for something to happen.

Christopher Avery has made a great work on that subject. According to his research he found that people lack of problem-ownership, rather than of problem-solving ability. People will own many of the pimg_resp_processroblems related to their role but they will not take responsibility for things that are wrong in their surrounding ecosystem (teams, organizations e.t.c). And this had to do with our mental process to protect our ego from painful situations of owning things that are going wrong.

According to this model there are different “irresponsible” stages until someone reach the responsibility. We might thing that in many cases we are not experiencing all these different position while trying to deal with a specific problem but according to Dr. Avery maybe this has to do again with our minds that continuously trying to protect us owning it. Despite the fact that we experience or not all of these stages it is important that 1) we have the intention to operate as much as possible from a responsibility position, 2) being aware of the different positions we might fall while dealing with a problem, 3) learn from our irresponsible thoughts and get improved.

I will not describe the different positions but i do recommend to spend some time and learn more about this excellent model. When it first happened to learn about this mental process i was really curious to apply it for myself. Having the intention to operate as much possible from a responsibility position and practicing as much as possible this mental process i could say that it has become one of my habits. I’ve seen many positive changes in my personal and working life just trying to be more responsible and avoiding all these positions that are causing stress and pointless conflicts. This doesn’t mean that i am always acting from a responsibility state,  but i am able to observe in which irresponsible stage i’ve been stuck and why! And this is a great self awareness learning! 

I’ve tried this model with a few teams that i am coaching and it was really nice to see that whenever we had issues to overcome we were reflecting on the model. This helped us to move forward without staying in positions that were just causing more frustration and stress. Worth to mention that it is important first to teach and experiment that model with your team and discuss about the importance of shared responsibility in teamwork. When you all have a common understanding of this mental process use it whenever there are issues that the team should deal with! Coach your team to operate from a responsibility position, and support them observe in which irresponsible stage they have been stuck in. Use it in a team retrospective to reflect on the impacts operating from an irresponsible position and which were the benefits acting from a responsible one! Post the responsibility process poster in team’s area for quick reflections!

circle of influence & circle of concern

Another characteristic of proactive people is that they focus their energy on things they can control. As described in the seven habits of highly effective people, the problems, challenges and opportunities we face fall into two areas. The first is called circle of concern (outer circle) and the second one circle of influence (inner circle).

mthem3Proactive people put their energy in the circle of influence. They work on the things they can do something about. Reactive people on the other hand focus their efforts in the circle of concern, on things they have little or no control. Being aware of the areas we put our energy and effort is an important  step in becoming proactive! To understand a little bit more that concept it is suggested to imagine a circle with all the things that we care about. This is our circle of concern. Then we should imagine inside that circle all the things that we can do something about, we can affect or control. Our goal should be to expand our circle of influence and shrink our circle of concern, in other words to stop worrying about things we have no control and start working on things we can influence and change!

Experimenting with that concept and inspired by John Ryan’s  post on kaizen map, i have used a similar approach to help teams and individuals visualising their impediments. My main goal was to help them focus on things they can actually control and put their energy there instead of dealing with issues or impediments that they have no or indirect control and were causing a lot of stress and negative feelings.

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For the visualisation you can use a cartesian coordinate system. In the vertical axis you put all the issues and impediments based on the priority or importance (irrespective if we can control or not). The next step is to start moving the ranked issues to the left or the right part of the horizontal axis. On the left part you move those issues that you have direct control and you can do something about and on the right part the issues that you need help of you have no control. For these items you need proactively and responsible, to think of people and networks within your organisation and your surrounding environment, that could resolve them or could provide the necessary support in order to help you gain direct control.

Whenever i am observing situations where teams and individuals are stressed due to the number of issues they need to handle, i am always discussing with them about the concept of circle of influence and concern. The next step is to use that visualisation tool to make clear the things that they need to put their effort, based on the level of control and importance! The feedback i’ve received in all the cases i’ve used it was very positive and i am really suggesting to try sth similar!

Concluding the key for a behaviour to become a habit is practice! Becoming proactive requires that you are response-able and that you put your effort and energy on things you can control! At least there are a couple of things to try for these two behaviours!

Are you still worrying about the storm that is coming?

.nikos

must reading/inspiring videos

the seven habits of highly effective people, Stephen R. Covey

the mindset of an agile leader, Christopher Avery

the responsibility process, Christopher Avery

hptc

Research has shown that highly performing teams are better at solving problems, they have an improved quality of decision making and they are more committed to tasks. Team members are more satisfied and motivated, they support creativity and innovation and they operate in an environment of trust. While these are a few benefits of highly performing teams, ineffective teams cannot achieve business goals and performance objectives.

Under that context, developing high performing teams should be a common goal for any organization. More specific for organizations that are moving to an “agile”environment, where emphasis is given on individuals, interactions and teamwork, teams at any level that high perform should be seen as an important pillar in getting the benefits of any agile transformation.

But how to coach a team to high performance? Why just only one in five teams is high performing? What is missing and many “agile” teams, despite the agile practices and methods being used are not able to high perform?

There is no doubt that high performing is the destination where teamwork is important and It is good to know your destination! But it is also important to know how to reach it, whether you are moving to the right direction and  when you have reached your destination! Maybe this is common sense but in reality many of these steps are skipped or they stay unattended during a team’s cycle. As a consequence team coaching is not achieving the expected results or as research has shown is some cases it might do more harm than good!

High Performance Team Coaching (HPTC) system

In 2013 Dr. Jacqueline Peters and Dr. Catherine Carr published an excellent book on High Performance team coaching, where a comprehensive, modularized and an evidenced-based system, tested for more that 10 years is presented and could serve any coach to support and enable teams to high perform.

In HPTC system, a high performance team is one that meets or exceeds the goals set by the organization and/or those it has set for itself

Experimenting with that system, i thought it would be useful to share first a few more details around the way this system is organised, based on Dr. Peters and Dr. Carr article in ICF Coaching World magazine and their book,  prior sharing my own insights and reflections!

safety

In the core of this system is psychological safety! An environment where people feel safe enough to challenge, fail, learn and succeed together is really important since without this sense of “safety” it is difficult for any group of people to become a real and effective team. As a coach demonstrating, openness, transparency, certainty, asking for permission, making clarification e.t.c are behaviours that could create the basis of a “safety first” environment and could trigger team members to behave accordingly. Trust could be seen as the outcome of “safety first” environment as defined by Dr. Peters

Trust develops over time and is an outcome of having ongoing experiences of feeling safe with others. Safety is easier to control than trust. Safety can be breached or bridged in the moment to moment interactions we have with others.

team cycle

In the peripheral of the HPTC system are the different phases of team’s cycle. While the most popular team stages are the forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning as defined by the wok of Bruce Tuckman, in the HPTC system three main stages of team cycle are considered. These are team beginning, team midpoint and team ending as suggested by the work of Connie Gersick and have been found as the main stages in which a team could trigger significance changes.

team beginning – define & initiate

In “define and initiate” phase (new team, new team’s business cycle, new team’s project e.t.c) the main steps of team coaching includes, team assessment, coaching for team design and team launch. The HPTCH system put a lot of focus on this phase since based on the work of Richard Hackman, 60% of team effectiveness derives form the beginning of a new team cycle, 30% of team effectiveness is affected by the quality of team launch and only 10% of team effectiveness is impacted from ongoing coaching! The assessment phase (through a team effectiveness survey and even personal interviews) will collect data needed to determine if the team meets the six conditions that are important for team and coaching success, as suggested by the the work of Ruth Wageman.

a real team with clear membership and boundaries

a compelling purpose, direction that guides the team’s work

the right people that add value to the team and have the skills and knowledge to achieve team’s purpose

a solid team structure with clear roles, responsibilities, norms and agreements

a supportive organizational context that provides the needed information, time and resources to do their work

competent team coaching to help the team grow individually and as a unit (internal or external to the team)

The data collected will be used by the coach and the team to identify team’s strengths, weakness and gaps between their current and their wanted position. In the step of team design and structure is important to ensure that the six conditions are understood by the team and based on their data analysis, they are able to set their purpose and goals. It is also important to be clear that the team has the right people and as a team they have taken the right actions to achieve their purpose and goals! The last step, team launch, the team need to set their working agreements, their guiding values and review their purpose and goals towards their high performance direction! This is an important step since based on the research of R. Hackman it can affect 30% of team effectiveness!

team midpoint – review & realign

In this phase, during the midpoint of a current team’s project or business cycle,  the main steps in HPTC system are individual and ongoing team coaching. It is the time where follow-up coaching session are taking place with the team aiming to reflect on progress and team’s agreements, gather feedback from stakeholders and plan the necessary actions needed to achieve team’s purpose and goals. Individual coaching will help also to challenge team members to contribute as effectively as possible towards their own direction.

team ending – reassess & integrate

This is the last phase of HPTC system and is really important since it the time for the team to reflect on their individual and team  successes, failures and learnings. The review of their initial assessment will help the team towards that direction. This is a really important step since it gives the opportunity to the team to review their performance related to the three key main areas of team effectiveness as defined in HPTC system:

individual engagement

team capabilities and relationships

quality outputs

This closure phase is also important to help the team integrate their learnings and apply them in their new journey!

Researchers and practitioners argue that teamworking is really important for any organization and most important in cases where there is need to respond and adapt quickly to changing circumstances (agile environment?). Under that context, coaching teams for high performance that will be able to meet and exceed the goals set by the organisation and their own is really challenging! The High Performance Team Coaching is a comprehensive and modularized system that could help any coach to serve teams to high perform and as a result any organisation to get the benefits of high performance teams!

try it!

.nikos

must reading

High Performance Team Coaching, A Comprehensive System for Leaders and Coaches

The HPTC model

Leading Teams: Setting the Stage for Great Performances

 

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