agile journeys

...rants by Asheesh Mehdiratta on Transformation and Change

Category: coaching

Pranks and the Power of Questioning

questioningAs a change agent, you have a tough task of raising the awareness, educating, training and transforming the minds of the teams and leadership, while still maintaining your sanity. Sometimes they GET IT! And sometimes they act as innocent kids, enjoying their pranks while displaying passive or active resistance to your change efforts.

To me, this situation seems very similar to the dilemmas of the teaching community, who have similar problems everyday with the school kids. But if you watch the teaching community, one of the techniques they use is the Power of Questioning.

Power of Questioning

Power of Questioning includes asking the right questions, which challenges your teams, and promotes a higher order thinking, incubates creativity and helps them to finally develop learning!

So as a Change Agent, you should start to ask the right Questions, so that you can gather useful information about the team, about their interactions, their personalities, and help you in bonding better. You can start to listen more, with open questions, and practice active listening.

Different Types of Questions

It helps to develop a broad base of questions and mix up different styles. Below are some examples –

  • You can ask Rhetorical questions to emphasize a key point, and create a dramatic effect !
    • Check out some  examples from an education project, which you can customize for your team interactions.
  • But really the most important way is to go with Socratic questioning, which makes the individuals think for themselves, rather than elicit information from you.
    • Check out additional examples from an education project, which you can customize for your team interactions.
  • Other times you can use Reflective questions and it can help with having with Question Cards , examples below –
    • What was easy?
    • What was hard?
    • What did I learn?
    • How will you use this learning in the future?

Check out examples from an education project, which you can customize for your team interactions.

Your Next Steps

Looking at the above examples, you might be wondering that the Sprint Retrospective questions sounds familiar. But in my view, it is simply one of the many forms of questioning that you use at a team level, but the variety and situations are immense for you to experiment and start using this technique in almost every situation. So ask yourself –  if you can use the Power of Questioning everyday? Can you learn and pick some of these questions and apply in your Change journeys?

In my experience, as we learn the process of inquiry and questioning, we become better at it. You will start to use the insight from the process of inquiry to develop cues to asking better questions and you will find your sanity.

Conclusion
Power of Questioning should be an important arsenal in your tool box, and should be a daily affair, and not just at a certain ceremonial point. It engages your teams and leaders to reflect on their current state and make it easy for you to overcome the passive/active resistance in your change journeys.

So next time you see your kids or your teams displaying resistance to your change efforts, and playing some funny pranks, try the Power of Questioning, and see if you can see through their beliefs, and reflect the mirror!

What are your favorite Questions ?  Which questions inspire your team ? Which  questions do you use most often?

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Are you learning from your failures?

failureIf you are a Star Wars fan, and have watched the latest movie The Last Jedi, you would have been struck by the sudden appearance of Yoda, the ‘Grandmaster’ of the Jedi order, and talking to Luke Skywalker about failures.

Yoda explains to Luke, the Last Jedi, that failure is a good teacher, and we must learn from our mistakes!

“The greatest teacher, failure is.”  – Yoda

In the real world,  some teams will fail at various stages in their transformation journey, and others may falter multiples times, before they finally succeed. It is never an easy straight line from point A to point B.

But as a Leader of teams, how do you treat these failures?

Do you reflect on the failures with the team and have an open discussion without any blame?

or Do you punish them for the failure?

Do you ask the question – What have we learnt from this failure?”

If you are aiming to build self managed teams, who can truly recognize their weaknesses and strengths, then it is important to let them fail and learn from their mistakes. It is important that they can do safe experiments, and design a better outcome, and solutions that delights the users.

To help, it would be good to look at Etsy’s culture of running ‘Blameless postmortems’, which talk about “what” happened? and how we can systematically remove the constraints so that human error can be reduced, instead of ‘blaming’ the person.  This is a powerful shift in the mindset and triggers a behavioral change in your teams.

But if as a Leader, you continue down the path of measuring failures, and then punishing the team, the organization culture becomes risk-averse. Teams will then not be ready to take risks, think outside the box, or have crazy ideas, and it would dampen the innovative mindset and creativity that we all humans possess.  You will never learn from your failures.

Conclusion:

To learn from failures is a key trait for successful teams. Even the famed Luke Skywalker had to be reminded by the Yoda, that failure is the greatest teacher!

So, if you can change your behaviors and are ready to take risks, with known constraints, then you will start looking at failures as learning opportunities and of course Yoda would be really proud of you!

So go ahead and ask your teams to share – what has been their biggest learning opportunity in the projects/products that you develop and support? go ahead and conduct the ‘Blameless postmortems’ and you would be surprised pleasantly.

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How much time do you allow for Improvements?

This is a common question from many Scrum teams, as they embark on their continuous improvement journey. Multiple teams struggle and then look to the higher powers or just ram through their way. As a Change Agent, to answer this, here is what you can ask them –

Do you allow ‘any’ time currently for Improvements?
  • You would typically hear the team saying as 0% ! and then a good response is to then START Small, with the emphasis on START.
  • You could alternatively talk about doing  10% more than what they are currently doing
  • or simply follow the 1% daily improvement paradigm (aggregation of marginal gains)
  • or you could ask the team about their Pain Index as discussed earlier, and then review from 10-90% of the sprint
So what has been your advice to your teams?

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Build technical agility as your Basic ingredient !

Enterprises today struggle with large scale agile adoption and transformation, without looking at the prevalent technical agility, which is a basic ingredient for building the organizational and business agility blocks.

Wishful Dreams

The dreams of Successful Agile Transformation at SCALE, are sold and bought easily today, with  customer success stories , customer quotes and a conference presentation to back it all up. What else do you need? to dream up wishful thinking.

Reality Beckons

But if you dig deeper you realize that even Basic team level agility is a daily struggle for most enterprises. Most enterprises in the agile fluency model are at the 2 or 3 star teams. Rarely the teams go higher and almost all of them struggle!

So go ahead and ask  if your engineering team is leaning toward heaven or hell? As the statistics show that we are losing the engineering practices and the decline of extreme programming is evident now and ‘scrum’ and ‘scaling’ has overtaken as the Main menu item driven by the transformation office.

THE FIX 

Build up your team's technical agility FIRST.

Technical agility is the ability of your team to undertake technical endeavors, using the core tenets of extreme programming and agile modeling, without impacting the business delivery or compromising on the quality of the solution.

This means that you need to take care of your engineers and their engineering practices. You need to ask if the team is writing the best code, are aware and making use of the modern day engineering practices, which a true software professional would, and are they indeed proud when they sleep at night?

Summary

If the Technical agility is missing in your team, your agile transformation would miss the bus and fall flat on it’s back. You would end up as just another data point which supports this graph, and that would not be what you really need.

So cheer up and let the technical practices bloom first in your transformation, and then the honey bees will surely follow.

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Watch out for Fly-by Coaching

When your Agile coach simply throws the ‘jargon’ that you do not understand ??? and then pretends that this ‘jargon’ is way above you “mortal” souls, you are entering the world of “Fly-by coaching”

The coach can run this routine once or twice or even thrice if lucky, but the team members can quickly figure out the reality (thanks to google!) and will pick up that the coach is simply faking his stuff and is not really strutting his stuff.

When asked for How do you actually show the stuff (as put up in the jargon)? – you will see the coach either disappearing or simply attending to prepare some management reports.

You should realize that indeed that you have a ‘Fly-by’ Coach in your mix, and you can almost predict the disappearing act!

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