12 September 2016

A Great Coach is a Lazy, Curious & an Often One - Notes on Michael Bungay Stanier's Talk

I had the pleasure to meet one of the greatest coaches in the world, Michael Bungay Stanier. As the second greatest coach in the world, as per introduction & here, he used some spectacular techniques in facilitating the session with at least 200 people. I am sharing some of them here with you.

First of all, you wouldn't find any presentation for his talk. There were only 6 or 7 titles written on a chart paper.

At the beginning of the sessions, he asked everyone to stand up and greet another person that they don't know. Then he asked us to answer this question talking: "What cross roads are you at?". At the end of the 5 minutes, he asked us to repeat our names once again. We have repeated this exercise after a while with a different person and question: "Talk about your high points in the last week", on your foot!

Then he asked us to give a number from 1 to 7 for the following questions (7 being the highest). We didn't share the answers but just to have an idea of where we are standing. The questions were as follow:
  • How much engaged and active you are going to be in this session?
  • How much risk are you taking with me (Michael)?
  • How much effort are you going to put in to know other people?
This helped me to align my thoughts with my goals in the session. It will be a great tool to use in the start of a meeting / session you are facilitating. 

Then he talked about the bad, good and great work, based on his book. He used the following questions to engage the audience in checking the process: "Let me do a quick check, doesn't anyone know what I am talking about?". 

One of the definitions of the great work that I really liked was "more impact, more meaning". You can start your conversation with just this and then get into details of how a great work might look like. 

Some of the cool learnings from the session are the followings: 
  • Advice Monster: This is the reverse of Active Listening 
  • Advice Giving Maniacs: You can tell what that is, this isn't something a good coach would do.
  • The first thing that shows up is not the real challenge most of the time.
  • The first answer they are giving is usually not the best answer. 
  • Coaching is to be lazy, curious and often!
Great Resources:
  • You can listen to Michael talking about the last statement here.
  • A great article in Globe and Mail summarizing the "coaching habit" from Michael.

2 September 2016

What and Why You Ask Is Very Important!

I was shouting "do not give out the solution"! The worst part was that I shouted right at the beginning of the meeting. I felt like I was derailing the meeting even before it even started and I wasn't very happy about it. Before getting into what happened consequently to make me do this, let me tell you the whole story.

In a meeting that I was part of, the facilitator was asking participants to make a fan. It wasn't a norm for people to make fans while in meetings at an IT firm1. Most people looked confused, they were just looking at each other and no single sign of creating fans was in the horizon. At that moment, one of the participants took the initiative and started to guide the others on how to make a fan. Let's call her Jira. Jira was telling people in detail what they need to do; That they are going to pick their favorite color paper, any color that they want, fold the papers, glue them together and then glue a piece of stick to them; and the result would be a fan.

Don't we all like being told what to do? And in detail? This was when I felt the urge to say something. I raised my voice to stop Jira on providing one of the possible solutions. Then I brought out my cell phone and loudly said to myself: “I don’t know how to make a fan… but I am going to search how to make one.” This was followed by one of the participants asking if they are allowed to use their phones. The answer was yes. The crowd then became busy, everyone with his/her own style of coming up with a fan. Fifteen minutes later, everyone made a fan. I think it’s important to mention that not even two of them were the same. One person used staples instead of glue to make fans2. Another one didn't fold the papers at all. One person decorated her fan with drawings, another one used a prototype on a plain paper to test his skills and the outcome before committing to creating the fan.

The followings are some of the fans created by the individuals.


Let's think what would have happened if Jira continued leading the participants on. People in the room probably would have followed her instructions, or most of them at least. I predict that most of the fans would have looked similar to each other as a result of following same steps. What about taking ownership and being proud of what you’ve created? Would you think that they could have been proud of what they have built? Proud of the thought and craftsmanship they put in? Would you ponder if there is any pride following the instructions blindly? 

29 August 2016

How To Coach The Uncoachable?

Have you ever encountered situations in which you've been asked to coach people whom are not coachable? What would you do in those situations? What are the options that you might have? There are not too many options.

Courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/crdot/7827384514/

There are these actions you might take into consideration:

  • Just Give up, ignore the un-coachable. This is the simplest thing you can do. However, there are two ways of doing it:
    • To not tell the coachee
      • This is an option if you don't find your interaction and the outcome of that coaching exercise valuable at all. You will find that even having this conversation is a waste and no outcome will be realized. I highly suggest to avoid this option.
    • To have a conversation with the coachee 
      • This could simply opens up the coaching conversation. It might help you with the situation and awarness for the coachee. Your client then might be more open to be talked to and receive feedaback. You can leverage the conversation you are having and build on top of that. Hopefully in some days later you can have the coaching arc conversation with him/her.
  • Talk to him/her
    • To have a chat with him/her and let him/her know about the coaching arc. It will open up the conversation about where you are standing and what both of you need from each other. You might come to a conclusion other than a coaching agreement. You might end up with teaching opportunities or a mentoring one.
  • Talk to his/her boss
    • If you've been asked to have a coaching conversation with a person, there must have been a reason for that. If it hadn't come from him/herself, it should have been come from someone higher than him/her. You can use that opportunity to further investigate the situation. May be it is not the coachee that you need to coach, may be it is the boss, or may be it is both of them. 
  • Find out Why
    • Find out why you have been asked to coach the coachee. Then you have to figure out if that is the valid concern for the coachee and have a conversation with him/her or his/her boss. Then, you truly can unlease your coaching potential. 
  • Be Influential
    • You can influence the coachee by understanding him/her and coming up with innovatve ways of influencing that person. There are lots you can do here, you can show geniue interest in what the person is doing. You can give him/her some tips and see if it gets caught by him/her. 

18 July 2016

How To Improve Feedback Culture In A Team / An Organization ? - A Thank You (Hot Seat) Retrospective

What always puzzled me was how to improve on a feedback culture within a team. Once, I had a pleasure to run a 360 feedback retrospective for a team. It was a bad decision to call it 360 feedback, please don't do that. However, the result was very dramatic. It was a huge culture change in the people and how they interact. It was an easy meeting to run, the rules are simple.

One person is being criticized by the whole team, one person at a time and the only thing he can reply back is "Thank You".

Everyone will go through this criticism circle. You might need to time bound it to 5 minutes for everyone if you have limited time.

You need to make it clear that the criticizers need to provide a positive feedback and a negative feedback following that. They are not allowed only to provide positive or negative feedback.

This is a sample presentation that you can use for a team. I found it easier for people to follow the instructions while talking to many people.

Thank You Retrospective Presentation

What do you need to run this meeting?

  • You want to make sure that people in the meeting, or the majority of them, are feeling safe to provide feedback.
  • You want to make sure that they are trusting each other's opinion; otherwise, it will be a waste of time.
What do you need to do after this meeting?
  • You want to follow up with them to see if they have talked about the feedback with the people they trust. Leave it up to them to share with you if they want to act upon it or not.
What is the next step?
  • If you want to make it to the next step (which I suggest you to do), you want the feedback to be spontaneous. You don't want people to wait for a meeting to show their affections, thoughts and feelings. 
  • You may have a feedback circle at a random time, when you are having your stand-ups, just out of nowhere at the middle of the day (please just don't have it over food).
  • What I strongly suggest is to use the Kudo Box from management 3.0. You can read more about it in Jurgen's new book , management for happiness. You can get the cards and the basic idea from his website.

Do you want to improve the feedback culture in an organization? You can build upon this exercise but with teams giving each other feedback. Do not allow one person from one team to provide feedback to another team.

30 June 2016

Quick thoughts on Metrics from Gojko Adzic & I

As an aside, please don’t use activity metrics such as velocity or burn-down scope to measure progress. They only show that people have been busy, not that they were working on the right things or even producing something valuable. Activity metrics are great to measure whether the team is working well together or not, but they can’t show real progress. Measuring progress with activity creates a completely wrong set of incentives for prioritisation. Instead, create a model for expected business value delivery and report progress towards it. 

It is a very well said about metrics. I would add to it if a team wants to measure velocity and use it as a diagnostics to improve and grow, let them do that. However, you want to make sure that this metric is only used by the team; and to share it if and only if the team decides to be shared with externals.

21 June 2016

Agile Coach Camp West 2016 @ Vancouver's BCIT

This year I decided to take part in Agile Coach Camp Canada West edition (as well as East). It was a unique experience. The format as always was an open space format. It began on Friday, June 17th and ended on Sunday, June 19th.

In this Agile Coach Camp, I talked on two Topics and co-hosted on one topic. The first topic that I picked was about "Leading the team you inherit" based on an article I recently read from HBR. The outcome of the discussion was very interesting. We, collectively, were not agreeing on the hypothesis in the HBR article that the Tuckman model can not be used with the team you inherit. As an outcome, I volunteered myself to contact the author and ask about the assumptions.

The second topic that we talked about, thanks to Simon for proposing it (and asking me to co-talk it with him), was about bloody metrics. It was a fun talk to see different people's ideas and where they are coming from. Cleverly, Simon picked the title of Metrics Damn Metrics.

Part of the first day, there were several topics on scaling agile and many discussions regarding that. After going to LeSS with Craig Larman, I have felt obligated that I need to talk more about scaling and what needs to be truly discussed. So, on the second day, I have talked about "The correct questions to ask is "How to de-scale organizational complexity?"." It was a very interesting topic and very interesting discussion. I basically asked the question of how to descale the complexity of an organization, and we got into many topics of local optimization, system thinking, metrics and even politics. The followings are the notes from the talk:

Some points I would like to mention:
  • I felt that the organizers could have done a better job of organizing food, lunch and dinner and even facilitate better activities. Although, I should thank them for their time and their dedication to making this happen.
  • The crowd demographics was more toward Agile enthusiasts rather than Agile Coaches. I leave it up to you to decide if this was a good thing or a bad thing. 
  • I have got to known 5 people coming all the way from Toronto for Agile Coach Camp West in Vancouver, such an enthusiastic crowd from Toronto.
  • I have learned a lot after talking to so many people and taking part in so many discussions. That's what it all mattered and I am very glad to be part of it. I am hoping to see these kinds of events happening more often on the west coast. 

18 May 2016

The Core Protocols Cheat Sheet

I have gathered a very simple cheat sheet for core protocols and when you can use them. You can find them here and embedded below.