Output from the Session I Proposed at the UK Agile Coaches Gathering, 2010

At the recent UK Agile Coaches Gathering (held at the magnificent Bletchley Park), the theme for which was Helping People Grow,  I proposed a session titled “Leaving a Legacy, How Do You Leave an Environment in Which a Team Can Continue to Grow” for one of the slots during the Open Space. There follows a summary of the session and then the notes that I captured, augmented from memory where possible.

To start I thought that I should provide an explanation as to why I proposed the session. In recent months, I have heard an awful lot of stories about change efforts that have been fantastically successful but when one thing is changed, perhaps a person leaving an organisation or the structure of the team changed, the momentum from that effort goes too and in some circumstances then leads to those involved moving backwards to their previous state. Furthermore and whilst I have never held the title of Agile Coach, from personal experience there seems to be a ceiling within organisations which when reached by a team, change becomes more difficult; typically because they are needing to challenge hierarchies or the received wisdom within that organisation.

Prior to the session, I did some preparation and thought about how as a coach you ensure you leave a legacy I came up with the following:

As a coach, you need to help a team learn how to change but that at the same time, you need to help an organisation learn how to allow that team to change

I then specifically listed a couple of points for each of Team and Organisation that I thought would ensure a legacy of a culture of continual change. From a Team perspective, I noted that I thought primarily they need to be taught how to be introspective and secondly and linked to the the first point, you need to also provide them with a tool set to facilitate their continued change. Form an Organisation’s perspective, I noted that you would need to help them understand their purpose, to help them understand the value they want from that team and lastly, how to communicate both those things to the team.

Once I’d set the scene with the above, we moved in to the discussion the notes of which follow:

  • The team need to get to a point where they have the courage to stand up for what they believe in
  • A coach should not become too embedded within a team
    • Doing this reduces the team’s reliance on the coach
  • Internal learning within a team leads to a team encountering blockers outside the team
  • Teams can be too busy building stuff to have a vested interest in removing the impediments outside their team
    • The above is most apparent in Scrum when the Scrum Master is delivery focussed (e.g. a Project Manager or Lead Developer) as opposed to being focussed on Process Improvement
  • It is key that the team needs to feel as though they own the process
    • Process Smell: 1 person owning the process
  • A lot of the examples given by teh attendees centred around organisations that were hostile to any change in the first place
  • Even if you have somebody that really cares about improving the team, people, including those outside the team need to experience the benefit before they will actually assist in further improvement
  • (Team reaching a ceiling) Awful lot of organisations that can’t articulate their vision
    • Means that they struggle to say no to additional work load as a consequence meaning that the org is just busy, no slack
    • No tools to resolve conflict
  • It was noted that is is harder to help an organisation be able to define and communicate their values when they have existed for a long time
  • Is the answer, in terms of leaving a legacy that you leave a team that have a clear set of values that they believe in?
  • To test whether in a coach’s absence the team is still being successful the following might be considered to be good indicators:
    • Are they still working as a team
    • Are they changing things
    • Are they still focussing on quality, internal and external
    • Are they learning
    • Are they innovating
    • Can it still be said that they have confidence
    • It was noted that the tests above are valid at an organisational level too
      • e.g. Kanban boards spreading outside of IT departments
  • Differentiating factor? If teams or the organisation is stressed?
  • See image below, showing how trust of a team is derived by others, thanks to Rachel Davies
    • Reciprocal though is that the others need to know that you as a coach know what you’re doing
  • We should accept that change efforts are incredibly fragile. e.g. When a new leader enters an organisation they will always want to make their own change
    • Credibility comes from evidence: gut feel is not enough
  • Is transparency part of the answer?
  • Are the goals of the team and the organisation aligned? If not, changes in practices will never flourish
  • Is the thing that is missing conversation? In a hierarchical structure is the ability to hold conversations across all levels there?

Image: Trust Equation

Thanks to all the participants who came along to the session and made it what it was, I enjoyed it and learnt something too, hopefully the same can be said for yourselves.

 

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