Key moments technique to build the culture of WE

Previous article defined Agile leadership. Now we ask the following questions: how to naturally and unobtrusively integrate everything described earlier into the  real life of the team and eventually build the culture level 4?

For this, we use alternate kind of Agile retrospective – we call it Key moments (alias, according to Logan, the Mountains&Valleys technique). How it works in practice:

Instead of the classic Agile retrospective where we ask endlessly 1) What went well and 2) What bothers us, the Key moments technique focuses on specific situations – key moments we have experienced and what the impact it had on us. Specifically: did the situation energize us or did it bother us and suck all the energy and excitement out of us? The team therefore learns to put a name on functional and dysfunctional stuff without asserting subjective judgement (e.g. “You never deliver anything on time!”), focusing on the actual impact (e.g. “I had to sit here all night and I disappointed my kids since I promised them we would play. If I knew you couldn’t make it, I would’ve helped you or at least planned it for later.”)

This technique is also called Situation – Behavior – Impact. As the leader, I stay in the position of coach (not judge or preacher), who only observes emotions and impact and helps the team constructively go over all the essentials. That’s how level 4 is about to be built.

These moments are plotted on a graph (on the wall, table,…), where the x-axis represents the time in which it happened and the y-axis represents the range of emotions, from frustrating lows to energizing highs. In the second step, this technique can be used to define the values and beliefs collectively adopted by the team. The moments where members of the team find themselves at the bottom (i.e. experiencing negative emotions) reflect the values and beliefs that are undermined at that specific moment, whereas positive moments are consistent with the established values. In this way, the leader can harmonize members around a common foundation of values and so build a stable level 4.

The level 4 is about relationship among all the members. This technique provides regular hygiene of the relationship between all team members. We typically run it on a quarter or an annual period.

Conclusion 

Successful Agile transformation is about new culture (not only a structure) that allows new mindset and new type of relationship to form. It is more about psychology than we may initially realize. No matter how complex structures we created around us, sooner or later we will face inevitable reality – we face our inner self.

Agile Leadership

We defined different culture levels and link to our inner beliefs we all carry with us in the previous article. Now we deal with a question: what is the role of the leader in the Agile organization? Who is actually the leader? Agile Coach? Product Owner? Tribe Leader?

Logan defines Tribe Leaders as people who focus their efforts on upgrading the tribal culture. S/he speaks the language of each level in order to motivate them and look for ways to progress to another level until they reach stable level 4.

According to Logan’s definition, Agile leadership aims to upgrade the organisational culture to the stable level 4, Agile values ​​and principles. The rituals, ceremonies, techniques, meetings are here to support the transformation. If, for example, the team level 2 (I can’t do anything, I’m a victim) is afraid of Agile (see the example about self-management), the task of the leader is to gradually bring the team and its members to level 3 (self-confidence) and 4 (partnership). How?

The Product Owner (PO) expresses their attitude towards clients and open communication towards the team. By creating a partner relationship (rather than hierarchical) between themselves and the team and between the team and clients.

For example, the PO should not criticize the team in retrospect for doing something stupid or for not doing it differently. I once heard a PO say retrospectively, “You should be more Agile” — ha!

The PO should instead clearly articulate what they need and why. What impact does it have on the product, clients, the company. Transfer the experience of meeting with clients to the entire team. Draw the team into experiments by introducing Dual track (providing innovation and verification to deliver a stable product), furthermore explaining, not lecturing, why MVP (Minimum Valuable Product) is acceptable or not.

Acceptance and feedback during the review is not a demonstration of the Ego of level 3, alias “I” – I’m the master here and will decide what’s good and what’s not. Getting to level 4 is about moving away from assessing and expressing your own opinion towards transpersonal identification, what has what impact on clients, product, our mutual business. The PO is the “channel” for conveying the experience of clients. The PO and team are in the same “partner” boat.

The Tribe Leader (or B-1) leads the entire tribe towards these values. They reflect the opinion of all members, connect everyone in the tribe by, e.g. creating space for sharing via tribal-wide retrospectives or regular Show&Tells. The door of the tribe leader is always physically and mentally open to anyone from the tribe and outside it. They build partner relationships with other Tribe Leaders. They have themes common to all the tribes on the cross-tribe kanban board. As the head of the entire system/tribe, the Tribe Leader plays the key role of the person whose behavior and unwitting intentions set the standard for the entire tribe. What they say to the members of the tribe is not important; important is the truthfulness of the intention, attitude and core beliefs that lie in the background of what they say. “Am I doing this for the good of the whole tribe or for my own benefit?”

And how about the Agile Coaches? They name the current values and beliefs during retrospectives and the gap between them and level 4, e.g. by using coaching tools or techniques such as Mountains&Valleys. They create a safe environment for moving to higher cultural levels. They provide adjusting mirror whenever team demonstrates behavior against the values. They use e.g. Situation-Behavior-Impact way of providing feedback — “Don’t criticize the PO, don’t tell them what they should or should not do when it bothers you that they do the same thing. Say what impact it has on you and what you need from them.” It is partner level communication of the level 4.

To achieve stabilization at level 3 i.e. the self-confidence of individual members and so avoid the fears of being excluded from the whole (see the story of the hockey player), they explicitly point out the contribution of individual members even in the case of fuckups: “We all learn our form of Agile on the go. Problems exist and always will. Making a mistake is OK. We’re in this thing together. It helps the team next time when you ask for help. It’s OK. We all need it. You’re a valuable member, look at this feedback here. Thank God you’re on the team!” This encourages others to learn to express their own support in addition to constant criticism.

The key moments technique

The next article will describe one of the techniques to upgrade team culture to level 4. The technique assists the team to consciously deal with various situations that might be source of hidden friction inside the team; eventually to name current values and potential gaps between them and level 4. The article will go live on Thursday, May 16th.

 

Agile Culture & Leadership

Following up Jarek’s brilliant article (in Czech), we would take a closer look at one of the key areas of scaling Agile — the role of the leader and how to build the Agile culture. This area in fact determines how people face up to challenges associated with the transition to Agile. Despite good knowledge about the technical features of Agile frameworks (SAFE, Less, Spotify…) and their adoption, we have found very little focus on how to adopt Agile culture and leadership behind the standups and the tools. That is why many transformations end with changes in the organizational structure and new terms in the corporate lexicon but people do not change their mindset and behaviour. In this article we would love to share a structure that has given us practical support. The first step is always putting a name on it or becoming aware of it. Everything starts with us as individuals, and with our psyche.

What defines us

A small hockey player shoots at an open goal. His shot does not disappoint, but for some reason it fails to go in. Somewhere inside him a certain fear and doubt arose right before the shot – an emotion caused by the core belief that he wasn’t good enough. The coach yells at him that he’s going to get the “wooden clogs of the month” and that he should consider what mistake he made before going back out on the ice. But his next go at it results in other mistakes. “What’s your problem? They’re gonna replace you! You’re not my son!” shouts his angry father from the stands… The self-fulfilling fear that I will screw it up and the team will toss me out. I don’t want to be a loser!

Three decades later and it’s that same fear again when the company switches to a certain “agile”. What if I make a mistake? What if I don’t understand it? Will they fire me? The same fears and the same core belief. Recently a senior manager, a future Product Owner, told me straight out that he didn’t want an Agile coach on his team because: “You know, I’m afraid the coach will snap at me or I won’t understand it and do something wrong…” We all have this child full of doubts inside us.

Our psyche is a well-concealed whisperer who influences us our entire lives. Our thoughts and behavior are completely determined by our emotional framework, which is defined by our (unconscious) core beliefs. And not only that – our core beliefs automatically impose on us a (preselected) view of the world that confirms these beliefs. So-called self-confirming feedback.

If I believe that people cannot be trusted and they are out to rob the company, as a manager I will choose detailed monitoring and reporting mechanisms. And everywhere I will see evidence of this core belief.

If I believe that I’m a victim, the whole world is “out to get me” and hurt me. In this image of the world, managers are basically useless parasites who just complicate our lives with unnecessary paperwork and bureaucracy. They have control over my life, my happiness. How can these two worlds meet in partnership in Agility?

What defines culture

These core beliefs unconsciously determine the approach people take to everyday challenges in the organization. Once, a colleague provided a perfect demonstration of it by crumpling up a piece of paper and throwing it on the floor, adding: “There, now let’s all point our fingers and say,  ‘What a mess here!’, but as usual no one will bend over and pick it up.” Culture is precisely this approach to “the mess on the floor”. And transformation (and not just transformation) creates a lot of it! Examples of three basic groups of people and their approaches:

  1. The passive group will bypass the “dispossessed mess” on the floor “for sure”, because it’s not “mine”. This group is effective thanks to their focus on their precision and assigned tasks. They are also “troopers” thanks to their humility and willingness to follow “orders”. But they lack the courage to deal with anything outside their familiar and safe bubble.
  2. A representative of the self-confident group will assign somebody to clean up the mess. Just to be sure, he will chew out everyone around him that they are “slobs”. Effect and efficiency only get done in his presence.
  3. This group proceeds as if it’s our responsibility – this doesn’t mean that someone else will clean up the mess, but I’m here right now, I see it, and so it is my responsibility. Accountability and efficiency are not centralized. This approach is expected of Agile teams.

These and other groups have been defined by David Logan and his team in the book Tribal Leadership. According to him, we define culture as a collection of (unconsciously) accepted beliefs that form the constellation of our emotions and thoughts which trigger automatic patterns of behavior in a group. David and his team have shown how our language and form of relationships are connected to collective beliefs. It’s enough to sit in the kitchen for a few minutes and listen to the form of language being spoken by the staff and see the patterns of relationship that form there. Another contribution of Dave Logan and Co. is showing the link between higher levels of culture and performance, or the motivation and loyalty of employees. The higher, the better. 

Level 1 refers to individuals excluded by society. People at this level believe that “Life sucks”. Life is evil and hostile, it’s only about survival. And so is their language. Relationships are built on the basis of “trust no one”. In general they see society as gangs or homeless people. In the company these employees are classified as “alienated”, with one foot already out the door. These people represent only a small percentage of the company and it makes no sense to keep them. In terms of short-term survival, neither Agility nor anything else will be of interest to them.

Level 2 by contrast refers to a very large group. It is a team convinced that we are victims. “Somebody certainly has it good (my boss). But at my expense! I can do nothing, I’m the little guy. No good deed goes unpunished.”  There is a prevalence of “they” in the language of such societies. — “What crap did they think up again… They didn’t deliver it on time … They aren’t communicating with us again…” Cynicism and irony, as well as other forms of passive aggression, are psychosomatic defensive reactions at the second level (e.g. Dilbert cartoon shared across the company.) Life is portrayed as unfair. Relationships are built on the fear of being punished for mistakes. These people are very diligent in the company in terms of individual performance, but they only take responsibility for their own work, and only after they have been in their position for a long time and have built up their self-confidence. Otherwise they feel threatened. Fears of embarrassment, inadequacy or guilt are emotions used by our core beliefs to keep us stuck at this level. The response to the principle of the self-managed team in Agile logically confronts these fears: “What if someone is goofing off? Who will fire him? Who will approve my raise and according to what criteria? Who will approve my vacation? Who will be my boss?” This level creates the immediate demand for a “boss” at level 3.

Level 3. Ego state. At this level of the organisation, people believe that they themselves are the instrument of the company’s good fortune. Typically they are part of management, the business organization, or company owners. Groups at this level have reached a stable self-confidence that gives them the courage to go much further and achieve better results than the group at level 2. A nice, symbiotic relationship often exists between these two levels: a manager (3) is surrounded by subordinates (2), who slowly begin to see him as the ruler over their lives and this manager gladly accepts this projection of authority. Level 3 insinuates itself into the center of all relationships. If they form a relationship with someone else at level 3, it is “an alliance of the powerful”, in other words, a bilateral pact of the unchallenged. “I” dominates the language. Core belief at this level: no one does it as well as I do. Lots of managers (3) are unable to delegate or entrust responsibility or autonomy to the team because of the core beliefs at this level.

Level 4 is the level of partnership, where “WE” dominates. This is the level of Agile culture. At this level, we believe that the whole is greater than the sum of individuals; that together we can create much more wonderful things than when it is everyone for themselves. “Alone we are smart. Together we are brilliant.” — Steven Anderson. But that is why I have to first find stability within myself (level 3). With its productivity and stability, the ability of Level 4 to create relationships towards a common goal outperforms all previous levels. Agility achieves its results because (and only if) the company and team have reached stability at this level. Careful! For this level to be stable, it is necessary to first achieve a stable level 2 and 3. Without self-confidence, I am (unconsciously) a self-doubting member of the team (see the story of the hockey player), or I am at risk, when under pressure, of falling to level 2.

Level 5 is the level without borders. Neither the team nor company has boundaries. Here we can have a chat over a beer. 

To be continued…

The next part of the article unveils our definition of Agile Leadership and how it plays crucial role in building Agile culture in the organization.