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Coaching, Coach Training and Everything In Between Blog

Elephant & Monkey

An elephant and a monkey went for a walk last sprint …

This week I was walking past a conference room where a Scrum Master was preparing for the team’s retrospective.  I had to stop and take a picture because I really loved what I saw.  Here are a few of the things that really impressed me.
Agile Conference

Agile 2015 Learning and Highlights

Sunday, as I got on a flight and headed to Washington, DC for Agile Alliance’s Agile 2015 conference, I was looking forward to spending a week with other like-minded people who believe in living the agile values and principles and who are investing in themselves and in others to grow in their craft. I anticipate this conference all year because I love the full saturation of agile. I love the networking and new ideas. I love the opportunity to see what others in the industry are up to and to learn from them. And I love meeting new people who teach me great things!Allison Pollard and I were given the opportunity to present a coaching topic called “Change Your Questions ~ Change Your World” this year. It was exciting to see Allison again and partner with her on this great topic and it was an honor to invest in the agile community at large.
Team

Scrum Mastering – It’s a hard job. But someone has to do it!

This is me.  I’m an agile coach and I love being a scrum master whenever my path allows me to step into that role for a few months in order to start up new teams and develop scrum masters.  I’ve been scrum mastering a few teams for the past couple of months and having the time of my life!  But now comes the real test – mentoring a few brand new scrum masters.
Deep Listening

Coaching Skills for Scrum Masters – Deep Listening

The other day when working with a few scrum masters I recognized how important coaching skills are to this profession.  I know that coaching is important and I teach new scrum masters that they are the coach to the team.  But, when working with these new scrum masters it brought to light that coaching skills aren’t something that we just know – they are learned on purpose.When I ask people about their coaching skills they often point to allowing the team to be self organized and make their own decisions.  They view coaching as asking questions that help people figure out the answers.  I agree.  Those are aspects of coaching that are very powerful for teams.  But there is an underlying skill that cripples the ability to ask powerful questions if it isn’t first mastered.  In order to ask powerful questions a scrum master must first learn to listen.I am realizing that the most powerful coaching skill a scrum master can learn to master is listening.  It is foundational to everything else.
Definition of Done

Definition of Done – More Than a Checklist

This is Mark.  He challenges me.  He confronts me.  He inspires me.  I think he is amazing.  Mark doesn’t do things because someone like me who claims to know a bit about agile says so.  He looks at the world from every perspective. I love this about him because he forces me to think deeper than I’ve ever had to in many areas.  He stretches me as a coach and forces me to keep growing.Definition of Done was an area where Mark really inspired me to dig deep.  This was his concern …“I hear and see people teaching Definition of Done like it is a checklist of all the things a team has to do in order for a user story to be done.  I think this undermines ownership of quality code by the team because the checklist becomes a crutch and an excuse to be mediocre.  It causes people to say things like, ‘Well it meets the definition of done,’ when they know that the code still isn’t as good as it could be.  It develops the attitude of, ‘Oh well, it wasn’t on the list so I don’t have to do it.'”
Super Hero

The Power of Daring to be You

This past weekend I attended CTI coach training.  For three days I was able to experience coaching from an entirely different perspective.  This experiential training in a group setting was very powerful. During this weekend I didn’t just meet a new group of people – I met myself!  It was amazing to experience the insight and deep intuition of people on a level that made me feel understood, seen, and heard.  There were times when I felt like they knew me better than I knew myself – or maybe they were willing to pull out of me what I have spent so many years burying.During one session, we did an activity where we took turns sitting in the focus seat and others called out what they were seeing in you.  It was amazing and encouraging to hear the impressions that people had of me after just 14 hours together.  Then, they shifted and identified what they caught glimpses of but really wished would emerge.  In the next step, the class began to suggest metaphorical archetypes that captured the part of you that isn’t being fully embraced – who you really are deep inside that needs to be tapped into.
Space for Growth

The Art of Creating Space for Growth in the Retrospective

At an open space event the other day a group of people were pondering the topic “Getting people to be engaged during meetings.”  Inevitably the conversation turned to retrospectives.  People described how some teams complained about being forced to have retrospectives and how others went without complaint  but didn’t really participate.  Some of the frustrations were that introverts never want to participate and have fun conversations with their teammates.In short, some scrum masters were describing ways that they have been trying to pull their teams into a place of participating but weren’t being successful.  Teams were feeling forced to do something they didn’t want to do and scrum masters were frustrated because no one wanted to play this very important game with them.As I stepped back from the conversation I began to realize that what was missing was the understanding that there is an art to being able to facilitate an effective retrospective that starts long before the meeting.  The scrum masters role in the retrospectives isn’t simply to facilitate while people to talk about what went well, what didn’t go well, and what will we do to improve in the next sprint.  It is about creating new awareness.  It isn’t about pulling people into the conversation.  It’s about creating space for them to learn and grow and innovate in order to become higher performing.
Bridging the Gap

Bridging the Gap Between Remote Locations

In my years as a consultant I have seen it time and time again.  Companies with multiple sites all working together.  It is hard to bridge the gap across the miles and inevitably it shows up – The Red Headed Step Child Syndrome.  Perhaps you’ve seen it before?  This phenomenon happens when the people in offices separated by miles can’t quite see one another as human.This is usually how I see it portrayed:I meet people in one site in Arkansas and they talk to me about how “Michigan” has a mindset that is way off base.  They explain how “Michigan” really doesn’t understand how to get the work done properly so they need a lot of help.  “Arkansas” holds a bit of bitterness because “we” are always getting treated like second class citizens.  “Michigan” forgets us, doesn’t give us information timely, has a superior attitude, and doesn’t really care about “Arkansas.”Then, I go to the Michigan office and meet people there who tell me how “Arkansas” doesn’t really get it.  They describe “Arkansas” having a bit of an attitude, an incorrect mindset and lacking understanding of how to get the work done properly.  They say that “Arkansas” needs lots of help to get better.
Just laugh

Sometimes you just need to laugh

This is the glass door I ran into on my first morning in a new office.  Five minutes after I arrived.  And I had to laugh at myself!  “Way to go brainiac.  Good thing no one was watching that one.”  Then I giggled.Messing up, making mistakes, looking stupid in front of others – these are things that often cause people to put up walls around themselves as a means of self preservation.  No one wants other people to look at them and roll their eyes.  No one wants to be “that person.”  Unfortunately, the need to self preserve hinders a team’s ability to be transparent, take risks, and share ideas openly.As a scrum master or coach we need to be aware of the human nature that says, “protect yourself,” and help develop a culture of safety so team members can learn to trust one another and bring out the best in one another.  Part of the scrum master’s role is to help the team have the best communications possible.  Safe discussions in a team happen when everyone’s ideas are valued and respected.  Great ideas come forth when no single idea has to be the winner.  Instead of allowing people to fight for their position like there is a trophy at stake, teach them how each person can contribute to the ideas of the others and build the best solution for the problem at hand so everyone can win.
A Little Help

We all need a little help sometimes

To many travelers this just looked like a moving walkway in an airport in Philly, PA.  To me, it looked like exactly what I needed!  Exhausted from being on the road and meeting a bunch of new people over the past few weeks, the thought of having this thing hold the weight of my bags and help me get across this big airport was very comforting.After my amazing, but slow ride I started thinking…these walkways are like Scrum Masters!Sometimes agile teams need a little bit of help.  They get stuck in the same cycle of thinking when trying to solve problems and can’t seem to move forward.  The scrum master is helps them by asking powerful questions that cause them to think in new ways.  They gently lift them up and help them move successfully from one place to another.
Focus Forward

Focus Forward

While working in Burlington, Vermont these past two weeks and experiencing temperatures as low as -14 I have learned some things about inspecting and adapting.  The first day I was here, I inspected my toes and they were freezing so I adapted by buying wool socks.  Then, I learned the next day that wool socks work better if you wear them under cotton socks.  I learned to adapt to my environment by layering clothes in order to stay warm.By the end of the first week I wasn’t so cold anymore.  It is amazing how quickly I was able to adapt when I changed my focus from how miserable the cold was to how warm layers of clothing can be.  In short, I chose to set down my victim thinking about how freezing I was and pick up my victorious thinking about how comfortable I could be.  I didn’t like my situation so I changed it!  Complaining about it wasn’t making me warmer so I did something productive instead and got warm.
Psychological Safety - Risk and failure

Psychological Safety – On Taking Chances

Okay, so the truth is that this picture is not me.  It’s not even Vermont – where I happen to be working and freezing right now!  It’s my cousin Theresa and it’s in Illinois.  She is standing on her Dad’s frozen pond and loving it!  When I saw her post this picture on Facebook all I could say was, “That is so cool!” But other people who viewed the picture were saying things to her like, “Get off there!” and “Are you nuts!” and “OMG you are scaring me!Experiencing great things in life sometimes means taking risks.  Without risk we will never be as innovative as we could be because we’ll always be playing it safe.  Some people are afraid of taking risks because with risk comes the possibility of failure.  But, mature agile leaders and teams will recognize that failure doesn’t have to be bad.  We learn things through failure that we would never know if we hadn’t tried and flopped.  We learn what we never want to do again and what changes we can make to create a better team or product in the future.