Encouraging team’s freedom : how much is enough ?

When talking with directors about how to enable collective intelligence and co-responsability in their teams, they usually find me too strict regarding their own behavior.
« Yes, last week I’ve been keeping someone’s action on hold -it was over a detail, but I didn’t understood her decision, you know. And the next day I stepped in and took direct control of à team’s action plan, telling people what to do.
But what’s the deal, that’s just two times, right ? On average, I let them go on their own if it’s good for the business. They know I expect them to decide and act without waiting for validation on details, right ? »

My point is : no, they probably don’t.

To explain why, I’ll use a reverse example.

Reverse proposition: dictatorship

Imagine a dictator of a 150 people village. How many people does he have to punish to remove any attempt of free-thinking and free initiative ?
My bet : 2 are enough.
It’s not about controlling all of the free-thinking leaders, it’s about making an example, telling a message. Once people got the message, they’ll stay away from displeasing you. The first punishment makes an example, the second one set a pattern. Then the word spread. Self-restraining behavior will soon appear.

Now let’s say the dictator changes his mind.
How many people does he need to reward to remove the former message, to say « good you take that initiative on your own. It helps ! » ? 10, 20 rewards at least, right ? While restraining from any censorship

Back in our management situation.
Control messages are far more powerful because they’re calling our inner surviving sense. « Don’t get into bad situation » comes before « Thrive in your life ». No balance is possible because these are not competing on the same level : safety wins.

You’re the boss, boss

As a CTO/CEO, you have a lot of power and influence on the people that works for you, probably more than you think.
So when you’re a manager, a CTO, a CEO, and you forget yourself 1 or 2 times per week by being over-controlling, censoring someone who takes an initiative you didn’t understood (in other words : you freaked out), you don’t get an « average » message at the end of the week. You drawn a powerful pattern that you’ll have a hard time to remove.
That’s why, even if I’m being tolerant as a coach, I stay relentless about the behavior required to set a proper messages.

Now, if you’re asking yourself « Am I doing enough to get my teams confident about their freedom to think and act by themselves ? », I would use two reverse questions instead :
1) how many censoring actions are needed to kill people’s investment in your project ?
2) how far are you from that number ?

[Video] Looking for remote Agile tools? Think remote supplies instead

It was a common rant already in the Agile community to talk about people thinking that going Agile was about rolling out some Agile management tools. How many times did I hear “We’re deploying Jira Agile and training everyone to it. Max budget, we’re on top of it”.

Then people start taking the tool as a method guideline, using everything just because it’s available: Kanban and Scrum Board at the same time ; Story points and Man.Hours. Wait, Man.Hours in a scrum team? Yeah, some Agile softwares provide very questionable options in regard of the Agile principles.

The frustrating part is that we know that some fellow Agile coach will some day be brought in to clean up the mess, and it’s much harder to undo some practices that have settled than to just set things right in the first place.

The most frustrating to me: seeing electronic canvas used to run rituals while missing out completely on the whole facilitation aspect, like a retrospective where one manager was just pulling answers from the team and filling the canvas on his own, without even setting the stage first.

Ok, that used to be an among-ourselves Agile practitioner rant, but the question of tools is very relevant now. Since the pandemic, our dependency to remote collaboration tools is real, and remote work is not going away.

If you’re wondering why and how to pick your tools, check out this video.

To improve people’s work, stay in the work context

Wellness activities at work, companies retreat, sponsored afterwork drinks, etc. A couple managements books I was reading lately helped me put this gut feelings into more intelligible words.

So what was my gut feeling about?

“Do we really have to do this?”

You’re in for a paintball with your colleagues. Are you willing to unleash your funny, super nasty self with them like you do with your friends? You went to a company ski “seminar”, actually that’s the first time you saw snow in your life. Wouldn’t you have shared this with a loved one instead? And did you really want to discover Mike-from-accounting when he’s drunk?

These management approach implies that in order to do a great job the employees have to open a part of their personal life, and even their privacy to their employer.

On the other side, are you going to miss out for your career if you don’t go paintball, don’t go for the drinks, don’t go skiing with them? So you went, with that lingering feeling: “do we really have to do this?”.

Here’s my first unease: aren’t we forcing one’s work & life balance for the sake of “happiness at work”?

“The truth is in the cheese”

they say. I would transpose this into “what is in the work is what makes the performance”. So why are we looking elsewhere to solve work problems? Isn’t a failure of work management if we have to go outside of work to get the job done?

Now I had these gut doubts, but several authors I digged into lately such as Yves Morieux, Daniel Pink or Isaac Getz went to my rescue to draw a more clear-cut principle

You only change the way people work by changing the work itself
corollary of

Introducing non-work related elements doesn’t really change the way people work

The authors hints:

A more pleasant job is motivating by itself

My friend works in a design agency. a year ago, the general manager realized that designers where unhappy so he created Friday afterwork drinks. I’ve been invited. Free flow, karaoke, good stuff.

As you guess, this didn’t change anything, because people were rational in disliking the work. Stress from last minute rush and unrealistic deadlines were the normal way of business. Too many jobs were half-assed and designers had to endure disgruntled clients. Exhausted, they made more mistakes and creativity was damped. Final note, their personal time was basically spent resting from work, so none of them had much of a life beside work.

The designers didn’t need to be pumped up for the company, they just wanted a job that doesn’t suck. My friend left.

Baseline: you don’t restore people lost motivation by bringing the like of free drinks, offsite weekends and in-house yoga session. You restore their motivation by changing something that makes the job less taxing.

Reference: The fallacies of hard+soft approach in “6 Simples Rules” by Yves Morieux

Improving your competence is its own reward

People feel good just by feeling more competent and capable at what they do. Think about the best waitress you know. Does it feel like they’re doing it for any other reason that getting the job done well.

Reference: Daniel Pink describes in his book Drive how evidence and experiments proves that increasing your autonomy and mastery is an effective incentive, while external incentives like financial rewards are actually counter-productive (good luck accepting this controversial belief).

We just like to do our job better.

Reference: “Drive” by Daniel Pink, “6 Simple rules” by Yves Morieux, “Freedom Inc.” by Isaac Getz

Trust at work is better built through work collaboration

When you played together with a colleague at a company fun activity, it doesn’t mean you find this person more competent at her job. I had a colleague, Djamel, who was an absolute trash talker at poker, very fun player to have at the table, fair looser or fair winner, and not a bad one. I trust his ability to make any game a good time. Do I want to see that at work? Nope. (thankfully Djamel at work is a very acute mind with a way more subtle side).

People build trust after they work together and found their cooperation mutually beneficial. We build trust through the work.

Reference: somewhere in rule 1 of “6 simples rules” from Yves Morieux

To help people, understand their work

If you ever seen “Undercover boss” reality show, here’s 80% of the baseline:

Boss experience field work and realize the policies from the organisation headquarters are bogus for what employees have to face in their stores. Also boss find absolute gems of employees who solve every day a tremendous amount of problems she had no clue about, then still manage to get the train on time and the clients delighted.

There’s no point implementing any organizational principle and theories on people before you understand what is their work, what is it that they do and what is their day to day goal in reality.

Reference: the Genba principle from Lean, 2nd rule of “6 Simple Rules” by Yves Morieux

Takeaway: stay lazy, no need to look elsewhere

This resonates a lot with my past experience as coach and consultant.

When approaching a situation to improve -usually I’m first told by my client before I get a sense of it myself- have a sense of the scope of the problem as described, and be wary of solutions that actually extends this scope. It is tempting to add that new happy disruptive practice, that new psychology angle you just red from the latest book that triggered you, but it’s just adding complexity to the problem. Changing something or removing something is usually way more influential than adding something.

Most times, a great solution is within the problem or in its direct vicinity.

[Video] How to run your transformation right (Voxxed Days) – The talking points list

“How to run your transformation right” is out on YouTube.

For the impatient, the 4 lines take away is at 30’30”, timed link here

Here’s a table of content with timed links

0′ – intro – the sensitive coaching case that led me to “Transformation” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zl5SAbduXlE
2’15” – inherent complexity of transformations and the failure of end-to-end plan https://youtu.be/zl5SAbduXlE?t=136
8’20” – Transformation principles to address complexity https://youtu.be/zl5SAbduXlE?t=500
9’00” – My main 2 books on transformations https://youtu.be/zl5SAbduXlE?t=540
9’35” – Strategy instead of plan https://youtu.be/zl5SAbduXlE?t=574
12’15” – Being Great is the goal https://youtu.be/zl5SAbduXlE?t=738
13’35” – First, Do it Right https://youtu.be/zl5SAbduXlE?t=815
14’09”- Gardening an organic growth https://youtu.be/zl5SAbduXlE?t=849
16’50” – The cost of a failed attempt at transforming https://youtu.be/zl5SAbduXlE?t=1010
19’20” – Going slow is much faster https://youtu.be/zl5SAbduXlE?t=1160
20’44” – Nurture, don’t scale https://youtu.be/zl5SAbduXlE?t=1244
21’15” – Do you really need an Agile framework? https://youtu.be/zl5SAbduXlE?t=1276
22’50” – Loosen Up https://youtu.be/zl5SAbduXlE?t=1368
24’30” – The Secret Sauce of transformation no one talks about https://youtu.be/zl5SAbduXlE?t=1470
27’19” – The problem with the scholarship attitude (vs learning organisation) https://youtu.be/zl5SAbduXlE?t=1639
29’10” – The problem with Transformation Teams and Coach Armies (aka being High on Change) https://youtu.be/zl5SAbduXlE?t=1754
30’30” – Take away & conclusion https://youtu.be/zl5SAbduXlE?t=1833

Tell me in the comments if there’s any topic you want me to dig in!


Lateral Insight – on company afterwork, yoga sessions, financial rewards

Where I beg to differ –Company weekend gateway, in-house wellness sessions, incentives, are missing the point

While crossing books lately from Good to Great (Jim Collins), 6 Simple Rules (Yves Morieux), Drive (Dan Pink) and a couple of others, a general principle have surfaced:

You change the way people work by changing the work itself or the work context
Introducing external, non-work related elements don’t really improves how people work

This dismisses many mainstream company practices such as

organised afterwork to build trust between coworkers
in-house yoga and giant floor pillows to improve personal wellness
financial incentive to motivate employees
This connects to a more general idea : most of the time the best solutions are the one you find within the problem (strong guiding principle in my coaching). It’s a reminder to look further into a situation in order to improve it instead of looking outside of it or looking to adding more external things to it.

What I‘m busy with –

working while traveling a bit in the philippines
finding my pace with blogging
reshaping my session “How to do your transformation right” in a more natural fashion, eventually split in “what doesn’t work ; what works”

Question in my head –

Why I can’t find any “Agile Transformation team” example that got a transformation done well? Is this inherently a false good idea? Good to Great has some brutal findings on this topic. My feeling is that the way to have such a team makes it practically not a team but more of a “chapter” (topic-oriented network going across the organisation structure).

This was Lateral Insight, your weekly dose of lateral thinking by Giom
Want it in your inbox? subscribe here
Any topic I’m missing? Ask me on twitter @duquesnay or comment on this post

Lateral Insight – Certified Scrum Master training should be retired

Where I beg to differ –Scrum Master training certification has worn off

For some years, anytime a client brings a Scrum Master fresh out of Certified Scrum Master training I have to clean up the mess. Some key mistakes are taught, and I’m not talking about details or things that the learner have misunderstood, I see them in learning materials:

  • iteration planning being scope oriented (nope, it’s goal oriented but the scope is totally flexible)
  • Scrum Master to assign tasks to teammates (nope, teammates assign tasks to themselves in a self-organised and concerted fashion, SM helps by facilitating the discussion eventually)
  • Progress forecast done by planning tasks estimated in man.hours or man.days (nope, progress is forecasted a projection of past performances, and work chunks just loosely weighted relative to past work chunks, in points or size categories for example)
    I had to fix these mistakes probably 80-90% of the time, to the point were I prefer my clients to not have undergo a CSM if I don’t know their trainer. So should we keep running this training at all?

I relate this to the attention to certification.

Originally, the certification served as a guarantee about the content and the delivery of the training, but to which extent can you guarantee that? This training has been around for more than a decade and now the Agile mass adoption is here. There is a huge market of consumers for this training and it attracts a lot business attention. I’ve been contacted numerous time by business contacts willing to get their “share of the cake” (true quote) with relative disregard for the quality of the training. If the quality of the certification can’t be enforced, it becomes a cheap token of reputation to sell a training.

Last comment: honestly CSM was never a good Scrum Master training! It’s a general Scrum training, and it doesn’t teach the skills required to be a Scrum Master (that’s why I train to Agile Facilitation instead).

My take today after pondering a lot on this for the last years: I think we should take CSM to retirement. It was useful but now we know better and the certification has worm off. Get the client back to the old school way of finding an appropriate training: what’s the reputation of the training? what’s the reputation of the trainer?

What I’m busy with –

  • reusing the immense material that came up while building “Transformations done right” at Voxxed Days
  • setting up new workshops for Startupers who care to become great bosses
  • finding partnerships to build Agile trainings that don’t suck

Questions in my head –

Are Scrum Masters going to disappear?

I see already extended variants of this role: melting the role to a set of activities handled collectively by the team ; or evolving to an organisation coach helping inter-team cooperation. Here and there some company see SM as best positioned to be delivery managers with a very empowering management style (manager coach / servant leadership). If done right, I don’t disagree, I coached some managers Scrum Master myself and it made sense.

I wouldn’t be surprised if we were about to see the Scrum Masters role pattern disappear and some new organisational pattern emerge in its wake in the coming years.

This was Lateral Insight, your weekly dose of lateral thinking by Giom
Want it in your inbox? subscribe here
Any topic I’m missing? Ask me on twitter @duquesnay or comment on this post