AYE 2010 – Day 1 Wrap-up

Who-da thunk thinking could use so much energy!  Of course, maybe the morning workout and swim had something to do with the fact I’m just completely wiped.

In the morning I attended Esther Derby’s session “Lifting the Veil: How Visible and Invisible Structures Drive Organizational Behaviour”.    A client I was working with had made some org structure changes and I had asked the decision maker what different outcome they expect by making this change.  The response was a stare back at me that made me feel like I had grown 7 or 8 extra heads.

In this session we talked about how managers often get fooled by looking surface structure (IE: org chart) where they may be better served by understanding containers and what effect the system has on the behaviour they’re seeing.  When I was probing that client about the expected outcome, I wanted to understand why they thought moving pieces around on a chess board would make a difference without necessarily understanding how the current system was influencing the behaviour they didn’t like in the first place.  That was kinda confusing, what I mean is, org changes are often a gut-reaction to some behaviour managers don’t understand and don’t know how to deal with.

In this recent situation, I feel I failed to help the client understand this by not being able to explain it well.  This session gave me better language and real concrete examples from our workshop that I will use to be more effective next time.  Suffice to say, managers are also caught in that same system and they themselves are behaving because of the system they’re in as well.  Perhaps the org change was the result of pressure from elsewhere or desperation out of fear.

The one (of many) takeaway for me was that you have better options for solutions once you’ve made those patterns visible.  For me that means taking time to watch these patterns emerge instead of making a gut-reaction change.  I suppose the other takeaway is a list of more books I now want to read and different language I want to learn to be more effective.

In the afternoon I attended Jerry Weinberg’s session on Coaching the Coaches.  I’ve participated in 2 coaching circles and pair coached before so this was a great opportunity to learn some skills from the other attendees and of course Jerry!

It’s tough to put my finger on what the best part of this session was because the whole session was executed so well.  It was pretty clear that nobody really knows what an Agile Coach is or what they do only that there is a big list of stuff they may or may not do depending on the situation.  I’d have to agree, like I mentioned in my other post, ‘Agile Coach’ is what resonates with the market because it’s popular nowadays.  I guess it also sounds better than a boring old ‘consultant’ title.

It was interesting to see the perspective from people who’ve labelled themselves as ‘Agile Coaches’ (myself included), people who’ve been coached and people who thought they did some ‘coaching’ tasks as managers.  Coaches seemed to have the opinion of team focus whereas people who had been coached felt that their individual interests were served well by coaches.   There were some overlapping similarities as well.

My one takeaway was that as a person who’s brought in to coach a team or organization it’s important to understand their perspective and ask what they expect to get from being coached.  By ‘they’, I mean the individuals being coached, not the organization.  Jerry had a great example.  Suppose somebody comes to your door and tells you they have come to fix your problems without having any context or knowledge about YOUR problems.  What would you do?

Often individuals have coaching PUSHED on them, as a coach it’s important to be receptive that.  It’s also important to realize that what we may perceive as resistance is actually a safety reflex in the person being coached.  Adding to the complexity is the fact that people go through change at different paces and intensities which makes coaches have to adapt on the fly to different people and situations.

Great first day, and I haven’t even talked about the lunch, hallway and post-session conversations!  Looking forward to tomorrow, think I’ll skip the morning swim and get a bit of extra sleep!