Monday, January 29, 2018

Empathetic relations come before education

As an agile coach and scrum master, I find myself in a peculiar place.  I have been with one organization for five years, and I am unable to increase their agile maturity.  We are stuck.  We are going through the motions of agile but work is not sustainable, and dysfunction exists between the business partners and the development team.  This week, I face an agile implementation which is stagnating.

As an agile coach and scrum master, you need to take a hard look at yourself and how you do your job.  It is lonely and unforgiving.  You need to evaluate how you can improve and how you help others.  In many respects, you are acting like a teacher, therapist and camp counselor. 

Where do teachers go for support?  How do therapists deal with human suffering without being crushed by its weight?  What does a camp counselor do when they cannot be enthusiastic?  The answer to all of these questions is they depend on the support of peers and more experienced professionals.  There is an entire branch of therapists who treat other therapists.  Teachers have support groups and working teams.  Camp counselors rely on directors and adult leaders for support.

Scrum masters are very alone and are misfits in many organizations.  They belong to a company, but they spend a majority of their time fighting the corporate culture to meet goals.  Their managers misunderstand them and because they do not have any real authority often ignored by others.   For me, I depend on the support of others from the agile coaches’ symposium in Chicago.  I count on my immediate manager and interact with other coaches on LinkedIn. 

I depend on these people like a drowning person clings to piece of driftwood. Leading organizational change requires the stamina of an Olympic athlete, the patience of Job, and the self-esteem of Rod Blagojevich.  Few people have all three of these traits.  It is why I have to depend on the coaching of others.  It is a both a means to improve and receive the support I need to get through the day. 

Currently, I am dealing with exceptional levels of toxicity from business partners.  The situation has deteriorated so much one product owner will not speak to me directly but will tell someone else to convey information to me.  It may be acceptable behavior for mean girls in high school but is outrageous for a business person to act in such a fashion.  All I can do it take responsibility for this professional failure and make the best of the situation. 

Someone I respect said, “Empathetic relations come before education.”  This week that message clobbered me like a sixteen-ton weight.  Crushed by this new knowledge and experience, it occurs to me that I can not just attempt to teach others the skills of agile with the power dynamic of a teacher to a student.  For greater agile maturity at an organization, the coach needs to relate to the business partners as peers. 

If agile is going to grow then, people must want to be open, committed, focused, courageous, and respectful.  It is now clear to me I cannot use the coaching style of a movie director or drill sergeant.  I cannot be a teacher at this stage.  My knowledge needs to be offered as a friend.  If not, then agile will stagnate and not mature at an organization. 

A failure is a useful tool.  It educates more than any success possibly could.  This week, I experienced a failure I might not recover from at my current firm.  Whatever the future might bring, the lessons are going to stick with me the rest of my career.

Until next time.