Monday, September 24, 2018

Listening, Compassion, and Shared Context make coaching rewarding.

Healthy Ownership requires plenty of tools.
I have spent a majority of my life around educators.  I have family members who were teachers and administrators.  Many of my peers in college are teaching at the university and high school level.  I also spend my time on social media following teachers, trainers, and educators of all stripes.  A common refrain I hear from all these people in my life is satisfaction they receive when students they serve understand a difficult concept or master a skill.   For many of them, this feeling of satisfaction is why they got into education.  It is the same reason I am an agile coach and why I am championing the notion of “Healthy Ownership.”

My attendance at the agile coach’s retreat earlier this year was an awakening for me.  I spent time with other coaches and learned some valuable lessons about myself.  I also worked closely with ten gifted people who held each other accountable and created something called “Healthy Ownership.”  Born out of frustration in my agile practice, “Healthy Ownership: was an opportunity for me to learn better techniques of coaching. It was also a chance to step aside and learn how others lead and motivate teams.  It is surprising what I learned. 

The most important lesson is to listen to what people are saying.  I struggle with this ability at work.  Put me in front of a PBS documentary, Anime show or Kaiju film, and I am perfectly attentive.  In work situations, I struggle to listen.  My inability to pay attention to verbal and non-verbal cues hurt my coaching.  Thus, I am committing myself to be a better listener, so I understand the hidden and apparent challenges to the teams I am serving. 

After listening, I need to work on guiding others to have more compassion for their colleagues.  You cannot fundamentally change how empathetic a person is but you can help someone it is their self-interest to help others. Ayn Rand speaks about the “virtue of selfishness.”  I consider her thinking to be an alibi for callousness and contempt which will undermine any team attempting to succeed.  It is why everyone needs to understand they are working together.  You may not be able to increase team empathy, but by reducing callousness and contempt among team members, a coach will have a better success rate. 

Finally, after guiding others to help team members, it is essential to create a shared context.  It means a product owner, developer and scrum master should understand how to better focus on what they need to do together to be successful.  For instance, my teams discuss technical debt daily. The purpose of the discussion is for product owners to understand the obstacles the teams need to overcome to deliver the product.  The mindset of continuous improvement seeps into everyone’s mindset, and during sprint planning, we have frank discussions about the amount of refactoring we need to accomplish.  The shared context is building quality for the customer faster.  If the product owner sees how hard it is to get stories finished, they pay attention to technical debt. 

I am going to be in San Diego as part of the agile coaching exchange talking about “Healthy Ownership” and how it has changed my perspective.  As you can see, I am going to be talking about it for the remainder of my career. 

Until next time.