I adore working with teams and seeing them pull together, be creative and succeed against the challenges they face. However, quite often the challenges are human-centric rather than what they’re working on or producing. Having immersed myself in the world of Coaching and NLP, I often draw on many insights from that arena when I work with Agile teams.
Offering a choice of viewpoints or “reframing”: We can change our response to an experience by placing that experience in a different frame or “viewpoint” – effectively reframing that experience. The meaning of any event depends on the frame in which we perceive it. When the meaning we place upon it changes, so do our behaviours.
If something has gone badly for a team, I want to encourage positive switched-on open creative thinking to tackle it. To do this I try to switch the focus round into what else could this be instead. For example if a there’s a challenge/failure then reframe it in another way… “How else can we view this?”
Responses to the team could be…
- “Great! We’re now aware of this and can do something about it…!”
- “Thank you so much, I’m glad you shared that. How can we now use that feedback?”
- “OK, so knowing this… what would we rather have now?”
- “I suppose that’s one way of looking at it, however what else could this mean?!”
Ok… sometimes this may result in some surprised faces initially Some find it bizarre. But that’s good, as you’ve challenged and interrupted their normal thinking pattern and that’s what you want!
I then encourage the team to focus on taking action, either tackling the issue head on or seeking an alternative way forward. So I then follow up with…
- “So, what would be the most useful thing we can do right now?”
- “Is there anything else useful we can draw from this?”
- “What needs to happen now so we can do/achieve …?”
- “This has been a really useful thing to learn. How can we utilise this insight to our advantage?”
This generally raises the energy, stops the blame seeking and quickly refocuses a team into what they can do about the situation. If they then subsequently seek out the root causes, they are more likely to do it in a positive and a more valuable learning from the experience way as opposed to wallowing in destructive “failure” emotion with potential doom & gloom spirals and team breakdowns. Yes we could view it as “failure”, but we have a choice how we view it…! Gaining fast feedback, inspecting and adapting are fundamental to an effective Agile way of working.
I’ve found that teams soon start re-framing situations for themselves, which in-turn fuels a more positive, in-it-together and supportive culture. Working together as one. If something goes wrong they have formed their own “failure-strategy” and join together against the challenge and making themselves more resilient and adaptive, thus turning both themselves and the situations they face around faster. Issues get raised and discussed earlier, people seek help and opinions from each other. The result: more open communications and collaboration, both of which play a key part in Agile.
Comment: “Sophie, the team still aren’t producing what I asked for.”
Response: I’m glad you’ve raised that, what is it you’re expecting to see? What else could this mean? …
Comment: “We actually have no tests in that area.”
Response: That’s great, thanks for highlighting that. So knowing this, what would we rather do now? (…Whatever we decide to do is a conscious visible decision, rather than left as “someone else’s” problem)
The way in which people respond and interact has an obvious and profound effect on openness. This is especially evident when there’s a perceived sensitivity. If, for example, I had gone silent or had growled back “What do you mean we have no tests in that area??” How would those responses have been received?… Invariably I ask myself “What actually would be useful here? - What is it we want to attain? - What’s our end-goal?” I want productive action now to resolve the issue at hand, not a withdrawn or defensive team. The issue has come about somehow, and this is what we're playing with now. The team will not only learn more about the issue and resolving it, but also experience the way in which they went about resolving it.
So, helping a team to help themselves work more effectively when things go wrong or they hit challenges has many positive knock on effects. Not only honest, open and constructive collaboration, but it also encourages and frees the team to push more boundaries and increases their capacity to focus towards their goals/mission/purpose and where they ultimately want to go!