The Hidden Truth about DISC

 Image by Jessica Wilson

Image by Jessica Wilson

DISC is a simple model that describes four behavior traits: dominance, influence, steadiness, and compliance. The simplicity makes it easy to introduce and use in short workshops, which is why Barry and I incorporated it into our Brewing Great Agile Team Dynamics presentation.

We found ourselves answering questions and talking more about DISC after our Keep Austin Agile 2018 session, and we were going deeper into what the model reveals. Barry reminded me of a core concept: every one of us has all four behavior styles within us. A certain one may be favored or applied more often, but we have the capacity for all of them.

So that coworker whose behavior challenges and downright frustrates you? It's revealing something about you. We like to think other people's behaviors is about them, and yet our reactions are clearly about us! Our coworkers, bosses, friends, and partners help us learn about ourselves. They can be mirrors to help us see inside ourselves more clearly. That quality or characteristic that makes it hard to be around them lives in us too. It might show up differently, but it's the same thing. What's the usefulness to it? Discovering the answer makes it easier to choose how to be in relationship when that quality is present--and it will certainly come up because we've already seen it in others and now in ourselves.

Looking at a model like DISC to understand how we can adapt to others' behavior and communication needs starts creating a path for us to more consciously choose how we show up and engage in those relationships. Thanks, Barry, for reminding me why such a simple concept can be incredibly powerful!

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

What if agile organizations need more chaos?

 Image by ChrisA1995

Image by ChrisA1995

When was the last time you gave someone a set of detailed instructions and succeeded in having them follow them exactly? And yet in organizations we often expect people to step into new roles, adopt new practices, and follow new processes according to frameworks and playbooks that have been outlined.

Humans have a natural tendency to learn and change, and using nature as our teacher can help us with organizational transformations. Change is an “inherent capacity” of living systems. What would it mean to tap into that capacity?

It might mean starting with more freedom rather than more prescription. Self-organization—spontaneous order—arises in a chaotic system. Tapping into the inherent change capacity of living systems means we might stop expecting positional leaders to have the answers. We might trust that people are willing to contribute and invite them to do so. We might look at how relationships in the organization can be supported and developed.

What do we need to let go of and stop controlling in order to allow transformations to change?

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Bringing Backbone and Heart to Work

 Image by deanna.f

Image by deanna.f

I started my career as a project manager, and I often found myself enforcing contracts—defined scope and budget—and having to say no to change requests unless an addendum was signed. My pre-agile days. I brought backbone to work, engaging in those conversations. Sometimes I was secretly miserable.

During that time, I typically went dancing once a week. One evening I would meet friends somewhere in Dallas where a live band would play, and we would dance swing and blues. I got to know the musicians over time. With them, I was friendly and happy. It gave me joy to know that there existed a group of people who only knew the kind and generous me.

That’s how I balanced my life early in my career.

This past weekend I attended the ORSC Path class—the fourth course in CRRGlobal’s Organization and Relationship Systems Coaching series. As I was leaving class on Sunday, I discovered that the Agile for Humans podcast I’d recorded with Ryan Ripley had been published. How amazing that a conversation on professional coaching was published as I’d just passed another milestone in my professional coaching journey!

I shared that amazingness on Facebook, and sure enough, my friends started responding to it. Family members, current and former colleagues, other coaches, and even friends from my dancing days saw it and liked it. Seeing one of the musicians reply, “GO Allison!” made me realize how far I’ve come in bringing backbone AND heart to work. Coaching enabled that for me.

In the podcast, I referenced a number of places to learn about coaching, and here they are:

There are also some great books on coaching available:

Getting work done can be difficult, but it is possible to address challenges head-on and care about people in the process. I've come to realize that relationships underscore everything in work (and in life). Thankfully I've found a way to navigate relationships better--coaching others, coaching myself, and receiving coaching.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Exploring Agility

 Photo by Lisandro M. Enrique

Photo by Lisandro M. Enrique

Have you noticed that “agile” and “agility” seem to be everywhere?

First I saw articles about “agile teams”—teams that could be assembled and disbanded quickly. A different perspective than the long-lived, stable teams commonly promoted in agile software development. I heard Heidi Helfand’s case report on Dynamic Reteaming, and it made sense to me. Now I’m reading Amy Edmondson’s Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy to explore it further.

Beyond that, I’ve been learning about relationships as systems. Noticing roles that are occupied and not occupied within relationship. Recognizing when there is clear alignment and when there is not. Increasing the amount of positivity in order to strengthen a relationship. Relationships can enable, hinder, withstand, and resist change; they can be seen as a building block of agility.

Then there’s emotional agility. Acknowledging your emotions and working with them rather than against them. Our emotions shape our lives.

Psychologist Susan David shares how the way we deal with our emotions shapes everything that matters: our actions, careers, relationships, health and happiness. In this deeply moving, humorous and potentially life-changing talk, she challenges a culture that prizes positivity over emotional truth and discusses the powerful strategies of emotional agility.

Similarly, I’ve been reading Anese Cavanaugh’s Contagious Culture, which delves into your personal presence and how to reboot yourself. It’s energetic agility to better achieve your intentions.

Also in the realm of personal agility is the application of design thinking to your future. Creating a meaningful and joyful life through brainstorming and prototypes. Check out Designing Your Life to figure out how.

Of course, as an agile coach, I can’t help but continue to learn about agile in software development too. The Agile Fluency project is deepening my understanding of agility. I’m paying more attention to practices and putting a softer focus on frameworks. How much agility is needed by an organization, and what’s the investment to achieve it?

With “agile” appearing everywhere, it would be easy to say that it has lost its meaning. I’m hoping to discover its core instead.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Looking at Agile Coaching and Sports Coaching

 Photo by Greg Goebel

Photo by Greg Goebel

It’s common for agile coaches to be compared to sports coaches. Coaches fill a well-recognized role in sports, and many people have had some real experience on a sports team with a coach. In fact, I often see Scrum Masters or Agile Coaches being represented in diagrams as the person with a hat and a whistle, suggesting the sports coach metaphor. It’s a great comparison to explain how a Scrum Master or Agile Coach is typically outside the “software development game”—just as a sports coach is not scoring the points, this agile role is not hands-on in creating the product.

As I think about my experience on a sports team as a kid, I remember my softball coach showing me how to hold a bat, how to position my feet, and how to swing the bat in order to hit a ball. It was awkward and mechanical at first. And that’s where the metaphor of a sports coach starts to bother me. We could spend a lot of time teaching a team the mechanics of every agile event or artifact--it would be overwhelming for the team to absorb and apply. One aspect of agile coaching is teaching. There’s also mentoring, facilitating, and coaching. Many people say that an agile coach initially teaches the team, and as they mature, the coach moves into more of a facilitating or coaching stance. That is one way a coach can work. It’s possible to facilitate or coach much earlier in a team’s agile adoption without all of the upfront mechanics lessons. Sir John Whitmore illustrates the differences between coaching and instruction in a video about tennis.

Rather than spend more time upfront teaching and explaining how something is to be done step-by-step, a coach can help a team explore their experience of doing something. The coach deepens the team’s awareness of what they’re doing and how to do it differently. In doing so, the team owns the way something is done from the beginning, learns to recognize what is working and what is not, and is engaged in thinking of options to improve. The team is doing and learning from doing. The inspect and adapt cycle that we encourage in teams is introduced from the beginning. Imagine how a team might embrace agile then!

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Following the Energy of Change

 Photo by sanpani

Photo by sanpani

Ever been surprised by how quickly and easily a group adopts change? What makes it happen?

I’ve seen a team modify how they plan a sprint on my first day with them, had a team embrace adopting Scrum the third day I worked with them, and watched a group of nearly 75 people self-organize into teams after planting the idea only a few weeks earlier. The “magic” behind those rapid changes comes from two ingredients:

  1. People had time to think about the change. That thinking goes all the back to the moment someone considers bringing an agile coach into the organization. Thoughts of how a coach may help creates hope for change. That hope spreads—others begin thinking and dreaming about what changes may be possible. My arrival is the catalyst for change to become real
  2. People shape and participate in the change. I don’t walk into a new engagement with a change plan clearly mapped out. Change is created through dialogue with the people who will participate in the change. Listening to people’s ideas, treating them as partners, and giving them choice are powerful—people get enrolled in change when they are respected.

If we learn to follow people’s energy and excitement, change can be so much easier. It’s easier to be with them as they try on change, and it’s easier for them to move into something new. While it’s rarely a single leap into the new, saying that organizational change is hard hurts our chances for successful change.

There can be a dance in change—from familiar to emerging. Agile coaching is about being a good “dance partner” to provide safety to those involved in change.

Lyssa Adkins and David Darst explain Edge Theory of Change

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Learning to Listen to Negativity

 Photo by JD Hancock

Photo by JD Hancock

More and more people around me are upping their listening skills, showing more interest in hearing others' ideas, seeking feedback, and wanting to work together to improve. We're becoming more relationship-aware. It's incredibly exciting, and it's not an easy journey sometimes. Especially when we get to the area of negativity.

Negativity can be tricky. Complaints are given voice, and victim stories may be shared. Strong emotions might be present. It can become toxic. This year I've been learning to listen to negativity better, and it's been cool to connect more deeply with people as a result. I've noticed that when negativity comes up, some people shut down. Other people argue against it. They might try to put a happy face on it. For whatever reason, someone cannot listen to the negative stuff or process it, and they might have a strong reaction against it--whatever was said is confronting them with something they don't like.

Why on earth did I choose to focus on hearing negativity? Partly because I started to notice it floating around practically everywhere. And because I encountered this idea from CRR Global:

A complaint is simply a dream door.

That idea was weird enough to get my attention! Complaints are pointing to unfulfilled expectations--dreams that have not come true. The person might not have even recognized what they wanted until it didn't happen, and now it's coming out of their mouths in a way that can be hard to hear. Tune into that channel, and you'll have all kinds of information to mine for possible improvements--incredible! Listening to negativity becomes much easier in this reframing and asking questions opens up totally different conversations.

There are people who speak negativity rather fluently. They might be rough on the exterior; I sometimes think of them as the Waldorfs and Statlers of real life. And it's quite possible that they are disagreeable givers, the most undervalued people in our organizations who we should listen to more:

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

How to Facilitate a Large Open Space Event

 Photo by Nicki Dugan Pogue

Photo by Nicki Dugan Pogue

Facilitating an open space event looks easy and actually involves a lot of preparation—in advance of the event and the day-of. Planning for an appropriate room setup, thinking about how to layout the marketplace, identifying enough rooms/spaces for the group size… there’s more to it than walking around a circle and explaining the principles of open space!

Jake Calabrese and I co-facilitated the open space at Scrum Gathering San Diego earlier this year, and we had many, many conversations leading up to the event about how we could make it easy for all 1000+ people to connect and participate.

We talked about how the chairs would be setup—there was even a brief question of whether or not to have chairs. We discussed having mirrored marketplaces on two separate walls to make it easier for people to see the all of the proposed topics. We debated ways to engage the full group—all the way to the person in the last row who might not be able to see across the room. And we tossed around methods to share the principles and law of open space to connect the group with the structure.

Most of our plans were thrown away the day before the event when we saw the physical space.

And all of our planning was incredibly helpful.

Facilitating an open space can feel like taking a leap across a huge valley and hoping others will do the same. It’s significantly harder when you’re talking about a large group. Because Jake and I had spent so much time talking about—dreaming about—how we wanted the open space to be, we had developed a strong alignment to serve the group. The event was not about the two of us. As we walked around the empty ballroom with its 1100 chairs, one solid wall for posting topics, and quirky square-shaped layout (it’s hip to be square?), I wondered how we were going to bring the energy we wanted into the space.* Honestly, I was worried.

We re-imagined the marketplace setup to use one wall and allow for someone to take photos of each session time easily—that enabled for sharing on the ballroom projectors and social media. Sticky notes to indicate locations for each time were created, so people could easily identify a space for their topic; this avoided the format and readability challenges of a grid on the wall and also made it easy for additional spaces to be identified and used.

Posters were colored and hung throughout the ballroom and spaces with the principles and law of open space. Logistics were redesigned and taken care of the day before.

The morning of the event, Jake and I walked into the ballroom together. People were there and excited about the lightning talks that were going to be starting the day. And my nerves calmed. We sat together in the back corner and listened to the lightning talks. The speakers were fantastic, and the group loved the humor they sprinkled throughout. The cheesier the joke, the more they loved it. I enjoyed hearing the group laugh together and wanted to amplify it. Minutes before we opened the space, Jake and I huddled together to get clear: all of the logistics and planning and details were out of our hands (we gestured throwing that stuff away), and we chose what feeling we wanted to bring in (silliness).

We started in the center square, did not walk around the full shape, and then Jake followed his instinct to engage the back of the room by running to the back edge of the group. And I shocked him by running to the other side to engage another part of the group. In the moment, it was the only thing that could have happened. There was a group wave that was electrifying to be in the center of. We referred to the principles and law of open space that had been printed in the conference programs. The process to populate the marketplace was explained, and we got out of the way. I have never witnessed a group—especially one so large—be so organized and thoughtful in announcing topics. There were two microphones setup, and a line formed at each; they naturally alternated speaking without outside facilitation. It was beautiful.

With the marketplace populated, it was time for lunch. We’d been worried that the group would lose energy going to a break right away, and it didn’t seem to mar the day. Jake and I nearly face-planted into our meals as our bodies crashed from the adrenaline high we’d just experienced. We had been well-used in service of the group.

*If you find yourself wondering how to bring energy to a room, the secret is in the people in the room! I’d worried myself silly because I’d been sitting in an empty room the day before. The warmth and enthusiasm of real, live humans is far easier to work with than a room full of empty chairs.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Appreciation at Work, Feedback, and Gift Giving Go Hand-in-Hand

 Photo by Laura LaRose

Photo by Laura LaRose

Years ago, a colleague encouraged our coaching group to take a quiz to discover our language of appreciation—it’s similar to love languages and applies to work relationships. It was little surprise that my primary language is gifts. A number of the Scrum Masters I’d been coaching had received some kind of token gift from me to express thanks or cheer them on. And quite a few of my Improving coworkers have experienced deliveries of flowers, cookies, balloons, and other items in recognition of their accomplishments and milestones.

Recently I shared an article on social media about anonymous feedback. Feedback is a tricky beast—the word can cause the same panic as a bear suddenly crossing our path. It is often something we dread, whether we are giving feedback or receiving it. I’ve found anonymous or third-party feedback difficult because it creates weirdness in relationships. Where ignorance may have been bliss, there are now eggshells to walk around. My friend Ann-Marie had the most brilliant response to the article:

Giving feedback is giving gifts and it's best to receive gifts in person!

Asking for feedback can be scary, and it’s often considered impolite to ask for gifts… and yet it’s a beautiful metaphor to reframe feedback. If you can tell someone what you want to become or achieve, they’re often happy to help you. Gifts of potential blind spots, words of wisdom, and resources to explore may abound from that opening. Imagine what a gift exchange of feedback could look like! What if you could have a day of feedback gifts to boost you up as if it was your birthday? That sounds amazing.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Games for Learning - Paint the Story Point

 Photo by Andrea Passoni

Photo by Andrea Passoni

Relative sizing is a common agile practice—and often misunderstood. I facilitated a short workshop for team that was confused about story point estimation and velocity and used a game to illustrate how they work.

The game materials are simple—flip chart paper and markers. I love games that don’t require special equipment!

The game is paint the story point. It’s an easy game to lead, and the team had fun playing it. The game allowed us to talk about how story points can be used to indicate relative size, track velocity, and forecast completion. We met our learning objectives. What was really cool were the unexpected learnings:

  • One team member commented that relative sizing their backlog items can be challenging because the requirements are unclear—it’s like not being able to tell if a shape is a square or a star. In our discussion, the team realized that defining acceptance criteria better would help them.
  • For the activity, the team worked in two different groups, which brought up discussion about comparing teams based on velocity. We talked about the downsides of doing so and the troubles that come from comparing teams.
  • The team brought up that they have many dependencies on another team in their project, which impacts their velocity. We compared it to sharing markers across the two groups, and they recognized that they could explore how to better collaborate with the other team.

Thanks to my colleague Nirmal for suggesting this game to me. And a tip from him if you’re going to play it: be careful not to provide thick markers to the team because they’ll color the shapes too quickly.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.