Think back over your work and life. What was your “best job ever”? What qualities stand out to you as you relive it? And what do you think made that possible?
More and more, software developers come to know Agile as a set of practices that deliver an experience you might call “at least my work doesn’t suck so much anymore” – and then don’t know to expect anything more. We can do better than that! In this talk Diana Larsen calls on you to remember the everyday felt experiences of many early Agile teams that learned to love their work again.
Early teams and practitioners focused on Agile as an opportunity to make things better for themselves, their customers, and their business partners – not as a panacea for their problems. They talked about “trust”, “self-organization”, “excellence”, and building teams around “motivated individuals”. This was a starting point, not a fairy-tale ending they were working towards.
Diana reminds us how to reclaim our goal of reaching for and achieving our “best jobs ever”, by protecting those practices and attitudes that create them wherever we experienced them in life, in or out of Agile.
How do you make your current team experience the benchmark for all future work? No matter who you are, or where you work – there’s room for more love for work on your team – let’s discover it together.
Diana Larsen: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
I love to dance. I have always loved to dance. I love watching people dance, particularly in big groups. It just moves me, it touches me, I think it’s beautiful. I love watching big groups of people move together. As you watched me walk around this conference, you’ll see me a lot of times with my ear buds in, and I have music on, and I’m watching all of you as you move together and dance. Look, I got to do it here. Had Phil a little worried, but it was okay.
How many of you are familiar with Seth Godin? He’s a blogger, marketer, author, he’s written a number of … He wrote the book called Purple Cow. A while back on his blog he wrote a post called The 3rd Guy about dance, and leadership, anybody seen that? Either seen the video on YouTube or seen Seth’s post? Actually he talked about the Sasquatch Music Festival is where this video comes from, which is in the Columbia Gorge not far from my house in Portland, Oregon. You can see in some of these pictures, you can see the other side of the river is Oregon. We’re on the Washington side.
This guy was at this music festival, and all these people were sitting on the side of a hill, and he got up and started dancing. Seth called him Guy Number One. He’s the leader. He’s the one who is really keeping things going. After a while Guy Number Two joined him. Godin called him the first follower. A leader needs a first follower, right? Then Guy Number Three comes up. Now in the video Guy Number Three is kind of a funky dancer, but he’s cute, and if you’ll notice in that third frame there are already two more people there. Shortly after Guy Number Three came up there were too many people joining too fast to count, nobody else got numbers, right? They swarmed. Godin said, it’s Guy Number Three who makes the movement. You have to have a leader, you have to have a third follower, but there’s something about Guy Number Three that gets everybody joining in. That’s a really interesting concept.
When it comes to dancing I’m willing to be Guy One, Two, or Three, wherever I happen to be. Today I got to be One, sometimes I’m Three, doesn’t really matter. At the Agile conferences over the years I’ve had the privilege of being Guy One, Two, or Three, at the conference banquets when we get together for dancing. Elizabeth has also been Guy One, Two, or Three, at different years. At the conference in Chicago I had had a knee injury, I even danced with my cane, didn’t matter. Right? It’s a privilege to see people come together and dance in that way. Dance serves as a wonderful metaphor for a lot of things. Godin uses dance as a metaphor for leadership. I’ve heard people talk about their dance on their way to work, the dance of their commute. We often hear about the dance of love, of dance of other kind of relationships. I think of my work as a dance, maybe yours too, but I’m often thinking of the dynamics that are going on, and the interactions within people, as an amazing, and often very beautiful, dance.
I want to tell you about a dance that I’ve been involved in recently. I’m collaborating with Adam Light, Adam maybe is here in the audience, and some other folks in an Agile working group at a Fortune 500 client. We are doing an assessment there, helping them to understand where they are in their Agile adoption, and where they might want to go, based on the findings. We had conducted part of the assessment, and we’re ready to give a presentation to the Agile Community of Practice. Six Agile working group members came together with with Adam, and me, and we began working on finalizing this presentation. Because of the nature of other commitments, and the way the work goes at this company, we had six people and 20 minutes to finish it up.
Adam had made a draft set of slides, and as we talked he revised them. Susie told us about some things that we really needed to know about the culture to help us with the presentation. Kathy and Micheal thought up some questions to ask to make it be more of an interactive discussion. Dana offered to do the introductions, and I took the role of being the observer of the audience, and doing a debrief at the end to get some feedback on it.
Quick digression, how many of you have heard of Benjamin Zander? A few. I recommend you check this guy out. He’s very inspiring. He is a orchestra conductor, and author, and speaker. At a TED Talk that he gives on loving classical music … The book he’s wrote is called The Art of Possibility. In the TED Talk he says, “You know when you have awakened possibility in others. You see it in their eyes.” He goes right down in to the audience and he says, “You see shiny eyes.”
The cool thing was, as I observed that audience, and I saw them leaning forward in their seats, I was seeing shiny eyes. I could tell that we were touching something in their. They were seeing a possibility in this presentation that they hadn’t seen before. At the end I did the debrief, and everybody said, “We want more of these updates. We want more of these sessions. We are really interested in the work you’re doing.” It was awesome. The Agile working group had high fives all around til the room cleared. I love this work. I feel so fortunate to be involved in infinince like this, things that happen. It’s a joyful dance for me.
If you were there, and you were able to feel that sense of teamwork, and accomplishment, that we were all feeling, I think you would have felt lucky too. I think you would have felt like I felt, that I loved my work. I want you to love your work. I want my dad, I wish my dad, had loved his work. It’s funny, I’ve been in three or four sessions during this conference where somebody has talked about their dad, or their parent. It’s an interesting theme this year.
My dad grew up in a hard scrabble farming community in western Indiana. He came of age during The Great Depression. How many of you here remember the Crash of 2008? People were scared, out of work, losing their houses, watching their retirements evaporate. Well The Great Depression was really worse. It was really bad. He’s coming of age at this time, he had a few sort of short term manual labor jobs, and he finally landed a position in data processing at a clothing manufacturer. He felt pretty good about that, he was glad to have a job. At that time working tabulating machines was considered women’s work, but he didn’t care, he had a job. That was great. Shortly after that, World War 2 started, and he went off to the war, and during the war he was a Master Sergeant, a noncommissioned officer with a group of bomber mechanics in the South Pacific.
When he returned after the war he had management experience. His bosses made him the manager of the data processing group, and they sent him off to Remington Rand to learn about the new computing systems. A few years later he went off to Honeywell to learn about the next generation of stuff, right? By the time I was late elementary school, or my early teens, when he was working overtime, I would go to work with him sometimes on the weekends. I would get to hangout with the keypunch machines, and the punch cards, and my favorite, the work flow templates. I love, great. Then I could peer through the glass windows into the climate controlled room at the UNIVAC machines. I couldn’t go in there, I could hang around the keypunch machines as long as I wasn’t messing up any processing runs, but I couldn’t go in the climate controlled room. I wanted to be a systems analyst too, that seemed pretty cool.
The thing is, my dad hated his work. He liked some of his coworkers well enough. He didn’t like his boss much. He didn’t like the over time, he didn’t like all the meetings. The thought the company was kind of out to get him, and get everybody, actually. He really didn’t really always have a sense of what was the point of his work. He was stressed a lot. He drank a lot of coffee, he smoked a lot of cigarettes. As a matter of fact, every morning he would go off to work in his suit, and I would watch him as he checked his pockets. Got a pack here, got a pack here. Had to make sure he had all four packs of cigarettes that were going to get him through the day.
Like a lot of folks in his generation he thought that if you liked your work, and you weren’t sweating in it somehow, it wasn’t really work. Right? You were cheating. You weren’t really doing work. Work was miserable, work was something that you went to and you were miserable. I know this because of my mom. That’s my mom, sweet mom. My mom is, today, is 87 years old, and lives in San Diego, and has all her life been a very creative person, always had some kind of creative projects going on. Now she’s doing, making, incredibly beautiful quilts. All my grandchildren have them. We are going to do fine when we go off the gold standard and into the quilt economy. We’re going to be good.
All the time I was growing up she was a stay at home mom for most of my childhood, and all the time I was growing up she did things. She sewed, she decorated, she painted, she helped my girl scout troupe earn all our crafting badges. When I got to the age where I was going off to middle school, and my brother was going into first grade, so full time in school, she decided to earn a teaching degree. She went to college and she majored in art education, and then later on counseling, so when she graduated she went to work. She taught the creation and appreciation of art in a crowded middle school classroom to 30 or so people going through puberty. Think about that for a minute. She really understood barely controlled chaos, for any of us trying to control chaos, this is a woman who understood it.
She would come home from work tired after staying late to grade papers, and drooping after dealing with hormones, and energy, of 120 or so sixth, seventh, and eighth graders, all day. My dad could not take her tiredness seriously. He would say, “Your job is just a pud. It’s ridiculously easy.” I actually looked up that definition. He could not believe that her work could be that hard. His evidence was she also said she loved her work.
Now my dad was a good man. He loved his family but work, work was for the paycheck. No liking, no loving, you work for the paycheck. No liking, no loving, 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, for 30 years of a career. Now this maybe why at 18 I looked at my two parents and said, “I think I’d rather do something I enjoy working and feel good at then actually working and being miserable,” right? It’s also the reason why I have been consistently, I believe, unwilling to take any job that requires me to wear a suit, and determined to help you love your work. I want all of you to have the best jobs ever.
How many of you like engaging with really challenging problems, problems that really take you to your limit, really stretch you? How many of you like those? Keep your hands up. How many of you also find that work kind of fun and really satisfying? If you’ve got both hands in the air stand up, look around. You can put your hands down once you’re standing. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Many of us know tough problems, those challenging problems, can be fun problems. Hard work can be satisfying work. If we can really put that together we can have the best jobs ever.
I started out earlier in my career working with highly skilled professional people helping them to map, and analyze, and redesign, their own work processes. Interestingly, they almost always, I actually think the real answer is they always, but you know you always want to hedge a little bit, created some form of self organizing, self managing, cross functional, teams. They recognized that was the best way to get their kind of work, knowledge work, accomplished. That was the first time I ever got to hear someone say, “You know, I use to just hang in there until Friday, and the relief of the weekend, if I got a weekend. Now I’m looking forward to Monday. I can’t wait to get to work. I love my job now. This is the best job ever.” That was cool. When I started hearing people say that, they had designed their own work and they loved it. I was hooked. I really knew that I had found the work I wanted to do in the world.
In the late ’90s I had the opportunity to meet a number of the folks who were early pioneers in the methods formerly as Lightweight, right? I got to meet Ward Cunningham, Ron Jeffries, some of these folks are here, Kent Beck, Joshua Kerievsky, Martin Fowler, and a whole bunch of other of those really early Agile pioneers. You’ve heard of the monsters of rock, I think of these folks as the giants of Agile. These are the giants on whose shoulders we stand, right? We all stand on the shoulders of giants and these are ours.
The thing was, the thing that really hooked me about hanging out with them, was I saw that they cared. They cared whether your work was at a sustainable pace or whether you were on a death march project. They cared whether you got to work collaboratively or in a competitive environment at odds with each other. They cared whether you could produce high performance. They cared whether there was trust, transparency, and respect, between the business and technical folks. Wow. They cared about that stuff and I was hooked. I totally found my connection. These were the folks I wanted to work with.
I saw an open door there into the Agile world and I danced through it. I said, “This is where I want to be. This is the work I want to do.” Now I really have … I keep talking about having the best job ever, but I really have created this job. I didn’t fall into it. I have had jobs that I loathed, and detested, asked me sometime, not now, but ask me sometime about pulling plywood, or picking shrimp, a really nasty job, or planting lily bulbs, that was also one of my not favorites. Because I did that work, I really understand the value of having the best job ever. I want that for you too. This morning we’re going to talk about three aims. These are three things that I have found to be critical. Doing work you love to do, working with purpose, and finding and caring for your tribe. These are the things that are going to take us along this morning.
We’re going to start with doing work you love to do. Think about your last day at real work, not this conference stuff, but when you were really back in your workplace, right? Little Niko-niko chart here. How many of you would say your that day was most characterized by the face on my far right, your left? Cool. How many of you were more the little middle face? Okay. How many of you were the face over here. Yeah. Yeah. Doing work you love requires … Having the best job ever requires doing the work you love so we have to find what that is, right? How do you know when you’re doing work you love? Well I know it when I hear myself say, “You know, I can’t not do this. I’m compelled, I’m helpless. This is what I do, no matter where I go.” When I think about retiring from this work and how that could possibly be more rewarding than just keeping doing it, continuing to do it. You know you have the best work for you when you think, “I’d rather do this and fail than not do it at all.”
Get comfortable just in your seats. Lean back. If you want to close your eyes. I want you to think back for a moment. Think back to the jobs that you regard most fondly. I mean think about things you … work you had when you were a kid, or a teenager, young adult, all the way up until now. Find that work that you liked the best. Maybe it wasn’t perfect but it was the one you liked the best. Notice your coworkers, see them, visualize them, in your mind. Who else was there? What faces are you happy to see? What did your workspace look like? What did you hear? What kind of sounds were in your environment? Did you hear the buzz of conversation, some other kind, mechanical sounds, music? Remember the feel of the tools, or equipment, that you used, or the supplies in your hands. Really put yourself there in that work you liked best. Smell the aromas if there were aromas there. Okay, come on back. Come on back to now, today.
How many of you felt your eyes get shiny? Yeah, a few. yeah. How many of you were thinking about work that you do today, your current work? Okay. For how many of you was it some work that you’ve done in the past? Okay. For how many of you was this really hard because you really haven’t found work you like yet? That’s always a possibility.
In the early years of Agile many of us … Well many of us even today are drawn to this work because of extreme programming, or SCRUM, or lean software development. There’s something in there that resonated with something in us, that drew us to this work, this kind of work, this software development work, this working in teams. In those very early years, those of us who were going around to teams in the early 2000s, maybe the late 1990s, we encountered a lot of teams where people were saying, like I use to hear in my work process design days, “I love this work. This is the best job ever.” Now, to borrow an observation from Brian [Merrick 00:30:48], too often when we go to see team members, and talk to teams, we’re hearing, “Well, at least my job sucks less.” I think we can do better than that. I think we can do better. Find a way to discover the work you really love, the work that can help you say you love your work. If you haven’t found it yet I’m going to give you some ideas for how to find it. Whoops, I’m back.
There are online self assessments. I’ve actually taken a few that I thought were really valuable. Edgar Schein has one called Career Anchors that gives some guidance. There’s the Strengths Finder 2.0 stuff, there are a number of those out there. If you ask people around you they probably could suggest some others. That’s a good place to start, begins to give you some insight into your own direction, what you’d love to do. Another thing is to share stories with your friends, talk about challenges. My friend [Gita 00:32:07] made an exciting shift to becoming an independent coach and consultant, a freelancer. All that excitement, she discovered, came along with a fair amount of anxiety about marketing, and cash flow, and stuff like that. Through Twitter she reached out to her community, to her friends, and said, “Who else is feeling this and what does this mean?” She got responses from a number of coaches, and consultants, and other freelancers.
I responded to her. I said, “You know Gita, for the first several years of my consulting career, about three or four times a year I thought, ‘I think I should go get a real job.'” It was a recurring theme, right? Here I am still. The rewards of doing what I do were great enough to overcome my fears about those things so I stuck with it. It was helpful to her to reach out and get some of those stories from her friends. If you don’t have friends who are capable of this sort of thing, find a coach. There are a number in this audience, I think you could choose from.
Consider a personal retrospective, right? Think back to when you were a child. Usually the sweet spot is nine to twelve years old, right in there, right in there. When there were times that you could do whatever you wanted. You weren’t school, you didn’t have after school lessons of any kind, or sports commitments. You could do whatever you wanted, and your friends, maybe, were willing to go along with you. Right? When you had that, in those years, what did you do? There are clues there to the work you love.
When I was that age, in my neighborhood, we played school a lot. We played school a lot. I don’t know why, anyway, I always got to be the teacher, so I got pretty good at that. It was because I had aunts who were teachers, and at the end of a cycle they would give me all their teacher guide schoolbooks, and so I had all the activities, and the answers. I had an edge, right? Yeah. We would do that. We would put on shows in our neighborhood. I would be on stage in my three houses down neighbors garage. I did a lot of talking with my friends about how to interact with their parents, and their teachers, other adults in their lives.
I read books. I read lots, and lots, and lots, of books. Actually, when I was in elementary school I went to a school where we had to buy our books. We bought our books every year. In August, a little before school started, all the books would go on sale. My mom and I, we would go down and we’d buy my books for that year. I’d take them home, and over the next two weeks I would read them all. By the time school started in September, I knew what we were going to be learning about next May. I’ve always liked knowing what the next thing coming is. I’ve always liked being able to see the whole territory. A pretty good preparation for being a consultant, coach, training facilitator, right? Wouldn’t you say? There are clues, there are clues in those things that you do, did, just out of your own discretion.
If none of these things, the online assessments, or talking with your friends, or doing a personal retrospective, work for you, do something else. I don’t care, create a Pinterest board, count magazine pictures, and build a collage, anything that will give you some tangible idea of what is the work you will love so that you can go after it. Because discovering the work you love to do is the first part of getting to the best job ever.
The next thing is working with purpose. Yeah. Imagine you won the lottery. How many of you would stay right where you are, in the work you’re in, in the company you’re with? I mean we’re talking about the big lottery, not the $5 scratch off tickets. We’re talking about, this is significant financial freedom here, right? How many of you would stay where you are? Cool. How many of you might keep doing the same kind of work but you’d shift companies? Yeah. How many of you would chuck it all and go after some other dream? Yeah. Cool, yeah, yeah.
I have a confession to make. I cry at training videos. It’s not searing dramas, or romantic comedies, that get to me. I start getting teary eyed when I see these corporate videos, and there’s this soft drink brand that transformed the workplace, and they’re bottling plant in Oklahoma. Now the delivery truck drivers are smiling at the store owners while they stack the shelves. Or the video of a Boeing plant that held an open space event for all their engineers to come together and redesign the doors on an aircraft. It gives me goosebumps now to even think about it. More recently, I saw a company video where a team in an organization had made a video to tell the rest of the company how moving to an Agile way of working had given their jobs new meaning. Don’t even get me started on Wiki Speed Videos. That takes me right over the edge. What kind of stories move you? Think about what stories move you. That’s a clue to your purpose. The reason these stories move me is that they are so connected with the work I want to do in the world. Not just the physical work but the actual, what results do I want to see?
A number of years ago, again, in the early part of my career, actually before the work process design days, I was doing some training. I was doing some consulting, a little bit of coaching, but I had actually begun to do a couple of change management projects, but I really didn’t have a focus. I really didn’t know where I was going or what I needed to do. I thought I needed to find my purpose. I needed to define my own personal vision and mission. I thought about it a little bit, I rummaged around in my facilitator tool kit, and I pulled out the five whys, total quality tool. I thought if quality circles can use this to dig down to the root cause of manufacturing problems, why can’t I use it to dig down to my own root cause, my purpose for being here?
That’s what I did. I asked myself, “Now what is it I do and why is that important to me?” When I had an answer I asked again, and again, and I think I may have gone beyond five. I might have gone to seven. In the end I uncovered my purpose. My purpose is to help build healthy workplaces and to spread awareness that they are real, achievable, and contribute to a healthy bottom line. You all spend so much time at work and what you do there affects all the rest of your lives. It needs to be a healthy, productive, satisfying, place to be. I believe I was put on the planet to help with that, down in my bones.
Luckily I was very fortunate that I ran into somebody else who also had a very similar focus and I was smart enough to pair up with her. Sharon and I have been … Sharon Buckmaster and I have been partners now for it will be 21 years in September. The team at our company has a vision, the vision for us is that we contribute to workplaces where people say, “I love my work. This is the best job ever.” People at all levels. Lucky and fortunate. How many of you think you have … you know your purpose? Pretty clear about it. If you haven’t found it, I really do recommend this Five Whys technique. It’s a great place to start. Find another person who also wants to uncover theirs and take turns asking … It’s hard, it’s hard if you ask yourself the question so you need somebody else to say, “And why did you do that? Then why did you do that?” It’s helpful to have that come from the outside. Give it a try. Find your purpose.
Just like individuals need a purpose, teams need a purpose too. In Agile we work collaboratively. We pair up, we look for cross functional teams, some of us program in mobs. We work together. We team up. Those teams, those collections of people, need purpose too. I think this where … This is where I’m going to talk about Agile Chartering. Ainsley Nies and I, a few years ago, putting our heads together, and we looked around. We both have a really strong sense that purpose is important, and we were looking through all the principles, and practices, and we saw purpose kind of everywhere implied for teams, but nowhere really called out. We were working on a book at the time called Lift Off. We said, “You know what? We need to have a way. We need to have a way for this to happen.” We developed a little model called Agile Chartering. We developed that model so that you can use it to help your teams find purpose. The Agile Chartering model actually has three elements, it’s purpose, alignment, and context. It all begins with purpose. Purpose is the foundation. We want to make sure that is there
Recently I was working with a very small team in an organization that had not ever been chartered before. I was there to help them with that. They were work in an organization where the development team creates functionality that drives the ability of their customers to do things that change the world. I mean it’s a very much of a social good kind of company. These guys were known as the ops guys, all right? They’re not building that functionality, they’re the ops guys. I had the honor of being in the room as this team decided to rename itself the System Reliability Engineering Team. They recognized that they, and only they, were the ones that kept their site and functional 24/7, 365. They were the major enablers of all of this world changing work to happen. I saw shiny eyes in that room. It was really amazing. Later on, I didn’t do it right in front of them, but later on I teared up a little.
Like that system reliability engineering team, we also call them the SREs. Like them it’s helpful to know how you’re going to change the world. What is it that you do that makes a difference in people’s lives? How are you going to get there to do that? What is it you’re going to do to make that happen? How will you know if you’re making progress? That’s purpose. That’s team purpose, and we do that. It inspires, it focuses, it definitely motivates. Any of you who have read Dan Pink’s work know that it motivates.
Once upon a time, Esther Derby, is Esther here somewhere? Esther Derby and I were working with a group. We were going to do a two or three day workshop, I can’t remember how long it was. We were setting up the flip charts, and putting the chairs in a circle, as we do, and talking about what we were going to be doing over the next couple of days. We realized that we didn’t actual know … We’d done a couple of different workshops for this company, and we didn’t actually know what this particular group of folks did. Somehow we’d gotten signed up, and we just hadn’t ever learned that part, and so we decided that we would ask. We asked people as they came in, and the one developer just blew us away. He said, “Oh, well we keep the internet free.” Yay, but we also had some more questions. It turns out this particular group of folks wrote the software that powered banner ads, and ad media, and stuff that many of us find somewhat distasteful in our internet experience, but he was focusing on the part of it that really mattered, right? The rest of his team actually had felt kind of sheepish. They really didn’t give us a straight answer when we asked them what they did until they heard him, and then they got really interested. There is a whole very interesting conversation about, “We keep the internet free.” That was pretty cool.
Purpose also scales. You can build a purpose around completing this one story and it scales all the way up through teams, through individuals, through teams, to drive communities and organizations. How many of you are familiar with the Agile Alliance Purpose? A couple of folks in the front row. It actually, I happen to notice, it’s actually printed into your conference program. We support those who explore and apply Agile principles and practices to make the software industry more productive, humane, and sustainable. For seven years on the Agile Alliance Board that was pretty inspiring to me, still is. It’s not directly associated with my work. Communities, whole communities, have purpose as well. In order to work with purpose you have to find the meaning in your work. Who benefits from the things that you do? When you do what you do what difference does it make for the world? How does your team contribute to your organization and beyond?
National Public Radio has a program called … Wait, National Public Radio has a program called Marketplace. It’s also called NPR, but this is a good time for a drink of water. I was listening to it, it’s actually a series. What they do is they ask CEOs and other kinds of industry leaders to describe their job in five words. That’s actually the name of the series, Your Job in Five Words. It’s kind of funny. If you want to go look it up, the answers, they’ve talked with a number of pretty heavy hitters. I was listening to it one day, and I thought, “Could I do that? Could I accept the challenge of describing my work in five words?” I’ve known about my purpose for some time, and it’s like exercise of distilling it down is pretty good. I thought, “Co-creating healthy high performing workplaces,” I like that. That’s five words. Can you describe your work in five words? Take a minute, you can make notes. What about your team’s work? We keep the internet free. Doing work you love, and loving the work you do, or finding the purpose in it, are two very important things in finding your best job ever. They are necessary but they are not sufficient. You must also find and care for your tribe.
Years ago, I’ve always liked working with technical people. I’ve always worked with engineers, and high tech manufacturing folks, and software, and IT folks. There was a time when I switched, and I just really began working pretty much exclusively with software folks. My organization development consulting colleagues were puzzled by that. They didn’t understand, and they would ask me things like, “Why do you want to work with those people? They’re never satisfied with explanations, they’re always wanting more precise definitions, they understand math jokes for gods sakes, and there are so many introverts.” I’d tell them about my dad, the systems analyst, and my step dad, the rocket scientist, and that my kids were all geeks, and that I had some kind of an affinity. That was really an incomplete reason, an incomplete answer, for them. The main reason that I made that shift was Agile. I wanted to work with you folks. You folks that cared about those things that the Agile pioneers care about. You folks who care about collaboration. I found my tribe here and I wanted to stick with it, and hang around with it.
Not long ago, a couple of years ago I guess, I was working with an organization that decided to restructure their IT to focus more on customer need. They wanted to align a bunch of teams on customer needs, and before that they hadn’t really had a strong team structure. They ended up, 90 people, got shuffled around, and they ended up in 11 teams. One day we were doing this sort of mass chartering. We had 11 teams in the room, they were all chartering themselves at the same time. They were going through purpose alignment, and context, and somewhere between after we did the alignment piece we had a break. A guy named Dave called me over. Well some of the teams had been shuffled around quite a lot, others only a little, so there were some consistency, and some really crazy mixers. This guy, Dave, was on a team that most of the people had stayed together. They had a few new team members, lost a couple, but it had stayed pretty close.
He said, “You know, I’ve worked with a lot of these people for 15 years. We’ve gone off on team building courses, and stuff, but until today when we talked about what’s our purpose, and what do we want out of this work, and how are we going to do our work together, how are we going to go forward.” He said, “I didn’t know much about a lot of them. I know more about them now than I ever have. Working on how we’re going to work together is the best team building we’ve ever done.” For many of us our team becomes our tribe. Not everybody like me wants a tribe as big as all of Agile. Some of us want something a little more local, right? Finding the team that is your tribe, it’s important, and philosophically we can talk about we are all members of many different tribes, but that’s a different talk. We’re just going to focus on the one today.
All models are wrong but some are useful. As somebody who creates and uses models a lot, I love this quote. It’s kind of a confession, it informs me, it influences me, it keeps me honest, right? The very first model I built, I built back in those work process design days, and it’s called a team communication model. It goes back to the importance of individuals and interactions in getting our work done. It’s really the team part of the Agile manifesto, right? The individuals and interactions. The team communication model has a bunch of parts, they all work together in an ecosystem. We’ve tried to represent that with the tree, and the ground that it’s growing from. Trust is really the bedrock.
Right at the beginning when your team comes together, or if you can manage a reset, pay attention to trust. Look for how you’re going to build trust in your team, get that started. Look at how you can trust first, you’ve hard some comments about that this week, and also what’s going to be regarded as trustworthy in your team? Who do other folks think of as trustworthy? Figure out what they do, do that, because trust really is the bedrock. Trust really is the bedrock out of which all of this grows.
If you think back … Oh I know, this is a story I want to tell. When I first joined the Agile Alliance Board, many years ago, we were still in a mode where we elected half the board every year. Now for a distributed team of people who aren’t only get together once a month or so, that’s a lot of turnover. It was really hard to sustain trust. Every year after the elections there was a challenge to how are we going to rebuild trust and keep moving forward? A few of us knew that one way to building trust was to really focus on what each of us was contributing, and making sure that that got highlighted. We started doing a thing at every board meeting where the first item on the agenda was appreciations.
Esther and I dug this out of the Agile Retrospectives book. We started every meeting with appreciations. Then we would end every meeting with hopes and wishes. What was each person’s hope and wish for their lives, for the Alliance, until the next meeting. This really helped to establish that tone of trust in the group. Every year, year after year, month to month, we would keep doing it. It was funny, because if we ever forgot it, somebody always spoke up. “Wait you didn’t do the appreciations.” Because it became such a part, such an integral fiber, of that tribe, and how we did our work. I don’t know if they’re still doing it, but yeah, yeah, okay. Yeah they are. It was really valuable.
Put yourself back in your own team room. Let’s do another little mental journey here. Back in your own team room, with your team members, looking around. Is the trust strong there? Do you feel a strong sense of trust? Could you maybe build more, use a little bit more? Think about your larger project community, how is the trust there? The other folks that you need to interact with for your team to get it’s work done, how’s that trust working? Think further out to your customers, to those folks, that broader circle of folks. Do they trust you? Do you trust them? You feeling trustworthy? These are important questions to ask.
Once you have enough trust, you only need enough to get the work started. Everybody just has to be able to say, “Yeah, I’ll check in for at least a little while longer. I’ll trust this group a little while until we can get started getting some work done.” The next real thing that comes up is commitment. Commitment comes in two flavors. There’s commitment to the purpose, to the work, to the deliverable, and we’ve kind of talk about that already. Then there’s also commitment to working with this group of people, to the well being of the team. That’s a really important commitment. When you get that kind of commitment, here’s the ecosystem part, it also reinforces the trust. When people know that my teammates are committed to the team, and they’re committed to me, then I trust them more. Kind of works that way.
I want to tell you a story about that. I did a chartering for a team where the web development team, where a lot of the folks on the team were not early risers. They were willing to put in their eight hours, but they didn’t want to have to get to work too early. In the end when we established their working agreements, they had a working agreement around core hours from noon to five. Everybody sort of arranged their eight hours around noon to five. It worked great. They were good with that, until something happened. The backend programmer on the team, Ken, his wife became very ill. Things changed. He was juggling childcare, and hospital visits and the unexpected, the financial burden that he was all of the sudden under. He had some family help but not enough, and he was kind of burning through his PTO. He was feeling a lot of stress. His teammates were noticing that his stress levels were rising, and his output was falling. It was understandable. They just noticed this is happening.
Then I showed up later on to … I was going to observe their SCRUM master lead a retrospective and give her some feedback. I was sitting there. The SCRUM master started the retrospective, and one team member immediate spoke up. Her name is Zoey. Zoey said, “I don’t think there’s anything we can talk about in this retrospective that’s more important than how we’re going to support Ken and still get all our work done.” Immediately the other team members, Joe, and Paul, and Robbie, and there were several of them, chimed in and said, “Yeah, that’s what we’ve got to spend this time on. We got to focus here.” They got down to work. They explored how they could donate some of their PTO to Ken. They looked at how were they going to cover the back end work, some of them had tried to become generalizing specialists, and so they were going to put more energy into that, and how are they going to make sure that his work was covered so he didn’t have to worry about that when he needed to be gone. They decided to shift their core hours from noon to five, three hours earlier, nine to two, so that Ken could leave work in time to for hospital visiting hours in the afternoon, and pick up his kids from daycare, and all the other things that he needed to do.
I waited until I got to my car. Then I cried. Imagine that commitment. Imagine that. Imagine you on your teams. Do you feel that level of commitment with your team members? Are people willing to step up and help each other, and the team, to that degree? It was pretty amazing. That kind of commitment reinforces trust. It does something else, when we feel that committed, we become much better able to deal with the conflicts on our team. It becomes you and me who have different opinions about how we’re going to approach things, and what our priorities are, it’s not about you and me, it’s us against the problem. We’re just exploring ways of adjusting it, right?
Commitment fuels the ability to deal with conflict. Conflict helps the team all together. I’m going way too slow here. If you want to build trust and build commitment on your team, you must also embrace conflict. Again, it all works together. Being able to get through conflict is one of the important skills that any team needs. Think about what’s one thing that you need to talk about back in your team? Where do the issues arise most often? What are the undiscussables? Think about what you can go back and do.
When you are able to deal with conflict well and easily, teams get much more creative. They are much better able to innovate together, because they can handle the clash of ideas that’s required to make that happen. Creativity and innovation thrive in a atmosphere of trust, commitment, and the ability to handle conflict. All of those together create the kind of high performance you want. Now, I told the story about Ken, and I told the story in Ken’s team, and I told the story about the Agile working group way back when this whole talk started. In both instances it was awesome, but we also dealt with a lot of conflict, differing opinions about how we should approach things. On Ken’s team they weren’t all in alignment right from the beginning about how to best support Ken, they worked through it. That really gave them the ability to come up with some great solutions. Same thing happened when we were putting the presentation together for the Agile working group. All of these things together get us to high performance. When we’ve got all of these things working, we have high performing teams and high performing tribes.
I just want to point you to the work that Joshua Kerievsky and the Industrial Logic folks are doing with Anzeneering, because I think safety is also an important piece of how to care for your tribe. I’m not going to talk about that so much because we’re running out of time. We are pretty close to the end.
To wrap up do the work you love to do. Work with purpose. Care for your tribe. That will get you to the best job ever. Now that might not be sufficient, but if you start with those three things, you will have the courage to do whatever else it takes to make that happen. Find your dance. Find your dance. Find your own dance, take that one step toward your best job ever. If you’ve already got yours, take a step toward your team’s best job ever. If you and and your team already have your best job ever, help other folks. Look around the community, who can you help to get to their best job ever? I want you to have the best job ever. Help me make it a movement. Let’s go. Thank you. Thank you.