Category Archives: Coaching

Humble Enquiry Workshop at Lean Agile Scotland

Ellen Grove Twitter LinkedIn and I ran a 90 minute workshop based on the work of Edgar Schein and his book Humble Enquiry at the Lean Agile Scotland conference in October 2016.  The goal was to highlight that people should (need to) take the time to build relationships between each other in order to have teams and groups of people work better when difficult occassions arise.

Humble Enquiry starts from the position that it’s better to ask questions, than to tell people what to do. Similarly, it is about being vulnerable to asking questions and being curious in order to know how you might help each other. We focused on four stages:

  • why use Humble enquiry?
  • what is humility?
  • asking good questions
  • why humble enquiry is hard

by the end people should be able to practice humble enquiry on their own because we told them about it and offered chances for them to ask appropriate questions in a humble manner.

It was well received according to the feedback cards of participants.

Play4Agile 2016 – one big family

All in the family

Play4Agile (p4a) 2016 is over for another year. As always it’s part reunion with dear friends, and part excitement at meeting new people at this ‘unconference’, where you learn to expect to be surprised by what you find happening. I mentioned this as part of my brief lightning talk on the Thursday evening. This is one big safe space, where you can explore ideas in sessions knowing that you will get support from those around you. It is so safe that, as mentioned on twitter, a transgender person came out to everyone there. That was a nice moment.

The ‘family’ aspect was reinforced in two ways this year. First, we had the village that is the p4a community looking after Myrta, who was a regular attendee to many sessions as both of her parents are also part of the community. It wasn’t unusual to see Myrta playing with and being looked after by others with her parents in different sessions. This is now the third year where this ‘community childcare’ is happening at p4a and it seems to work perfectly well. At some point I’m sure that we’ll possibly have bigger kids in attendance too. It possibly hasn’t happened as we are limited by space at the event so we can only have around 80 attendees, so they might need to sleep on the floor or in a camp bed.

The other ‘family’ aspect which I realised later was the wonderful way that sessions turned into ‘family’ portraits thanks to the lovely graphical recording work done by Kata and Marti from Remarker, who work the paper together like pair programmers with Kata doing the illustrations and Marti doing the words. One will start something and the other will follow on as needed to fill the large sheet so that anyone coming along later will know the title of the session and see the key takeaways. Having this pair at p4a meant we had a wall of history growing before our eyes. This was a great addition to the event this year and I look forward to seeing them at events in the future. Kata and Marti were told to feel free to choose the sessions they record, and to join any session they wanted to attend too. This is why you’d see them everywhere during the weekend. They are also now ‘family’ as we’ve asked, and they agreed to come join us again next year. As Kata told me, this was the best conference she’d ever been to as they were told to look after themselves and maintain a sustainable pace over their time with us. As a result she was able to take advantage of the location’s facilities and unwind after a long day recording our activities.graphic recording of lightning talks

The ‘family’ aspect was also shown in the relationship between the hotel staff and the p4a participants. We were told that staff avoid going on holiday over our weekend. The staff want to work our weekend. We talk to staff, and they learn our names extremely fast. They even know to pre-order some soft drinks for our members as part of the event. It’s also not unusual now to see staff and guests hugging each other good bye. It’s an amazing event.

The ‘family’ aspect of the event with people feeling safe encourages the learning that we each do there as we’re relaxed and feel that we can move from our comfort zone to our ‘adventure zone’ and learn new skills while also sharing ideas for discussion. I should also point out that the sharing ideas goes on all day and night. Friday and Saturday might go from an 07:00 walk or jog with someone in the woods through to 08:00 for breakfast followed by the open space starting at 09:00 and sessions running until 13:00 for lunch and afternoon sessions then running from 14:30 to 17:30 with an ‘evening news’ at 18:00 followed by dinner and then evening events of games, power point karaoke and talking with friends from 20:00 until 03:30-04:30. You could in other words find yourself with little sleep.

Games for learning

I find p4a so useful as it inspires me with games to use in the classroom and stories to use when talking to students. This year there were several highlights playing games in the bar in the evening. For example, we were talking about ‘real options’ and Olaf mentioned that he uses the game of Fluxx to show the difference between ‘options and commitments’. The rules constantly change so you can’t plan, and have to keep your options open until you find a successful way to commit to something in the game. Adding this game to the classroom will be a good way to bring home the issue of ‘options’ and systems.

Similarly, during a Werewolf session we learned that decisions happen much faster when opinions are reduced in ‘no talking’ rounds. This ‘silent’game round went much faster, than in the rounds where the villagers can talk and argue their opinions.

While playing Escape in the evening we also found a lot about communication being shared (or not) by players, and about the emotional state of players too, as shown in the graphic recoding of the session by Kata and Marti. Thanks to them we realised things, which our observers of the game had said. This was a very nice extra to find them working into the evening sessions and not stopping after dinner.Adventure Zone

Learning with StrategicPlay

The best sessions for me this year were the ones run by Katrin. This started with the pre-conference Agile Game Slam where everyone worked through a number of known games for different scenarios, and then created ideas for other games in the same scenarios, some of which ended up being worked on over the weekend too. This was a good example of Katrin using her CoCreACT process, and as always it’s good to see someone, who loves what she does, facilitate events as she offers so much during the process.

I was also able to see her and Jens guiding the Flowa team through this later too in a slightly different application of the CoCreACT process. Flowa were wanting help to determine where they should go, and Katrin, Jens and I helped them with this. This was a good extra to show how you can always be surprised by the unexpected at p4a. We followed this up with another session using Lego Serious Play process to develop models in relation to various challenge statements about the firm’s vision and ideal customers, which was good to see.

Lastly, I helped Jan run a short ‘taster’ session on Lego Serious Play under Katrin’s guidance, which was fun. Jan, found it a bit more nervous doing this under Katrin’s kind gaze, and people repeatedly told Jan that they liked the session, which was good for her confidence. All of us, who trained with StrategicPlay in being Lego Serious Play facilitators under Katrin have gone through this, so now Jan too has taken this rite of passage.

Rory’s sessions

Although Rory wasn’t here, he was here in spirit with his Story Cubes and in the Extroidinaire design studio, which were both here this weekend. We all received a ‘mixin’ pack of three Story Cube dice as part of the p4a gamafication kit this year, which was a great surprise. Jordann and Alex also ran a useful session on how you can use Story Cubes with agile teams that produced a good number of ideas that I can use, and Katrin and Jens introduced us all to the Extroidinaires as a design thinking approach, which anyone can follow to learn the approach. This will be useful for classes in the future.

The other sessions

I also went to Bettina’s NVC game session, which was the ongoing story of a game she started working on last year at p4a15. I wanted to see if I could glean any ideas for my own conversation based game. Whereas she starts from Marshall Rosenberg’s Non-Violent Communication approach, I start from Crucial Conversations, so while there is some overlap, and her approach is more heavy-weight than what I intend, it did offer me a few ideas for perhaps using ‘scenario’ or ‘concept’ cards so that players get more of the background. However, this might slow the game down and not be so useful for beginners, which is my intended audience.

Tim offered his Scrum Card Game twice it was so popular, and I made it to the second session. I’m always looking for new ways to introduce the ‘feeling’ of a scrum sprint to students and I hoped this might be ‘the one’ to use as it would take away the ‘oh Lego’ feel, which happens when building objects with Lego. I wasn’t disappointed, and hope to see this up on TastyCupCakes soon.

Juhu and I joined together for a session to discuss how to deal with conflict. He had specific issues to cover, and I wanted some feedback on my card game. This worked well for him and folks concluded that you need to develop a sense for issues both at a personal level so that you are aware of your own feelings when things aren’t going right and that you might be building up to explode at someone, while also developing a wider sense of how the team is doing in the sense of ‘danger spots’ in a minefield. Although my idea didn’t get much discussion, that was ok as people wanted to discuss the larger issue of conflict and I found some useful ideas there, which I can carry forward for the next iteration of my game idea.

The last session I went to was Ari-Pekka’s ‘Culture Coding’ session, which I’ve already written about.

I liked co-facilitating the ‘retro-festival’ with Jordan. We tried a new ‘speed’ retrospective with six stalls for people to work their way through in five minute sessions at each stall. As this was with five teams we were able to give ‘stall holders’ a short break as people moved around the stalls. There were stalls for ‘Story Cube stories of feedback’, ‘A sailboat of driving forces and hinderances’, ‘a wishing box of dreams for p4a’, and a ‘back to the future of what was great about p4a17’, along with a ‘weather chart’ of the overall process that goes into a gathering: registration, pre-event info, the marketplace, open space and other things. The format was fun and seemed to work well with some fun comments back from people about our different format.

Wrapping Up

p4a is still the best conference that I attend. I ALWAYS find useful ideas that work their way into my teaching and facilitation practice. It provides good space to try ideas and receive useful feedback from other practitioners, who face these problems and issues on a more regular basis than I do in my classroom. This is the place where I can validate my book learning through conversations and facilitation practice so that it becomes valid praxis for me to use everyday. This is me doing my professional development. This is what I do for ‘work’, although admittedly at p4a it doesn’t feel like work. Not even with when you’ve only had three or four hours of sleep.

Culture Coding Concept

The last session I went to at #p4a16 was ‘Culture Coding’ from Ari-Pekka Lappi was great. He explored how you can use the notion of ‘coding’ with its ‘function’ concepts to build design routines into your practices. In the same way that a kid could use Scratch with its drag-n-drop code snippets to form loops and such, you can do the same when trying to generate new ideas, or to build upon other ones that you already have. This was something I’d not thought about before and was just ‘so cool’ that I’ll need to use it with CityLab students this week and see how it works in practice.

The basic idea goes from the observations noted in the Tweet from @cuxdu during the session:

With ‘code’ snippets on Stattys we can easily move the concepts around to try different ideas. The concepts came in different formats. There were ‘functions’ like ‘define main function(s)’, ‘contrast’, ‘polarise’, ‘overlap’, ‘oscillate’, ‘compose music/make a constallation’ and others likes ‘loop’, ‘repeat 3 times’, ‘combine’ and similar. There was also a notion of conceptual layers like ‘family’, ‘criminal mind’, ‘work’, ‘business’, and others which you could pull in as context as needed. Another group was around objects with concepts like ‘pick an object’, ‘pick another object’, ‘define main function(s)’, ‘eliminate the main function’, ‘think of the use of the product’, ‘why would anyone want it’, ‘how it feels’, ‘swap the core essences’, ‘substitute the main function of one with the main function of another’, ‘add something to the object to make it impossible (surrealise)’

The best(?) bit was using examples like this ‘pick an object’, and ‘pick another object’ whereby you’d pick someting in the room and take something away so that it doesn’t work. For example, take a chair and remove a leg and while it maintains the shape, it won’t work the same way anymore.

This was real cool as with this process you should be able to take a group of people and have them run through a few of these exercises and generate a number of possible product or service ideas without too much trouble. With a bit of practice delivering this as a workshop one should be able to guide them to useful ideas.

It will be interesting to do this with a group of students on Wednesday for the Aberdeen CityLab project and see how they are able to apply this to their current ideas.

UPDATE 5 November 2016: I used this in a workshop at #creakix 2016 which went well, and helped me as this  ‘culture_coding‘ workshop .

CoCreACT! Facilitator Training in Hamburg

Since leaving Hamburg the last time in 2012 after my StrategicPlay training as a Lego Serious Play facilitator I have been meeting Katrin Elster each year at Play4Agile and always been impressed by her sessions, and the ideas we’ve talked about at meals and in the bar. For a while she’s talked about a ‘new’ training workshop, and I’ve always asked ‘when?’. Finally… finally, this year she agreed to set a date for me and a colleague, who I brought with to #p4a15 to come to this new ‘CoCreACT’ training workshop. Woohoo! This was exciting stuff. Katrin was going to be leading a small group of trainees through their paces in learning how to best facilitate creative problem solving sessions.

The programme for the three days didn’t say much, and if you didn’t know Katrin, you might think ‘meh, I know this stuff’. There’s expected topics on creative problem solving, and even the four d’s of design: discover, design, develop and deploy along with the double-diamond. You can find all of this in books, and probably on YouTube too, if that works better for you. You’d be wrong thinking that was all there was to one of Katrin’s training workshops.

As with my StrategicPlay training with Katrin I had read any and everything I could find about the process, and I had run a few LSP sessions too. Similarly, I’ve been using various creative problem solving approaches, organising and facilitating co-design sessions and Global Service Jam events alongside running sessions with students. All of this was familiar territory. I’d done my homework and the extra credit stuff on Simplex creative problem solving process too.

Despite this, I was willing to put my money down for training. I also and had faith that my colleague would be satisfied with the training too. She’d only met Katrin at #p4a15 and had participated in a few LSP sessions that I’d run. My faith in signing up for this workshop was based on this: I came away from the LSP training going WOW! She had put all of the bits I knew into perspective, and added more on top of this. Katrin is a master trainer, and knows how to make a training session feel like you’re effortlessly learning while working.

I trusted that this new ‘CoCreACT’ training would be of the same standard: that at the end of each day my head would hurt from all the new things I’d learned I’d done. I knew I’d be using a ‘learning by doing approach’ in a small, safe environment where I’d be challenged in a fun, supporting manner. Yes, I’d have to work, but I’d also have fun while working. I wasn’t disappointed.

CoCreACT day threeThe first day you learn the process and apply it to a problem of your own. You also explore your own preferences for how to solve problems so that you’re aware of blindspots you may have in the process, and thus don’t overlook them. the second day you work as a team on a few problems and see how this all works in a larger group. The last day participants are leading sections of the process. So you go from walking through the materials to running with them
by the end of your three days.

All of this training is done in a highly tactile, collaborative and supportive environment, which aids the learning process. There are worksheets to write on, Lego bricks scattered around for you to finger with while you’re listening; but you’re never sitting for too long in any case as you work through energisers and brainstorm ideas writing on hundreds of Post It notes while on your feet. Then there is all of the wonderful food and drink, cake and endless coffee or tea too. All of this combines to make for a stimulating learning experience where you comfortably grow into the role you wanted for yourself by the end of the workshop. You came to gain more facilitation experience, and that is what you’re practicing by the end.

During the training you’ve made more friends with your fellow participants too. There were six of us in this workshop. All but one had previously done the StrategicPlay LSP training with Katrin. My colleague, hadn’t done this. It didn’t slow her down or hinder her and she grew in confidence with the training too. By the end we six had spent days together and
shared many a coffee, croissants, lunch and drinks, and blended into a nice team. This is the same thing that happened the LSP training too. There, as here, I knew some participants, but we all got on well together and were friends by the end. The mix of the food, drink and the training plus Katrin’s coordination and training magic make it all happen.

So, go take part in Katrin’s CoCreACT training workshops. You will learn lots, even if you think you might know some of the materials. By attending you’ll gain the insights of someone who has worked out a process that blends many of the ideas and steps together into a well-structured whole so that you too can use this process later as second nature, and always wonder why you didn’t notice these little things that help make it all come together so much
easier and better than before.

And my colleague, was she happy with the time and money spent on this training? Did she still trust my judgement on these things? Prior to coming to Hamburg, at the end of Play4Agile she
said we must go to Play4Agile North America as that would be useful and help her development as a facilitator. Now she says that can wait. She wants to return to Hamburg for three days of StrategicPlay Lego Serious Play facilitation training. As I thought, she did enjoy the training and found it useful for her work.

Update: I’ve now used CoCreAct for an event and was very happy with the result.

Play4Agile 2015

In February I returned to Play4Agile 2015 in Germany. As always this was an excellent event where I could gain new ideas, discuss old ones and try out some new ideas of my own too. It was also special this time as I took someone with from Aberdeen. This made attendance different in a good way.

On Thursday before p4a15 started I attended a workshop with Deb Preuss on open space technology with several others. This was useful and helped me clarify how I’d been using this in the past and what I could do to provide a better experience for others when I’m facilitating events in the future.

The pre-conference Friday afternoon workshop on Improv this year was good fun as well as a useful experience to see how I can bring more improv to some of my classes as a way for people to warm up and move towards body storming aspects when developing and prototyping ideas. There were many demos during the session of the power of ‘yes, and..’ plus also how to better ‘accept your partner’s offer’ and what happens when you don’t follow these rules.

Play4agile_15 organising teamSaturday saw the usual excitement of the start with people lining up to offer a good variety of sessions. With the help of others I was able to have a session run on ‘Theatre of the Oppressed‘, which I missed last year, and wanted to better understand so that I might be able to use it too someday. We picked a scenario from someone and then worked through the possibilities to understand the options, which might’ve been available. Sarah, who led the improv session on Friday, also ran a session about improv techniques, which was very good too and built nicely on what she’d done on the Friday. There was also a good session on using the game Escape: the Curse of the Temple to highlight and help to analyse team interaction, and what happens when it falls apart.

Sunday saw me run a trial version of my crucial conversations game. This went ok, but was not as good as I hoped. Instead, I got lots of useful feedback about improvements, plus an important validation that the general idea was good and was worth pursuing further. As always, this is why we go to p4a; we can try ideas with a useful, supportive crowd of people. Afterwards I went to Ellen’s growth mindset game session based on Carol Dweck’s work, where she and Jens were exploring whether you could develop a game to help people understand the notion of growth mindsets. The conclusion was that this might be hard to achieve. Later, Ellen also ran a useful session on how to use Rory’s Storycubes for retrospectives.

I’m sure that I’ve forgotten some sessions and know I also had many conversations over meals with people – almost always sitting with different people each time – and late into the night at the bar with more people too. Because everyone is in the one location for everything you can always find people to chat to about work and ideas, or play a game with while chatting. This is ever so helpful. Lastly, of course, there were the sessions of werewolf, which are always fun and enlightening 🙂

As noted above, I had a colleague from the university with me. This meant I was looking after someone to make sure they knew what might be expected in this wonderful community and to point out people they shoud meet. This was good. The best part was seeing this person grow over our time there. By the end of p4a15 the person was more confident, open, and aware of what was still to be learned about the agile community. Plus, they had an even bigger thirst and understanding of the power that play brings to learning. I must try to bring more people to this in the future.

Crucial Conversation Card Game

A friend suggested reading Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking when the Stakes are High and I found the book very useful. It offers strategies to help with those difficult conversations that we all need to do now and then, which are ones we need to do, but which we know will be difficult. I also found it similar to the advice that’s found in How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, which despite the title, is more than a parenting book. Together the two books cover many useful strategies.

My goal was to set up a workshop so that people could ‘work the materials’ and leave with some useful skills to start them on their way. While I wanted to use this with my computing students so that they could deal with team members better, I also knew that I’d have good audience at Play4Agile 2015, so tried my prototype workshop there.

The workshop went ok. People liked the idea, and offered very useful feedback. This is beauty of unconferences: you can present your ideas, and know that you’ll get feedback you can use.

So, after modifying the materials, and the approach of the workshop, I tried it again today with students. I created a deck of cards with the ‘rules’ and ‘tools’ from Crucial Conversations and had a handout for them to take away too.

crucial_conversation_prototype_cardsI started with letting each table look over a deck of five cards, and discuss them in general for a bit. This meant they could talk in safety of their group. Then after five mintutes or so, I opened it up to the group for people to say which cards resonated with them the most, or other comments about the cards.

This was followed by trios of students with one using a card to guide their discussion with someone in a difficult scenario, while the  third person observed the situation. After 5 minutes they can stop and discuss how it went with the observer, offering their view too. We did this with four chosen scenarios and it all went well. I will definately try this again, and will also see about getting some better designed cards done too.

The card templates  can be printed and glued to playing cards or similar, and the handout offers the background and scenarios you can work through too. If you use them, then please let me know how they work for you.

My Play4Agile Story

People attending this years’  Play4Agile 2014 were asked to blog their answer to these simple questions:

  • Who or what brought you to Play4Agile in the first place?

I saw Olaf post a tweet about the first one in 2011 and started following Katrin then too, but couldn’t make it. I was able to meet both of them at ALE2011 along with lots of other amazing people who inspired me very much, and life’s never been the same since.  I have them to thank for opening my eyes to the many possibilities which I hadn’t seen before.

  • What kept you from coming back/ what keeps you coming back?

I keep coming back because of the fun and the learning with these wonderful people in such a playful environment. And it’s good fun as there’s always something that I take home and use whether it be an idea, or games to use, or a better understanding of coaching and facilitation. I wrote about p4a2013 already.

  • How did Play4Agile make a difference in your life, your work and/or your community?

The takeaways of bringing in fun and games into the workplace and my teaching. This has helped make work more fun and keeps bringing new challenges because I’ve learned to keep moving out of my comfort zone as that’s where the magic is according to Pete’s drawing from last year.

Where the magic happens

  • Did you change jobs because of your experiences at Play4Agile or took a sabbatical?

I didn’t need to change my job to make the new direction, as there is enough freedom to change how I do the job. I can modify how I do the job and bring games into the classroom.

  • How might you bring the unconference forward?

The key factor of p4a is the people who attend and the conviviality of the secluded event. We could provide more interaction before and after the event. For example, in the way that this blog post and twitter events build up the excitement before we attend is good. We could also use something to continue afterwards by using on the last day and setting a date in August when we read them so we don’t forget the fun and ‘learning opportunities’ we had.

  • What would be your wish for the next 5 years of Play4Agile?

May it continue to be just as fun and exciting as it has in the past and continue to be as relevant to my life as it has been.

I’m looking forward to this year’s event when I can see everyone again and have more fun learning with friends.

The Dream Team Nightmare

Books tell stories to teach us important lessons in a variety of ways. Many ‘howto’ type books tell us what to do in a logical, linear path from beginning to end. Some of these might have quizzes and exercises that help us to learn the materials. Portia Tung’s book The Dream Team Nightmare uses a different device to help us learn ‘howto’ be an agile coach.

Cover of Dream Team Nightmare

Cover of Dream Team Nightmare

The Dream Team Nightmare book  is a ‘make your own adventure’ story so as you follow choices and move around the book. For example, you might find something like this “if you decide to take a walk turn to page .., or if you decide to have lunch with the team turn to page …”, which means you follow your logical path through the book, but in a meandering instead of linear path. Your goal is to make it to the end of the contract with the team and not be fired by the manager.

Instead of ‘learn by telling’ book, this is a ‘learn by seeing and doing’ book. You see what an agile coach does and you decide what our hero does at various times. Sure, you’re still limited by the choices on offer, and you might see other options that might have been, but this is a realistic scenario to show you what being an agile coach is like.
This is highly readable book that will provide you a good read, and leave you thinking about your choices and options long after you put the book down. Go read it and tell your friends about it too.