Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Recognizing your Weaknesses

Today I got an interesting compliment. A good friend of mine told me “if I could give any team you are working with some advice it would be – just close your eyes, and do everything Harry tells you to do no matter how crazy it seems. Because there is a plan to the madness”. This friend of mine went through a coaching engagement with me, and he discovered and is following a role in Leadership. Indeed, high praise from someone who had to see lots of change within a very tight timeline. But looking at myself, with a new team, in a new organization, with an environment that is NOT interested in my best value proposition – I find that there are things I can improve. After the whining and the pity party, I started to look at myself. And I discovered that I was being lazy, disorganized and complacent. There were great excuses for this – but that is exactly what they were. And I realized I had to make a decision. The very thing I try to get organizations and teams to discover about themselves. So it got me to thinking about the team and the environment…

One of the things I had noticed about the environment is that this was an environment, like many others, that was trying to be “agile”. They learned all the words, some of the mechanics – and without direction they “sprouted” a garden of all sorts of different practices and tools. This led to a culture that is “change resistant” – because even within each little group, any change made can be undone with the help of the other teams. It’s impressive – like a self-correcting dysfunctional system. I believe they got here due to the complete lack of management care, protection and direction. But the one thing I could not get over was the acceptance of the entire team to the “status quo”. They had issues, the understood they were “dysfunctional” – but when I suggested any improvements, the immediate reaction was protective – “We tried it, it failed and that is the way it is”. When I insisted that we needed to change, the question changed slightly “Why do you think YOU will make a difference?”. Having spent some time there, and with all the emotions I described in the first paragraph, I was left with a choice – capitulate, or do what I am designed to do – however challenging it may seem

But first, I had to look at my approach. Serving this team as a SM, and knowing that they expected me to be a combination PM/Manager had me in the dumps. I did not want to do PM work anymore, I was not interested in babysitting a team, and much less did I want to be the brunt of blame that the team hinted was around the corner. And, all this time, the coach in me was yelling to get out. But first, I had to overcome myself. Really looking at myself enabled me to make the choice that needed to be made. If I wanted to help this team, I was going to have to eat it and perform my best PM/Manager combo. And I would have to “gently” and “covertly” coach on the side. For no compensation or recognition whatsoever. This is exactly my favorite thing – to solve the unsolvable!

The thing that was standing in my way was helping the team to see and become aware that they needed to change – because there were challenges that they were not able to fix. This means that the defensive layer somehow had to be overcome. In addition to this, it would require a lot of patience, and my full, undivided attention in order to get some basic disciplines in place. Things were looking bleak for the most part, but little by little, with some minimal protection and with trying my best to help out, the trust that was needed between me an the team started to bloom. And just very recently, I had the ability to put together a smaller team on a week long cadence on a mini scrum framework. This opened up the smaller group to listen – another critical component. And even more recently I received the thing I needed the most – a request to help out in implementing change.

At this time, the requests are small. But the openness that is growing is huge. And the conversation has changed. It has gone from “we don’t need help” to “what is a reasonable amount of change that we can handle”. This is what we want to start to talk about. And this is where we want to get – understanding that we do have opportunities for improvement, an acknowledgment of the fact that we may have some unresolved issues – and the decision point of doing something about it.

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