Recently, I have experimented with being in a place of not knowing and what shows up in my life. The other night, walking back from work I felt the urge to write what was coming up for me. I stopped on a bench on Orchard road and here is what I wrote in the moment:
“Nothing starts until I surrender to not knowing.
When I am in a place of knowing:
I feel knowing limits me in so many ways...
I hesitate talking to people I do not know, beautiful girls, people with powerful energy
I get all shaken up when things I really want to happen do not...why?...I had planned it all in my head :)
I take ownership of decisions that are not mine
I make so many assumptions, what if...
When running my business, I try to forecast all the situations and prepare as much as I can...yet how much of that is restricting my vision?
When I interact with others; how much of me is really showing up, how much is fake and what I am hanging on too?
Decisions...all these decisions I make every day, why are they so hard to make? What do I really need to know to make them? Don't I have everything already available to me to make them?
When I am in the knowing I am not including others...I think I am, yet it is all based on my perspective...
Not knowing, to me, brings:
When I am in a place of not knowing, I focus, I listen, I am me, I show up, everything becomes possible :)
The possibility to love...people for what they are and how they are showing up...situations I am in now (they only happen once, so why not notice them) ...myself now (the only version of me that truly exists)
Balance...my mind is calm...aware and open
The time to slow down...I am an observer and actor in the moment, it is easy to do both at the same time
So many perspectives that I cannot count them...there is so much more out there
Beauty...I am surrounded by beautiful things, landscapes and people...they feed me with their energy and insights
Freedom...to exist and share magical moments, to fully embrace the time that I have to experiment with life
Not knowing awakens my curiosity
Not knowing enlightens me”
A couple of years ago, I moved to a different city and that forced me to stop doing something I was passionate about: sports coaching. I had been coach to elite athletes between the ages of 11 and 18. I like to think that I was a fairly decent coach and in fact, I had quite a bit of success. Now, many people may think success is a reflection of the number of wins or championships a coach has under his belt. I must admit to having my fair share of wins and championships. In fact when my kids found my secret box of medals they immediately thought they had found a pirate’s treasure chest. However, wins and championships are part of what makes a coach successful, but it’s far from being everything.
Early on in life, I realized that there was always someone behind the scenes that helped champions rise to the top of their game. Behind every Gretzky, every Brady, every Ronaldo there was an organization, a staff and a coach. Everyone strived to support these elite athletes to help them develop to their full potential. As a result, these champions are renowned around the world for their accomplishments.
Everyone remembers a champion: from Cristiano Ronaldo’s numerous goals or Wayne Gretzky’s NHL records to Tom Brady’s accomplishments on the field or Roger Federer’s endless success, we never forget their prowess. It’s another ball game when it comes to remembering Alex Ferguson’s famous second half EUFA strategy call, Scotty Bowman’s Stanley Cup winning third period lineup or Bill Belichik’s Super Bowl winning fourth quarter offensive plan. In fact, many people might not even know who any of these coaches are and especially how they were instrumental to their team’s success. Why is that?
There are many commonalities between these coaches. One of the most important traits they share is that they quickly understood their role in the organization. Coaches are not on the field, they are not on the ice nor are they on the courts, the players are. This may seem like a simplistic observation, but it is often forgotten in the sports domain. Organizations become dynasties by aligning their efforts towards the same objective; which is basically to deliver a winning team. Again, this seems really obvious in the world of sports but not so much in the corporate world. Why?
Winning sports organizations have long understood that strongly supporting players on the field is by far the best investment they can make. There seems to be a simple understanding within these organizations: management is responsible for setting purpose, values, culture and mindset.
The coaching staff supports the team and the players are responsible for bringing everything to fruition. It’s a fairly basic framework when you think about it. The people at the top support the teams below and so on. Sounds like a simple framework right? Well, yes and no.
The reality as seen by the corporate world is slightly different than that of a sports organization. I believe this to be a simple matter of perspectives. What does it take to put this framework in place and turn your organization into a long lasting dynasty?
In short, a simple change in culture and mindset starting at the executive level.
Catch my next piece for a follow-up to this article: Building Your Way Down Towards Agile Organisations
In many of my conversations, I often get challenged about my use of the word purpose; especially when it comes to Agile initiatives. The following story is one of my favorite moments where not only was I challenged but also generously offered a new perspective that slightly, although significantly, changed my definition of working with Agile initiatives purposefully.
It was Tuesday; the meetings were streaming by without anything exceptional to report. People were applying tools like time-boxing, subject focus and situational leadership within their meetings and that made me a most happy Agile coach!
The audible notification of the next meeting from my phone signaled that there were ten minutes left to the current meeting; ; an epic architectural planning session for the sprints following the current and next sprints. We closed the meeting with a review of the parking lot items and the next action items on the board, followed by a quick ROTI (Return On Time Invested). Result: 4.5, great!
I asked the two 4’s to provide one improvement that would make the rating of this meeting a 5. One individual suggested introducing architectural concepts to a developer and the other suggested including the development director from time to time so that he'd be able to understand and engage in the development lifecycle.
“Excellent. I’ll bring these two suggestions to our next retrospective and see what outcome we get.” I said.
“Thanks Marc, and make sure you don’t forget the muffins for the retro!!” replied the head architect with a forceful wink. I later received a couple of chuckles when I offered a healthy twist to the snack by bringing zucchini, lemon and bran muffins.
I then rushed to the next meeting room which was two floors up. I brushed the general director of the IT department while skipping every two steps with the Agility of a puma.
“Marc!!” he shouted.
“Sorry Allan. I’m tight for my next meeting. Send me an email if it’s important and I’ll read it after the meeting…”, I said continuing with the momentum I had built up. I’m not sure he heard the last words coming out of my mouth as I was already a flight and a half further up.
I arrived to the meeting room two minutes early. All the Scrum Masters were present for the next meeting except for George, which was not surprising to anyone. We counted down the last two minutes before the meeting by a light conversation about the sidewalk conditions in the city during this unusually snowy winter. At the ring of the bell, I wrote down the meeting time on a post-it, stuck it to the outside of the door and closed it.
I opened the meeting with a warm welcome and decided that a check-in might be of value for the day’s meeting. There was nothing particularly alarming going on in the organization but I thought that a positive exchange of check-ins might be enjoyable.
The door swiftly swung open just as Alex, the Project team’s Scrum Master, was about to speak. George came in with his usual nonchalance, but this time there was a tinge of guilt in his demeanour.
“Hi everyone. Sorry for the tardiness.” George said in an interrupting yet mellow tone.
“Welcome George.” I replied. “Alex was about to start the check-in.”
“Oh. OK” said George with a smile.
We cycled through the check-in ‘popcorn style’. Everyone checked-in without anything outstanding to declare. We were then ready to proceed with that week’s Scrum Master meeting.
The format of our meeting varied every other week. One week we adopted the Open Space format. The other week was designated for a specific developmental topic that was decided during the Open Space. That week’s topic was: Developing with purpose, a topic that I found very compelling and inspiring.
I started the discussion with an open question: “What does purposeful development mean to you?”
The answers were complementary to one another and didn’t make the discussion evolve toward more than a simple reflection of what was already being done. I felt that the group was not taking advantage of the full power of the meaning of purpose. I decided to challenge them a bit more with another open question: “How do you know the purpose is the right one?”
This one hit them like a ton of bricks. Faces were frozen with befuddled looks. A lengthy silence ensued and then Eric, the Contract team’s Scrum Master, spoke out in a partially irritated voice: “Purpose is the reason we do things. There’s no right or wrong. It just is.”
I nodded, acknowledging his statement. Another prolonged silence overtook the group. Then Eric continued, increasingly irritated by the question: “What are you getting at? I mean, how can you verify purpose when you develop? The teams just do what’s written in the stories, that’s it! No need to overthink!”
At this point, I started worrying about my understanding of purpose. Then I reminded myself that they were the ones who had chosen the subject the previous week.
“Why did you guys want to address purpose in this meeting?” I retorted.
Another silence filled the room for what seemed like more than fifteen minutes. Being very patient by nature, I decided to wait this one out.
Mary, the Finance Ledger team’s Scrum Master, shyly proposed the theory that: “Maybe there’s a feeling that the teams are simply developing what’s being asked of them and that they see no real purpose to it.”
“That’s the point! To do what you’re told to do!”, replied Eric in a disconcerting manner.
Mary started replying with a bit of conviction: “I’m just saying that the teams feel they’re not involved in the process. Maybe they would engage more into what they’re doing if they were to develop with some kind of purpose in mind.”
“Can you provide an example Mary?”, I proposed.
She hesitated before answering. “Something like… I don’t know, like for example, if the purpose for this sprint’s development was to ‘Make Finance Ledger entries accessible and quick to access’.”
“Do you really have to explicitly declare something like that? Isn’t that the premise of delivering value and quality in Agile?”, interjected George.
“I guess so…”, said Mary. “But I think it’s not naturally retained in people’s thoughts. It gets lost in the habits and daily routine.”
“I see what you mean”, said Alex.
“Maybe there’s some value in reminding them the purpose of why they’re developing such and such.”, he continued.
I couldn’t appreciate how purpose was being used at that moment. It was just not ‘big’ enough. It didn’t seem to have the global reach and influence that purpose should have. I decided to challenge Alex’s reference to purpose.
“But isn’t purpose something bigger than a simple condition of satisfaction? Isn’t it something that aims at inspiring more than a simple developmental aspect?”
“Purpose resides on varying levels. I think that purpose is useful to the extent that it engages a people and teams. Ultimately, the owner of the purpose is the product owner; and he should have the task of inspiring the team with it.”, replied Alex.
No one answered. I took some time to let this sink in. This was a new perspective for me as I have always believed that purpose served evolution and development of one’s self. Anything less than that, I simply categorized as a ‘reason’ to do things. But Alex was onto something.
This launched a series of discussions in which the Agile coaches came up with activities and new ways to encourage their teams to find purpose in what they were working on. The culmination of the meeting was the introduction of purpose for… you might have guessed it: the weekly Scrum Master meeting!
We closed the meeting with a ROTI. Result: 5!!
Completely satisfied, I rushed back downstairs to meet the director that I had almost run over coming up. I knocked on the door frame and he invited me in.
“Marc. I was thinking as I walked around the floor this morning. It seems to me that the teams don’t seem to be as engaged as they could be. What do you think?”, he asked.
“Thanks for asking Allan. As a matter of fact I think it’s a very timely subject. Can I interest you in a discussion about purpose?”
As a director, leader or coach, are you inviting people and teams to develop and work with purpose? Are you limiting the definition of purpose based on your perspectives? How can purpose serve your teams and especially your organization?
This text uses software development as an example, but I strongly believe it is applicable to a variety of domains, and in fact, to everyday life.