dear CEO, tear down this wall!

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On the 12.th of June 1987, the then US President Ronald Reagan held a speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin near the Berlin-wall. The wall separated to different kinds of ideology, the east and the west, state-directed economy and free market economy, the communism and the capitalism, state control and liberty.

The Berlin Wall, as part of the iron Curtain, was an impressive emblem of the cold war from 1945 to 1990. The Berlin Wall was an emblem, a landmark for separating, for ‘protection’ and for being intransparent.

Today, the Berlin Wall is part of the global history and notwithstanding we have to face the idea of the iron Curtain nearly every day. Almost without recognizing it.

We call it ‘the black Wall’

I’m talking about meetings, particularly business meetings. We all have to attend business meetings almost every day. The appearance of a modern bussiness meeting looks like this, a meeting room with one or more tables, chairs and lots of notebooks and mobiles.

the Black Wall

I experienced such kind of meetings for the half of my life. Being in a meeting and having the feeling that we are all hiding ourselves behind a little computer. Looking in a lot of eyes without being able to see a complete face, most people are busy with themselves, people are typing something in their notebook. Having a notebook or mobile in front of us is a kind of protection, helps us to do something different – if the current speaker is boring or I’m not interested in the topic etc. …

We protect ourselves from being in a real and deep contact and connection with all others. A basic requirement for fruitful conversations and dynamic dialogue.

You might want to say, ‘but I need my notebook – all information I need is available on it’. Ok, if this is the case why do you need a face to face meeting and what is the purpose of your meetings? Why do you attend? Is there a better way to achieve results?

What’s the purpose and what do you want to achieve?

Way too often we attend meetings without being aware of the real purpose of that meeting and if it is really needed. Could we have the same outcome with a different technique, maybe by sending an email, post infos on the intranet or having a Skype-call?

The purpose of a business meeting is about talking and exchanging ideas and opinions to come to a decision. The purpose could be also to strengthen the connection between the participants so that they can work as a team or to solve conflicts. There are thousands of serious purposes for having a meeting. So why do so many people complain about their company culture and how they handle meetings?

Way too often we have the feeling of wasting our time in a meeting. If you experience exactly that please allow me to ask you, who is responsible that the time in a meeting is used effective and efficient? The meeting organizer, your boss or even the whole company? I’m sorry, it is you and everybody else who is in the meeting!

If you are going to a business meeting and have the feeling it’s a waste of time, you need to talk to all others and to the meeting organizer how you can handle your meetings more effective and more efficient. Have you ever done that? If not, please start with it!

What can I do to improve my own meetings?

  • Tear down the wall first – get rid of notebooks and mobiles during a meeting – get rid of everything that can consume attention so tht people are fully present and can focus on what they want to achieve.
  • Agree on some meeting rules like everybody is responsible for the outcome of the meeting, listen carefully and talk with intention etc. (ask your attendees what they think is reasonable.)
  • Retrospect about your meetings. Reserve 10 minutes at the end of your next meeting and talk about how to improve it. Inspect and adapt.
  • Invite a Facilitator to create a setting for your meetings and to moderate it.
  • Try it ‘the Circle Way’ – have a circle of chairs – without tables
  • Get rid of presentations like PowerPoint-slides – visualize important information on a FlipChart or MetaWall.
  • Try serious games (yes, SERIOUS GAMES!) It can be so much fun to discuss or work on topics in a playful way

the Circle Way

I’d like to challenge you to tear down the wall, the black wall. It is the first step to transform the way you work with others. Tear down the wall and find a new way of dialogue. Tear down the wall and experience a new connection with your colleagues. Tear down the wall to find a deeper relationship with your peers. Tear down the wall as a first step for improving your meeting culture. Tear down the wall for success!

Further reading

death by meeting by Patrick M. Lencioni

the Semco System by Ricardo Semler (sorry, no link available)

the Conflict Dojo

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About half a year ago I announced the Conflict Dojo on my blog and asked volunteers to try out the format. Before publishing the instructions for everybody I thought I could need some help for improving this new format.

Conflict Dojo

I’d like to thank Andrea Chiou, Ruud Rietveld,  Nils BernertSilke Rothgänger and Stefano Klinke for giving me feedback and helping me to make the format more simple, more safe and now it can be fun as well! =;-)

The Conflict Dojo is still easy to scale

You can arrange settings from 4 up to xxx people without having a facilitator for each table. Now one Facilitator can easily handle settings up to 20 people. If you have more, count one facilitator per 20 people.

As I’ve created the format as part of a 2-day conflict handling training for Agile Teams, you’ll need at least 90 minutes to run the basic version of the Conflict Dojo. The more time you have, the better it is as you’ll be able to play several rounds. On the other side of the coin, even one round can be very exhausting due to intense discussions and can take up to 1 hour.

Preperation

Create settings with tables for 4 people, 3 can be ok as well if needed. I recommend and prefer 4 people per table. For each table you’ll need to prepare the following:

  • tabletoys
  • 1 dice
  • a pile of plane A5 index cards – red – called challenge cards
  • a pile of plane A6/A7 index cards – yellow/white – called strategy cards
  • marker
  • 4 prepared plane A6/A/ index cards in yellow or white (strategy cards) with
    • fight back
    • ignore & avoid that there is a conflict
    • solution focused questioning
    • NVC (Non-Violent-Communication)

prep cards

Connection

Let everybody take some red and some yellow index cards and a marker. Build pairs. Let the pairs talk about the question ‘remember some old or current conflicts’, write down each conflict on a red Index Card – one card per conflict. Now think about how you’ve handled these conflicts, did you had a solution, have you made the conflict worse? What was your strategy? Write down each strategy / handling-type on one yellow index card. Elaborate what you have written down with your partner.

Concept

Introduce the ice-berg-model and explain how conflicts emerge. As a little help, here is the description of Paul Watzlawick’s model of communication:

A conflict exists, when the Iceberg’s collide on the level of relationship. Pure contentions on a factual level are almost handled as solvable or not solvable problems and challenges or seen as a conflict of opinion or dispute.

Tension and differences are becoming conflicts when involved parties are not able to handle them constructively anymore.

IceBerg Model

Reconnection

Find a table, 2 pairs at each table. You have 5 minutes to introduce your conflicts and strategies. Try to explain why in each situation the IceBergs’s did collide.

Concrete Practice

Arrange all red challenge cards on the table so that you can read all the conflicts. Build on pile of cards with all strategy cards, now integrate the prepared cards as well. Shuffle the pile of strategy cards. At the end place them on the table, face down.

Give a short explanation of the prepared strategies:

fight back
you feel offended and do what ever is needed to protect yourself and fight back with words
ignore & avoid that there is a conflict
try to ignore all direct addresses and speeches, talk about something else
solution focused questioning
try to find a solution, ask questions, be empathic
NVC (Non-Violent-Communication
explain the 4 part process of NVC

All 4 players role the dice ones. The player with the lowest points will start the first round of the Conflict Dojo. The first player can now choose a conflict he would like to practice. Normally this will be a conflict the player currently has.

All three others at the table take one strategy card without showing it to somebody else. They will also role the dice again to find the second player – count clockwise if you want. When the second player is found, the 2 others put back their strategy card at the bottom of the pile and they become observers.

Before starting the role play, give all 2 players about a minute to prepare and sink into their roles. The first player will have to address the conflict with the second player. As the second player will have to act as the strategy card tells him, his reaction might be not his normal reaction.

tabletoys

The player who addresses his conflict can change his strategy during the role play, the second player should stay at his ‘card-given’ strategy. The observers make notes during the conflict on an index card.

The current round is over as soon as the conflict is solved or one player shows his stop sign. A stop sign can be a raising hand, a prepared card or whatever you agree on upfront.

Conclusion

After a round is finished, make a debriefing – this might take a few minutes as all 4 players will discuss what happened and how their behavior was influenced.

When the debriefing is finished, the player to the left of the previous first player will become the new first player. All others will take a strategy card and role the dice again until the new second player is found. A new round of the Conflict Dojo is about to start.

final conclusion

After the last round is played, let participants pair up, if possible with somebody they haven’t talked to so far. Give a timebox of 5 minutes for everybody to have a walkabout and discuss the question, ‘what do I take with me out of this session and how will I integrate it in my daily life?’.

connection before content – get the fire startet first

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‘Good morning all you supernumeraries’ said one of the participants of a team development workshop to his colleagues when he entered the room.

colored pigs

Their boss already told me upfront that this workshop will be challenging and that there are some problems with the relationships between the participants. That is one of the reasons why their boss thought, ok, we need an external facilitator for a team-intervention as the relationships in the team are highly crusted over. Every piece of work feels like a little war fight and communication, better not to mention communication – people in the team prefer to write eMails to each other while sitting just on the other side of a desk or shoot each other if they are angry as they have soft-air-guns (!?!) in the office…

the Challenge

I knew, the very first challenge w’d be creating a safe space for all participants – without such safe space, where people feel comfortable to state the painful and to talk about the home truth, I could skip the day and w’d end up in what some poeple would call – ‘just another wasted day’. During the briefing for the workshop I was informed that this team already tried several things out and one of the biggest problems was, that past activities concentrated on visualizing the problems and dysfunction in the team with the outcome of some action items. At the end, any appearing motivational energy fizzled out after a few days back at work. Does this sound familiar?

sail boat

Ok, challenge accepted, I just have one sinlge day to transform a highly dysfunctional team into something new, where dialogue is possible and the motivation to change something on the current situation should last longer than a few days. I am aware that I can’t change the complete world of a team that has dysfunctional grown over the past years in one single day, even I’m not able to change their behaviors for one day, but maybe for the duration of the workshop. So the only chance I’ve had is to create an impact, a tiny little thing that could be the starting point for making a huge difference.

When I started to think about the design of the workshop, I asked myself 2 simple questions – which I always ask myself when creating a workshop, training or even just a meeting:

  • Connection: how to connect participants related to their status quo?
  • Content: when participants leave the workshop, what has changed, what is different for them than it was in the beginning?

Connection

Visiting…

  • …a foreign city and asking the way.
  • …a conference where I know absolutely nobody in person, all I know is the theme for the conference and that there’re a lot of experts in the room – so as I.
  • …a grandmother and all others of the family for a family afternoon.
  • …a best friend to talk about the girl you’ve just met.
  • …a colleague to discuss the upcoming project.

In all of these situations, there are different kind of cennections in place, a different kind of a relationship. If you imagine you meet all these people/situations listed above, try to imagine for every single situation:

  • what kind of relationship is there?
  • how does this relationship influences the way I talk with the other person about the subject?
  • how would the talk be different, if I simply replace the existing relationship with one of the others?

perspective

You don’t need to have an outstanding power of imagination to grasp the fact that different kind of connections will have different kind of impacts to your behavior, and even to the behavior of yours opposite. It doesn’t matter what kind of topic I talk about with somebody else, the first and biggest impact on our communication is our connection! A second important impact on our connection and communication is the environment, but the impact of the environment to our communication is a different topic – and a different post…

Content

Did you know, there is a purpose why people have meetings? Yes, it’s true! I know, for some people this sounds very surprising as they discovered meetings in the past as a complete waste of time… But there’re meetings that are different, they very often feel like little workshops and without any surprise, successful workshops, meetings and trainings have something in common, not just the environment nor the connection, no, somebody had deep and powerful thoughts about the content, about the message being transferred, the one and only piece of knowledge that makes it possible for me to see more or less of my entire world totally different than I did before.

key

Content, like connection, is key. So, one of my most important part of work when designing and creating a new workshop or training is, to answer the question -‘ at the end of the workshop, participants will…?’

What is very interesting, recently I’ve learned that exactly this sentence is also the most important question for any public speaker when creating a new speech… I just realize what public speeches, meetings, trainings and workshops have in common…

WorkshopDesign

After evaluating all information which were available, I ended up with a design using tools and methods from LEGO® SeriousPlay and parts of the discovery-phase of Appreciative Inquiry (AI). My Agenda was to create an environment where people can overcome old habits and feel safe to try new ways of collaboration so that participants are able to create solutions in a way they never did before – with a complete new perspective and connection with each individual and the entire team, that was my mandate.

For discovering individuals, the team, it’s purpose and to create a team identity we used StrategicPlay® based on the tools and methods of LEGO® SeriousPlay. So, for the purpose of building a new connection across the entire team I choosed to use a very playful and safe environment to break the crusted over connections so that new and fresh ones can occur.

For working on the content – topics were around how the team works and behave together – I choosed the discovery phase of Appreciative Inquiry (AI). One of the core principals around AI is to concentrate – and put focus on great experiences and what people want to have more of in their life instead of concentrating on all the problems which are present and how to tackle them. As working on the content was up to the participants, I decided to choose the AI framework to create an environment where participants feel safe to share their thoughts.

You might think, phew, this won’t solve the problems they have. Sounds like another waste of time… I need to disagree! On a short term current problems won’t be solved, yes. What is much more interesting than tackling current problems is how to behave and how to avoid situations that leads to these problems – as most challenges that we call ‘problems’ have patterns in common, we start to learn a new culture, a new way how to deal with situations which are challenging, a complete new behavior! While we create a new kind of culture, we also start to deal differently with the current challenges. This norm

As we just had less than half a day left to start the content phase, I didn’t explained the whole AI approach. For time savings I just explained the challenges for an appreciative interview, what is the first part of our AI-approach.
After the interviews were held, we gathered in groups and I gave a short introduction in the upcoming process as it was about to choose a top story the groups wanted to work on and then to discover the situation of the interview, find out success factors and possible action items to get more of that in the current team.

team rafting

That was more or less the whole day!

Debriefing

At the end of the workshop we gathered in a circle of chairs, by the way there were 13 ProductOwners of an international IT company.

After a harvesting of the AI-discovery phase I closed the workshop and invited the participants to give a last comment, feedback or anything they would like to say and how they would like to continue.

Most of participants liked the complete new approach they discovered over the day and they had the feeling that this was a milestone in their development phase. Some were sceptic as they discovered in the past that after such a great workshop the motivation which occured during the team intervention disappeared a few days later when people were back at their daily work. This fear clearly was present. One participant stated clearly that he has didn’t like the morning while ‘playing’ with LEGO and that for him this was a complete waste of time. But the afternoon has made it up.

It made me happy when all participants committed to continue the team development work upcoming monday – the next appointment was in place, good.

I totally respect if somebody does not like something about the framework I deliver, even if the dependencies between the exercises are not clear in detail for everybody. Important for me is that at the end, the framework made a difference, created new possibilities and opened the bridge to new perspectives and communication.

Connection first? why?

Remember the beginning of the post when I gave the examples of visiting a situation. Do you remember how your behavior changed when imagining the different situation in different relationships? Most people discover that as more powerful the connection is , as deeper and more fruitful a conversation can go. You can challenge the content, never challenge the connection!

That is why it make sense to build a connection first before I start to talk about crucial topics. That does not mean that I have to feel love or lots of sympathy for everybody! What is important is that I respect everybody in the team, I need to understand them, how they behave in different challenging situations and what kind of connection we have together so that I’m able to adapt my behavior if necessary. If such a connection exists in a team and teammembers are committed to the same targets and environment, communicate open-minded and have the courage to let the leopard change his spot, a team will learn how to fly!

very little aviation

Epilog

Last week I’ve received a mail from one of the participants of the workshop of this post – about 7 weeks after the event. The Team has still some problems but something crucially has changed, they work together differently than the years before. They are more respectful with each other and still work on the outcome of the workshop – towards of what they want to have more of. It seems that the fire is still burning and that people in this team have discovered that nobody is a supernumeraries, our team is star!

don’t transform Managers into effective Terminators

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Recently I’ve had some dialogs on twitter regarding coaching and management. During one of the dialogs, somebody explained me, that he is teaching coaching skills to managers to make them better leaders and to transform the role management. So far, so good. I agree, the role of management needs to shift if it wants to survive, if it’s not even signed to death. In addition, I agree that learning coaching skills helps immensly to understand others and oneself in a more empathic way. And sure, your way how to deal with others, and even yourself, will change as well when start learning coaching skills.

During a conversation I received a link to a video from David Verble that was shocking. In this video, David is talking about ‘Tips for ‘humble inquiry”. It’s embedded on the website of the Lean Enterprise Institute, which offers managers to learn lean coaching skills to become a lean manager.

Manager Terminator

For preventing misunderstandings, I appreciate any effort to make the world of work a better place and helping managers to find more appropriate ways to deal with their employees. What shocks me is that it seems that adding coaching skills to a manager makes them a lean manager. So if I get it right, a Lean Manager can simply switch roles between being a coach and being a manager, what means he is switching between coaching and command & control! Sounds like an oxymoron. As most managers have their own agenda as they have to reach target goals and numbers, it sounds to me to misuse coaching skills to be able to manipulate people in a better way for achivieng their goals… sounds strange, doesn’t it?

As David describes it in the video, a lean manager can use coaching skills to find out what the employee knows and thinks so that the manager is able to take a better decision. Phew, that scares me!!! They call it ‘humble inquiry‘ and for me it feels like managers misuse coaching skills for interrogating employees. While watching the video a picture popped up my mind, it’s a scene from the movie ‘Terminator II’ when Arnold Schwarzenegger as the ‘good’ Terminator states that he has detailed knowledge of human anatomy and Linda Hamilton says ‘I bet this makes you a more efficient killer…’…

In my humble opinion, the management role needs to shift to a role of a coach and facilitator without any authority, to enable people to self organize and to help them achieve their full potential. I deliberately avoid using the word ‘Leader’ as people have different opinions and interpretations about that term and for me it’s simply just become stretched out.

On the other side of the coin, is this really a shift of the management role? I don’t think so as as long the word management is used, there is also ‘command & control’ in the air.

I appreciate the efforts to coach managers on their roles, this is also a huge part of my work. But on what topics do we coach managers?

What we don’t need are managers which learn how to misuse people in a more effective way and to get closer to the term of ‘human resources’. And, if this is what the Lean Enterprise Institute understands throughout the term of a Lean Manager, than I need to say – this is not the right direction to the future, this is a blind alley!

What I want to say is that if we want to change the role of management, transform or to redefine it, teaching managers coachings skills is just a lousy deal of handling symptoms of a much bigger root-cause – ‘even if it turns Terminators to be more effective Killers’.

business man turn on his bulb head

If we want management to change for the better on a long term, it’s not enough to work with the industry. We also need to address the universities and business school’s and their curriculae and syllabuses all over the world. Somebody else who is involved and responsible in creating and changing the plans for public education are the governmental minitries for education.

During the Agile Coach Camp 2013 in Denmark, I talked with some other participants about ‘Stoos in Action‘ – Stoos is an initiative to change the world for the better. ‘Stoos in action’ will be a conference in autumn this year and during an Open Space session we designed the format for it. In addition, we gathered a lot of ideas for the conference how to make it special and something really different. I proposed to invite and connect to politicians. As I think it’s time to make the next step to bring Agile and Lean to Management outside of IT, it’s also time to start making connections to politics, even if this will be one of the biggest challenges of Agile and Lean. It’s necessary to turn the development of effective ‘Terminators’ into the development of effective Enablers!

co-creation of Ewan McGregor

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As a second post about the first Agile Coach Camp in the Netherlands, end of April 2012, I’d like to tell the story how the Ewan McGregor game was born.

elephanjt in the room

The elephant is in the room

One of the most challenging situations for a team coach or even a team itself, is dealing with an ‘elephant’ in the room.  In reality I need to say – avoid dealing with the ‘elephant’ in the room.

What is an elephant in the room, sometimes also known as the pink elephant? In simple words, it’s an obvious situation within a human social structure, nobody wants to talk about and even avoid facing this obvious situation. It’s also a part of teamdynamics. You can read on wikipedia: elephant in the room

I’ve experienced several situations in the past, where there was an elephant in the room – in Teams, in relationships – private and business, even within whole departments or companies. But how do you deal with such situations? Do you confrontate, what can be very hurtful, or do you deal with symptoms? My experience is that you need to be very sensitive when dealing with such crucial topics – and never forget, there is a reason why a problem has reached the level of an elephant in the room!

A background of such situations is based on fear of conflict and a lack of trust – the two most important issues of dysfunctional teams, as well as fear of loosing status. During a coaching session, while reviewing such an ‘elephant in the room’-situation, I had the idea of creating a game where such a situation will be simulated and players need to deal with it. My intention was to create a safe environment which allows players to explore such sensitive situations and learn how to deal with them for the purpose of creating awareness.

I was thinking about different approaches to achieve that game but unfortunately a promising idea was missing. But hey, this is a perfect topic to explore during an open space session and the Agile Coach Camp Netherlands was just a few weeks ahead.

Agile Coach Camp Netherlands – 2012

So, during creation of the OpenSpace marketplace I offered a session for co-creating an interactive game to deal with an elephant in the room. Fortunately approx 10 people showed up for the session – wow, that was much more than I hoped would come.

What happened now, I don’t know how to describe it best, let’s just say – what happened now was just magic!

The game was evolving out of an empirical process of simulating an ‘elephant in the room’ – in the true sense of the word! We created a huge obstacle with chaotic piled chairs in the room and taped a real tight space around this obstacle.

We then simulated some situations where a team of participants had to deal with daily work while they had to move within the tight taped space around the piled chairs. After simulating some real world examples of team-issues we removed all the chairs so that just the taped space was remaining on the floor. We asked the team to repeat all team situations in the room, imagining that the chairs were still in the room.

As an Agile Coach Camp is an OpenSpace unconference, there were Bumblebees and Butterflies dropping in the session room by chance. You might be able to imagine that this must be a funny situation for an observer who does not know what’s happening in that team, where people move within an empty space and make strange movements like a pantomime.

When we asked the newcomers what they observed, they told us that it is strange, it’s obvious that there is something wrong in the team but that they’ve had no idea what’s going on and why the hell the members move so strange within their teamspace . We then invited the newcomers to start coaching the team. What happened next surprised everybody attending that session. Remember – the team members move around an non-existing chaotic pile of chairs!

When asked by an observer what they are doing there was just a simple answer – ‘we are working’. When asked why they move so strange, the outrage of the team about that question became obvious – we don’t move strange, we’re just doing our work as usual. The team members started to defense and became more or less angry about some questions of the observer/coach. Very interesting emotions and a very dangerous situation for the coach emerged. With one single wrong question you can ‘close the door’ for gaining trust of the team. The coach is an ‘outsider’.
What is very interesteing, each time when I facilitated that game, and as far as I know other Facilitators made some similar experiences, almost the same emotions show up, created virtually. Teams start to defense the way they work, even if it’s obvious that there is a problem. Even if it’s just a role play, participants tell that they feel a need for defending themselves, they feel the ‘hot air’ etc.

It was amazing, we created a virtual ‘elephant in the room’ and were able to discover all the emotions which occur also in real situations of this kind.

We then started to concentrate on coaching such a situation and how this uncomfortable experience can be handled. That’s were the real work starts!
When appropriate facilitated and coached, this game can be a great eye-opener for dysfunctional teams and can create new insights, options and opportunities for dealing with crucial issues in teams.

After all

We haven’t published the game-instructions so far. But we asked via the LinkedIn-group ‘Agile Games’ if somebody wants to try out this new game and lots of people did. Several Coaches all over the world have already tried out the Ewan Mcgregor game and gave us some interesting feedback. In addition, I facilitated the game also several times so far. What we’ve found out is, that this game is very helpful and provides a lot of learning experiences and insights in team-dynamics. It’s not just for teams, also for coaches it is an awesome experience to be in the role of a team member and experience the emotions when an ‘outsider’ starts to coach a team on such a crucial topic…

Feedback

If you’re interested in running that game please give me a ping or have a look at the ‘Agile Games’-group on LinkedIn. Beyond that I will publish the game instructions Facilitation Flash Cards.

If you have already tried out the game I’m very curious to read about your experiences – please leave your comment here!

Postscript

A lot of people are asking why ‘Ewan McGregor’ – isn’t that a famous actor?

Yes, that’s true – he is an actor and I need to say that his name has no direct connection to the purpose of the game! During the co-creation session we found out, that when running this simulation with a team which has to deal with such a real ‘elephant’ issue, it might be not a good starting point to introduce a session called ‘the elephant in the room’ – it just could influence the outcome or behaviour of individuals. So we just called it ‘exercise without a name’. And as this naming did not sound appropriate to us, we had the idea to just use a shortcut of it, so we ended up with EWAN. And as somebody called instinctively cool, let’s call it Ewan McGregor… that’s it… =:-)

Play4Agile – #p4a

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What is the most attractive, easiest way to promote learning, create valuable meeting outcomes, motivate and boost teams, raise commitment and just get the best out of every involved person? Right: through play!

Dr. Brian Sutton Smith – Professor Emeritus of the University of Pennsylvania and leading proponent of play theory explained in his book ‘Ambiguity of Play’ that the opposite of play is not work, it’s depression!

Pat Kane, writer, musician, consultant, player, theorist and activist states in his book ‘the play ethic’ that play will be to the 21st century what work was to the industrial age – our dominant way of knowing, doing and creating value!

Play4AgileLogo

In May 2010, Olaf Lewitz did a StrategicPlay® session at Agile Coach Camp Germany. Inspired by this session Martin Heider had the idea to create an unconference concentrated solely on the topic of serious games for agile teams. Organizers for such an unconference were quickly found – it turned out that a lot of coaches had already discovered the value and fun of games played in a serious context, and used them regularly.

A first in-person meeting of organizers to create an unconference for serious games took place in summer 2010. For 2 exciting days we created our first joint vision for Play4Agile and started planning. Not surprisingly that these two days were tremendous fun, as we created our vision and planned using StrategicPlay® facilitation, powered by LEGO® SeriousPlay™!

play planet drawingAgile conferences and unconferences are popular meeting places where coaches, trainers, and all people interested in agile topics, learn from the experiences of like-minded people and exchange knowledge. Play4Agile sets itself apart from other agile un-/conferences in a couple of ways. Not just that participants are having fun and learning from each other by exchanging serious games for 3 days in a cozy hotel in the country. Also, every evening participants enjoy playing games in the bar. This is not a must, but each participant likes to do it! At the bar it’s ok to play games just for fun, without any serious context.

FLUXX at the BarThis whole mood of playing games together for 3 days leads to irrepressible spirits and gives the unconference the character of a magical, familial event.
Furthermore, there are no keynotes, no lectures, mostly interactive sessions and the OpenSpace is facilitated by participants on a daily rotation.

It’s not only a perfect place to learn how to practice and use serious games for agile teams, it’s also the perfect place to create new games, as all participants are passionate about testing and experimenting with new game ideas and prototypes! For example, Fearless Journey, Nobody’s Perfct, Towering Options and Lean Procrastination – the last reponsible moment game are all games invented at Play4Agile.
Moreover, we have lots of other activities like theatre games, learn how to design and make a game or how to create games to solve problems. The whole event transforms into a huge playground!

Open Space Marketplace

The Play4Agile unconference is completely based on Open Space technology and took place for the first time in February 2011 with the theme ‘Serious Games for Agile Teams’. In 2012 the motto was ‘High Playformance for Agile Teams’ and 70 participants from all over the world enjoyed this special unconference. As Play4Agile 2012 was already booked after nine hours, you should mark your calenders, because the date for Play4Agile 2013 is already fixed!

To put the Play4Agile spirit in a nutshell: Play, have fun & learn!
www.play4agile.org

2 great TED talks about the importance of play:

Stuart Brown’s TED talk – play is more than fun
Tim Brown’s TED talk – creativity and play

I’ve written this article for the ‘whoisagile’ project by Yves Hanoulle and it’s published in the 13th version of the ‘whoisagile’ book. Thanks to Deb and Martin for proofreading end editing!

Dragon Lady

The Agile Actor – Agile Stroytelling

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… or: how to bring more daily-fun in your daily Scrum!

In agile teams it’s usual to use storyboards for visualising your work and to create transparency about the progress and what’s happening. It doesn’t matter if you are using a storyboard as a Scrum team or if you visualise your work by using Kanban.

snoopyA lot of teams I met in the past worked also with avatars on their storyboard. Instead of having a name-tag on a magnet, you can use an avatar, a character from your favourite cartoon, movie or adventure. Just print out a picture of your avatar, cut it out and stick it on a magnet. Now you can use your avatar on the storyboard. Some teams put their avatars on the task they’
re currently working on. This leads to more transparency as you can directly see on the storyboard which teammember is working on which task.

The Agile Actor – Agile Storytelling

Some weeks ago I was searching for something new to bring more fun to the daily work. I was thinking about how to use the avatars more intensive? People love their avatars, they love the characters and stories around them. Thus, people have a special relationship to their character. They know their behaviour and their special skills. They know what perspectives their characters prefer.

How to use it, how to play:

Use your avatar-team during your daily stand-up. Ask each teammember to participate the daily-Scrum in the role of their character. Each teammember should give their status-update to the team from the individual perspective of their avatar.

Positive effects:

  • each teammember will learn and train the power of storytelling
  • fantasy will be stimulated which can lead to more creativity
  • more fun in your daily work
  • looking at your daily challenges from a different perspective can lead to new insights

In addition, you can ask your team if they want to extend this kind of role playing game. If your team is crazy enough you can ask your team to participate all Scrum meetings in the role of their characters.

For more diversity and to avoid wearisome repetition you can close each role playing game iteration (sprint) within your retrospective by asking all teammembers to find a new character they’d like to be and start the new sprint by printing out a new avatar and stick it on their magnet… be crazy, be creative and have fun…

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