Ask for Help

Fear of the Unknown

One interesting similarity between being a coach on an Agile Enablement gig and presenting at a conference is this: dealing with an audience who secretly fears the Unknown.

In my experience, there are 3 main groups:

a) Those who ask for help
b) Some too afraid to ask for help
c) Others who think they know it all

Which group do you most identify with? For most people, in an ideal world, change would happen with minimal pain and even less hard work. In fact, many people don’t feel they need to change: ‘Help? Why would I need help? Of course I support Continuous Improvement! Change is for other people though. I don’t need to change.’

These folks make-believe that others need to change, but not them. These folks are usually the ones most resistant to change and this resistance manifests itself, at best, as self-deprecating humour or cynicism and, at worst, as silent sabotage.

The major casualties of such silent sabotages are the individuals themselves. I know this because whenever I resist change I miss out on learning new things and re-learning lessons I’ve forgotten. I end up losing out. I become the largest impediment I have to deal with. But I have a choice. I have the power to remove this seemingly insurmountable impediment by confronting it face-to-face.

Should I stay or should I go?

Occasionally a coachee asks me outright if they’re cut out for Agile projects. They’ve usually taken a bold leap of faith by daring to try to do something different while their colleagues and mates at work look on in wonderment / disbelief / morbid fascination*.

It’s a tough question to answer. As a coach, I’ve learnt the importance of providing feedback that helps people improve instead of criticising or passing judgment. After all, who am I to cast the first stone if I’m not prepared to offer suggestions when asked to help others change for the better? I’ve also learnt that anything that doesn’t increase value leads to more waste. A waste of breath, a waste of time, a waste of human life.

What is potential?

Agile has taught me that everyone has value. Before Agile, I remained sceptical of such a notion. Before Agile, the notion that everyone has value was merely a hollow incantation that, as a manager, I recited and barely believed.

As an Agile Coach I’ve learnt to spot potential. First I had to define potential. Potential for me means a willingness to learn which really means a willingness to change. Most important of all, potential is the willingness to change oneself instead of expecting others to change. After all, we can only change ourselves and lead by example.

Survival of the Fittest

I often hear folks say, ‘This organisation will never be agile’ or ‘Agile only works on certain types of projects – it won’t work on mine’. The reality is this: processes don’t fail, people do. If a process doesn’t work, people can change it. Believing change for the better is impossible is like clinging onto the belief that the world is flat. For as long as a team or organisation can improve, Agile can help you deliver value. So the question we all have to ask ourselves is: what’s my time worth to me? Don’t let it be a waste of breath, a waste of time, a waste of human life.

* Delete as appropriate

4 Responses to “Ask for Help”

  1. Guillaume writes:

    Hi Portia,

    did you see the film “Clean” (2004, O.Assayas) ? The tagline, as said by Nick Nolte character is “People change. When they don’t have a choice, they do change”. A rare message subtly carried by Maggie Cheung (main char) and other actors. I still don’t know precisely why, but this film is one of the sources that help me still today at throwing away the “can’t change” feeling. If you see this film, can you please tell me your impressions ?


  2. portiatung writes:

    Hi Guillaume,

    Thanks for your film suggestion! I’ve added it to my online DVD list and will send you thoughts on it when I’ve watched it.

    – Portia

  3. Yves Hanoulle writes:

    The most powerfull asks for help I have done (both as receiver and as giver) is asking for help when you don’t know where you need help on.
    “Your” nine boxes can help with that.

    About the “should I say or should I go” question, the fact that a persons asks a coach this question for me is a good sign.
    That is a pretty deep ask for help.

  4. portiatung writes:

    Hi Guillaume,

    Here’s my response to ‘Clean’:

    – Portia

Leave a Reply