Archives for the ‘Team’ Category


Self and Other

Are you an effective team?

I first discovered the power of teamwork as a child playing badminton. I realised early on that while singles was fun, I enjoyed doubles more.

In doubles, I was no longer the keyman dependency to winning or losing. Instead, in doubles, you share everything, the game strategy, the hardwork and, best of all, the celebrations when you win.

Obvious or Oblivious?

Teams can be as small as two and as big as you need to accomplish a common goal.

You are likely to be part of a team both at work and at home.

To be an effective team, you need to be able to trust, believe in and rely on those around you.

Are you an effective team?

XP Days Benelux: 2011 Christmas Edition

It’s that time of year again, Christmas is just around the corner, people are talking about the possibility of snow on Christmas Day and, of course, it’s almost time for XP Days Benelux, the friendliest and most fun Agile conference I know.

I’ll be presenting a brand new session about Tribal Leadership based on the book by Dave Logan, John King and Halee Fisher-Wright. I’ve had great fun experimenting with the theory, so I hope you’ll enjoy it!

5 Stages of Tribal Leadership

Tribal Leadership – Create the place where you long to belong

Do you hope that one day all the office politics will be replaced by a common and worthwhile cause? Do you wish you could be part of a winning team? Do you dream of working in a place where you belong?

Every organisation is made up of tribes, naturally occurring groups of between 20 – 150 people. And even though each tribe is different they have one thing in common: organisational culture.

Join me to learn about Tribal Leadership, a practical model for leveraging natural groups to create organisations that thrive. Learn how you can help transform your work experience into what you want it to be by focusing on language and behaviour within a culture.

You’ll get the chance to identify the stage you and your tribe are in and the next stage you want to move towards. Working in pairs, triads and as a whole group, you’ll leave the session with a roadmap of your own to take your tribe towards “Innocent Wonderment”.

Find out more about the session here.

Looking forward to the fun and games at XP Days Benelux and all the invaluable learning and sharing!

Agile for Life

Class of Kiev June 2011

What does Agile mean to me?

Agile is a means not an end. It’s a means to improve the way we work to the benefit of individuals, teams, organisations and society itself.

Agile paves the way for a great adventure of personal and professional renewal, helping us improve our existing skills and develop new ones.

Agile takes us out of our comfort zones and teaches us how to adapt to change. It enlarges our comfort zones only to take us out of it again. It’s beyond survival. It’s about self-actualisation.

Agile is about being a “forever apprentice“, someone who begins as a student and becomes a teacher while remaining a student. A forever apprentice applies the principle “the best teachers make the best students and the best students make the best teachers”.

Applying Agile

I’ve been applying Agile to what I do for some years now, from delivering projects at work to projects at home. I pack in all the practice I can get. The way I use Agile is constantly changing through improvement experiments. Always learning. Always improving.

Applying Agile and being agile has helped make work fun and engaging. Again. Do you remember the very first day of your very first job? That’s the enthusiasm and energy I strive to re-create every day. For myself and for others. Some days, I give myself a day off.

Every day’s a new day when you’re trying to be better than you were yesterday. I’m improving, one baby step at a time. Sometimes the steps are so tiny that they’re invisible to the naked eye, but I can feel it, like a new shoot about to break through the ground after rain.

I don’t like to admit it, but I know when I’m getting complacent. A little voice in my head tells me, “You’ve been there, done that, seen it all, what’s the big deal?” That’s when I sense trouble. How can I know it all and still be constantly improving? Unless I’ve stopped, of course.

Evolving Agile

When people find out that I’m an Agile Coach (one of my many roles) they tell me, “Of course you want to make everyone do Agile, you’re an Agile Coach and that’s your purpose”. To which I reply, “If we do Agile right, Agile will evolve itself out of existence and something new will appear to take its place.”

As for my purpose, it’s to create opportunities and options to help us make the most of our potential, leveraging what we’ve got and increasing it day by day. I do it for me and for us. Agile is but one tool out of many that makes this possible. It helps to get the conversation started.

What does Agile mean to you?

It’s Hard to Say Goodbye

Go! Green Team! Go!

One of the toughest moments for me as a coach is when it’s time to say “Goodbye” to my team. After months of intense moments, where we’ve collectively reverberated between Anticipation, Fear, Disbelief, Hope and Self-Belief then back again for the next challenge, it feels like a lifetime worth of experiences. No wonder it’s hard to say goodbye.

Opportunity Knocks

In many ways, the relationship between team and coach has the intensity of growing a friendship for a lifetime. It’s a time when each of us are put to the test because there’s nowhere to hide when the going gets tough. It’s also a great opportunity to learn from each other and, more importantly, help each other grow.

Goodbye is the New Beginning

To achieve, we have to “begin with the end in mind” (Stephen Covey reasons). That’s why the “Goodbye” moment is, in fact, my starting point for team coaching. From my first few days to the rest of my time with the team, I strive to get to know the team members as individuals. Why? So that I can work out what’s needed to equip them with what lies ahead. Why? So that the team will have the tools they need to continue to achieve long after the coach is gone.

Criteria of a Good Coach

According to Sally Gunnell (former Olympic British Champion in the 400m hurdles), a good coach has the following attributes:

  1. Treat people as individuals
  2. Use feedback as an opportunity to improve
  3. Always listen
  4. Always learning new techniques.

Being a good coach sounds simple, but isn’t easy. The ultimate test of how effective a coach is how well the positive outcomes of the coaching endures. My ultimate goal is to keep the team yearning for learning and to keep improving long after the coach is gone.

What’s the smallest step you can take today to help yourself and others learn again?

Celebration drinks!

UK IIBA Chapter Event – 14 October 2010 Event Summary

An open mind works like a parachute

Last Thursday saw yet another successful event organised by the IIBA UK Chapter. Based on personal experience, I knew the events to be well-attended. What I wasn’t expecting was a turnout of more than 200 people, coming from domains as varied as midwifery to investment banking.

Building BA Communities

The evening began with a warm welcome by Gill Reed, Frontline Support Manager from Barclays Bank. Gill was followed by David Avis, Senior BA at Barclays Bank, who gave a heartwarming presentation on ‘Building BA Communities’. David recounted the tale of ‘Incredible Edible Todmorden‘ (scroll to the bottom of the home page for their vision and goals), the story of a small town in England who took it upon themselves to grow vegetables to share with everyone. The “Incredibles” are those who give a bit of their land (such as a patch of in their front garden) for public vegetable growing as well as those who give their time to do the gardening. The “Edibles” are the tasty vegetables of their labour. Wow – what a great idea! And it works!

Tips for Building BA Communities

David’s tips include:

  • Just start
  • Facilitate, listen, synthesize
  • Raise awareness
  • Set momentum
  • Co-ordinate
  • Empower others
  • Make some time
  • Work on the most important thing to you
  • Collaborate
  • Look for synergies
  • Volunteer and share
  • Encourage others.

The essence of David’s talk is this: To build a community, you need a bunch of people enthused about the same thing and who want to do something about it. Amplify David’s tips by using them to build any community you wish. Download David’s presentation here.

Agile in a Nutshell

I was next up to present ‘Agile in a Nutshell‘, an interactive presentation designed to transform an audience into participants. A number of people had told me beforehand that they were intrigued by how I was going to fit Agile into a nutshell. Based on the positive feedback of the session (and the acceptance testing at the end of the session), we’d managed to do this – thanks to the help of an enthusiastic and attentive audience.

I distilled what I knew about Agile based on my knowledge and experience into 5 principles + 5 values.

The 5 Agile Principles

#1 Deliver Value – Be value-driven! Both business value and personal values.
#2 Respect for People – People are at the heart of any process. People make things happen. The quality of deliverables is a product of the team.
#3 Eliminate Waste – Beware! If you’re not adding value, you’re most likely producing waste.
#4 Continuous Learning – Be open-minded. Reflect often to keep learning.
#5 Continuous Improvement – Be better than you were yesterday every day. Identify actions from your learnings. Take baby steps.

The 5 Agile Values

These are the 5 XP Values of: Communication, Simplicity, Feedback, Courage, Respect. Put your own agility to the test by doing this short exercise.

Agile is much more than a methodology. It’s a mindset shift. Most important of all, Agile’s a party and everyone’s invited. Share Agile with colleagues, friends and family!

Download ‘Agile in a Nutshell’ here. Watch the presentation on YouTube: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3. Thanks to Simon Ward for producing the video!

If you liked my presentation, you’ll love this…

If you liked the style and spirit of ‘Agile in a Nutshell’, you’ll love XP Days Benelux 2010 (25 – 26 November) in Eindhoven, The Netherlands. It’s a conference jam-packed with highly interactive and experiential sessions. Get one quick, while there are still a few tickets remaining! And bring your friends!

The Grand Finale

James Archer, IIBA UK Events Organiser, concluded the evening by emphasising the importance of keeping an open mind and keep learning. Last, but not least, he showed us a moving video on behalf of Cancer Research to help us decide whether or not to donate as part of our appreciation for this free event. Barclays Bank promised to double the first £1,500 donated by the attendees so I hope we raised lots of a money for a great cause!

Upcoming IIBA UK Chapter events

I’m looking forward to the next event already. Visit IIBA’s website for information of upcoming events. Better still, show your support by becoming a member!

The Beautiful Game

How do you play yours?

“What do you do after you’ve won the World Cup? There’s nothing after that.”

What do I know about football?

I know I don’t know much about football, but I know what I see. Discipline, Teamwork and Common Goal. That’s what I see in a good game of football. And what do I mean by a “good game”?  I mean a game played by a real team as opposed to a disparate and desperate group of individuals.

Discipline, Teamwork and a Common Goal

How would I define Discipline? Practice, practice, practice. The kind of practice that amounts to what Malcolm Gladwell calls “The 10,000 Hour Rule“.  The kind of practice that makes your head and body ache all over but you still continue to strive because you know the prize outweighs the cost.

How would I define Teamwork? When everyone on the team sets aside their ego to get the job done. And not just done, but done well. So well that it makes you swell with pride. Great teamwork means working hard when people are together and when they are apart. A winning football team doesn’t just wait to play together for the several weeks in the runup before the cup (that’s far too late to be learning how to play together and still expect to win the World Cup). They create opportunities to get team practice in. And, of course, everyone learns. From each other. For the team. Even if that means exposing one’s weaknesses and our own lack of knowledge, skills and experience.

How would I define Common Goal? One that everyone in the team truly believes in. One that inspires each individual to be the best they can be so that, together, they can become more than the sum of their parts. And there’ll be lots of passing of the ball, like the way Xavi plays, because there is no single star or hero in a winning team. The brilliance lies in the team playing to each other’s strengths and strengthening individual weaknesses. The gleam comes from the team achieving the Common Goal together.

The secret beyond the riddle

What do you do after you’ve won the World Cup? Will you tie up your laces and hang up your boots? Will that be it? Of course not. I know I don’t know much about football, but I know what life shows me about winners and losers.

Winners carry on winning, moving the goal posts further out with each win, like Armstrong and Ferrera, winning not just once, but many times because the goal is much more than just the space between the posts.

Winners raise the game

Winners turn their expertise into repeatable formulae, achieving “conscious competence of unconscious competence“, so that they become better than they were yesterday every day. And true winners help others become winners, too.

The Yellow Brick Road – Version française now available!

Ouais! L’édition française de La Route de Brique Jaune est arrivéé finalement. Visitez et téléchargéz ce jeu gratuit. Dépensez des minutes de merveilles avec votre équipe et vos amies pour apprendre comment faire le co-coaching (le ‘peer coaching’ en anglais). A bientôt!

Venez nous rejoindre sur La Route de Brique Jaune!

The Meaning of Team in Agile

Good team work makes great parties!

Common Cause for Good

When it comes to organisational change, one of the most overlooked factors is the impact individuals have on an organisation. After all, organisational change begins with the individual. Another commonly overlooked fact is that we can only change ourselves. That’s why much of this blog focuses on working with groups, teams and individuals.

Natural Complexity in Team Dynamics

One of the things I enjoy most about organisational change is the element of surprise. Others would describe this as ‘uncertainty’. While others may fear it, I choose to embrace it. I strive to turn every challenge as an opportunity. A chance to learn and improve. From where I’m standing, we’re surrounded by an abundance of opportunities.

A Tale of the Unexpected

I’ve run the XP Game almost 50 times and the most common assumptions among the players is that they assume each team is competing with another. If they ask, I highlight the fact that I’ve never mentioned this as a rule and that, in fact, they are all teams working for the same organisation. This statement is usually followed by a brief silence as individuals process the information. Nontheless, time and time and again, teams choose to continue to compete against one another, usually to the detriment of the organisation as a whole.

One of the reasons people choose to do this is because staying within your comfort zone is far easier than working together with those outside of your team. What’s not immediately obvious is that the longer you stay in your comfort zone, the less likely you’ll encounter new experiences and pick up new skills as well as develop existing ones to better leverage the change that lies ahead. After all, change will happen around you, regardless of whether or not you are ready to change.

One great way to embrace change is to gain new experiences, develop new skills and acquire new ones. This means that when the change finally happens, you’ll be prepared to get the most out of the change. Better still, you’ll be helping to instigate and shape the change.

An Agile First

So imagine my surprise, when the 3 teams with whom I was playing The XP Game last week decided to deliver value together instead of competing against one another. What’s remarkable is that, in spite of the daunting challenge of collaboration (‘I’m not sure it’s possible’, ‘It’s going to make things much harder to manage’, ‘I’m afraid we’ll fail’), the 3 teams continued to come up with ideas of how to make things work better. And they did not stop there. This has never happened before in all my experience of running this learning game.

In spite of a few clamorous voices that continued to express fear, doubt and uncertainty, the three teams continued as one. Together, they planned out the work and re-organised themselves to deliver as much as value as they could. Then they put their plan into action.

The outcome? In Round 1, when the 3 teams worked independently, collectively they achieved a combined velocity of 820 story points. In Round 2, when the 3 teams worked together from a centralised backlog their velocity reduced to 720 story points. Based on what I saw so far, I predicted that the 3 teams working together would match their combined velocity in round 1 by round 3 or 4 and quickly exceed it as they became better at collaboration. That is a small short term cost for a significant longer term return on investment. After all, all good things come at a price.

My Takeaway

I still remember, as though it were yesterday, the moment near the beginning of the course, when I distilled the essence of what Agile meant  in two simple words. “Immer besser”. Meaning literally “always better” in German. And that was the one thought that kept everyone together and spurred them on.

Two simple words. Immer besser. To emphasise the importance of continuous learning and improvement, I also drew a contrast between thinking in terms of being “richtig” or “falsch” (“right” or “wrong”) with “immer besser”.  In my experience, the most successful individuals, teams and organisations are those who care more about becoming better than who got things right or wrong.

How are you becoming better than you were yesterday every day?

The Marshmallow Challenge

Stay Pufffed!

Spaghetti and Marshmallow

The Marshmallow Challenge is a simple team exercise that requires a group of people to build the tallest possible structure out of 20 sticks of spaghetti, 1 yard of tape and 1 marshmallow placed on top.

Based on a talk by Tom Wujec on, business school students create some of the worst structures while kindergarten children rustle up the tallest and most innovative of standing structures. Unsurprisingly (and luckily), the winners are architects and engineers, people who have specialist knowledge in structural engineering.

So what does this challenge teach us? That building things iteratively brings us closer to success with every attempt we make. That prototyping works by helping us put Plan-Do-Check-Act into practice. That specialised skills plus facilitation gives us a greater chance of success. That keeping the goal in mind by testing your structure by placing the marshmallow on top as you evolve a structure is why kindergarten children do better than business school graduates. That fun is fundamental to the forming and continuous development of a healthy, well-functioning team. Put all these observations together and what do they spell? Yes! Agile Delivery in action.

Are you ready to take on the Marshmallow Challenge as a team?

An Agilist for All Seasons

The Beauty of Snow

The snow arrived in London several hours later than predicted and by bedtime last night, many of the suburban roads were covered, including some sleeping policemen. The good news is that London has been transformed, yet again, into a place of beauty, with all its carbuncles and pimples smoothed over by Nature’s white collagen.

London’s Learning

The better news is that London’s learning. This second time around we managed to stock up enough grit, mobilised the various gritting units in time and by early evening last night, most of the roads were gritted, to the relief of drivers and pedestrians alike. There’s also enough food in my cupboard in case of a snow-in.

Prepare to Enjoy!

The result? We can enjoy the snow this time around instead of seeing it as an impediment or disaster. A classic example of the Girl Scouts’ motto in action: ‘Be prepared!’ – intended to be an instruction, warning and wake-up call. By being prepared, we can turn obstacles into challenges, adversity into opportunity, strife into collaborative achievement. The trick is to train hard and ‘Be prepared!’ What do you do to keep your tools sharp and varied?

Go to to furnish your toolkit!