Changing Your Team From The Inside @DevConf.CZ

I gave a talk today at DevConf in Brno about Changing Your Team From The Inside.

The recording is below, and you can follow that link to the slides.

Thank you for all the great feedback.



Care Personally

Care personally and challenge directly. That is how Kim Scott defines Radical Candor. At the end of November, I decided that I will offer her book to some of my colleagues.

A book is an opportunity for learning through discussions with others. I already discussed the advantage of a book discussion club, and by offering a book, I wish to have those conversations, with each person. And yes, I am also planning a book discussion club.

When you give a book, some conversation could start surprisingly fast, like last year when I gave “Joy” to colleagues, and one of them told me immediately: “Is there a message? Do you think I make my employees unhappy?”. This conversation took me by surprise and I probably just mumbled meaningless words to try to escape it.

Sometimes it seems that the conversation will never start. So either, you can forget about it, or you can push to have it. Sometimes it is just that people don’t read, don’t read business books, have other things on their reading list, and that’s ok.

With Radical Candor, I had first conversations quite rapidly. The first one was about the 2 x 2 matrix used in the book. You are up on the vertical ax of the matrix when you care personally. You are on the right of the horizontal ax of the matrix when you challenge directly.

The conversation evolved around the principles described by Dale Carnegie and how they fit the matrix. (in “How to win friends and influence people,” his book first published in 1936, and still reedited today.)

I will take two examples:

  • Become genuinely interested in other people
  • Give honest and sincere appreciation

Become genuinely interested in other people, is, of course, an excellent way to demonstrate that you care personally. And, as you can see in the matrix, if you are doing it without challenging people directly, you will fall in the “ruinous empathy” quadrant.

Give honest and sincere appreciation, is, this time, more tricky. If I consider that I will only speak about the positive behaviors that I can see in other people, I will fall in the bottom left quadrant “manipulative insincerity”. If I don’t care personally, and I give honest feedback, I will fall into the “obnoxious aggression” quadrant. If I care personally and that I am honest, this time I can act in the upper right quadrant.

The way you will give feedback is of course key to the success of your message. Kim Scott explain this point with reference to what Ben Horowitz called the shit sandwich in “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” another book that I enjoyed. The shit sandwich is his way to qualify a classic way to give feedback: start with complimenting, then pass the difficult message, and finally value the strengths of people. The problem with the approach is that experienced people will see you coming and each time that you will start with a compliment, they will wait for the difficult feedback.

The point is that if you care personally for people, you will develop a relationship that enables to give and to receive honest feedback without the need to give a not so nice sandwich.

Once, I was in the audience at a conference, and one of my colleagues was giving a talk. The guy is excellent, I love his way of thinking, he can present an appealing overall vision and go deep to the right level of details when it’s appropriate. The talk was ok, and I was frustrated. Why? Because he made basic public speaking mistakes that he could have easily avoided. I wait that the long line of people wanted to thank him, and to talk with him vanished, and I told him: “Great work Steve! I have some feedback, do you want them now or later?”.
Steve: “Now would be fine.”
Me: “Do you want them direct, or do you want me to dress them up a little bit?”
Steve: “I am a big boy, go for direct.”
At this stage, I would have gone for direct anyway, and I guess you understood that I cared enough for that.

I will relate another conversation I had about the book in a future article about Rock Stars and Super Stars.

Let’s get 2018 started!

Maybe you are part of the people I know and we did not hear from each other for quite some time? As it is the beginning of the new year, it is also an excellent moment to take the resolution to let my connector-self express itself more freely.

To be able to connect you with others, I need to update my knowledge about you. I would like to know what you care about for 2018. And, yes! I wish you the best for that! And, maybe I could do a little bit more.

So, if you are interested in reconnecting after those years, drop me a note! We could do that by email, phone or video conference, or even in person if we happen to be in the same place at the same time. It could be now or later this year. When the time is ok for you, it will be ok for me.

I am working on a book, Changing Your Team From The Inside, to be released in Spring 2018. Let me know if you are interested in it by subscribing to the mailing list.

I will travel during the year to the different offices all over the world, and for conferences. The next travel will be in Brno (Czech Republic) at the end of January for DevConf, where I will give a talk. I will try to update that on my blog, Twitter, or Linkedin, hoping that it will give us an opportunity to meet in person!

I wish you a great and peaceful year!



Thanks to the Red Hat’s Women Leadership Community, the organizers, and Dana Lane, the photographer, I updated my profile picture today.

The session was a lot of fun!

Thank you!

The Great Dinner Party

You are hosting a dinner party in 8 weeks from now, and you wonder how to make it a great dinner party for you and your guests.

First, what is the meaning of “great” for you in that context? If the party is a success what will happen? The answer could be: the guests will be relaxed, they will enjoy tasty and original food and drink while making or renewing connections with people from various backgrounds.

Answering that first question define the vision that you have of your party. How will you measure that it has been a success? It is a dinner party, so surveying your guests after the reception is probably not a viable option, maybe you could try to remember what your guest will say about it, or perhaps you will receive “thank you” cards. Yes in this exercise, you remember the future! What will your guests say or write after the party if it’s success? They could state that they felt welcomed, that they enjoyed the food, that it was a pleasure for all senses. They could elaborate on the decoration, and specific small attention to details, on the relationship they built or renewed during the event.

Imagining, how your guests will remember the event will help you to empathize in advance with each of your guests, and refine your success criteria. It will help you to remember who has specific needs, or to remember to ask in the case that you realize that you don’t know enough about some of your guests.

Of course, you understand that the dinner party is a pretext to learn how to work on delivering any products or services. The product owner would probably indeed conduct and survey “users” to understand what are their success criteria. Empathy map could help to get what they see, hear, smell, feel, taste, say, think.

Now, that you have a refined vision and have a better understanding of your success criteria, what needs to come next? There are only seven weeks left. What is your backlog?

Your backlog is not a list of activities or a list of things to do. Each item of your backlog is a story in which the personas (your guests or yourself) are the hero.

To define the backlog, you will use your vision and imagine what your guests will experience from beginning to end. It is convenient to use post-it notes for this exercise and to record one story per note. You are building a map (a story map) of their experience.

Let’s try to capture some of the stories from a guest perspective!
– As a guest, I receive a formal invitation to the party, so I know about the specific details,
– I know how to dress, and what to bring,
– I know how to get there and where to park, so I am relaxed and confident,
– I switch in a party mindset from the moment I arrive,
– I know where to sit,
– I enjoy a variety of delicious appetizers, and I can choose and adjust the quantity I eat according to my preferences,
– I appreciate the pairing of the drinks and food.

And we can imagine a lot more of those stories. We will keep some of those, while we will just ignore, delete, rewrite or put at the bottom of the backlog others.

If we look at the first one about the invitation, we can define the conditions of satisfaction for the card. What are those details? Why are you organizing the party? Where? When? Does the guest need to reply? Can the guest come with someone else?

You can already see that a story card is a way to capture the conversation that will clarify it. The conditions of satisfaction are a way to carry the details and to ensure that the solution we will choose, will satisfy the story. At this stage, we know why we want this story, we know what it is, but we still don’t know how to realize it. Is the invitation printed and mailed? Is the invitation sent via email? Is it texted?

This distinction between why and how is crucial to enable creativity and innovation. Let’s illustrate that with another example. Let’s imagine now that as a host you want to delegate the realization of this story to a team:
– I want a sweet and original dessert with season fruit, so my guests can finish the meal on a sweet note.
When the team clarified the story with the host, the team learned that individual portions are a must, different textures are essential, and so team presented the results of their work during the demo of that week: a strawberry rhubarb meringue tartlet. Yes, me too, now I want one 😉 As a host, you tasted the tartlet, loved it, asked for slightly smaller size. So now, the team just need to get ready to prepare the tartlets for the event. On that day, the team is not able to find the fresh strawberry that will compensate the acidity of the rhubarb. The team tastes raspberry that appears to be delicious, and so as it will still satisfy the conditions of satisfaction, the team can make the decision. Remember, the dinner party is a pretext to learn, the primary point here is by knowing “why” we are doing something we can adjust the “how” to the circumstances and find more creative solutions.

If we look back at this dessert story, during the grooming of the backlog, we first decided to conduct a spike for one sprint, demoed it to the user, and got some feedback. Then, during planning, we were able to decompose that story into more specific tasks that the team will do to realize the story. And we have been able to adjust to the circumstances by switching to raspberry at the last minute.

Grooming your backlog at the “story” level, and then planning for the sprint and decomposing into tasks only when you will work on a story is a compelling approach.

Let’s recap the approach. We started with a high-level vision. We refined the concept by identifying the different personas and empathize with each of them from the beginning to the end of their involvement in the project. In our case, we probably have the host, the host family members, the guests, the children of the guest.

We captured the stories for all the personas in our backlog. We refined and sorted the stories during grooming sessions. The conversations enabled us to define the conditions of satisfaction for the stories at the top of our backlog.

We continued our work during our weekly sprints, starting with a planning session, in which we checked our understanding of each story, decomposed into tasks if it was possible, or choose to conduct an experiment or a spike in the case of more significant uncertainty or our ability to meet the conditions of satisfaction.

We reviewed and demoed our work at the end of the sprint. We welcomed the feedback and adjusted our plans accordingly.

We now need to invest some time in a retrospective to improve our way of working as a team, so we will be more efficient and enjoy the weeks to come approaching the great dinner party.

What do you think about using a dinner party to explain practices?

I am refining the use of this analogy, among others, in the book to come during Spring 2018, Changing Your Team From The Inside. I am looking for reviewers, let me know if you would be interested.



The header picture is our Thanksgiving table created by my spouse Isabel 🙂

Trust Factor

Trust, as a foundation for efficient and sustainable teams, is a recurring topic on that blog. In Beyond Measure, I covered the simple exercise proposed by Margaret Heffernan to initiate a relationship between team members. I tried to nudge you to try The Evolution of Trust from Nicky Case. And, of course, I regularly referenced The Five Dysfunction of a Team, as a must-read to build a team.

Paul J. Zak, the author of Trust Factor, explains how the scientific work conducted on Oxytocin, aka the love hormone, helps to understand how the culture of an organization is working.

You can benchmark your organization on the eight key factors presented in Learning from the neuroscience of trust by answering the 16 questions of the Ofactor Pulse test (I encourage you to read the book and respond to the test when triggered).

Questions are based on observable behaviors, which make them relatively easy to answer. For example, one is: “My leader treats setbacks and mistakes I make as a valuable opportunity to learn and try something new”. From “Strongly Agree” to “Strongly Disagree”, you can find where you stand.

Your overall trust score could push you to dig more, and the full ratings a good idea of where to start investigating the potential changes in your behavior to create the conditions you want.


How well managed is your company?

The median answer to that question is 7 in the World Management Survey. The results on that particular item demonstrate how false perceptions come into play when we are evaluating our own company and our abilities.

As discussed in the article, Why do we undervalue competent management,  false perceptions undermines our ability to evaluate how well (or bad) or company is run. The fact that 80% of drivers rate themselves above average – I am part of those – is an illustration of the kind of biases we are dealing with.

A glimpse into the most influential management practices on the results of an organization can already give you an idea of what could be discussed or improve in your own company.

Below are the 18 core management practices reproduced from the article:

Operations Management
  • Use of lean techniques
  • Reasons for adopting lean processes
Performance Monitoring
  • Process documentation
  • Use of key performance indicators
  • KPI reviews
  • Discussion of results
  • Consequences for missing targets
Target Setting
  • Choice of targetsConnection to strategy, extent to which targets cascade down to individual workers
  • Time horizon
  • Level of challenge
  • Clarity of goals and measurement
Talent Management
  • Talent mindset at the highest levels
  • Stretch goals
  • Management of low performance
  • Talent development
  • Employee value proposition
  • Talent retention

Is it enough to give you the will to read the article mentioned above or to benchmark your company?