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?

How do I know my opinion is right?

In a meritocracy, the best idea wins. So, how can we design an organization that will enable that?  Ray Dalio propose to use radical transparency, radical truthfulness, and algorithmic decision-making to create the conditions where people can speak up and say what they really think.

He shares an example of feedback email he receives after a meeting: “Ray you deserve a D for your performance in the meeting…”.

After a dramatic failure, he decided to change his thinking from “I am right” to “How do I know that I am right”.  To grasp that knowledge, you need to know what the others are thinking and how believable they are.

The dot collector is the tool they use in Ray’s company to gather the instant feedback and to evaluate the believability of people. In some office environment in which you never truly know if people say or don’t say something to advance their personal agenda, this kind of approach looks like Sci-Fi.

 

 

Grow your questioning skills

We tend to want to solve the problems, even when we know that it is much better to help people to find their own solutions. I received several questions about the need to listen, and the need to ask better questions. Looking for a simple way to explain how it works, I used the GROW model developed by Graham Alexander.

GROW stands for Goal setting, Reality, Options, Way forward. Let’s examine a few example of questions you could ask for each step.

Be careful not to make the questions sound as a judgment call. The goal is to explore what are the real goals of a person for the current conversation, or for a more long term time frame, and then to find their solution to get there. The questions could also be used in a group setting situation. In both cases, you need to get first an agreement from the person or the group to provide your help.

Goal setting, what the person wants to achieve:

  • What does success look like?
  • What would need to happen for you to walk away feeling that this time was well spent?
  • What would be a milestone on the way?
  • If you had a magic wand, what would you change?
  • How much personal control or influence do you have over your goal?
  • How will measure it? (the goal is not the measure, just to foster the conversation and to check that you have the same understanding of the goal)

Reality, assess the reality (and the awareness of the person that the reality is a very subjective thing):

  • What is happening now?
    • You will need to use descriptor questions to help the person to think more precisely about the situation: Tell me more about, help me understand, I am curious about, could you describe further…
  • How do you know that this is really happening?
  • What other factors are relevant?
  • How the other stakeholders perceived the situation?
  • What are the results of your previous actions?

Options and Obstacles, explore the different options possible to get the desired results, and examine the obstacles that prevent to get the results:

  • What could you do to change the situation?
  • What have you done or see other do in similar situations?
  • What are the options for action?
  • What are the benefits and costs of your different options?
  • What are the external and internal factors that could prevent you in taking actions?
  • What will you do to eliminate these external and internal factors?

Way forward, is when we convert options into actions:

  • What option do you choose?
  • What will you do and when?
  • What support do you need and from whom?
  • How will you get that support?

I hope that will help your next conversations. Feedback welcome!

Learning from the neuroscience of trust

Trust is the foundation of the human relationship and the foundation of an effective team. I recently shared how our behavior will create or destroy trust in the article The Evolution of Trust, and more about trust as the foundation of a team in the article The Five Dysfunction of a Team.

Paul J. Zak, the author of Trust Factor, shares in The Neuroscience of Trust the 8 management behaviors that will foster trust.

We could use the 8 behaviors as discussion points with teams to improve our way of working. The question could be, How are we doing on:

  1. Recognize excellence: personal public recognition from peers that occurs immediately after the fact, tangible and unexpected has the largest effect on trust.
  2. Induce “challenge stress”: stretch goal, but a still achievable goal, assigned to a team will intensify focus and strengthen the social connection.
  3. Give people discretion in how they do their work: autonomy and self-organization, is another important contributor, being trusted creates trust.
  4. Enable job crafting: trusting people to choose what they will work will ensure focus and motivation. The author gives the example of Valve, the gaming software company, I recommend their employee handbook to have an idea of how they work, and inspire the conversation with your teams.
  5. Share information broadly: uncertainty and stress undermine teamwork, openness, transparency and daily synchronization are the proposed antidotes.
  6. Intentionally build relationships: encourage people to care for each other will make them happier and more productive.
  7. Facilitate whole-person growth: meet frequently and give constant feedback on personal and professional growth.
  8. Show vulnerability: asking for help, and acknowledging what we don’t know, help to build credibility.

Could this discussion be the Retrospective on Trust for your team?

Hierarchy and Decision Making

Erin Meyer covers how cultural differences in leadership styles create unexpected misunderstandings [Being the Boss in Brussels, Boston, and Beijing of the last issue of Harvard Business Review].

Looking at how people behave towards hierarchy is not enough to understand what kind of leadership style they will expect. A second dimension needs to be taken into account: attitude towards decision making.

Coming from France, I was making a simplistic association of hierarchy with the top-down decision making and was puzzled by the Japanese who were clearly experts in getting to a consensus while they were still hierarchical.

Of course, generalizing the expected behavior for an entire country is not fine grained enough, and you could expect different behavior from people of those countries.

The key is to understand that hierarchy and decision making are 2 different dimensions to discuss when you are building the team agreement on how you work. And when you are working with teams that are made with team members coming from all over the world, this is key to the success of the team.

For example, my understanding of Self-organization is egalitarian and consensual, and it’s for me the opposite of the top-down and hierarchical approach. The managers and team members, involved in a transformation towards a self-organization model, could struggle with defining their roles, especially if they are more comfortable in the 3 other quadrants.

Do you have your team agreements written down?