Kanjis at Agile Games France

The 2018 edition of Agile Games France just ended a few days ago. What is extraordinary about this unconference? The non-organization principle is pushed to the extreme, and reminded from the start to the participants: “If you want something to happen, do it” as it’s originator, Alexandre Boutin, repeats each year during the less than 2 minutes introduction.

The events gather less than 100 people in a new town each year since 2012. This maximum number of people was agreed upon by the participants themselves during the retrospective of one of the first events.

A lot of people wants to attend, and the less than 100-euros tickets sell in a few minutes. The participants are a mix of people who are coming for the first time, and people that are returning each year. Alexandre is making that visible during his introduction by gathering people around the number representing their number of participation. The visible representation is helping people that are coming for the first time to see that they are not alone in that situation, and also encourages people that are returning to support the newcomers.

How does it work?

A hotel fully booked by the participant is the best configuration we found so far. One of the locals, who chose the place, presents the available spaces for gathering subgroups. Then people who want to facilitate a game put the proposal on a sheet of paper on the wall with a few information about it, duration, number of players, and the learning outcomes.

People who want to play a game, write their first names on the papers to signal the facilitator that they are interested. And after some time, one of the facilitators takes one paper from the wall and signal to the crowd: “we will play that game in that space, we are looking for 6 to 12 people maximum”. The facilitator is followed by the ones who want to participate. And the process will repeat itself for two days.

As all the games have different duration, from short 5 to 10 minutes games, to 2-hours simulations, it could be dazing to try to create a formal agenda. So, no grid and no timing, always on time and never late. When people are available, they are coming back to the main room. In front of the wall, participants are sharing their review of the game. People are sometimes asking one facilitator to play a game again to give them another opportunity to play. People are switching from being a facilitator to being a player during the day.

For the first edition, in Nantes, in 2012, I proposed the Beer Distribution Game created at the MIT Sloane School of Management in the 1960s. The simulation game illustrates the bullwhip effect that could happen in a supply chain, when people have a limited understanding of the whole system, and limited communication. A really fun eye-opener that the participants enjoyed at that time, voting for that game as the best experience they had during the event.

Creating a safe space to play a game is helping people to experience a new approach freely. During the debriefing, they will connect the dots with their environment. And, at that moment, they will know that they need to change, and they will know that they can do it. They experienced the different kind of behavior people could show during a transformation, on a short time frame.

For the 2018 edition, I brought with me a new barely tested game: Kanjis.

The game is an icebreaker to warm-up the team for a long meeting.

A group of more than eight people is asked to watch a set of cards figuring Kanjis for 1 minute. The facilitator splits the group in half.

The first group is sent outside of the room for roughly 5 minutes, and the members are asked to introduce themselves.

The second group stays in the room and is asked to quickly introduce themselves in 3 tags while the facilitator is preparing the next step of the game. The second group is presented with a new set of cards, and ask to tell, as a group, which are the ones that are coming from the previous set. The facilitator marks the selected cards on the back, and prepares the set of cards for the first group.

When the first group is coming back in the room, the facilitator invites them to tell which are the cards they like.

What is happening?

The first group usually found very difficult to identify the cards that were part of the first selection. They could found some of them in their small pick, habitually because one of the participants made an association with something meaningful.

The second group, when asked the cards they like, is identifying the cards that were part of the previous set. They often pick all of them, and when they don’t, their wrong picks are similar to the one they should have picked.

When we are asked the first rationale question, we use only the logical part of our brain, and tend to activate limiting beliefs. People will say things like: I don’t have a good memory, the cards don’t make any sense. Also, the group is asked to answer “as a group” which will activate fears of being wrong and being judged by the others. The peer pressure will shut down some of them that will prefer to remain silent instead of making proposals.

When we are asked the second emotional question, we have access this time to all our brain. Of course, during the first phase, our brain recorded all the cards, and when asked which one we like, the brain is simply matching with what is already known. We tend to like what we know.

The words that we will choose as the facilitator or as participants will have a strong impact on the ability of the participants to engage fully and to access all their resources.

I had the idea of the game while listening to John Cleese speaking during a Talk at Google:

There was a very interesting experiment. A psychologist showed a group of people some Chinese ideograms characters. They came back next week, and they said to the people: “now we’re going to show you some more, some of the ones you saw last week, some new, will you tell us which ones you saw last week.” They were absolutely hopeless. Nobody could do it at all. It was exactly chance. Then they repeated the experiment the second time, they said on the second showing: “we’re going to show you some more ideograms, will you tell us which ones you like.” And the ones they liked were the ones they’d seen the week before. So, the information was in there in the unconscious, but it couldn’t be accessed in a straightforward way.

John Cleese, during a talk at Google in 2015

The initial version of the game is published today after several runs and improvements during Agile Games France 2018. I would like to thank all the participants for their immensely valuable feedback.

The game is published under a creative commons license, and the contributors will be credited in the revision log.

 

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!

 

Profile

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.