Alexis Monville (en)

Discovery One on One

I chose to end all the chapters of my book, Changing Your Team From The Inside, with a section titled “Summary and Action”. The goal of those sections is to give you keys to act immediately on your environment.

I regularly received feedback about how great it was to have exercises to practice directly and impact your “day-to-day.” Some of the answers to the question I asked immediately after receiving those feedbacks still surprises me.

The kind of question I asked: “have you tried some of the exercises?”

The answers I received were along the line of: “no, oh well, not yet, but I will.”

Some people told me they were not ready to act when they read the book and added the exercises to their backlog of things to try. Some others told me they were too curious to read the next chapter to take action immediately.

The great thing is that a lot of people told me how great it was because they tried one exercise with great success!

Mario Esposito tried the exercise from chapter 5. The practice is a way to guide one-on-ones when meeting new people. Mario worked that with his team with great success. He even printed the cards and adapted the experience section to cover past, present, and future, see the picture below.

Mario told me: “I used it once again today, for the onboarding of a new collaborator who had just joined the team… I tell you only that after 40 minutes we were already like two best friends! Really powerful this workshop!”

Let me tell you more about the exercise.

When you don’t know where to start in creating a relationship with people, you can use the help of a structure like what Portia Tung proposed in her book: The Dream Team Nightmare.

I used the approach when I was the new person in a company. I was tasked with creating and nurturing an agile culture. Of course, some people were enthusiasts, whereas others were a bit skeptical. I planned one-on-ones with all the team members.

To prepare the agenda for the meeting and to make the work visible, I wrote on three mini sticky notes the three headings that give a structure:

  • To Do
  • In Progress
  • Done

The headings are at the top of the three columns of a virtual kanban board that you will form on the table of the meeting room that you will use.

Then, as advised by Portia, I wrote the topics, one per sticky note:

  • Ice Breaker
  • Professional Background
  • Agile Experience
  • 3 Wishes
  • ???

The sticky notes are the proposed plan for the conversation. We start the meeting with all the notes in the To Do column, progressively move the card to In Progress, and finally to Done when we covered the topic.

Let’s begin with the Ice Breaker. Move the note to In Progress. The Ice Breaker is a game in which we take turns asking each other questions. We only have three questions each, and each person has the right to ask a different question. To start with, Portia Tung proposes those three questions:

  • If you could do anything in the entire world other than your current job, what would it be?
  • What do you spend most of your spare time doing?
  • What’s your favorite holiday destination?

Those are great questions, and you will see that you will learn really fast new great questions, thanks to the questions your co-workers will ask you. You will also learn a lot about yourself and the first impression you have on people because of the questions people are asking.

Over the years, I have asked, or I have been asked, questions like:

  • Have you recently thought, “I wish I had done that?”
  • Are you afraid of anything?
  • How do you measure your success?
  • Are there things you don’t know that you feel you should know?

Once the Ice Breaker is Done, you pick the next note in the To Do column and move it to In Progress: Professional background. You will now share your work history that led to your current role.

In the context of my mission, the next note on Agile Experience was crucial to assess the level of experience and understanding of the other person. I had once, in another context, an engineer, specialized in quality assurance, who told me in that section: “My last experience with agile is simple; the agile guru explained that our way of working, separating development and quality assurance, was the root cause of all the problems.” I waited a second before saying anything. I tend to think that separating people in silos is a quite common cause of problems in an organization. The engineer continued: “And then our manager fired all the quality assurance engineers, and that’s how I moved to this company, and so I guess that your mission will be to fire us.” You can see that investing some time in that exercise could be wise. It has always helped me. And I regret each time that I cut corners and don’t invest enough time in getting to know the people I will work with.

Time for the 3 Wishes! You end with another game, asking a question: “If you could have three wishes for transforming your daily work and/or workplace, what would they be?” Once again, what the people say here will teach you a lot about the organization and their current mindset.

The last note, with the three question marks, is a wild card to allow the other person to propose any additional topics to discuss. People will sometimes have nothing more to say, and sometimes they will suggest a topic that could be useful to cover in another meeting, not necessarily one on one.

I am delighted to hear your feedback about the book, and especially about the exercises! I think I will put your stories about the activities in the next edition of the book!