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General Le Podcast Le Podcast - Season Two

Human-Centric Agility Coaching

Geof Ellingham, Business agility champion and leadership coach, gave his insights about Agile Coaching in this new episode of Le Podcast.

Geof Ellingham, a Business agility champion and leadership coach, gave his insights about Agile Coaching in this new episode of Le Podcast.

I feel lucky that Geof shared with me this article about Human-Centric Agility Coaching a while back. I was very skeptical at a first glance. Why do we need yet another model? And, Why Human-Centric? The first value of the agile manifesto says that in agile we value “People and interactions more than processes and tools”.

I had to find out!

To that second question, Geof has a great answer that started with:

We haven’t really lived up to that value

Geof presented then in-depth the two paradoxes:

  • The expert paradox
  • The ideology paradox

We had a discussion on the model and how to use it without creating harm.

Find out more by listening to this episode!

Here are the references mentioned in the episode:

Drop a comment or an email with your feedback or just to say hello! And until next time to find better ways of Changing Your Team!

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Here is the transcript of the episode:

Alexis:

Geof, can you tell us a little bit more about you and your background?

Geof:

I can. I’ve had a very varied background. So I started life after school as a programmer, then went off to do a music degree, I became an elementary school teacher for five years. And then went back into IT again and started working for one of the big five consultancies, spent time as a consultant, had children and decided to move into a more flexible role where I could be closer to home. So I worked as a head of IT within local government for about 10 years. And then, I guess about five, seven years ago, I started training as a coach, initially as a professional coach.

Geof:

But I trained in agile way back in the 1990s. In my work in local government, I’ve been starting to really bring those agile practices back in, because we’re starting to deliver digital services and so on and so I started to bring the two things together. So I started off separately as someone involved in agile and someone who was a coach and bringing them together as an agile coach is something I’ve only been doing for the last five years or so. Then most recently, I got really interested in what drives people to be the way that they are, the people that they are, and I did some more training.

Geof:

I’m now practicing as a psychotherapeutic counselor, so that I’m kind of interested in the full spectrum of human experience, and especially internal experience and how that plays out when people are in a group setting or an organizational setting. So that’s a that’s a long story. But it’s… There are lots of different bits to my story and I tried to bring them all together in the work that I do now.

Alexis:

Wow, this is really impressive. I think about all what you said. My mind was stuck with being an elementary school teacher. Because I was thinking, “Oh, that’s some time I feel that I should have those skills to be able to capture the attention of a few people in the room that are not necessarily highly motivated to engage in the conversation.”

Geof:

Yeah, they weren’t chosen to be there.

Alexis:

Yeah.

Geof:

I love teaching. As I said, I did that for five years as a full time teacher and then three years as a part time teacher, after that, I was a music specialist and my degree was in music. So I did these big shows with kids, I took these big whole school singing assemblies, all that kind of stuff and it was very intense. And I just decided that there was no way I was going to be able to keep that intensity up for another 40 years. So either I had to leave behind this career that I really loved, and do something different, or I could watch myself fade over the years as that intensity dropped. I just decided I’d go out while I still loved it. But I do still look back on those years very fondly and I’ve enjoyed going in and doing work with my kids when they were a little younger in their schools and stuff like that.

Geof:

But being able to being able to hold the attention of people who have not chosen to be with you is a challenge.

Alexis:

Yeah, absolutely. I’m really surprised and the first time when you shared with me, your article about Human-Centric Agility Coaching, I was really surprised about the Human-Centric part. I felt that agile was already something that was putting people first in a way, the Agile Manifesto start with the idea of individuals and interactions that are valued more than processes and tools. So I saw that people were already first, can you tell us a little bit more about the model and maybe the why behind the model?

Geof:

So that said, there may be two parts to that question. So I’ll answer it twice, if that’s okay, more generally, why Human-Centric? Why am I interested in this, when, as you say, “It’s already the first line in the Agile Manifesto values.” And I think the reason is that we haven’t really lived up to that value. I spend a lot of time at conferences and so on and it seems to me that processes and tools remain the driving force for a lot of the economy of the agile community certainly and a lot of the focus that we have on our agile initiatives is on business outcomes or speed or cost.

Geof:

And it seems to me that the focus of agility, in terms of what I’m interested in, I’m interested in what’s going on within the group of people who are engaged in the work, improving their internal communication, the ability for that group of people to achieve more than they could as separate individuals. So my outcome when I’m working with teams is all about the team’s ability to be its best. And I’m not sure that that’s… I know, lots and lots of agile coaches absolutely adhere to that principle. But I think as a community, we haven’t really managed to live up to that. So I see myself as one of the many people out there trying to just come back to that, that basic value, this is what we’re trying to achieve, we’re trying to achieve a situation where with a combination of principles and values and some practices we’ve built up over time, we can create added value in all senses, happiness, outcomes for people on planet, we can be better when we work together in teams in these ways, and I keep it as broad as possible. So that’s the first answer.

Geof:

The second answer is about the model itself. So the model itself does not come out of me wanting to do something, me wanting to create a model, the model comes out of a piece of research. So my intention was to get into the heads of agile coaches and find out what’s really going on when agile coaches are working. We’ve got some great literature around agile coaching, like Lyssa Adkins book, most of it is about kind of what should happen, what do we think coaches ought to do? And we haven’t really got much that looks into what actually happens moment by moment, what’s the internal experience in an agile coach, what’s really going on? And I was really interested in that internal experience, because I know that for me, as an agile coach, there’s a huge amount of internal conversation that’s going on when I’m working with a team. And I know that my internal conversation will be different to other agile coaches and we learn by understanding, our own models of the world. So I set about doing a piece of research as part of a Master’s I was doing in coaching.

Geof:

And my question was just sitting down with coaches for 90 minutes in depth interview and no structure. It was just tell me what is going on for you when you’re working with the team. And the model came out of that research through some paradoxes that emerged there that I guess we’ll talk about. So the model was a consequence of the research rather than something I intended to produce.

Alexis:

Really, really valuable. I was absolutely not aware of that and I really love it. I was thinking why do we want to produce another model, yet we have a model? The perspective that you bring in, what is happening when you interview agile coaches, about what is going on when they work, I think that’s a really interesting angle and you mentioned two paradoxes.

Geof:

Yeah.

Alexis:

Those paradoxes really resonated with me. Can you tell us more about those two?

Geof:

Yeah, sure. So there are two, in the research they did, there are actually some other tensions. But I decided that these were the two that came through most strongly for all of the coaches that I interviewed. So the first I’ve called the expert paradox. An expert paradox is, it’s there in the name of the role agile coach, because our clients hire us to be agile experts.

Geof:

To understand this particular approach to solving problems of organizations and end users, and so on. So, our clients hire us as experts in agile. But we’re coaches and those of us that have done training as professional coaches will have this strong idea in us that as a coach, we’re bringing a lens, a mirror, a set of tools to help people frame their problems, but we’re not bringing solutions, that we come to our clients as whole human beings who possess everything they need to solve their problems and all we’re doing is walking with them along the way. So when you put those two things together, you get a paradox, how can I be at the same time, someone who stands back from my own expertise and walks with my client, and believes in my client’s ability to solve their own problems, and at the same time, bring expertise around how to approach problems, how to make this agile stuff work better.

Geof:

For all of the coaches that I interviewed, this was a really powerful paradox that they felt themselves pulled, almost viscerally in both directions. So when they spotted an opportunity to improve process, that expert really comes to the fore and wants to step in. But there’s a part of them that recognizes that the more they can step back and allow their clients to be whole and complete and in control of their own destiny, the better their overall outcomes.

Geof:

I didn’t think that our existing coaching models really helped us with that tension. Because if you take for example, the Lyssa Adkins as your coach institute model, which is, you may know it’s a kind of it’s a cross drawn on the ground with some segments. And the idea is that you can walk across this model and take up a different stance. So sometimes you’ll be in a coaching stance, sometimes you’ll be in a teaching stance. And that for me doesn’t capture the kind of embodied challenge of moving between those two poles, that they’re so different inhabiting the expert, inhabiting the coach, is so different, that we need to understand more about what we need as agile coaches to enable us to do that for our clients. So that’s the first of the two paradoxes.

Geof:

So the second is, I’ve called the ideology paradox. And this, again, came out from my interviews, this strong tension and it also comes from a piece of academic research into based at Pivotal Labs in the States. The idea here is that agile as an ideology, as a cult, as a kind of magnificence, we are the truth in a way, and we know the answer to how to make the world a better place that I certainly know that I hold within myself, I try to hold it lightly. But I know that it’s there, I know that there’s a sense of, this is something really important and valuable we’re bringing to the world, that this ideology has plays in different ways. So when we’re trying to transform an organization, we’re trying to take an organization on this journey of change towards agility, we are taking an existing culture, an existing model of the world, and we’re looking to change that model, or uproot, in some ways destroy that cultural model and replace it with something new, these new values, these new ideas, and there’s a shortcut to doing that, which is to use ideology.

Geof:

Ideology has always been used as an instrument of change. Because if you can get people believing in this new way, as something that, where we can bring in group thing, we can get this, everybody walking the same walk, talking the same language using the same terminology and we’re all in this together, agile is our way that actually that does help to make that transformation easier. The tension, the problem is that if we use ideology as a way of transforming, then we were still left with an ideology. And if our root value is to continue to be flexible, and continue to iterate on what’s good and to continue to adapt, inspect and adapt at every level of the organization.

Geof:

An ideology is just something else that freezes us and we end up trapped in ways of doing things that are just as hard to get away from the culture that we started with. So ideology is something that pulls us it’s something that’s attractive, believing that agile is somehow special, is a really attractive proposition and our clients find it attractive. But allowing that ideology to take root can freeze an organization in a state that makes you have to continue to be adaptive.

Alexis:

I really love those two paradoxes, I have said that they really resonated with me. I can empathize totally with that idea of you’re coming in an organization, you are the expert, you are asked to really every time improve. I remember one time, I was working with a really small startup. And they were, not a lot, but they knew that there was a lot of traction for what they were providing and so they needed to grow really fast. The people in charge, there were three of them that were managing the company at the beginning. They were telling me, “Okay, Alexis or we will do the thing.” I remember the CTO telling me, “Okay, we will hire a manager for that, manager for that, manager for that, manager for that and then they will hire their teams and so on.”

Alexis:

I said, “I don’t think that can work. Because you still need to deliver a lot of things. So instead of hiring those managers that will then hire their team and so on, probably we should focus on the people that will already do the work.” And the question was, “But how they will be organized?” And I said, “we will adopt an agile way of working. So your goal is to have small teams that will be able to deliver end to end value to your customers.”

Alexis:

And he was asking me but, “What is the target organization? At the end, how will we be organized? How the company will be organized?” I was trying to stay on my stance again, “We will have smaller teams, and they will be organized to deliver value end to end.” And we’re thinking, “Oh, but I understand what you say. But can you draw me the organization in the end?” I said, “No, I can’t because I don’t know, we will design the organization along the way. There is no model, there is no end game. We need to agree on those principles and we will design the organization along the way.” And he was still trying to ask me that, “I’m pretty sure you know but you don’t want to tell me.” I tell him, “I don’t know.”

Alexis:

That was really hard for him to discuss with the expert. And at the same time that the expert is studying that. I don’t know, I don’t know the results. I know we can do it, I know we’ll do it along the way, but I don’t know the end game and the results.

Geof:

Yeah, exactly.

Alexis:

It was really a hard time. If you explain that, that was my expert, thought of… destroyer that I was feeling that was okay. I need to old on that line. Because if I don’t, then I will design everything by myself and it will be totally wrong for the people in the company.

Geof:

Yeah. So you’ve led me beautifully into the model and I wonder whether this is a time to kind of bring the model out of the box and start talking about it a little bit. Because I think that particular encounter that you had really is one of the things I was trying to address in the model.

Alexis:

Yeah, please.

Geof:

So the model is organized into columns and the columns are based on work by a whole sequence of academic and practical research is going back to Piaget, who was working in child development 150 years ago. And the terminology I’ve used comes from a guy called Bill Joiner, who writes about leadership agility. But the basic principle idea is that as children, we go through stages of development, and they’re pretty well understood now. Children start off as babies not being able to differentiate themselves from their parents and from the world. And then they learn that they’re separate and you go through these very explicit concrete stages of development. The idea that was put forward by this, all of this chain of researchers, and people will be familiar with things like Laloux and Reinventing Organizations and Spiral Dynamics, there’s a whole bunch of stuff out here. They’re all based on the same principle, which is, “As adults, we also go through these stages of development.”

Geof:

We start off and in turn, in terms of the first column in my model, we start off with what Bill Joiner calls expert, and an expert, it’s all about our skill, our ability to perform a task really well. And we see the world in quite mechanistic ways. So I’ve… The title of the column in the model is machine. So we kind of see the world as a machine and our idea is that if we can just put the things together in a way that we understand it’s kind of all logical, it all fits together and I understand what my purpose is in this machine. I’m really expert at it. When I become a manager, I can tell other people how to be expert. I can teach other people

Geof:

It’s very mechanistic view of the world and many people. So Bill Joiner reckons that something like 35% of people in management roles are still locked into this kind of expert role and the accounts that you had was with someone who had that view of the world, they want to see their organization as a machine, that’s the way that they conceive of how things work. So I’ve got a machine at the moment, it works like this, you’re going to come in, and you’re going to help me build a new machine that works differently. So show me what it looks like, what’s the blueprint, I want to be able to see it then I’ll understand.

Geof:

And if people are in that column, that’s where you have to meet them. So the challenge that many coaches come across is they’re looking to move people into a different way of thinking, and the person they’re talking to just doesn’t yet have the language or the model of how the world works enables them to participate in that conversation. So we have to move people across the columns. So the columns in my model go, start with this machine, the next column is family. So this is what Bill Joiner calls achiever and this is where we start to understand that the groups of people in organizations have these kind of, these complicated power structures going on and these different in groups and out groups and ways of communicating and that people have all kinds of little daily struggles and conflicts that are some sometimes part of the business of the business.

Geof:

Sometimes they’re to do with people’s personal lives, and it all comes together in a big mess. And that organizations aren’t like machines that actually the groups of people within organizations act much more like families where power is contingent, the idea that families have a head of the household and anyone listening who has a family knows that that’s not how power works in organizations. Power is slippery and difficult, and it’s all over the place. And a family doesn’t work like a machine and things are always changing, people are always finding different roles.

Geof:

So the reality is whatever structure you have written down on paper, that’s not really what’s happening in your organization, stuff is moving around. So that’s the next step is to recognize that and to stop being so focused on what people are doing, and start being focused on what people are achieving. So we stopped being interested in the process, and telling people what to do, because that’s what experts do, is they say do it like this, and it’ll work, we start stepping back and saying, “Okay, this is what I want to happen.” And you lot organize yourself and make it happen.

Geof:

So people who are in that second column are able to step back a little bit, if the person that you’ve been speaking to, within that green family kind of column, they would have been able to meet you more easily and be a bit more flexible and say, Okay, I get it, it’s going to be a little bit complicated, it’s going to emerge, and stuff will happen. So that’s the second column. The third column is living system. So this is what Bill Joiner calls catalyst. And at this point, people are able to move a step further and start seeing that their organization isn’t a little bubble, separate from the rest of the world, but the actually is part of a much bigger set of systems.

Geof:

So this is the living system column, we start to see that those power structures that I talked about at family that are kind of flexible and fluid, that actually there are systems at play here. But the team itself is a system, each individual person is a system of thoughts and desires, that groups of systems the different teams interact with each other in systemic ways. And that you can follow, you can understand what’s happening when you start to look at those interactions and start in a systemic way and you can start to see the organization as part of a wider world.

Geof:

People who are able to meet you at that in that column and build your records. There’s only 5% or so of managers who are in that column, people are able to meet you in that column will get agility in a completely different way to the expert, because they will immediately understand that what we’re doing here is working with a system and helping the team to see its own systemic processes to be able to understand what’s happening between you and me and this person over here and to be able to inspect and adapt not just the work that we’re doing but but who we are as a group of people. So they’ll meet you in a different place.

Geof:

Then my fourth column is called wonderland. The idea that almost it’s kind of post agile, really, this is where we’re stepping back from the idea of ideology completely and saying, “All right, we are now about being curious about everything, about getting out of any silos that we might be in being open to experience, we might start really allowing different value systems to compete within the same organization in the same team, where we’re able to deal with things like conflict in a completely different way, we’re able to take the scratchiness and challenge the world and just get interested in and use that as a source of information.”

Geof:

So those are the kind of four columns and one of the first reasons that I wanted this model was as a way of helping us to understand as agile coaches, where we are meeting our clients. So first question is, where am I? So as an agile coach, where do I recognize myself in these columns? And it might be that in some parts of what I do, I’m in one column in some parts of what I do, I’m in another. None of this is black and white. This isn’t about putting people in boxes. But it’s about understanding, what’s my capacity for taking that curious route. There’s a concept called transcended include, which is that every time we move through the levels, we still have all of the capabilities we had in the previous level.

Geof:

So as I move through to living system, and I’m getting to the point where I’m past the kind of this is how agile should work. I’m getting really interested in systems and I’m using systems thinking, and I’m working with teams and that way, I can still step into expert, I can still go back into that first column and inhabit that. But I can do it from a different stance. So I take my curiosity and I’ll step in deliberately, intentionally into that expert teacher role. And I’ll share that with the team I’m working with now say, “Okay, I think that there’s something I know about that that might be able to help you here. Do I have your permission to put a different hat on and to step in?” And I can do that in a way that that allows me to still be me, I don’t have to be a different person. But I can just step into that different role and then I can step back again, or what I’m interested in helping coaches to do with this model is to find the learning edge of their clients and meet them there.

Geof:

So if you understand that your client is sitting in that first expert column, they’re going to be focused on process and machine. So we have to meet them there, we have to show them something that they can get a handle on. But in doing so we want to pull them into this next stage into family, we’re not going to get them into systems thinking straightaway, we’re going to have to take them through and just help them to understand what’s going on within their teams that they might be interested in, isn’t just about their role definitions and how they handoff works one another. It’s about the quality of the communication and relationships between people in those teams and that’s where we need to focus on next energy.

Geof:

So that’s really where the model comes from. It’s taking those paradoxes and recognizing that both of those paradoxes exist because of the need to move between these columns as an agile coach in a way that professional coaches don’t have to, if you’re a professional coach, you typically operate within one column with one client, I’m either here to… I’m here as a skills coach, I’m going to teach you how to do something, I’m here as a transformational coach, I’m going to sit back and work with you and you’re going to tell your story and we’re going to create a new narrative for you however we’re working. With agile coaches, we’re constantly having to move around these different columns. If as an agile coach, we are still ourselves, but they’re very much on the left hand side of that model, we just need to recognize our own limitations in what happens when we meet a client who’s further to the right.

Alexis:

This is exactly that kind of difficult realization. I was looking at, where my client is not necessarily where I am now and I think a that’s an important thing to realize that if you are in the system, you are in a complex system, you are part of it, whatever you want, you are still there. That’s really an interesting first thought on that. The thing that I’m struggling a little bit with is considering the client, considering a team or as being in one column. How do you deal with teams that the individuals in the team, the people in the team are not in the same column? How do you deal with that situation?

Geof:

So the individuals within teams are rarely in the same column, certainly in my experience. Again, for me, what’s helpful about the model is understanding, so where’s the center of gravity of the team? What does that mean for the people who are outliers? So if the center of gravity of the team is in that family column, then you’re probably going to have some experts there who are struggling with the fact that, what they want to do is just do their job. So my job is to sit here and write this code, or my job is to whatever and their understanding of their role is they have something to do in which they have expertise. And yet around them, this team is, is having completely different conversations about trying to collaborate on this and do this, be adaptive in this way, and it just doesn’t make sense.

Geof:

So what we’re going to have to work out is how do we manage that potential discrepancy? Are we going to do some work with the team to help them to get into each other’s models of the world. So some of the work that I’m doing at the moment is with Caitlin Walker, systemic modeling. She’s a British woman who has worked for years with groups and started her work with teenagers who were disenfranchised, disillusioned about school and she realized that when you have a group that’s really heterogeneous, lots of really different kind of things going on in that group and there’s conflict, that giving people the language to understand each other’s model of the world is really important. So if I have a group that’s like that, then I might bring in some of that systemic modeling language, to help the people in the teams to get into when you say this, this is what I’m making up about what you mean, now you tell me what you really mean and I’ll try to understand what your model of the world is and then I’m going to share that with you.

Geof:

This is my model of the world, when I say this, this is what I mean, and really giving people the language to understand that we have different models of the world and if I’m going to challenge my own model, my biggest challenge to my model is that despite the fact that I said earlier, I don’t like putting people in boxes, I think it’s difficult to use a model like this without putting people in boxes. So if there’s a way of evolving this model in the future, to be less boxy, that’s what I would want to do next. Because as you say, “People don’t inhabit these boxes, teams certainly don’t. But I do think that there is value in understanding, I think these four columns give you a way of understanding where abouts people are in relation to each other and therefore, where the potential tensions might lie, and how you can think about, do you just have to just allow those tensions? Do you find a way of bringing people into the same space? Do you just help people to understand what’s going on for each other? So you have some choices to make.

Geof:

I think the model helps with just understanding where people are and what choices you might have, what levers you might be able to pull.

Alexis:

Yeah, and those columns are even more like scales and that’s how you are somewhere on the scale.

Geof:

Yeah.

Alexis:

I assume that if you are making assumptions about other people, you will probably move yourself on the scale to try to fit what they want or what they need. I can observe that in my team when some people are really hierarchical in their mindset. So they assume things about the boss, that the boss should do certain things. And they expect the boss will do that. But unfortunately for them, the boss is not in the same hierarchical view of the world. So they frustrated about the lack of things that the boss should do. It’s an interesting situation to be in. So I’m trying to meet them somewhere in the middle and it’s an interesting situation to be in, try to say, “Okay, that’s your expectation about the world and you need to realize that the older people expect you to do things.” That’s that’s an interesting tension.

Geof:

Yeah, for sure.

Alexis:

So, if we see that as scales, we can move along those scales to adjust to where the people are. Explaining the model can help them see that the others are not necessarily seeing the world the same way?

Geof:

Yes.

Alexis:

Okay, and you’re really using the model this way with your customers, with the teams you are working with?

Geof:

Yeah, so one of the one of the challenges is, so at the moment, the model is still very much in its kind of early iterations. It’s in its current form for quite a while, but COVID has kind of interrupted a lot of things. So I’ve been using it. I haven’t been using it explicitly with clients, so I haven’t been sharing it and I have mixed feelings about sharing it. And the reason I have mixed feelings is comes back to this question about putting people in boxes and about the idea of assessing people. So at the moment, I’m using it as a way of, as part of my reflective practice. So I will, if I’m working with a team, I will use the model as a way of thinking about, “Okay, so here are my key individuals whereabouts do I think they are? Where would I meet them? What does this help? What does this tell me?” So I use it as part of my reflective practice, but I’m not sharing the model explicitly.

Geof:

Now, there’s a part of my coaching practice that says, if I’m using a model, to think about my clients, then generally speaking, I want to be open and share that model with my clients. Because, there’s danger of doing violence to clients by modeling them without them knowing that’s what I’m doing. So there’s a bit of a tension there. So at the moment, I’m using the model in my reflective practice, but I’m not explicitly using it with teams, and I’m not sure that in its current form, I would advocate using it in that kind of transparent way with teams. I might use some of the language and certainly, I might use some of that some of the underlying language about our views of the world, how do we think that organizations work? But I would probably do it in a more of that systemic modeling way that way of getting people to use their own language about how do they see the world?

Geof:

So if I think that what’s going on in a team is that some people are locked into the machine expert column, and some people are kind of happily living in the family, and maybe even getting into living systems, what I might do is invite people to talk about, “Okay, so when you’re coming into the organization, and you’re in your team, and you’re working with your team, that’s like what?” And see what people come up with and see what metaphors might arise from people and see, it might be that somebody says, “Well, I kind of see the team a bit like, it’s a bit like a watch, there’s this really intricate little cog, that’s me, I’m over here, and then there’s this big hand over here that goes round.”

Geof:

So you might start to hear the metaphors coming out, you might find that machine metaphor come out. And somebody else might say, “No, it’s more like, I feel more like we’re, we’re kind of like pebbles in the ocean,” or whatever it is that comes out. So I think I would, at this point, I would use the model as a way of doing reflective practice. But in my work with teams, I’m more likely to use their own language, and test my reflective thoughts against what comes up in the team’s own words.

Alexis:

Excellent, I thank you for sharing that. I remember when I read the Laloux book about organization, that’s Preventing Organization, I think, I was really excited about trying to explain to different stages of organization. I was ready already to explain that to everybody.

Geof:

Yeah.

Alexis:

And I realized that the first time I started to explain the different levels, I was definitely in an oriental organization really no machine organization. And they were thinking, “Okay, it will not end well,” because I’m trying to explain something that will not really resonate with them and basically, I will tell them, “You are not good. That’s not how you should be, that will not work.” And I was thinking, “Okay, now I need to escape that conversation. This was exactly not the thing to do.

Geof:

Yeah, exactly. And to build on that, not only when we’re doing that, not only if we expose the model, we risk doing harm, but actually if we keep the model to ourselves, but we’ve already made that determination, there’s a risk of harm because there’s a risk that we’re holding that organization in contempt because of the hierarchical view that we have about what a good organization looks like. I think that the one of the things that models can do if we use them well is to recognize some of those internal biases and the contempt that we might be holding, and use the model as a way of providing a warning that Okay, so if I think this organization is a machine orange, what does that mean about the way I’m going to think about the people in this organization and what care do I need to take to ensure that I’m seeing every human being in this organization as a fully competent human being?

Alexis:

Yep. This is a very good point. Our expectations or our biases, and when we start elaborating organization or even worse people, we are blocking our thinking and we are not able to interact with them in an efficient way in a really human way. We are seeing them as problems instead of seeing them as human beings that are fully responsible of who they are, how they are interacting with the world?

Geof:

Yeah, exactly.

Alexis:

I was surprised in organization that are more mechanistic more machines, the people in those organizations, some of them are, let’s say, comfortable with their position and their role. And some of them are suffering in those position and would like to change things. How to come in support of those people, all of them is an interesting challenge.

Geof:

Yeah, absolutely. Because, as I said earlier, one way that organizations do that, is this use of ideology and to some extent the way that we use frameworks, I think falls into this, You see people, almost subverting some of the ideas of agility by saying to someone who’s comfortable in that orange expert column, are actually you can still be like that in this new world. I’m just giving you a new process, I’m just giving you a new machine, it’s okay. And there’s a danger in doing that and there’s comfort in doing that. So there’s a real tension in the way that we approach those people who are very comfortable with the world the way that is. Yeah, I think that’s a really good point.

Alexis:

Yeah, I remember to using Scrum. Yeah, as you said, as an ideology that will enable you to start a transformation, to start to change. With some teams after the first or two or three iterations, they were starting to reconsider the framework itself, they will start to reconsider that they could change things, how they were doing things, because that was not necessarily the best way for them. Which was really interesting and I’ve seen teams using exactly the scrum by the book for months. And you say, “Okay, there’s something broken there.” The probability that it’s still the best way of doing things for you is really low. So instead of using the framework as a starting point, you are stuck with that framework now. That’s your new way of working, that is not necessarily the best way.

Geof:

Yeah, your new machine.

Alexis:

Yeah, exactly. When we send order, and when we see the columns and the tables, and it can feel a little bit like the metrology model that some people are selling and it’s really scary. But when we listen to you explaining the model, it changed everything and now, I’m totally with you on calling it a Human-Centric approach. Because I understand that it’s really what it is, based on what you say, it’s really fascinating. Is there other things that you would like to share today?

Geof:

I think the thing that I would like to share is that this model is very much a first iteration. And I touched on this earlier, this is not how it ends up. This is a first attempt at taking what I learned from this research and putting it onto paper in a way that I think certainly helps me to think about where things set, I know that my personal bias is to work in a bubble for longer than is helpful. So really, what I want to do at this point is invite people to kind of join a conversation with me, if people think there’s value in this model, then to get into a conversation about, “Okay, what next? How do we try out some of these ideas in practice? How do we get some feedback on what happens when we use them? And what might the next version of this model or next iteration look like?” It’s published under Creative Commons, that’s my intention, it’s not mine, my intention is that if there’s value in it, then I’d like the world to do something with it.

Geof:

So I think that’s the thing I would say is don’t treat it as a fixed artifact. Don’t treat it as something that I think is finished, treat it with some skepticism come at it with curiosity and intend to iterate and collaborate. And anyone who would like to collaborate with me on it, please do get in touch because I’m going to be putting together a group of people who are interested and we’ll collectively see what happens next.

Alexis:

Very cool. I love it. And to contact you, they can contact you through LinkedIn?

Geof:

LinkedIn is probably the easiest way. My email address is geof.ellingham@gmail.com and Geof is G-E-O-F, slightest strange spelling, but LinkedIn is probably the easiest place to find me.

Alexis:

Perfect. I will put that in reference and I will of course put the article in reference of that recording.

Geof:

Right.

Alexis:

Thank you, Geof for joining the podcast today. That was really amazing to have you. I’ve learned a lot and I bet the people who listen, we’ll learn a lot too. I’m eager to continue to discuss with you after that. Thank you very much.

Geof:

You’re very welcome. I’ve really enjoyed having the conversation. Just to add that every time I have a conversation about the model, I learn new stuff about what might happen next. So these conversations are just so valuable.

Alexis:

Thank you for listening to this episode of Le Podcast. Go to Alexis.monville.com for the references mentioned in the episode and for more help to increase your impact and satisfaction, drop a comment or an email with your feedback or just to say hello, and until next time to find better ways of changing your team.

The music is Funkorama by Kevin MacLeod (Creative Commons CC BY 4.0)

Picture by Dylan Gillis.

Le Podcast – Season Two

Le Podcast – Season One