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Applying Ideas From Conferences for Organizational Change


Fanny Pittack and Alex Schwartz gave a presentation about insights from happy change agents at the Agile Testing Day Netherlands 2015. They talked about the challenges that people can have when they learn an idea at a conference and try to apply it in their work environment, and practiced a "change dojo" with the attendants and provided suggestions to do successful change in organizations.

As an example of a frustrating experience of receiving pushback as a change agent Schwartz told his story about a change that he did to get rid of a tool. At a conference he learned to avoid tools that are only used by one tester. Back at work he tried to convince the QA team to get rid of a specific tool, but the people that he was working with were not happy about that. In the end the tool was removed, so the change goal was achieved. But the relationship between him and his colleagues was damaged, making future cooperation and doing change more difficult.

You have to focus on identifying the problem, understanding it well, and agree on its importance, and you have to do this all together to do successful change said Pittack and Schwartz.

Pittack and Schwartz facilitated some small exercises with the attendants, using a change dojo approach. They asked them to stand up and form pairs with their neighbor. In the first exercise they showed a change agent who is positioned opposite towards a person. The change agent goes to his pair partner, says hello and then takes him / her along to a previously selected target. The attendants did this exercise and shared their experiences. It feels like we are pulling the person towards the target, pushing change on them said the attendants. There’s a big chance that people will resist.

In the second exercise the change agent stood next to the other person. They introduced themselves to each other and had a short talk to establish a relationship. Next the change agent invited the person to go to the target, and then they started walking together. The change agent said thank you to the other person. Many attendants felt that this exercise was more effective, instead of pushing change you are inviting them and then you go there together.

In the first exercise the change agent selected a goal and then started trying to bring the team there, while in the second exercise you went to the team to first build a shared understanding and then decide about the goal together. People are more open to change if they are being listened to and feel that a change agent understands their problems.

Frustration is a valuable indicator said Pittack and Schwartz, you should not ignore it. Change agents should listen to the feedback that they receive to learn about the people that they are working with, understand the situation that they are in, and find ways to do change together.

InfoQ interviewed Pittack and Schwartz about using change dojos for organizational change.

InfoQ: You talked about doing change dojos at the Agile Testing Day. Can you describe what they are?

Schwartz: The change dojo is based on partner exercises. Together with your pairing partner you simulate the interaction of a coach with a team or coachee. We practice different setups and we focus step by step on different aspects like pace, distance, keeping you own space, as well as communicating clearly with your body. This provides a chance to receive instant feedback how the change is perceived by the coachee.

Pittack: Change dojos are similar to Coding Dojos: they provide a safe place in an working environment to practice a new skill. In change dojos we practice skills that are valuable for change agents and for leadership in general.

InfoQ: What are the benefits that change dojos can bring?

Pittack: First of all it will build up trust. Second change dojo will help you to understand the perspective of your pairing partner much better. Third we experienced that people are much faster in understanding the ideas of asking and looking for the needs of the pairing partner. Change dojos can teach you to slow down and reach your target to apply changes effectively while maintaining a great connections to the partner.

Schwartz: How do you learn? When I am learning a new skill there is often an "aha moment" which changes my perspective and which makes my understanding much deeper. In the change dojo we provide the chance for the participants to have such "aha moments" in a very safe environment, in a very short time. This builds up the awareness that changes might be carried out with care, courage and clear communication. Furthermore one key learning is to accept and appreciate any sign of frustration as a valuable indicator.

Do you have an example of a change dojo that you did? How did it help to get change done?

Pittack: There is a nice story that happened when we facilitated a change dojo during a keynote that we presented at the Agile Testing Days in Potsdam last year: During the Q&A one of the attendees asked the full audience if someone would like to pair with him for presenting a talk at the next year’s conference, and within 60 seconds he found a volunteer. The dojo experience allowed him to leave his comfort zone, and this created room for a new opportunity.

Schwartz: I personally learned a lot by using the change dojo exercises. They reminded me of focusing on the relationship rather than on just the problem at hand to be resolved. I practicing the exercises quite often: every single week over the course of several years, in context of martial arts. Actually the basics of those exercises are invented by my Aikido teacher Jan Nevelius from Stockholm, before Fanny and I had the idea to help change agents with those exercises.

If people want to learn more about change dojos, where can they go?

Pittack and Schwartz: We are currently discussing if we are going offer workshops in the Berlin area. Please tweet to us if you are interested (@alexschwartzbln and @studienratfanny). Furthermore we will publish a blog post providing a play book to facilitate such a change dojo.

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