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Renee Troughton on Deep Introspection, Integrated Organisations and Looking beyond Agile

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In this podcast recorded at the Agile Christchurch conference, Shane Hastie, spoke to Renee Troughton  about deep introspection, integrated organisations and looking beyond agile .

Key Takeaways

  • Everyone should know how to coach themselves and how to think deeper about themselves
  • There are techniques which can be used both in relationships with others and in examining our own perspectives
  • Techniques include the Responsibility Process, Non-violent Communication and Loving What Is
  • Integrated organisations attain better outcomes through integrating the value chain down to the team level to be able to deliver efficiently and effectively without handoffs, truly cross-functional teams
  • Working inside a top-tier consulting firm is very different from what is commonly percieved

Transcript

00:21 Introductions

00:21 Shane Hastie: Good day folks. This is Shane Hastie for the InfoQ Engineering Culture Podcast. I'm at Agile Christchurch 2020, and I'm sitting down with Renee Troughton. Renee welcome. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us today.

00:34 Renee Troughton: Thanks for having me, Shane. It's always awesome to talk to you.

00:37 Shane Hastie: Wonderful. It's been a while since we've caught up. You and I obviously know each other well, I suspect some of my audience haven't come across you on the Agile Revolution. So tell us a little bit about who you are and it's introduce the Agile Revolution while we're about it.

00:51 Renee Troughton: Awesome. So I'm an Enterprise Agile coach. I'm working for the Boston Consulting Group at the moment. I've been doing Agile for that 18 years now, and that's transformations Agile, super love it. But I also love more the deeper things as well, the human connection, the softer side of Agile, but also the enterprise-based change where I sort of think about my role in life is bringing humanity back to business.

01:21 Shane Hastie: And what is the Agile Revolution?

01:22 Renee Troughton: Oh, the Agile Revolution is a thing. Yes, I should promote myself. So it's podcasts that myself, Craig Smith and Tony Ponton run. We've been running it for a very long time. It feels like at least seven years. It's got 140, I don't know, plus, I'm going to get in trouble from Craig, episodes. But it ends up being both interviews that we're doing much similar as now, but also our meanderings about the Agile space and the Agile world.

01:48 Shane Hastie: At this conference, you gave a talk Know Thyself Using Introspection to Coach Yourself. Why should I?

01:55 Renee Troughton: Why should you?

01:56 Shane Hastie: And what's that about?

01:57 The value of introspection

01:59 Renee Troughton: Everyone should know how to coach themselves and how to think deeper about themselves because ultimately the ability to introspect effectively releases your soul, and it sounds very touchy feely, but it really releases the pain that you have inside of your life. So I would have categorized myself up until a few years ago as an extremely anxious person, both through elements of being bullied in the workplace, but also fears that I had of self-worth, even things around imposter syndrome as well. And I feel like through a few simple techniques, I've significantly been able to conquer a lot of those fears and through those techniques also have greater relationships, not just at work and with teams and in coaching conversations, but also at home. So, I've had a lot better of a relationship with my children, with my partner, as a result of these techniques.

02:45 Shane Hastie: What are some of the techniques? What do I do? Stand in front of a mirror and say, "Hi Shane,"?

02:50 Techniques for introspection

02:50 Renee Troughton: So it's not mindfulness or meditation. So you're not just there zenning away by yourself. I talk about three key techniques. So one of which most people in the Agile community aware of which is Christopher Avery’s responsibility process. The second of which maybe a few people in the Agile community aware of, which is nonviolent communication by Marshall Rosenberg and the third of which is Loving What Is the work that is done by Byron Katie. And so I utilize all three of these together to think about the conversations as they're happening and to make better judgment in the way in which I respond in conversations. I didn't necessarily learn them at the same time. I learned NVC first then the responsibility process then Loving What Is, but to go through them.

03:40 The responsibility process

03:40 Renee Troughton: And as an example, I mean the responsibility process is like a ladder. And it's like a self-diagnosis of words you can use that sort of represent the state of mind that you're in as you actually go through a conversation. So, I don't use these every single moment of my life, but they're very useful when you detect tension or things going awry. And so, whether that be tension amongst two individuals or tension in a team or in a coaching conversation you're having, the responsibility process is sort of this ladder which you can meander around, but the ultimate goal is to get to ultimate responsibility. Now you could start in denial where you don't believe it's true. You could lay blame on others. You could justify the system that you're in. You could shame yourself and say, "Yeah, I finally acknowledge it's my fault." Then just continue to beat yourself over where you could potentially quit. Then go up to obligation and obligation is where a lot of people work from, "No, it's my job. I have to do it." But true responsibilities is, "It's my job. I love to do it."

04:46 Renee Troughton: So knowing from an introspection perspective when you're thinking about things, what state am I working from and is it truly responsibility and working yourself up through that particular process.

04:56 Non-violent communication

04:56 Renee Troughton: In nonviolent communication, it's a technique that's predominantly used as individuals communicate with each other, but it can also be self-used as well. The nonviolent communication is a very simple framework around the different types of language that we use being draft, being more open of the heart, language of love, respect, and deepness and jackal language being language that's very much should, coulds, justs, which are effectively shame, lay blame and obligations that we're placing on others. So the choices of the language that we make to do that.

05:49 Renee Troughton: In nonviolent communication it talks about this really simple syntax, which is thinking about responding to a situation using, what was the observed elements? So what actually happened factually in a particular event? How did you feel in that? What unmet needs weren't being made in that event? And then a request for action. So would you be willing to change blah, blah, blah? But what I find interesting about nonviolent communication is this request element. We commonly ask of others to change. We don't ask ourselves to change. And so, what I do is I apply introspection using this technique to change myself and ask myself to change.

06:33 Renee Troughton: So the example that I gave is a situation where I did get bullied at work. And any time that I got given this email saying, "Feedback," as an example, "I'm going to give you feedback in four days time." And the email triggered this memory whenever I see them. And occasionally I get feedback from managers to be fair, almost always it's good feedback, but because I had such a huge event in my life where I was quite heavily bullied by feedback, anytime I get that and there's a delay, for those next four days or whatever it is I'm just stewing. I cannot think about anything else in those moments.

07:11 Renee Troughton: And I used to handle it through a request to my manager to say, I gave him a bit of background about what happened, but also the request for them to be more timely in their feedback, or to caution it with some nice things as well. But it was always something that always triggered me when I ever received the word feedback. And if I apply NVC to myself, I think ultimately it went away as a pain point because what I realized was I wasn't willing to let myself fail. And when I accepted that failure actually was an option, then it no longer became an issue.

07:48 Loving What Is

07:48 Renee Troughton: And so the last of the techniques is by Byron Katie around the work and it's just is some really simple challenges to how you're thinking about things. Is it true? The assumptions that you're making, we talk about assumptions in lean startup and how things are hypotheses. Almost everything that goes in our head is a hypothesis. They should be better. These judgments are hypotheses that we force on others. And so if you think about this perspective of someone should be a better leader as an example, well, is it true? How can you really know it's true? I don't see them as a leader 100% of the time in everything that they possibly do. So I'm making a judgment call based upon a small amount of information. And so there's been instances in the past where I've had, I would say, disconnected relationships with people. People that are just didn't get on well with. It felt wrong. I don't know really what was wrong. I don't know what I did, what the interpretation was, but I couldn't really fathom what happened with the interaction between me and that individual.

08:50 Renee Troughton: And since learning this I've challenged those assumptions. So I am now more proactive in going up to someone and going, "Look, I've sensed this. I'm really not quite sure what's going on here." And I'll have that conversation. And every single time I've done it, the response has been amazing. It's been, "Yeah, I sense there's something weird too, but I didn't know what it was either." It's always these assumptions that we're making. And so by opening it up and truly introspecting as to whether it's true or not, it gives you the freedom to say, "Can I test and learn if it's right or not?" And then if it is still right, how do you feel in that moment? What are you giving up in yourself by continually thinking about that particular tension? And we live stewing in ourselves all the time because we just can't get rid of these tensions that we really should just give up because it's not doing us any good. And so there's some extra few steps about turning it around and making it a joyous repositioning, but it's really about challenging the self-denial that we live in every single day.

09:51 Shane Hastie: Not easy.

09:52 Renee Troughton: No, incredibly hard, but don't beat yourself up. Just start trying. So keep going, like Agile, it's an adaptive pattern you learn. You can just keep going. And eventually it'll become second nature. I still fall down. There's still occasions where I don't do it right, where I still jump to judgment, but it's less frequent. It's less intense and I move out of it a lot faster.

10:15 Shane Hastie: So that's self-awareness and self-management. Isn't there something about emotional intelligence in there?

10:22 Renee Troughton: Probably. I mean, I'm a believer that emotional intelligence is something that you can grow in individuals. And these are just techniques to help you grow that.

10:31 Shane Hastie: Thank you for that. Other things that you're engaged with and doing at the moment, you mentioned the idea about integrated organizations.

10:40 Ideas around integrated organisations

10:40 Renee Troughton: Yeah. I'm having this set of thoughts. Obviously, we've got movements towards Agile and organizations in business agility. We've got organizations that are starting down Teal path, which is more wholesome, self-management sort of environments. I think that the more successful transformations that I've ever seen, there's some real clear denominators to it. And to be fair, it's not because of Agile or it's not because of Teal or anything else. Where I see it really successful is things, principles like flow efficiency, where people have optimized for getting outcomes, not output, to customers. Now I know that the essence of Agile is about all of this, but amongst all the processes out there, there's sort of, we seem to have dissolved away from the original intent, but integrated organizations to me is about moving away from silos as one step. So integrating the value chain together, down to a team level to be able to deliver efficiently and effectively without handoffs.

11:43 Renee Troughton: So there's movement towards no handoffs through integration. I think it's also, there's an element in there around multidisciplinary teams. Now we talk about it all the time in Agile, "We should just have multidisciplinary teams," which is taking all these different specializations together and being able to deliver as one team. I'm a huge believer in polymaths or multidisciplinary individuals. So when I have personally felt that I'm given my most, that I've been my most successful, it's in moments where my whole self is being fully utilized in all the different skills and talents that I have. I am not just an Agile person, for example. I do drawings and videos. I do podcasts. There's many different skills that I bring to the table along with technology and even leadership elements, but very few organizations think about deep specializations in multiple points in individuals because they struggle just to get a team full of specialists together as a multidisciplinary team.

12:47 Renee Troughton: I think there's this growing appreciation of deepening skill sets to have really adaptive organizations. So when you've got a team that can do each other's jobs really effectively, without any diminishing returns, it really unlocks capacity and demand management inside of an organization as well.

13:06 Integrating self – being true to yourself irrespective of the context 

13:06 Renee Troughton: And then there's this concept around integrating self. So we've talked about introspection, but often when I talk to individuals, they talk about their personality at work and their personality in their home life. And they're different people. I think high-performance organizations are derived from people who actually have integrated both parts of themselves together. And I don't mean necessarily skill sets or anything like that. What I mean is the person and how you behave with your families, the same person and how you behave with people at work, to bring your whole self to work. And then lastly, you get things like support services. So, why have HR and finance disconnected with the customer? How can you integrate customer back into how you're delivering and integrate those support services back into how you're delivering as well? So that there's no one step away from the customer that often exists inside of organizations.

14:00 Shane Hastie: You're talking to my soul here, #NoProjects. How many organizations are getting this right?

14:08 Why very few organisations are achieving integration

14:08 Renee Troughton: Very few, because I think they're going on the Agile bandwagon because they see that's the thing that's out there, but I don't think there's real clarity to be fair out there about what scientifically works and what doesn't work. And really only now we're starting to detect a lot of those at scale patterns. There's no dissent: amongst a team, agile is great to improve productivity and effectiveness and quality and speed to market. But I think it's really struggling at scale because I don't think we've actually scientifically nailed the principles that work and that don't.

14:40 Shane Hastie: So how do we get there?

14:41 Renee Troughton: Well, like any scientific experiment, we should have clear hypothesis. We should have data and we should test and learn what works and what doesn't work. I think, we tend in Agile to not do enough of that scientific based evaluation about what works and what doesn't work. If you look at leadership as an example, there's plenty of content out there about what works and what doesn't work, but not a lot of is utilized because there's so much other content out there.So there's this diffusion that happens in leadership. If you look at performance and rewards. So we know already that incentivization for extrinsic based motivation, like performance bonuses for example, it just doesn't work. Then why is 90% of the world still, or corporate world here, still use performance-based incentives and don't pivot towards intrinsic? It's because even if you do have the science, getting the message out there is challenging when there's so much other dissent. So I think even if we do get to that science place, we've got to solve the problem of getting rid of the things that don't work.

15:43 Shane Hastie: Easier said than done.

15:46 Renee Troughton: Yeah.

15:46 Shane Hastie: One other thing I'd like to explore, because you made a significant change. It's about a couple of years ago now?

15:53 Renee Troughton: Yeah.

15:54 Shane Hastie: That's-

15:54 Renee Troughton: Shocked a few people.

15:55 Shane Hastie: Shocked a lot of people.

15:58 Renee Troughton: Yeah.

15:59 Shane Hastie: You went to the dark side-

16:00 Renee Troughton: I went to the dark side.

16:01 Shane Hastie: ... what was-

16:02 Renee Troughton: It's the easiest way to say it. Yeah. So I joined a top tier consulting firm a few years ago after being an independent coach, effectively a boutique, for about 16 years.

16:12 Shane Hastie: It's interesting in the Agile community and in the broader community looking from the outside at those organizations, they're the ones we all love to hate.

16:21 Renee Troughton: Yeah, definitely.

16:23 Shane Hastie: So what's it like being inside and what is the difference and perhaps a little bit of why?

16:28 Joining a top-tier consulting firm

16:28 Renee Troughton: Yeah, I think the why is a fairly simple story, in essence I was working at one bank in Australia at the time, and I was really starting to make some inroads. I've got all the coaches on board. We had an agreement of a way of working. We had co-created that with everyone inside of the organization. So there was a really strong momentum for change going forward, and everyone was super happy about moving forward with it. And then I was told by mid-level manager, "Sorry, but we’re going to go with a consulting company now." And I don't know what happened. I said, "Was it something I did or?" The whole feedback triggering sort of thing. And the response was, "No, it was just a decision that was made up on high." And so I really struggled to get beyond a certain point.

17:11 Renee Troughton: There was a ceiling when I was in engagements that I would always hit as a coach, but also there was a curiosity, am I not good enough to speak to those people? Do I not know the right language to use? Do I not understand them enough? Why do these consultants, how do they get these gigs? And there was also a real fear at the same time. What do these consultants even know about Agile? I’ve been doing it a very long time, to what extent do they actually know anything? And I saw this potential future, which to be honest, I actually see playing out in Australia right now, where Agile gets a bad rep because it's not being done properly or it ends up being just squads and chapters, as someone said today, which I think is partially true. I think to some extent consultancies tend to focus on surface level Agile.

18:07 Renee Troughton: And when you sort of dig underneath it, it's probably not as much depth as you would hope to have. And rather than making these assumptions as to these hypotheses, and rather than continuing to not be able to break through that barrier, it was a bit of a, if you can't beat them join them, but also help to influence from within so that when they were doing engagements, make sure that they know what real Agile actually looks like. That it's co-created with clients. That it's not just squads and chapters and that as much as possible trying to bring humanity back into that effort. So it's not structure and org change, that it's real values and leadership change associated with it. So that's why I joined. And I didn't end up joining the same consultant team that was brought in because I swiftly worked out that they actually did know nothing about Agile. And I wanted to make sure that I made a difference somewhere where I could believe in it.

18:59 Shane Hastie: So what's it like working inside one of those big consultancies?

19:03 Working inside a top-tier consulting firm

19:03 Renee Troughton: A hypothesis that I had are not entirely all proven. I think to the point earlier, there was a little bit of surface level Agile, but I feel like consultancies are catching up really fast on the depth and the breadth and getting that content in there. How they interact with senior level execs and how they get into that position, we as an Agile community will never be able to touch. So, they build relationships that last decades, and they even have incentivization programs where when you leave the consultancy, you then go into a senior level position in an organization. Then you bring the consultancy back in. So, it's like a racket system effectively. And so that's why we would always struggle to get that level of engagement with senior level executives.

19:49 Renee Troughton: I think there's the belief system in there that they're all action, they don't really care about the real outcome, that they don't care about their own people. And I don't really feel either of those is very true or certainly not in the case of BCG. There's a real genuineness about the intent of the outcome, we're there for helping clients to reach a specific outcome. But also, I really feel like in particular with BCG, I really feel part of a family. I feel like they do genuinely care, and they do genuinely listen to me as an Agile expert. So, I feel very respected from them, which is not what a lot of people would have thought from the outside looking in.

20:30 Renee Troughton: There's an interesting exploration around what is the potential future of Agile. So if you think about the eras that we've sort of gone through, Agile has crossed the chasm now. It's not just a software thing, which is a great thing. Now we've gotten everything we ever dreamed of as a community and what are we doing about it? So I feel like there's this interesting potential futures going forward where potentially we could work better as a partnership, as both boutiques and consultancies together. I think there's also an avenue where maybe boutiques ended up being just a small portion of transformations and all the consultancies get the larger ones, but there's also, we're already seeing a shift and I'm sure that you've heard about it as well, where there's this shift away from Agile.

21:19 Shane Hastie: Certainly, Agile as a brand.

21:20 Renee Troughton: Yeah.

21:21 Shane Hastie: It's kind of done its dash.

21:24 Looking at the future of agile in organisations

21:24 Renee Troughton: It's done as dash, but I wouldn't say there's anything to replace it yet. And maybe that's fair because to the point earlier, we haven't done enough work to scientifically prove at scale and to educate at scale. I don't think that Teal is actually going to be the next thing. I think there's not enough proof behind that at all. And to be fair, it's a whole stage of evolution different again. And we're still in that struggling process between silo, command and control organizations to more collaborative based organizations. So I'm really pensive about what the future is. I agree that it's probably not the Agile word, but we've got no clear thing coming up.

22:08 Shane Hastie: Is that a bad thing?

22:10 Renee Troughton: I think there's something really powerful when you experienced Agile right in a team or even right in a department. And I've been really fortunate to be part of that when it's worked really well at it a 700-person transformation. It was so dramatically different from a performance perspective from anywhere else, like four times difference in speed. Engagement wise, completely different. So double the amount of engagement, and cost-wise it was half the price despite competitors offshoring. So, I'm talking about like for like parity in feature delivery from one organization to another. So, I still think it has a place, yeah, but it's hard to get it done right. And I think that's where we don't have consistency of patterns and where maybe through the commoditization of the Agile coaching environment, we don't have enough real skills to actually get people there.

23:05 Shane Hastie: Renee, if people want to continue the conversation, where do they find you?

23:09 Renee Troughton: They can find me at renee@theagilerevolution.com or on LinkedIn via AgileRenee.

23:15 Shane Hastie: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us.

23:17 Renee Troughton: Thank you.

Mentioned

  • Agile Christchurch
  • Agile Revolution
  • Boston Consulting Group
  • Christopher Avery’s responsibility process
  • Nonviolent communication by Marshall Rosenberg
  • Loving What Is – The Work by Byron Katie
  • Renee on LinkedIn

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