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InfoQ Homepage Podcasts Steve Holyer on Running an Effective Open Space and Tim Meyers on Good Coaching

Steve Holyer on Running an Effective Open Space and Tim Meyers on Good Coaching

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In this podcast recorded at Agile 2019, Shane Hastie, Lead Editor for Culture & Methods, first spoke to Steve Holyer about facilitating open space events, then he spoke to Tim Meyers about the competencies and attitudes needed for good coaching.

Key Takeaways

Key takeaways (Open Space):

  • Open Space Technology is a powerful tool for engaging participation 
  • Designing a good Open Space event take careful preparation and support
  • Open Space gives the benefit of the hallway conversations that are so valuable in most in-person events
  • Open Space events can be facilitated remotely, provided the facilitators are experienced and put care into the design of the event

Key Takeaways (Coaching)

  • There is a well defined set of competencies for agile coaching
  • These competencies include professional coaching, mentoring, facilitation and teaching
  • Agile coaching has a bias towards using an agile approach to address problems and opportunities
  • Being a coach means you're prepared to partner with people as they improve, as they go through change 
  • An ethical foundation for coaching is to firstly do no harm

Show Notes

  • 00:00 Shane: Good day, folks. This is Shane Hastie for the info Q engineering culture podcast. I'm at agile 2019 in Washington DC, and I'm sitting down with Steve, Holly and Steve, welcome. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. 
  • 00:17 Steve: Thanks, Shane. 
  • 00:18 Shane: You and I know each other well. I suspect our audience haven't come across you or many of our audience wouldn't have come across you, so do you want it tell us a little bit about yourself. 
  • 00:26 Steve: Yes, sure. I'm an American fellow who moved to Switzerland 20 years ago, so I'm living in Switzerland and traveling the world, doing agile coaching and facilitation. My mission in life is to help people become really more fluent with the practicing agile, doing agile and buzzword might be to creating containers or just actually creating a space for people to work better together and then have the ability to do that.
  • 00:53 Shane: So let's talk about that, creating space, because at the conference you gave a talk on the use of open space. So again. Probably you and I know the techniques and the technology in inverted commas, fairly well, but I suspect many of our audience haven't participated in an open space event, and even for those that have, they probably don't understand the design intent. So do you want to take us right to the beginning, to the philosophy and then let's go through, 
  • 01:20 Steve: Yes, let's try to do that. Harrison Owen is the person who claims to have discovered open space, and it's very interesting that he doesn't say he created open space or he invented open space. He discovered it because the way he tells the story, these principles were there and he discovered them.
  • 01:37 And basically the way the story goes, Harrison Owen and a few of his friends and colleagues noticed that when you attend a conference, often the very best conversations happen on the coffee break. So the question would be, what happens if the entire conference were a coffee break, then would those be the incredibly best conversations all the time?
  • 01:56 Now, I guess it would be possible to say, okay, here's a conference and it's all off the coffee break - go. And probably not. A lot of people would come to that except really heavy duty coffee drinkers. So, if it was diet Coke, I would be there. But anyway, that's a different story. So Harrison and the original open space folks that started looking at this idea of, okay, what would be the very minimal structure we would need to create a space where people could come together, would come together and have conversations, and that could be like a coffee break at a conference. And what they came up with is this idea, is that at the beginning of open space, there is no agenda. Often you find a circle of chairs, people are invited into the circle of chairs and you're looking at a wall, and it's the agenda wall and it's empty, and basically the  promise is within 20 minutes to 45 minutes this agenda wall will be full. 
  • 02:50 The agenda will be created and it will be exactly the agenda that you need because, in fact, you're creating it yourself. It's all really easy to say, sometimes a little harder to pull off successfully. Now, the good news is that most people  that do an open space type event, have a great experience because it's almost impossible to have a totally bad open space.
  • 03:10 Now, there are things you can do to have a really great and powerful open space, and that's based on the principles. 
  • 03:16 One of the principles is that whoever comes is the right people, and that might seem mystical or it might just seem like an excuse to say whatever random collection of folk we got together, we're going to say, but there's something more to that. Harrison own also says. Without passion, nobody comes. And without responsibility, nothing gets done. And the reason that a very successful open space can say whoever comes is the right people, is that the sponsors of the open space put out an invitation with a question or a theme that ignites people's passion.
  • 03:50 And so the people who are passionate about that idea and have some responsibility for working on it are the people that come,  and if you've got the people that are passionate and have the responsibility together in the room, those are the right people. Those are the people you need. They're exactly the right people. So that's one of the principles. 
  • 04:07 Another principle is it starts when it starts, it’s over when it's over, and whatever happens is the only thing that could.  Now today people are talking about a fifth principle is this: Wherever it happens, it's the only thing that could, which is an extension of the others.
  • 04:20 Shane: So you've got an agenda wall. How does that get populated? 
  • 04:24 Steve: Usually these open space events start with an opening circle and a facilitator. I mean, anybody can be a facilitator and often the minimal facilitation is the best. I like to suggest that somebody who has done this a few times and had some training in it makes a really good facilitator, but the fact is anybody can do it.
  • 04:41 The facilitator generally walks the circle and for me, when I'm walking around the circle, and that's literally while people are sitting there at the beginning of the event, 
  • 04:49 Just slowly walking around the circle and introducing the concept, what the open space is, telling the story that I've just been telling in some way. Introducing the principles and then inviting everybody who has an idea that will help answer this question to stand up, propose that idea, write it down, and then put it on this agenda wall so that what you have is people who have passion for the topic, want to answer a question or respond to a theme, have passion for that, propose the things that they're passionate about.
  • 05:23 To some extent that might sound like a lean coffee or some other facilitation formats that we use, but rather than just prioritizing them with dot voting and just take them one at a time, generally you let people say, just put their agenda items on the wall and perhaps what time they'd like to discuss them, and you might have five or six, 10 depending on how large it is, many discussions happening at the same time, very much like a conference that has many sessions and attract going on at the same time. 
  • 05:49 Then people find themselves having to choose what are they most passionate about, where is their value? And part of the principle is just trusting that everything is going to get discussed and handled as it needs to be.
  • 06:02 I mentioned the four principles. There's one called the one law of open space and it's like a natural law in the fact that the police aren't going to enforce the law, but without following this law, the other principals don't work at all, and that's the law of mobility, and that's if during the course of this event, you find yourself in a place where you're neither giving nor receiving value, then please use your mobility to go someplace where you are.
  • 06:25 And that's a powerful concept, often, almost taboo in business to think you can choose to go to the meeting where you find passion and value rather than the one that was scheduled for you. And if you start in one session, you're a very free to, in fact you must, move to another session if you feel like that particular one is not valuable to you. 
  • 06:44 So you find people that go from session to session and cross pollinate, and you find other people that don't go to any sessions and just sort of make the space better by being there, drawing people to them and things like that. So, things that are kind of hard to describe and easier to experience, but also very valuable.
  • 06:58 Shane: And one of the things that we see today is it's harder and harder to get people together. Does this work in a distributed way? 
  • 07:08 Steve: It does, and people are doing it now. For me personally, I have a hard time saying it, describing what this is beyond the experience of, it's something I feel like, yeah., Experiencing it is something that helps you understand what it is. I mean, I could tell you many times I say to sponsors. If you want this fantastic value, let's work together. It's going to be scary, cause what I'm going to say to you if you've never done it before is going to sound scary to you, but let's just bring the people together. Go through this, determining the agenda, setting it up, working through it. 
  • 07:37 Now I've worked with people who are introducing open space into large companies. Huge well-known manufacturing electronic companies in finance departments for these companies, other places where they've never done this co located, and they are working as distributed teams and they're doing this for the first time in a distributed way.
  • 07:57 And so generally, to set this up in a distributed way, you somehow create the same idea in metaphor of people coming together, pitching an agenda, learning about the principles, setting up an agenda, using some electronic tool to set it up, and then having this open space run for a period of time with people choosing when and where to dial in for video sessions or even just audio sessions to hold these sessions.
  • 08:21 Now, what personally I find is that attending one, being able to have one when you're face to face to learn what it is, is very helpful to helping people understand how to do it in a virtual way. So I almost always encourage people to come together once face to face and have that experience and then take it and continue doing it in a virtual way.
  • 08:40 However, I've also worked with people who've never done it face to face and are still doing it in a virtual way. 
  • 08:45 Shane: One of the things that we touched on before we started recording was this concept of the deliberate design of these types of spaces and these things. What's the intent there? What sits underneath that?
  • 08:58 Steve: Well,  open space facilitators like to say that what you see when you enter an open space, it's a circle of chairs that you're invited to sit in and then you're invited to create the agenda, and then you're invited to all the sessions.
  • 09:08 That's all very important, but I think for that to be very powerful, a big question is in what is the invitation to the people to come to the open space to begin with. And so part of the design of the open spaces to craft the invitation that's going to be sent out. We find in many agile spaces, there are open space events that have very little invitation and not a very structured theme. Just come and do an open space.
  • 09:37 And that can be very good because it's hard to have a bad open space, but, in taking the time to craft the invitation and craft the theme and the purpose, to raise the question, why are people here? Then that really fuelled this principle of whoever comes is the right people. On the one hand, people that have the passion for that topic are drawn and people that you never would have known will also be drawn in to just create a very brand new thing.
  • 10:04 So that's part of the design and this takes a lot of work upfront. Another part of the design is if we're inviting people to fill a physical space, and especially if it's a virtual space, it's very good to create some consideration for their comfort and to create things that will enable the work that they are going to do.
  • 10:24 So another thing as an open space facilitator that I think about is, will the space be physically comfortable for the people that are coming? Is it accessible, for people who have different needs for mobility. Is there fruit on hand? Is there water on hand? Because we're doing work where we need to be nourished with fresh vitamins and fruit and water.
  • 10:45 Also is there cake and is there chocolate and diet Coke on hand? Because sometimes we just need that too, and when I'm facilitating, there's always diet Coke on hand. People who know me know that's the case. But yeah. 
  • 10:55 So that's part of the facilitator's job, cause that's part of creating a comfortable welcoming space and as a space that is good for the people that are in it, which does include thinking about their nourishment, that they'll have the energy. So that goes into the design as well. 
  • 11:10 I don't know if you'll ask, I won't wait for you to ask. Something that I discovered the hard way, we learn a lot of things the hard way, is about the space invader. Harrison Owen writes about this in his open space literature, and I had just sort of skimmed over it because I hadn't met a space invader yet.
  • 11:26 A space invader is somebody who, with their great passion for the subject, needs to control the space, for some reason. So, what the open space does is open up the space for people to come together and work on the things that answers the questions that they're passionate about,  bring things together and many times often just because somebody is very passionate, they need to have their voice heard the loudest. 
  • 11:48 It's the facilitator walking the circle at the beginning is saying this space belongs to all of you. Some people need their voice to be heard louder than all of the others. Some people will need to approach the problem in the way they need to approach it, and they will try to disrupt the openness to make the open space about their particular way of solving it and that also goes into the design of the open space and the skills of the open space facilitator just to be present and understand that the space belongs to everybody. So when the space invader does appear, just to help the space invader returned to being a normal participant. And in most cases, it's a space invader is there out of the best intentions and a lot of passion. So often just reminding the space invader of the principles is enough for the space invader to recognize and go away and return to being a participant. 
  • 12:39 In some cases, that's not enough, and that becomes a real challenge because if the facilitator wrests control from the space invader then the facilitator is then in control and becomes the space invader. That's really hard. And so one of these kinds of things that don't make sense except they do, is that for a determined space invader the only thing that the facilitator can do is remind everybody of the principles, including the law of mobility, and then demonstrate the law of mobility by walking away.
  • 13:08 And our part is walking away in a completely non-passive-aggressive way, just to model that when you're neither giving, nor receiving value you must go someplace that you are, and if the space invader has wrested the space, then the facilitator's not giving or receiving value,  but by modelling that law of mobility, it's often enough to remind everybody else that they also have mobility and often everybody will just use their mobility to reclaim the space for themselves. Go on about their own open space and the space invader is neutralized. And if the people do not use some, use their mobility, then they have chosen and made that open choice to give the attention to the space invader and that is something that facilitator must also honour.
  • 13:50 So that's a very difficult learning and something that I feel passionate about because it changes the way I work with people, not just in an open space, but all the time, and it's a great learning to be able to do that walking away without being passive-aggressive. I just have to say. 
  • 14:06 Shane: When somebody brings a topic to an open space, are they expected to do a presentation?
  • 14:11 Steve: No. We see many open space events in the agile space that are often presented as almost like this is your second chance to present a conference talk. It can be that, but it definitely doesn't have to be that. So, I like to tell people that sometimes the best open space session to propose is just to ask a question that you have and if it's a question that really matters to you, there's a good chance that it's a question that really matters to other people.
  • 14:36 So what you gather is a group of people who really would like to dig into this question, some people with more parts of the answer and some people with less parts of the answer, you all get together and then you can really work. Towards some really great discoveries, and so the best sessions may be ones where people are gathering to work together to answer a question with no presentation at all.
  • 14:54 Depending on the goals of the open space, you would like the results to be known if you have some outcomes, if you're working to create some outcomes, you want to preserve that. So, we would say in that case, the person who convened the session, who asked the question, who proposed the session is responsible to make sure there's a document of the session.
  • 15:12 And depending on how we're doing it, if we're doing it in a conference, that document might be a flip chart that's tweeted or it's recorded in a Slack channel. If it's a corporate open space, it may take the form of a proposal that goes into the company's list of initiatives to be evaluated by management or perhaps management's even through the preparation has said, whatever proposals come out will become initiatives depending on the purpose of that open space. 
  • 15:37 So what I ask is in the preparation, again, is that the sponsors make the commitment to what they will do with the outputs that come out. Sometimes we commit to giving you feedback on that within two weeks, and sometimes it's we commit to forming a task group to work the initiative, it just depends on those needs. 
  • 15:55 One aspect, which is why I started on this story about this space invaders, one thing that's something I find people don't know about 'till you meet one, after meeting space invaders and doing more open spaces I meet space invaders everywhere because you start to be attuned to all the people that want to make the discussion about them.
  • 16:10 So there are more space invaders than I realized. But other thing that was just very interesting in setting up an open space, as I was working with a sponsor to do the pre-work, and I let them know that we may be dealing with space invaders and I need your permission. I need you to understand the way that we respond that what might look like me passively leaving is actually the way to deal with it, and not me abdicating my responsibility.
  • 16:34 And it's very funny because these two sponsors said "well, I bet this person in the group, that person's going to be all that, I think this person.  I didn't even know the people; this person, this name, this name  they're going to be the space invader. They're going to be the space invader ...,
  • 16:46 This is where I learned the new coaching skill. 
  • 16:48 I sat there and after they exhausted their list of potential space invaders, I said, well, I'm thinking because of your passion as the leaders of this group, the space invaders will be you, and then I mentally started packing my bags to leave the assignment and the room was quiet, and then they went, Oh, I think you may be right.
  • 17:06 Then of course, I said do I have permission to remind you of that at the right time? And they said, Oh, yes, definitely. 
  • 17:11 So that's where I learned to find a new courage for speaking to sponsors. I learned a new way of coaching and also helped bring this new idea into an organization, which is something that w we talked about at my session at this Agile Alliance conferences, my session was not how to hold an open space, but how this life changing magic of holding space can be a part of leadership.
  • 17:35 Shane: Steve, this is really interesting stuff. 
  • 17:37 Steve: Thank you for letting me talk about something that I really love to talk about. 
  • 17:41 Shane: So if people want to explore this further, where can they find some resources and where can they get hold of you? 
  • 17:46 Steve: I'd love for people to get hold of me. I like to say, of course, Harrison Owen who discovered the open space, wrote a few books and anything he has written is really a valuable read and for how to do this, how to hold an open space, the Open Space Handbook by Harrison Owen really can't be beat. As far as crafting the invitation and setting up all the pre-work that goes into the open space, Michael Herman has written several additions of his invitation guide and his most recent one is, I'm going to say the title probably a bit wrong, but it's Open Space Leadership and Invitation by Michael Herman, and I've mixed the order of the words in the title up, but that's enough to find it. And that's really worth finding as a resource. Our colleague Deb Hartman-Preuss created an online course that can be taught online or face to face about holding space and this course does not go through the mechanics of open space itself cause you can read that in the book. This course is about developing the stance and the mindset that allows you to be that effective facilitator in the open space. So to do that course, we would ask you to read one of several different books, some of them being Harrison Owen's or Michael Herman's to get the mechanics of it and we'll, in that course, develop the mindset and the stance of holding space. Now, I would say we, because my colleague Deb licensed that course to me, and I'll be teaching that in an online version. The next one will be in October, and we'll do that a couple of times a year, and we'll bring people together in a cohort for a few weeks and do this as an online experience. It's not a webinar at all where it's, it's completely live and interactive. So the best way to get ahold of me for that is at my website, which is engage-results.com
  • 19:33 Shane: Steve, thanks very much 
  • 19:34 Good day, folks. This is Shane Hastie for the InfoQ Engineering Culture podcast. I'm at Agile 2019 in Washington DC and sitting down with Tim Myers. Tim, welcome. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us today. 
  • 19:47 Tim: Sure, absolutely. 
  • 19:48 Shane: Now, you and I know each other, but I suspect most of our audience haven't heard of you, so do you want to give us the two minute background? Who's Tim. 
  • 19:56 Tim: I work for Booz Allen Hamilton. It's a technology consulting company, a hundred year old company, and we do work with the US federal government, but we work all over the world with commercial clients, you know, oil, gas, energy, travel, all sorts of things, banking, and you know, for the bulk of my career, it's been pretty internally focused, working with our clients at Booz Allen because we're very client focused organization.
  • 20:17 But recently, over the last few years, I've been trying to get back out into industry and meet more people like yourself and done some work over the last couple of years with iCAgile most recently working with Lyssa Adkins and Marsha Acker to refresh the coaching learning objectives for the coaching track.
  • 20:34 And then this year I just did a workshop at the conference. So yeah, I'm just trying to get out and see what's out there and kind of bring ideas forward. And I guess you could say I'm really one of the drivers of agile coaching and just agile practice at Booz Allen. 
  • 20:49 Shane: So agile coaching, I've been a scrum master for three days, and I can print a business card that says I'm a coach.
  • 20:56 Tim: Sure. Anybody can print a business card that says they're a coach. 
  • 20:59 Shane: What's it actually mean to be a coach? 
  • 21:02 Tim: Well, so specifically, I think to be an agile coach, obviously you're coming with an intentional bias towards the agile mindset, philosophy, values, principles in the agile manifesto, you know, the belief that we're focused on outcomes over outputs and learning and adaptability.
  • 21:17 But being a coach, you talk about agile but also being a coach means you're prepared to partner with people as they improve, as they go through change. And I'd say that's a difference between kind of a professional coach and an agile coach, right? So a professional coach comes with a neutrality that, yes, they're gonna partner with you to help you get to, you know, your objectives.
  • 21:37 An agile coach comes with that bias towards agility and really an opinion that agile is the way the world would and should work. 
  • 21:44 Shane: So delve deeper into this coaching stuff. You spoke about working on those, defining the practice. So what are some of the important things, thinking of our audience, technical influences, leaders in their organizations, their teams are using agile, why should they bother with a coach? 
  • 22:02 Tim: One of the big benefits of having a coach, and we see this a lot with our clients because you know, they want to kind of flip a switch and move to agile, right? A lot of people do that, but I think having a coach available to provide an outside objective perspective is critical to being able to improve. Cause sometimes when you're in the thick of it, right? Like it's really hard to see the way to move forward. 
  • 22:24 I was just working with a client recently where, you know, within the first two days I had talked to, you know, maybe 20 people. I'd been hearing from lots of them, lots of ideas for how to improve the organization.
  • 22:34 I just kept asking him, well, what's stopping you? And they're like, well, we're just not sure it's the right thing to do. And it was amazing to hear that they were all saying the same things, and I just was able to reflect back to them. You guys, there's nothing stopping you. You can just go ahead and do these things that you been thinking about.
  • 22:47 And I think that's the benefit of a coach is that they can bring that outside impartiality right. 
  • 22:52 Shane: And what else does the coach do?  I want to be an agile coach, so it's not just print a business card. What do I need to know? What do I need to do? 
  • 22:59 Tim: Yes. So I'm a big believer in the agile coaching framework that was published by the Agile Coaching Institute 10 years ago, based on a lot of the work that Lyssa Adkins did, it kind of blends professional coaching skills, which is in itself a discipline that you can go get. Mentoring skills , a lot of people think that mentoring is a thing that you just go do, but you can actually grow with a skill in mentoring, and that coupled with intentional facilitation skills and teaching skills. 
  • 23:26 I think that those four things as kind of a special recipe that Lyssa and her colleagues pulled together, and I still believe very strongly that that framework is  the key to what it means to be an agile coach.
  • 23:35 And when we wrote the learning objectives, we wanted to try to make them more agnostic to the perception of what coaching could be, but I still think it comes down to a lot of critical foundational skills, like being present, learning to listen, learning how to reflect and ask powerful questions and learning group processes like communication, conflict, intervention, and being able to articulate ideas in a clear and concise way that people can latch onto.
  • 24:03 I think it's a lot of those things. 
  • 24:04 Shane: And how does one become a coach? What's the pathway? 
  • 24:08 Tim: That's a good question. It's probably different for a lot of people, but I can definitely describe how it was for me. So when I first took my first agile fundamentals class, I really, really fell in love with the idea and the philosophies, and it spoke to me because I felt like this was the natural way to do work.
  • 24:23 And I just wanted more and more teaching about agile. Well, the next class that was available was a facilitation class. And I thought, huh, I'll go take this, it'll make me a better scrum master. It'll teach me more techniques and frameworks and things, but I didn't really know what facilitation was and kind of blew my mind the power of, , getting people to externalize their thoughts or just using time boxes, even in meetings or having a purpose to a meeting, simple things that seem so obvious that it can just be so powerful. 
  • 24:51 So then I followed it up with a coaching class , which again, I thought was going to teach me more frameworks and processes, and it opened me up to,  the skills I was just talking about, like presence and listening and powerful questions, and that's not at all what I was expecting when I signed up for that class and it blew my mind.
  • 25:06 So, fast forward two years of me trying some of these things on, and then feeling weird and me still not feeling like a coach, and I was like, I'm going to go through and take that class again. So I went through both of those classes. So, I've actually been through the agile coaching track with ICAgile twice, just to kind of get refreshed on those skills.
  • 25:23 And even after that, I still didn't feel like I was getting enough practice or intentional practice. So I signed up for a cohort program that was a seven month long intensive program because I felt like I needed some outside accountability to help me practice those skills and put me in situations where I could practice them.
  • 25:43 And really that program with the intentional practice and the outside accountability really helped me practice a lot of those skills. And yeah, I really needed that intentional practice. So I think it really comes down to, yes, you need to learn the skills, but you also need to intentionally practice, and you need to practice a lot. 
  • 26:00 Shane: So you mentioned some of those skills. 
  • 26:03 Tim: Sure. 
  • 26:03 Shane: None of these sound like things that I read about or heard about on a scrum master course. 
  • 26:09 Tim: No, I mean a scrum master class, Certified Scrum Master is an important certification for the industry because it was the first one, but I'd say over the last 20 years, 15 years of its existence. It's sorta become the gateway, the defacto cert that is teaching people the scrum framework over a course of two days. 
  • 26:28 It's a little concerning because you walk out of a class that you just went through in two days with a cert  that says you're a master of something, when in reality you are just taking your first steps.  So that's one thing. And then the other truth is that certified scrum master isn't appropriate for all of the types of roles in the universe.  So , there's the scrum developer classes and the scrum product owner classes, and then that's just scrum.
  • 26:48 So one of the things that I really love about ICAgile is the framework agnostic perspective, the real focus on agility. Cause I think, , agility means being able to pull from whatever framework makes sense or invent new things. 
  • 27:01 Credit to scrum Alliance, I think that some of their more advanced classes are starting to focus on the skills that I mentioned about being a coach.  So, if you go do it, take an advanced scrum master class, I think they teach you listening and facilitation at a high level. And we're seeing that, I think in some of the SAFe classes too. So, people are starting to catch on. 
  • 27:17 Shane: You mentioned one of the why of having a coach. What are the benefits to the people in the team?
  • 27:22 Tim: I really think,  like I was saying a little bit before, having someone that you could go to that  is in your corner and is focused and  that they're focused on the health of the team and the future of the team. And they're not necessarily, I'm going to say focused on the delivery, but I don't want to mean that an agile coach doesn't care about delivery, cause they're biased towards action. That's a truth about scrum masters and agile coaches, they should be trying to continually push people to move forward, but agile coaches are also focused on building healthy teams,  creating high performing teams. So to have someone that you can go to, to talk to you individually, or to have someone to come in and shake things up and bring new life into your meetings or your conversations, someone to advocate for your ideas, too, I think is another important thing. 
  • 28:10 A lot of times when I'm meeting with teams for the first time, I'll say, consider me an advocate for you. When you have good ideas, I definitely want to hear them and if you feel like you're not being listened to, I'm going to be your megaphone. So I think that that's another benefit.
  • 28:23 Shane: Can we explore the potentially controversial topic of ethics in coaching? I happen to know that there are a number of bodies out there, the International Coaching Federation, for instance, that if you have gone down one of their paths, one of the first things you have to do is commit to a code of conduct, code of ethics.  
  • 28:45 Almost all of them start with your duty to society, your duty to the individuals that you're coaching and they come before your duty to whomever is paying you and that comes before your duty to yourself. How does that play out in professional coaching? And if you're not, because I know in the agile space we don't have this.
  • 29:08 Tim: No, we don't. It's interesting that you bring it up because it was at dinner the other night with some colleagues, and one of them said, you know, I think we really need like a agile coaching code of conduct. 
  • 29:17 And when we talked about it, it literally just kind of came down to, well, does it do no harm? That's something that as a first principle, we want to leave the place in a better state than when we found them, or try to. 
  • 29:28 So there's kind of that. The dichotomy of do no harm with the bias towards agile? If you come in and you find that you're working with a team that just really isn't ready for a lot of  agile, if you're trying to pull them into agile, are you doing harm?
  • 29:42 And  you need to kind of have the self-awareness and self-management to be able to say, well, maybe now's not the time. ? I think that's a personal decision, do you want to invest your time and energy and pulling them forward into agile when you know. 
  • 29:57 You have to have that conversation with yourself.
  • 29:59 Okay, so they're not ready for agile yet, but how can I help them improve? Or do you want to go find another team that is ready for agile? And it's tough. But I mean, for me personally, I really do believe in the do no harm idea. I do believe in meeting people where they're at and asking them to take a half step forward.
  • 30:15 I think that that's a quote from Lyssa's book that's really stuck with me. 
  • 30:18 Shane: So tell me about some of the work that you've been doing at Booz Allen Hamilton, and what's that broader implication. 
  • 30:24 Tim: Well first I'll start with Booz Allen has got a purpose statement that I really believe in. It's empowered people to change the world.
  • 30:31 With an implied empower people to change the world for good, cause we have a set of values that goes along with that. And one of the things that I really love about working at Booz Allen is I get to see a lot of different organizations and I get to do a lot of different types of work,  which in my mind is all agile coaching, but it looks different.
  • 30:47 So like I was mentioning earlier, I'm just wrapping up an organizational assessment with a 200 person software program with lots of teams, lots of clients, lots of customers doing lots of different things. Before that, I was working with an internal team to design an architecture, cause my background is actually in software development and I'm an architect.
  • 31:08 And while my focus there was not explicitly, come make this group agile, just we want you to come build an architecture. I was able to lean on all my agile coaching skills to create and collaborate together and come to an ultimate solution as a group. So there's that. 
  • 31:25 And then next thing that I'm going to go to do is try to build a software business for one of our military clients. They have a lot of software monetization work that they want to do, and I'm going to try to help get them in a place where they can start to do that work.  Cause you can't just bring in the latest tools. I mean, that helps, but it's not enough.  So I think the broader implications are that I really do feel like I'm moving the needle on changing the world because I feel like Booz Allen has clients in places.
  • 31:57 And we're not unique in that sense, but we do have enough clients in places and I can affect enough positive change simply by listening or by helping people collaborate or bring my own expertise if necessary. 
  • 32:08 Shane: We're at the Agile 2019 conference. You gave the talk coaching with presence. Tell us a little bit about that.
  • 32:14 Tim: it's funny. the full title to the talk was coaching with presence using the Kominsky method. If you're not familiar, the Kominsky method is not a real thing, it's just a sitcom on Netflix. So really the talk more appropriately, it would have been coaching with presence inspired by the Kominsky method, because I was watching that show with my wife, and there was a really beautiful monologue towards the end about presence and how it can sometimes be uncomfortable or intense or flaky, or feel that way about building a connection with someone else and giving them your attention.
  • 32:45 But if you can practice it and learn it, it not only makes you a better,  coach or, in this case, actor the show is about acting, but it'll make you a better person, better human. . And as soon as that monologue was done, I sat up in bed and, I have to do this talk. I have to do a talk about this.
  • 33:01 And my wife looked at me like I was a little silly. But anyway, so I did a workshop yesterday on presence and I really asked people to do a lot of work, so I had them first  get present in the moment. Cause you know, in modern life we're constantly being bombarded with distractions and notifications and Facebook messages and all the things that were very rarely actually focused in the moment.
  • 33:23 And I actually shared this story about my daughter when she was two. We were just starting to, get her to sleep on her own, but she really didn't like to be alone. So, we would tuck her in and sing songs and stuff, and I'd hold her hand and. I was finding myself holding her hand, waiting for her to fall asleep cause I was exhausted  and thinking about work that day or thinking about work the next day or all the other things that happen in adult life. And I was reading a book, actually, I think it was Getting Things Done, but I haven't been able to find the quote. And it taught me about grounding yourself and being fully present in a moment.
  • 33:54 And it just said, , if you take your feet and you feel the ground beneath you, it will centre you in the moment. And something that simple changed my life, because I didn't want to miss the moments sitting with my daughter holding her hand. So every night when I would tuck her in, as soon as I sat down and held her hand, I would take my shoes off and feel the carpet, and it would put me in that moment with her and I stopped thinking about everything else.
  • 34:14 So that was one of the things that I walk people through and I had them do it. And I had them talk to each other and practice active listening and yeah, it was really, really good. And I had a number of people come up to me afterwards and say things, , like, this is so simple but so hard, it's such an easy concept, but it's an exercise in self-management that I don't think a lot of people realize. . So it was a great talk. Great experience. 
  • 34:36 Shane: Again, if I think of our audience, the technical influencer who's looking for ideas for working with their teams, this is just woo-woo stuff, isn't it? 
  • 34:46 Well, first I'll say to the technical audience, the world needs you and it needs you to have an open mind into some of this foo-foo stuff because I think there's actually a deficit right now in industry where we've got these crazy smart engineers and I understand the need or the want to sit in code and solve problems all day.
  • 35:08 And I think that that is an important aspect of being technical engineers, senior technical engineers. But I also think that there's an imperative that we bring up the next generation. So maybe you don't necessarily need to go learn and practice all these coaching skills to the degree that I have. But if you can go and learn some of them and become a better listener or ask better questions or become a better mentor. I think that that will pay dividends and pay it forward for humanity. Because I think technology is changing the world in powerful ways. So yeah, we need technical people that have some of these skills. 
  • 35:43 Shane: If the audience wants to continue the conversation.
  • 35:45 Where do they find you? 
  • 35:47 Tim: I'm on Twitter at Timothy Myers. It's probably easiest way to find me. So yes, send me a message and definitely we can keep talking.
  • 35:54 Shane: Tim, thanks so much.

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