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It ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it

….And that’s what gets results

This week I’m speaking with my esteemed colleague Shaun Smith at an agile event.

Individuals and Interactions: The Forgotten Priority

We chose to focus on one of the agile oldies. The first thing we state in the manifesto.  Because people and interactions are usually forgotten when we start to plan for change.  We all too often dive into creating programmes and long term plans and BIG CHANGE.

Our session hopes to attempt to redress this balance,  challenge some assumptions and make sense of why this is.  Or maybe we’ll just tell some stories.  Depends on the people present and what would be more enjoyable and useful for them.

See what I did?

We chose to put the people over the process (or in this case the powerpoint)

We won’t plan it to death and we have one simple outcome –  to help people think about how they interact with people when planning and inspiring and managing change.


“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
― Maya Angelou

The 10 to 6 effect

Many years ago I had the fortunate experience of working with a hyper-productive and wonderfully lovely team of about 100 people.  Within us we had many smaller teams, that topic is for another post.

One simple act of leadership

The first thing that happened was the leaders of the group asked the people to choose their working hours.

Shared purpose and specific outcomes

Immediately this group of people had a puzzle to solve.  The puzzle had one specific outcome.  What times will we be working from tomorrow onwards?  The puzzle was meaningful and had a hard deadline – the end of that day.

There were constraints.  Every two weeks everyone had to share their work and plan together.  This needed to be between 9am-5pm to make it easy for our users and business sponsors to attend.

Some wanted to have their own flexible hours.  Most wanted to work with other people.  Some just wanted a particular lunch time. As the conversations flowed people started discussing their personal needs.  There were long commutes, picking up kids, rush hour traffic in central London and some even opened up about prayer needs and health problems.

Shared ownership and motivation

As people were getting personal they all became willing to bend their first thoughts to accommodate.  I doubt most people ever get to know these things about their colleagues. We’re often shocked by the variety of situations people face.

As humanity and empathy emerged deep thought and dialogue was becoming infectious in the group. It also meant they decided they’d rather work together all the time if they could. Indeed they were the only group I’ve known of this size who all paired quite naturally.

Some bright sparks decided to get everyone to put up stickies with their suggestions, they then got rid of the duplicates. Everyone had three dots to vote on whatever suggestion wished.

Permission and trust

The most popular vote was 10am until 6pm.

The people and management accepted the proposed hours. This acceptance initiated the building of trust. And it paid off in later iterations when the teams would help each other get stories over the line.

It also gave everyone permission to ask for what they needed to do the job.

And thanks to the relationships formed that day, the people were good judges at who they needed to work with to make a great team.

Healthier and happier

Ah.  Missing rush hour.

Most people I know would vote for this in their ideal working day.  This team made it happen.  People got in pretty chilled.  Some had even managed to work on public transport – no noses in armpits thank you very much.  It cost less for some to get to work.  We managed to hire brilliant people from further afield.

And 6 pm was pub time. Even people with families and busy lives would pop in of an evening, have a coca cola (ahem) and chat.  It was  dinner time too.  I found one of my favourite restaurants of all time through this crowd.

Eventually they were also spending break times playing together, hanging out on weekends.  Lots of lifelong friendships (and more!) were born there.

A plea from me

So I ask you, ditch the theories for a moment, stop looking for methods, and know you cannot force people to change.

Try a single, simple act of leadership instead.

Learning together creates a better future

I often work with other coaches and this is usually a good thing. Sometimes though I get dismayed at the number of “experts” who want to force people to change to doing things their way.

When I come across peers who want to do change “to” people instead of explore “with” them I often think of a story I heard many years ago. So long ago in fact that I can’t remember the details but here goes anyway.

Some volunteers arrived in a small village in Africa. Their aim? To tackle the childhood malnutrition that besieged the area. Of course there had been others before them. People who lectured, people who taught, people who tried their best to get the villagers to do things their way. But the people resisted and no-one knew why.

A smart young volunteer had observed that a few of the local babies seemed well fed. These families in general were not suffering in the same way. The volunteer decided to find out the secret of these well-fed babies. She proceeded to learn the language and communicate with the families of these children. As the trust grew in these relationships the volunteer discovered more about these parents. They would take a local worm or insect (ah my middle-aged memory) and grind it into the milk. They then fed the babies and young children this mixture.

Now the village knew that this particular form of protein was edible. Yet the villagers deemed it beneath them to eat and so many did not even consider it.

With this volunteers help the mothers of the well fed children stood up and told their neighbours what they had done. At first the villagers were not entirely enthusiastic.  But some courageous first followers tried in secret.  And soon the village had much less problems with malnutrition. Success in any language.

I love this story because it shows how simply taking time to see, and being open to the unthinkable, can make the difference between life and death.

Of course in our professions we are rarely faced with such choices. But even in our pedestrian world, it is just better to do things with the people involved. Not to them.  Be open.  Be courageous.  Be wild.