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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.

The angry scrum master

agile catI once met an angry scrum master.

He took “protecting the team” quite literally. So every time someone disagreed with the product owner, or had bad news or a question to share…he did it for them.

The battles between scrum master and product owner were painful. As a distributed team (UK/US) they needed to make the most of their opportunities to work together. But every time they tried to do some planning there would be many misunderstandings and disagreements. And usually people left the conference call feeling low. After a while the team just stopped delivering.

So, behind closed doors, the angry scrum master and I had our first coaching conversation. And much to my surprise the angry scrum master was a caring but frustrated individual. He was stressing and striving to do all he could for his team’s success.

Over the course of our chat he came to realise that “protecting the team” did not mean inflicting help on them. Or always doing it for them (whatever “it” may be). We spoke about how it had affected his relationship with the (influential) PO. We spoke about how that in turn had affected how the team felt and how if had affected their work. We spoke about how he felt at the end of each day.

He changed his outlook and made some resolution when that first meeting ended.

Encourage the team members to speak for themselves. If they can’t make the sprint commitment – speak up. If they had a question for the business or each other – speak up. And if there was something that the team just couldn’t agree as a sensible thing to do – speak up. He realised his job was to help them feel comfortable opening up and to help them be mindful when someone else was sharing.

In just a few short weeks the relationship between PO and scrum master recovered quite well. The team meetings became joyous, raucous exchanges of ideas, thoughts and personal commitments.

They made their next release to boot!