The language of outcomes: 3. Generating outcomes

This is part 3 of a series looking at the language of outcomes and its lessons for leadership. If we’re keen to see collaboration, self-organisation, and innovation in our organisations, how should we conduct ourselves? What behaviours should we model?

The 5 posts of this series come roughly in the order that its leadership lessons arise in our workshops:

  1. Identifying the adaptive challenge
  2. Framing obstacles
  3. Generating outcomes (this post)
  4. Organising outcomes
  5. Between ends and means

As ever:

  • Subscribe to our mailing list, and whilst you won’t get every post as an email, you will get our monthly roundups and you won’t miss a thing, I promise!
  • Scroll to the end of this post for news of upcoming public workshops in which you can experience what I describe for yourself

3. Generating outcomes

One of the things Agendashift is remembered for is the use of Clean Language via our open source coaching game, 15-minute FOTO [1], which is among the exercises covered in chapters 1 & 2 of Agendashift [2]. Indeed, it would be easy to think that the language of outcomes and Clean Language were one and the same thing. If you’ve been following this series, you will understand already that they are not! However, and even if practised only sparingly, Clean Language as a leadership discipline does offer a number of important takeaways. Again in the context of wanting to see collaboration, self-organisation, and innovation, it’s not hard to see that you might want to:

  1. Practice asking questions to which you don’t already have the answer
  2. Practice asking questions that don’t needlessly pollute the conversation with your own assumptions

If you’ve heard that vulnerability might be key to good leadership but don’t know where to start, why not start with those?

15-minute FOTO is a great introduction to those two practices. It uses a menu of 8 Clean Language questions, which for an in-room workshop are provided on printed cue cards, one per participant:

15-Minute-FOTO-cue-card-2019-09-v14

Typically, the game starts with a list of obstacles (see the previous instalment). Digging into obstacles isn’t very productive (in the game certainly, and surprisingly often in real life too), so we go quickly (if not immediately) from ‘obstacles space’ to ‘outcomes space’ with “What would you like you have happen?”.

The questions in the main part of the cue card were specifically chosen for their usefulness when exploring outcomes space. From right to left, the questions in the middle can be taken in three groups:

  1. Then what happens? – a question that takes us deeper into outcomes space
  2. A choice of three clarifying questions – including my favourite [3]
  3. Two questions that draw us back

Not only can you experience a surprisingly rich and (in a good way) challenging conversations with just those questions, most of the work is done by only three, the three shown in bold on the card. What’s hard therefore isn’t mastering them, but resisting the temptation to depart from them! Mostly – and tellingly – it means resisting the temptation to give advice uninvited, to prescribe, and to ask questions that say more about the questioner than they do about the topic, the client, or what’s in their mind.

That leaves one last question – What obstacle might be in the way of X? – which you might remember from the previous instalment. It creates the opportunity for a shallow dive into obstacles space – not a productive place, so we won’t linger there for long!

The X’s in the questions are placeholders for the respondent’s own words, repeated as verbatim as possible. This isn’t about mind tricks, a sneaky way to build empathy! Rather:

  • The person in the coach role – the asker of questions – disciplines themselves not to impose their own assumptions on the conversation, helping them maintain an attitude of curiosity. They can expect to learn something!
  • The person in the client role – responding to those questions – isn’t jolted out of their thoughts by words that don’t fit the mental model that the process is exploring/building. We’re putting the client first, and the conversation can go so much deeper this way!

This is not about one ‘killer question’ (a shallow and rather silly idea if you ask me). Neither is it a hunt for the ‘right’ answer! Rather, it’s a powerful demonstration of a generative process, a simple set of rules that takes some input (as described in the first two instalments the initial challenge and the obstacles in the way of that) and patiently grows a list of outputs (outcomes here) through the repeated application of a defined procedure.

In 15-minute FOTO, the roles, of coach, client, scribe, and observer are rotated so that every participant gets a turn in each role. As coaches, they guide the process by choosing which questions to ask, but the content is always the client’s – they’re the experts after all! It’s an amazingly productive process, producing lots of output, all of it coherent by construction, and anchored on something real, those obstacles.

Even though it takes only a few minutes, there’ll be enough work produced that it will need organising somehow. That’s the topic of the next instalment. Meanwhile, practice!

  • Practice asking questions to which you don’t already have the answer
  • Practice asking questions that don’t needlessly pollute the conversation with your own assumptions

Next: 4. Organising outcomes

Notes & references

[1] 15-minute FOTO (agendashift.com, CC-BY-SA licence)
[2] Agendashift: Outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation, Mike Burrows (New Generation Publishing, 2018)
[3] My favourite Clean Language question (January 2019)

Acknowledgements

I’m grateful for feedback on earlier drafts of this post from Teddy Zetterlund, Thorbjørn Sigberg, Richard Cornelius, and Kert Peterson.

Workshops upcoming in 2020 – Tampa, London (*2), Gurugram, Malmö, Tel Aviv ,Oslo (*2), and online

For a 20% saving, use discount code LONDON2020 for the London workshops and NORDIC2020 for Oslo and Malmö.

See also our workshops and events pages – Switzerland and Australia to be added soon.


From the exciting intersection of Lean-Agile, Strategy, and Organisation Development, Agendashift: The wholehearted engagement model
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The language of outcomes: 1. Identifying the adaptive challenge

Yes, I’m making good on a promise made in last week’s post, Making it official: Agendashift, the wholehearted engagement model, expanding on the language of outcomes and its lessons for leadership. For context, here’s the crucial bit of text in question:

The language of outcomes inviting leadership at every level: New conversations and new kinds of conversations – renewing the organisation’s discourse and thereby the organisation itself

As both the destination and the fuel for our journeys of change and transformation,  outcomes are absolutely fundamental to Agendashift. If there’s a basis for change more legitimate and motivating than authentic agreement on outcomes, we’d like to see it!

We have used that initial phrase – “the language of outcomes” – for much of the time that Agendashift has existed. However, our understanding of what it actually means continues to evolve. A couple of recent developments have brought it into sharper focus:

  1. With community participation and the willing support of workshop participants, we’ve conducted some deliberate experiments with wording and framing in our existing workshop material, noting not just the immediate impact, but the impact on later exercises downstream – how people respond to the exercises and the quality of the work they produce
  2. The design of two new workshops – Impact! (Tampa and London very soon) and Wholehearted:OKR (Oslo and London) – interesting as much for the material they exclude as for what they contain, challenging and perhaps redefining what should be regarded as core

The 5 posts of this series come roughly in the order that its leadership lessons arise in our workshops:

  1. Identifying the adaptive challenge (this post)
  2. Framing obstacles
  3. Generating outcomes
  4. Organising outcomes
  5. Between ends and means

Early drafts of this post with content for all 5 headings got rather long, so I’ll be releasing it as a series over the next few weeks. Subscribe to our mailing list, and whilst you won’t get every post as an email, you will get our monthly roundups and you won’t miss a thing, I promise! I’ll link to the later posts as they’re released.

As ever, scroll to the end of this post for news of upcoming public workshops in which you can experience what I describe.

1. Identifying the adaptive challenge

You won’t find the term adaptive challenge in the Agendashift book [1] but a 2nd edition would certainly change that! Informally, the Organisation Development (OD) literature – see for example Bushe [2] – describes adaptive challenges as those for which it’s hard even to define what the problem is, require involvement from a wide range of stakeholders, tend to throw up new problems of their own, and so on. Most of us will have seen them: the kind of challenge which requires at least the level of sponsor commitment and financial backing of a high profile project, but for which linear project approaches soon reveal themselves to be spectacularly ill-suited.

Stakeholder agreement on the detail of the challenge may be hard to impossible to obtain, but broad-brush identification of shared objectives needn’t be. You can just ask; the trick is to ask in such a way that the shared destination is articulated without fixating prematurely on solutions (remember: a rollout project isn’t going to work here).

Agendashift’s time travelling kickoff / context-setting exercise Celebration-5W [3] does this laterally, asking for the Who, What, When, Where, and Why of a future celebration (of meeting the challenge spectacularly well), deliberately avoiding the How.

Another approach is to provide, harvest, or construct something that’s desirable enough to be worth pursuing even if it might never be fully attained – see for example Agendashift’s Lean-Agile-inspired True North statement [4]. Interestingly, the new workshops don’t use the provided True North. In its place, more time travel, with a series of outside-in strategy review questions [5] as described in chapter 5 of Right to Left [6]. Each question is designed to help identify an ideal (or “ideal best”) [7]; they begin with this one, the first of five:

  1. What’s happening when we’re reaching the right customers, meeting their strategic needs?

That question is open to some serious unpacking (I sometimes joke that this question is a workshop in its own right), but again, you can just ask, taking care to ask in a perspective-shifting way that invites meaningful customer-relevant, and business-relevant outcomes as the answer. As it happens, that turns out to be good facilitation advice for Celebration-5W too. If what you’re celebrating won’t be meaningful to customers and other business stakeholders, think again. For a roomful of Agile coaches (a not untypical group in my case), do not, and I repeat, DO NOT celebrate your Agile transformation! Celebrate the first customer successfully served, the millionth registration, the billionth pound in turnover – real examples all – something externally visible and truly challenging in its own right that your transformation will enable or accelerate.

Shortly we’ll have a more definitive test for what makes a good answer, but first let’s distill some advice about asking questions:

Without prescribing what the answer should be, ask questions that invite answers meaningful to the most stakeholders, exploring those answers just enough to be sure that everyone involved knows both whose needs they’ll be meeting and how they’ll be able to confirm that they’re being met [8, 9]. If the How can be deferred, don’t ask for it!

This isn’t just workshop facilitation advice, but advice to coaches and leaders. And that is of course what this language of outcomes thing is all about. If we’re keen to see collaboration, self-organisation, and innovation (three hallmarks of the modern organisation that I bundle together like this frequently), how should we conduct ourselves? What behaviours should we model?

Next: 2. Framing obstacles

References

[1] Agendashift: Outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation, Mike Burrows (New Generation Publishing, 2018)
[2] The Dynamics of Generative Change, Gervase Bushe (Independently published, 2019)
[3] Celebration-5W (agendashift.com, CC-BY-SA licence)
[4] True North (agendashift.com, CC-BY-SA licence)
[5] Outside-in Strategy Review (OI-SR) template (agendashift.com, CC-BY-SA licence)
[6] Right to Left: The digital leader’s guide to Lean and Agile, Mike Burrows (New Generation Publishing, 2019)
[7] It’s mashup time: Adaptive challenges accomplished at their ideal best (December 2019)
[8] Better user stories start with authentic situations of need (October 2016)
[9] My handy, referenceable Definition of Done (May 2018) and agendashift.com/done, the latter CC-BY-SA

Acknowledgements

I’m grateful for feedback on earlier drafts of this post from Teddy Zetterlund, Thorbjørn Sigberg, Richard Cornelius, and Kert Peterson.

Workshops upcoming in 2020 – Tampa, London (*2), Gurugram, Malmö, Tel Aviv, Oslo (*2), and online

For a 20% saving, use discount code LONDON2020 for the London workshops and NORDIC2020 for Oslo and Malmö.

See also our workshops and events pages – Switzerland and Australia to be added soon.


From the exciting intersection of Lean-Agile, Strategy, and Organisation Development, Agendashift: The wholehearted engagement model
Links: Home |
About | Our mission: Wholehearted | Become an Agendashift partner | Assessments | Books | Resources | Events | Contact | MikeSubscribe
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More ‘Open’, and my first online workshops

I’m getting ready for a busy couple of weeks mid May:

Partly in preparation and partly as housekeeping, I’ve updated the generic workshop description page Advanced Agendashift: Coaching and Leading Continuous Transformation as follows:

  1. Very much in the Open spirit of the Boston symposium, it now has a Creative Commons 4.0 CC-BY-SA license. That’s not quite the big deal that it might sound since the Overview pages that describe all Agendashift-based workshops have long had one, but it’s good to get that sorted.
  2. Its structure now tallies with recent improvements. Day 1 is Learning the language of outcomes. Day 2 is Organising for impact, and it reflects the “rejigging” described in last week’s Notes from the April 2019 Advanced Agendashift workshop, London. I’ve updated the abovementioned Overview pages also.

As a spinoff from Boston (there’ll be discounts for attendees), from June I’ll be offering an online workshop, also titled Learning the language of outcomes. Presented as two 2-hour sessions on consecutive days it will be a great way to get up to speed quickly with outcome-orientation and Clean Language, getting some real practice in applying the latter to the former. At a minimum we’ll cover:

Officially, we launch these at the Symposium, but for a sneak preview (and early bird prices):

In person or online, I hope to see you soon!


Upcoming workshops – Boston, Berlin, Oslo, and Stockholm

Watch this space for Greece, Turkey, London, and the Benelux region in the autumn.

workshop-2x1


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We are champions and enablers of outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation. Building from agreement on outcomes, Agendashift facilitates rapid, experiment-based emergence of process, practice, and organisation. Instead of Lean and Agile by imposition – contradictory and ultimately self-defeating – we help you keep your business vision and transformation strategy aligned with and energised by a culture of meaningful participation. More…

 

Notes from the April 2019 Advanced Agendashift workshop, London

Update (June 28th 2019): Over the months, the exercise referred to here by my working title Reverse Wardley has served us incredibly well. With full credit to Liz and Karl, it’s a great addition to our workshops and I love it! My name for it has proved way too nerdy for some tastes though, and after several iterations in the Agendashift Slack we may be settling on Option Visibility Mapping. If that changes, I’ll update this update! I’ve also added a new tag ‘mapping‘ to this and related posts.

Thursday and Friday last week was the 2-day Advanced Agendashift workshop in London. The quick version of my takeaways (all confirmed by the retro stickies):

  1. Mike Haber’s Celebration-5W template is a keeper
  2. The beta version of the 15-minute FOTO cue card passes muster
  3. My “Rule of Three” seems to resonate
  4. Some rejigging
  5. Excitement around “wholehearted

Also, details of the next four of these workshops – Boston, Berlin, Oslo, and Stockholm.

Mike Haber’s Celebration-5W template is a keeper

Announced only a couple of weeks ago, I would definitely recommend using Mike Haber’s template – it makes the exercise easier for everyone involved, and the output vastly more presentable. I’ve updated the Celebration-5W page to make it more prominent.

Celebration-5W-template-2019-03-v1

The beta version of the 15-minute FOTO cue card passes muster

Also announced recently but previously untested, a beta version of the 15-minute FOTO cue card is now made official:

No-one missed the old “Is there a relationship between X and Y?” question (a question that comes with health warnings) and according to the retro sticky, the new question “Where does X come from?” rocks!

My “Rule of Three” seems to resonate

I mentioned my “Rule of Three” in answer to an important question about who should be invited to internal workshops. I had already written it up for my forthcoming book Right to Left but I was encouraged to put together a page for it with an easy-to-remember url, agendashift.com/rule-of-three.

After a few iterations on the text (helped by feedback in the #right-to-left channel in Slack), here’s the key quote:

Clicking on the image or the link above you’ll find a condensed, bullet point version, and some notes that hint at what’s to come in the book.

Some rejigging

Consolidating experiments described in Stringing it together with Reverse Wardley, The Cynefin Four Points exercise moves from day 1 to day 2, the launchpad for Mapping rather than the conclusion to Exploration. It allowed me to run “my slowest ever Discovery” on day 1, and nobody minded one bit.

Update: The name “Reverse Wardley” is (as we say in the UK) “a bit Marmite”, meaning that some loved it and others hated it. Is it “way too geeky”? This was already suspected, but I still don’t have a better alternative.

Excitement around “wholehearted

Remember Towards the wholehearted organisation, outside in (May 2018)? For the evening of day 1, Steven Mackenzie (one of Right to Left‘s reviewers) suggested we held a “Lean Curry” around the topic. Here he is with his heart-shaped picture:

Before Right to Left is even published, perhaps a spinoff! Definitely one to watch.

Upcoming workshops – Boston, Berlin, Oslo, and Stockholm


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We are champions and enablers of outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation. Building from agreement on outcomes, Agendashift facilitates rapid, experiment-based emergence of process, practice, and organisation. Instead of Lean and Agile by imposition – contradictory and ultimately self-defeating – we help you keep your business vision and transformation strategy aligned with and energised by a culture of meaningful participation. More…

 

A new template for Celebration-5W

Nicely following on from my post a few days ago on ‘Open‘, here’s a community-driven enhancement to our Creative Commons-licensed workshop kickoff exercise, Celebration-5W, in which participants capture the ‘Who, What, When, Where, and Why’ (the journalistic 5Ws) of a celebration that will take place some months from now. I use it to capture or create some shared context not just for classic Agendashift workshops, but also for my ‘outside-in’ strategy workshops (more on those coming soon in Right to Left), where a sense of timescale is very helpful.

Mike Haber took my “Clean sheet of A3, portrait mode, big bold headings down the page” and came up with something significantly better:

This is great, and not just because it looks good – it’s really clever!

The original guidance as described in the deck and in chapter 1 of the book suggests that you start with ‘When’ (How long will we need to achieve something meaningful?) and work backwards through the ‘What’ and the ‘Who’ before finishing up with the ‘Where’ (a venue that makes some kind of statement) and the ‘Why’ (the importance of not just the celebration but the whole endeavour). With Mike’s layout, this translates to “Start with the When (bottom right) and work anticlockwise” – much more elegant! For presentation purposes, it’s natural to start either top left with the ‘Who’ and work clockwise or left-right, or in the visually impactful middle with the ‘Why’.

The Celebration-5W Dropbox now includes an updated facilitation deck with instructions for both old and new layouts, also a printable template (I just bought myself an A3 printer with very much this kind of thing in mind). Request access here.

I will of course be using this new template in my upcoming workshops; Julia might too. Check out details of events in Seattle, London, Boston, Berlin, Stockholm, and Oslo below.


Upcoming Agendashift workshops

See also the recent blog post: Agendashift workshops in Seattle, London, Boston, and Berlin, which includes a detailed description of the 2-day workshop. Workshops facilitated by Mike Burrows (yours truly) unless otherwise indicated:


Blog: Monthly roundups | Classic posts
Links: Home | About | Partners | Resources | Contact | Mike
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We are champions and enablers of outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation. Building from agreement on outcomes, Agendashift facilitates rapid, experiment-based emergence of process, practice, and organisation. Instead of Lean and Agile by imposition – contradictory and ultimately self-defeating – we help you keep your business vision and transformation strategy aligned with and energised by a culture of meaningful participation. More…

 

Open sourcing our Discovery exercise, Celebration-5W

Here’s how chapter 1 of the Agendashift book opens:

Picture the scene: It’s some months from now, and you’re celebrating! Isn’t it wonderful to see everyone together like this? And you deserve it: over this period, you, your teams, and your entire organisation have achieved far more than anyone would have thought possible. You dared to aim high, and still you smashed it!

What makes this celebration so special? We’re going to explore that via some time travel and the classic journalistic questions of Who, What, When, Where, and Why, otherwise known as the five W’s.

Most Agendashift workshops kick off with this simple time-travelling and context-setting exercise – the first of four Discovery exercises – and now we’ve open-sourced it. Head over to the Celebration-5W page for more information, including a preview of the slides, a video, download information, and related tools and exercises.

The small print:

Celebration-5W is copyright © 2018-2018 Agendashift (a trading name of Positive Incline Ltd). Celebration-5W by Mike Burrows of Positive Incline Ltd is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/.

We warmly encourage customisations, adaptations, translations, etc to be made and shared. It seems however that not everyone gets how Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (aka CC-BY-SA) is meant to work, so I’ve added a guidance slide to the deck.

If you have questions, drop me a line or (better) go to channel #workshops in the Agendashift Slack. There are several people there who have facilitated this exercise before. I have used it dozens of times.

Enjoy Celebration-5W!

Screenshot 2018-12-11 13.40.42.png


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Community: Slack | LinkedIn group | Twitter

We are champions and enablers of outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation. Building from agreement on outcomes, Agendashift facilitates rapid, experiment-based emergence of process, practice, and organisation. Instead of Lean and Agile by imposition – contradictory and ultimately self-defeating – we help you keep your business vision and transformation strategy aligned with and energised by a culture of meaningful participation. More…