Loved Adam Grant’s Think Again

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On Daniel Hulter’s recommendation I grabbed the audiobook edition of Adam Grant’s Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know (Penguin Audio, 2021). Loved it, highly recommended!

Let me share a couple particularly relevant quotes. The first one sits very well with Agendashift’s opening two chapters, the second with the closing two and a bit:

Listening well is more than a matter of talking less. It’s a set of skills in asking and responding. It starts with showing more interest in other people’s interests rather than trying to judge their status or prove our own. As journalist Kate Murphy writes, we can all get better at asking truly curious questions that don’t have the hidden agenda of fixing, saving, advising, convincing, or correcting.

Rethinking is more likely to happen in a learning culture, where growth is the core value and rethinking cycles are routine. In learning cultures, the norm is for people to know what they don’t know, doubt their existing practices, and stay curious about new routines to try out. Evans shows that in learning cultures, organisations innovate more and make fewer mistakes. After studying and advising change initiatives at NASA and the Gates Foundation I’ve learned that learning cultures thrive under a particular combination of psychological safety and accountability.

He goes on to describe something quite similar to my “expectation that learning will be accounted for” (deliberately-adaptive.org).

That’s all! Enjoy!


Upcoming

Always and at your convenience (and highly relevant to the first of the quotes above, as is Coaching with Outcomes below):

Scheduled:


What if we put authentic agreement on meaningful outcomes ahead of solutions?

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Leading with Outcomes: a cheat sheet

To whet the appetite, a cheat sheet for:

Yes, you read that right: March 2021. Publication imminent!

Go to agendashift.com/leading-with-outcomes-cheat-sheet or click on the image below for download information, references, etc. It’s Creative Commons (CC-BY-SA); by subscribing you’ll get not just the PDF but the original .pptx file too – translations and other adaptations welcome. Enjoy!

leading-with-outcomes-cheat-sheet-2021-03-14-v1

Upcoming

Comment & reactions on this post appreciated: LinkedIn | Slack (join ours) | Twitter


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15-minute FOTO version 10

Quick one: the facilitation deck for our Clean Language-inspired coaching game 15-minute FOTO is now at version 10. Changes:

  1. Added a slide for a quick practice: the two and three most important questions (the questions in bold on the card, the ones that do most of the work in the game) on your most concrete and most abstract obstacles, respectively without and with the What kind of… question (my favourite). You can do it as a facilitator-led demonstration and/or a short breakout (doing both isn’t overkill in my experience).
  2. Removed a slide titled Essential: Launch from a clear challenge, go deep. Essential it might be, but it’s smoother to cover the point while on the preceding slide.
  3. Moved the And when X... slide to improve the flow.
  4. Updated the reference material at the back to mention the now-imminent 2nd edition of the book.

In the past couple of weeks I’ve recorded myself using this version and am much happier with the flow now.

More: Go to agendashift.com/15-minute-foto for tips, download instruction, and an ancient but still fun video.

15-Minute-FOTO-cue-card-2020-09-v16


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How I choose my models

As demonstrated by the models-sources-inspirations picture below, I like my models. If you’ve read my third book Right to Left, you’ll know also that I have little time for the idea that there is one best model – one best Agile framework, for example. And the fun isn’t in choosing between them, not even in recognising what each of them can bring, but in integrating them. And it doesn’t stop there: this is not a one-shot process design exercise, but a process of continuous transformation. In short, I’m a pluralist, and I love to see what happens when models and their underlying patterns are allowed to combine.

agendashift-inspiration-map-2020-06-29

Believe it or not, I am a picky though. In one of our weekly community Zoom sessions (see #community in Slack), that pickiness resulted in a conversation that was outside our usual norms (if the truth be told I was abrupt to the point of rudeness) and I reflected afterwards on what happened. Happily, we cleared things up quickly and had a much healthier conversation the following week after I had the chance to turn something heartfelt into something more articulate. What follows is a summary.

If Agendashift has taught me anything, it is to be very careful with assumptions. Credit for this goes to Clean Language, which turns the dial up to 11 on the discipline of its practitioners to minimise the influence of their private assumptions (which are SO not the point) on their conversations. This discipline applies most to their explicitly Clean conversations but it rubs off elsewhere in ways that need not mean “coachiness” when that is not called for. Practicing it subtly trains your brain to recognise when you are imposing yourself in ways that aren’t helpful.

You see that attention to assumptions in Agendashift’s outside-in strategy review. The way we make explicit its carefully minimal assumptions is of great help to the facilitator. See my recent Cutter paper for details (announcement included in my post last week); they’re also in Right to Left (chapter 5) and there will be brief coverage in the forthcoming 2nd edition of Agendashift also.

I tend to avoid models that encourage me to make assumptions about what is going in someone’s mind, how they will behave, how they will develop, and so on. The same at team level and organisation level, and I have come to be particularly sceptical of extrapolations from one of those levels to another. The replication crisis (en.wikipedia.org) gives me pause also.  For better or for worse therefore, you won’t see Agendashift depending on many “popular” models of psychology, development, or maturity. This is not to say that they are valueless, rather that they make potentially unreliable foundations.

What I do appreciate:

  • Challenges to my own assumptions
  • Ways to moderate the impact of unsafe assumptions
  • Ways to bring assumptions and misalignments to the surface at the right time
  • Ways to encourage people to find their own solutions in the pursuit of outcomes (authentically shared outcomes most especially)
  • Ways to sustain all of the above – engines of transformation

And supporting those:

  • Models that have withstood scrutiny over a length of time
  • Models that treat the individual’s agency, creativity, and problem-solving ability with the utmost respect (you’ll permit me some personal values and base assumptions there I trust)
  • Models that help to scale up the preceding

Thankfully, the list of helpful and reliable models compatible with my outlook of optimistic pluralism outlook is long, a fact to which my Models, Source, and Inspirations picture attests. And please do not take the omission of a favourite model of yours as a snub; if I don’t have time to throw yours into the Great Model Collider™ in the hope that something interesting will fly out, perhaps you (or someone else) will.

Opinions mine, strongly held it would seem. Thank you Andrea Chiou and Tom Ayerst for putting up with me – we got there in the end 🙂


Upcoming workshops

Just the one event in the calendar for now – I’ll be adding some more soon, and feel free to twist my arm if you have a particular requirement, public or private. The full menu of workshops is laid out here and over the months I schedule them for most time zones.


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Agendashift roundup, September 2020

In this edition: Good obstacle, bad obstacle; The quality that now has a name; 15-minute FOTO update; Agendashift #community Zoom; Upcoming events; Top posts

Good obstacle, bad obstacle

Important dates coming soon: a free October webinar ahead of a November Deep Dive workshop. Details of both here:

The quality that now has a name

I’m hard at work on the 2nd edition of the Agendashift book (not far short of a rewrite if I’m honest) and I’m now on chapter 3 (of 5). In my head I’m a couple of chapters ahead and in this blog post you can see some of what’s going on up there!

15-minute FOTO update

I’ve done some work on the deck for 15-minute FOTO, aligning it with how I have been facilitating our Clean Language-inspired coaching game over recent weeks. Also, I’ve made it both easier for me to maintain and more flexible: hide/show slides according to format (Lite or Classic) and medium (in-room or online). More here:

Agendashift #community Zoom

On Wednesdays I like to put out a reminder on Slack that tomorrow (ie every Thursday) it’s the Agendashift #community Lean Coffee Zoom at 14:00 BST, 15:00 CEST, 9am EDT. I can’t include the Zoom link in this post so ping me for details or check the #community channel in Slack.

Upcoming events

I might yet add some December dates but that will very definitely be the last Deep Dive of the year. If you’re holding out for one in a different time zone in early 2021, let me know.

I get asked about discounts based on country or similar factors. Typically answer is yes, also for non-profit, government, educational, etc, or if you’ve done one of the bigger workshops before – several people have attended multiple times. And Agendashift partners of course. Again, ping me.

Top posts

Recent:

  1. What I really think about Scrum (August)
  2. 15-minute FOTO, latest v9 deck
  3. The quality that now has a name
  4. Good obstacle, bad obstacle
  5. #2MBM: Meaning before Metric, Measure before Method (July)

Classic:

  1. My favourite Clean Language question (January 2019)
  2. What kind of Organisational Development (OD)? (And a book recommendation) (May 2019)
  3. From Reverse STATIK to a ‘Pathway’ for continuous transformation (October 2019)
  4. Stringing it together with Reverse Wardley (February 2019)
  5. ‘Right to Left’ works for Scrum too (July 2018)

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workshop 2x1

15-minute FOTO, latest v9 deck

In the latest v9 deck for our Clean Language-inspired coaching game 15-minute FOTO, I’ve done a better job of integrating its Lite and Classic formats, reflecting how I’ve been facilitating both over recent weeks.

The word ‘formats’ is a big part of the change; after extracting what differs between the two and tidying up a bit, I’ve been able to combine the two sets of slides and remove the duplication. A refactoring!

So what is the same? Objectives, rules, and tips, two of each:

Overall objectives:

  1. To grow a list of outcomes, as many as you can in the time allowed
  2. Familiarisation with a curated subset of Clean Language questions

Rules:

  1. With an obstacle in play, ask only questions from the cue card
  2. For the placeholder X’s, use words captured previously, verbatim – your initial obstacles, responses, or fragments thereof

Tips:

  1. Be generous in the outcomes you accept – if it sounds like it might be an outcome, write it down
  2. If a minute passes without an outcome being captured, something is wrong  – fishing for solutions, digging into obstacles, meta conversations

To give a little emphasis to that last tip: the “no wrong answers” principle applies, but mind your intent in your questioning. In this game, fishing for solutions and digging deep into obstacles are to be avoided.

The Lite and Classic formats, online and offline

In several workshops – notably Leading with Outcomes, Deep Dive (November!), Wholehearted:OKR, and Core –  we play the game twice, and in this order:

  1. Lite format:  Exploratory familiarisation in an inclusive, minimally-structured table group exercise
  2. Classic format: Structured exercise, rotating the roles of client, coach, scribe, observer in rounds of 3-5 minutes

Both formats work both offline (in room) and online. Some tips:

  • Offline (in room): Always give everyone their own printed cue card (A5 size works well) and never show the full set of questions on screen.
  • Online, and especially if you’re running multiple breakout rooms, everyone will need online access to everything they might need. I use a Google Doc workbook per breakout room; partners have access to my master copies for each online workshop.

Some slides in the deck apply to one format &/or medium only. Hide those you don’t need.

The debrief

For both formats, the post-exercise debrief is the same. We start with what worked well:

  • When the outcomes are flowing well and you’re the client – answering the questions – what’s that like?
  • When the outcomes are flowing well and you’re the  – asking the questions – what’s that like?
  • When the outcomes are flowing well and you’re the scribe or an observer – watching and listening to the conversation from the outside – what’s that like? And what do you notice?

15-minute FOTO debrief slide

Afterwards: What went less well? What was difficult? Any other observations?

Customisation

15-minute FOTO is released under a Creative Commons CC-BY-SA licence and customisations, adaptations, translations etc are warmly encouraged. The deck includes some notes on how to do that and remain in compliance with the licence, thereby encouraging others to experiment and contribute too.

More…

Check out the 15-minute FOTO page, agendashift.com/15-minute-foto, where you’ll find:

  • A video
  • How to obtain the materials
  • Facilitation tips

Upcoming events


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Aka the ‘And when X…’ game

This post relates to 15-minute FOTO, our Creative Commons-licensed and Clean Language-inspired coaching game that’s not just for coaches – everyone gets a turn! Consistently, it’s a highlight of our workshops: it’s fun, insightful, and surprisingly practical. Above all, it’s the tool by which we generate outcomes – outcomes being the currency in which we deal.

For several weeks the 15-minute FOTO dropbox (which you can subscribe to for free) has included a beta version of the cue card (below) which adds the text “aka the And When X… game“. The facilitator’s deck has a slide with that as its title too. It’s a low effort / high impact tweak, a helpful reminder to the facilitator to introduce very briefly a little of the theory and practice of Clean Language. After exhausting my old stock of cards (I get them printed by the hundred) I had the opportunity to test the new one last week and the beta tag is removed at last!

15-Minute-FOTO-cue-card-2020-01-v15

The Clean Language questions have been carefully curated and refined over the years to minimise the coach’s natural tendency to pollute a conversation with their unasked-for assumptions and solutions. Keeping the conversation ‘clean’ maximises the chances that the client will achieve an insight of their own.

An important part of the discipline is to stay with the client’s language. One question you won’t hear in a clean conversation is this (the X and Y here are placeholders for the client’s and coach’s words respectively):

What you said X, did you mean Y?

Put words into the client’s mouth like this and there’s a high risk that whatever the client was currently holding or constructing in their head (their model, a precious and perhaps fragile thing) will be destroyed. Potentially, a huge opportunity wasted! So, if as the coach you find yourself a bit lost (ie you’re unsure what X is or how to deal with it), turn instead to the “pre-question”:

And when X…

Three things have been achieved already:

  1. You’re stopped yourself from paraphrasing (or at least delayed it)
  2. You’ve bought yourself some time while you choose what question to ask next
  3. You’ve focussed attention on something interesting

And you have plenty of choice here. If it’s important that you (in the coach role) understand what X is, then ask a clarifying question, probably one of the middle three on the card. If it’s not – and let’s not forget here that the conversation isn’t about you – you could decide to move the conversation along instead and see what happens.

There’s another use for this technique, and that’s to go back to an earlier part of the conversation. Perhaps the conversation is uncovering a virtuous circle of outcomes (not uncommon, but congratulations!) and after a certain amount of repetition you’re ready now to jump off that roundabout. It’s easy:

And when X…

Is there anything else about X?

This is for some past X, allowing the conversation to take a different branch. You’re right, the “And when X…” isn’t strictly necessary. Yes, it’s a bit redundant. But it helps! Somehow, that big leap back seems more manageable.

Related


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

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

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


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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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It’s mashup time: Adaptive challenges accomplished at their ideal best

A quick one, based on work already informally announced and more that’s in progress:

Already shared on Slack, LinkedIn and elsewhere, but for the record:

Released a v3 of our outside-in strategy template – just a 1 word change, replacing “Objectives” (confusing in an OKR context) with “Ideal”, channeling Ackoff if you like

oi-sr-template-2019-11-30
OI-SR template (agendashift.com)

And while I’m channeling Ackoff, a mashup:

adaptive challenge ideal best

Watch this space for news of Wholehearted:OKR, the new 2-day workshop from which this slide comes.

The Celebration-5W here is the Who, What, Where, When & Why of the (future) celebration, the context-setting exercise with which I kick off nearly all of my workshops. CC-BY-SA. This additional slide creates the early opportunity for some references:

[1] adaptive challenge: Heifetz, via Bushe & Marshak (Dialogic Organization Development, The Dynamics of Generative Change, etc) – organisation development here embracing complexity.

[2] ideal: I’m sneaking in an early opportunity to mention Ackoff’s concept of idealized design, setting the tone before the newly-modified Outside-in Strategy Review (OI-SR) tool is introduced. See Re-Creating the Corporation: A Design of Organizations for the 21st Century (1999), a classic and highly recommended.

[3] When you’re ___ at your best, ___?: Dee Berridge & Caitlin Walker, via Caitlin’s book book, From Contempt to Curiosity: Creating the Conditions for Groups to Collaborate Using Clean Language and Systemic Modelling (2014), which I reference and warmly recommend in both Agendashift and Right to Left. Clean Language is introduced in the session following, via the 15-minute FOTO exercise (also CC-BY-SA).


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Announcing v7 of 15-minute FOTO

15-minute FOTO is our Clean Language-inspired coaching game, and version 7 of the facilitation deck is out of beta. On top of the usual minor improvements – fewer slides, better wording, that kind of thing – the big new thing is a new ‘Lite’ edition.

foto15.png

To understand why we’ve wanted to make changes, consider what each participant is doing when they play the game for the first time:

  • Familiarising themselves with the Clean Language questions (from the cue card if it’s an in-room workshop, from the screen if it’s online)
  • Taking turns in the role of client, coach, scribe, or observer, participating in or supporting what can be an intense 1-on-1 coaching conversation
  • Worrying about the game’s objective, which to generate and capture outcomes

That’s a lot! Instead of doing this all at once, the Lite edition starts with a familiarisation exercise, turns the conversation into one for the table group as a whole, and the objective matters only after everyone has had a chance to get comfortable with it all.

If, as happens in many of our workshops, you plan to do 15-minute FOTO twice, you can start with the Lite edition and do the classic edition the second time round.

Spoiler alert

Another motivation for this new version is that it enables new strings of exercises for new workshops. I’ll be announcing the first of those very soon, perhaps as early as tomorrow.

Get the materials

Just ask here:

You’ll find a helpful Youtube video there also.

When you subscribe, you’ll be sent a link to the 15-minute FOTO Dropbox folder and you can download materials (cue card and the deck) from there. Add that folder to your own Dropbox and you’ll get all updates automatically.

Get a taste online

There are two opportunities coming soon to experience 15-minute FOTO online:

  1. One of my two sessions at the Clean Language community’s online OpenSpace event  Metaphorum 2019 on November 22nd will be on 15-minute FOTO, focussing mainly on the Lite version
  2. Comprising two 2h sessions on December 11th and 12th, my next online workshop Learning the language of outcomes will feature both editions

By the December 11th if not November 22nd, there will be a version 8 that explicitly supports online use (the classic edition already does). Consider that announced 🙂

Questions

The best place for questions about 15-minute FOTO is the #cleanlanguage channel in the Agendashift Slack.


Upcoming workshops – Berlin, Oslo, Malmö, and online

New dates for USA and UK coming soon!


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