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.


From the exciting intersection of Lean-Agile, Strategy, and Organisation Development, Agendashift™: The wholehearted engagement model
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The language of outcomes: 5. Between ends and means

This is the 5th and final part 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 
  4. Organising outcomes
  5. Between ends and means (this post)

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

5. Between ends and means

The typical Agendashift workshop involves multiple planning sessions. In a classic transformation strategy workshop as described in the Agendashift book [1], for example:

  1. Discovery: capturing not just where we’d like to get to, but some of the key outcomes we’d like achieve along the way
  2. Exploration: driven by the assessment [2], working forwards from opportunities, usually starting at a lower level of detail compared to anything seen in Discovery
  3. Elaboration: ideas, hypotheses, experiments, impact, etc – what we’ll actually do, the next level of detail captured on a just-in-time basis

(Sometimes we like to switch the first two around – maybe days apart – and that’s fine)

An outside-in strategy review workshop as described in Right to Left [3] might include a separate planning session for each of the five ‘layers’ – Customer, Organisation, Product, Platform, and Team. In the Wholehearted:OKR workshop [4] we take those layers in two groups, the first two (Customer and Organisation) on day 1, and the remaining three on day 2.

The different levels of detail or organisational concerns are interesting and useful, but so too is the separation between what Ackoff [5] calls ends planning and means planning:

  • Ends planning: where we’d like to get to and why
  • Means planning: where we will commit our efforts, with what resources, and how

Organisations too often jump straight to means without paying adequate attention to ends. This is change management as project management, with the solution – the Agile process framework, say – already chosen! The last few decades are littered with the repeated failures of that approach, and yet it persists, even – and most ironically of all – in the Agile community.

There’s a clear lesson there, and Agendashift provides practical ways to do both kinds of planning in the transformation and strategy spaces. There are some more subtle lessons though.

One important subtlety, and I’m grateful to Ackoff for the clarification, is that ends and means can be relative. Consider again these three sessions:

  1. Discovery: capturing not just where we’d like to get to, but some of the key outcomes we’d like achieve along the way
  2. Exploration: driven by the assessment, working forwards from opportunities, usually starting at a lower level of detail compared to anything seen in Discovery
  3. Elaboration: ideas, hypotheses, experiments, impact, etc – what we’ll actually do, the next level of detail captured on a just-in-time basis

If it is for a big enough scope (and that’s usually the case), most participants will experience Discovery very much as ends planning. Elaboration is clearly intended to be means planning.

For Exploration though, whether it’s means planning or ends planning can depend on your perspective. If you’re the sponsor, you’ll be glad to see teams fired up, engaged on the issues [6], prioritising a way forward. For you, that’s job done – means! On the other hand, if you suffer every day with those issues on the ground, exploring ways past them is an end in itself, a powerful motivation to change things, cathartic even!

The real lesson therefore is not just to practice ends planning from time to time, but to make sure that ends and means are properly understood relative to everyone’s different perspectives. Not just knowing the difference between outcomes and solutions, but knowing whose needs will be met by them. Not just resolving to avoid fixating prematurely on solutions, but having the awareness and skill to move easily between obstacles, outcomes, and solutions [7], the last of those lightly held, as hypotheses.

None of this will happen without the right people in the room. Again, if it’s collaboration, self-organisation, and innovation that you want:

Encourage solutions to emerge as & when they’re needed from the people closest to the problem [8]

Good advice generally, and especially so when those people closest to the problem are among those whose needs will be met. When the context is organisational change, it’s absolutely crucial.

Summary: The language of outcomes and its lessons for leadership

Yes, it may take a little discipline, but none of what I have described in this series is fundamentally hard. Yes, it takes some deliberate organisation design of the kind described in my books and explored in our workshops if it is to be sustained reliably over time, but that needn’t be a prerequisite for some real progress today. So why not start practicing now?

1. Identifying the adaptive challenge:

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. If the How can be deferred, don’t ask for it!

2. Framing obstacles:

If you want see collaboration, self-organisation, and innovation, identify real issues, taking care to avoid language that needlessly excludes people or possibility 

3. Generating outcomes:

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

4. Organising outcomes

Maintain a clear line of sight between decisions on the ground and overall objectives

5. Between ends planning and means planning (this post)

Encourage solutions to emerge as & when they’re needed from the people closest to the problem

References

[1] Agendashift: Outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation, Mike Burrows (New Generation Publishing, 2018)
[2] Agendashift™ assessments (agendashift.com)
[3] Right to Left: The digital leader’s guide to Lean and Agile, Mike Burrows (New Generation Publishing, 2019)
[4] Wholehearted:OKR (agendashift.com)
[5] Re-creating the Corporation: A Design of Organizations for the 21st Century, Russell L. Ackoff (OUP USA, 1999)
[6] “Obstacles, contradictions, and imbalances recognised and owned as opportunities for authentic engagement” – the first line of Our mission: Wholehearted (agendashift.com). See also its announcement, Making it official: Agendashift, the wholehearted engagement model
[7] See also Coaching for P.RO.s, (cleanlanguage.co.uk), Penny Tompkins and James Lawley, using slightly different terminology to Agendashift’s: problems, remedies, and outcomes
[8] What is Strategy Deployment (availagility.co.uk)

Acknowledgements

I’m grateful for feedback on earlier drafts of this post from Teddy Zetterlund, Thorbjørn Sigberg, Richard Cornelius, and Kert Peterson. And thank you Karl Scotland for reference [8].

Slide1


Workshops upcoming in 2020 – 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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The language of outcomes: 4. Organising outcomes

This is part 4 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 
  4. Organising outcomes (this post)
  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

4. Organising outcomes

The generative conversations described in the previous instalment produce lots of great output, and when you have lots of great output, you need ways to organise it! From the simple 3-column Plan on a Page to the string of Mapping exercises, the different visual languages all help participants to see the wood from the trees and decide what’s important.

Ultimately, it’s about agreement on outcomes (Agendashift principle #2 – if there’s a more legitimate basis for change than that, I’ve yet to see it). The shared experience of making the agenda for change visible (Agendashift principle #3) is a big part of that, and how that agenda is organised matters quite a bit. Done well, it supports our next leadership lesson:

Maintain a clear line of sight between decisions on the ground and overall objectives

…if, that is, you want collaboration, self-organisation, and innovation, as per the introduction to every post in this series. And by way of a recap, if 1) those outcomes and their related obstacles are clearly related to meaningful needs, and 2) people are involved in their identification, articulation, organisation, so on, you get participation and engagement in the bargain! That’s our wholehearted mission [1], which describes both an end goal to aim for and something that you can experience right away.

When leaders support that “line of sight” maintenance process appropriately, it builds trust in people’s ability to make high leverage choices, preferring options that will deliver the most impact. And it scales very well! To put it another way, can you expect people or teams to give of their best in the absence either of shared objectives or that clear line of sight? Probably not, and it would be unreasonable in those circumstances to ask for it.

In our workshops, there are two sets of tools we use for organising outcomes:

  1. Template-based (or if you prefer, canvas-based)
  2. Sticky note based visual mapping exercises

They’re facilitated a little differently and I’ll describe them in turn.

Template-based

Here are the Plan on a Page (PoaP) template and the Outside-in Strategy Review (OI-SR) template:

You can see that the second one is based in the first, adding some new columns to the left and introducing a new vertical axis. Both templates are Creative Commons (CC-BY-SA) and available via our resources page [2]. Chapter 5 of Right to Left [3] mentions them both in the context of the Outside-in Strategy Review workshop, which is the platform on which our new Impact! [4] and Wholehearted:OKR [5] workshops are built. Plan on a Page is introduced in the opening chapter of Agendashift [6].

I usually facilitate these with people working in table groups of about 4 people each, with a whole-room debrief afterwards. For a long time I brought blank A3 paper for groups to work with; now I bring printed templates (A3 printers are ridiculously cheap now and I have my own).

To fill in these templates, it helps to identify the obviously short term and obviously long term outcomes first, with fewer of the latter than the former. With enough of those chosen, the interesting “signs that you’re winning” outcomes will be the bulk of the remainder. And working backwards (right to left) from the longer term outcomes works really well; from the way the outcomes were constructed, a natural structure emerges quickly. That “line of sight” is established!

Visual mapping exercises

A highlight of day 2 of the Advanced Agendashift workshop [7] is the ‘string’ of mapping exercises represented by the icons below. Moving to sticky notes, we can deal with much greater numbers of outcomes than would be practical with the paper-based tools.

Screenshot 2020-02-02 14.08.35

Option Approach Mapping is a pseudonym for the Cynefin Four Points Contextualisation exercise . It’s described in the Agendashift book (from start to finish, post-exercise debrief included) and also here:

We use the pseudonym because the exercise goes much better if the underlying model isn’t revealed until the end. No spoilers!

Option Relationship Mapping is quite new – originated by Karl Scotland and Liz Keogh only a year or so ago – and it took a while for us to settle on a name. We tried “Reverse Wardley Mapping” (for which I can only apologise), “Option Approach Mapping”, and “Option Orientation Mapping”, but none of these names quite stuck. You’ll see these now discarded names in the following blog posts:

Vindicating the new choice of name, of the three exercises it’s Option Relationship Mapping that does the most to “Maintain a clear line of sight between decisions on the ground and overall objectives”. As exploited in the Wholehearted:OKR workshop, it visualises a key step of OKR / 4 Disciplines of Execution (4DX), that of choosing key options that will have the most leverage.

However, if there’s time to do two or all three of the ‘string’ of exercises, I will! Option Approach Mapping (aka Cynefin Four Points) as well as creating some great talking points also sets up Option Relationship Mapping beautifully – this is described in the “Stringing it together” post I referenced above. Either/both of those exercises also ease the construction of the Transformation Map, a Story Map (kinda), with outcomes instead of user stories and a transformation “pathway” instead of a user journey for the map’s ‘spine’. The fun part is prioritising outcomes in their respective columns; the preceding exercises help to pre-sort the outcomes so that outcomes of similar levels of abstraction come together, making this part considerably easier.

Unlike the template-based exercises, I tend to facilitate these as whole-room exercises, combining each table group’s outcomes in the process. In Option Relationship Mapping this helps to build agreement on high level themes and objectives. Pathway Mapping does this too though a little less impactfully; also it identifies clearly where the work will start (prioritisation and then elaboration* being just-in-time activities).

*Elaboration (just in time): We often develop our chosen options for action in the form of a hypothesis that (among other things) describes its hoped-for impact as a list of outcomes. The techniques are well understood and I didn’t schedule a separate instalment in the series for this, but you can see that it’s outcomes all the way down!

Next: 4. Between ends and means (coming soon)

Notes & references

[1] Our mission: Wholehearted (agendashift.com, CC-BY-SA licence)
[2] Agendashift Resources (agendashift.com/resources)
[3] Right to Left: The digital leader’s guide to Lean and Agile, Mike Burrows (New Generation Publishing, 2019)
[4] Impact! Strategic outcome orientation for products and services (agendashift.com/workshops)
[5] Wholehearted:OKR – Bringing OKR to life with Agendashift (agendashift.com/workshops)
[6] Agendashift: Outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation, Mike Burrows (New Generation Publishing, 2018)
[7] Advanced Agendashift: Coaching and Leading Continuous Transformation (agendashift.com/workshops)

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
Blog: Monthly roundups | Classic posts
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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
Links: Home | About | Our mission: Wholehearted | Become an Agendashift partner | Assessments | Books | Resources | Events | Contact | MikeSubscribe
Blog: Monthly roundups | Classic posts
Community: Slack | LinkedIn group | Twitter

The language of outcomes: 2. Framing obstacles

This is part 2 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 (this post)
  3. Generating outcomes
  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

2. Identifying obstacles

Given all the talk of adaptive challenges and needs in the series opener, it seems that the language of outcomes is about more than just outcomes! Shorthand can be dangerous (more on that in a moment) and I should come clean: the “language of outcomes” is shorthand for “the language of outcome orientation: needs, obstacles, and outcomes”.

The logic that ties needs, obstacles, and outcomes together is fundamental – it explains why Agendashift exists and a little of how it works:

  • Most especially in the context of an adaptive challenge, the most legitimate basis for change isn’t a solution – untried in this particular context – but agreement on outcomes [1]
  • The most meaningful and motivating outcomes are those that involve meeting real needs
  • In due course, action will need to be addressed at removing, overcoming, or bypassing whatever obstacles stand in the way of meeting those needs and realising those outcomes. In the wholehearted organisation – the focus of our mission [2] – those obstacles are owned up to and addressed. But long before then, it only takes a moment to take a peek at what lies beyond them, thereby identifying yet more outcomes and continuing a generative process.

It’s “needs, obstacles, and outcomes” because that’s typically the order in which we identify them. It’s not “problems and solutions” because they’re both traps:

  1. Solving problems and meeting needs aren’t the same thing – it’s way too easy to get sucked into solving problems without ever meeting a need
  2. Similarly, as soon as implementing the solution becomes the driver, needs and outcomes fall by the wayside. In the context of an adaptive challenge, the implementation of a solution – a process framework being a prime example – becomes massive distraction to the organisation and a source of needless pain. Small wonder that most such solution-driven initiatives fail.

There’s no great magic to identifying obstacles. With the focus on an adaptive challenge, True North, ideal, or generative image [3], just ask:

  • What stops that?
  • What’s in the way of that?
  • What seems to be in the way of that?
  • What obstacles might be in the way of that? [4]

More sophisticated wordings might be easier to justify intellectually or look nicer on the workshop slides [5] (believe me, I’ve experimented with this a lot), but they can invite a level of abstraction and speculation that proves unhelpful only later. That’s a subtle problem, and it’s why experience has taken us in the direction of short and punchy. Happily though there’s an easy fix when we get it wrong: badly framed obstacles are easily reframed. Let’s see how.

The language of obstacles

In my first book (now more than 5 years old), I identified “lack of” language (the language of scarcity) as often betraying lazy thinking. Fast forwarding to Agendashift –  in which we ask for obstacles at least once per workshop – here are some real examples of badly-framed obstacles:

  1. “Lack of a knowledge management system” (I got this one in my very first workshop)
  2. “Lack of the Agile mindset” (this one pops up quite frequently)
  3. “Lack of people/money/resource” (if you’re a manager, you may have heard this one yourself)

Respectively, these “lack of” obstacles:

  1. Prescribe a particular kind of solution, almost certainly excluding other options prematurely, and failing to identify a problem meanwhile
  2. Use shorthand, that not only fail (again) to identify an actual problem, but that could easily be taken as judgemental, thereby excluding people
  3. Identify only one side of an imbalance, implying one obvious but perhaps unavailable of kind of remedy whilst excluding others

The fix and this instalment’s leadership takeaway:

If you want see collaboration, self-organisation, and innovation, identify real issues, taking care to avoid language that needlessly excludes people or possibility 

Guided by that principle and prompted by “How do you know that?”, those badly-framed obstacles might be replaced by these:

  1. “People holding on to information” or “Information spreads too slowly”, preferring the latter, less judgemental form unless we have good reason to go with the former
  2. One of any number of real obstacles:
    • “Working in functional silos/big batches/…”
    • “Waiting on external approvals/dependencies/…”
    • “Waiting too long for customer feedback”
    • “Glacial pace of improvement”
    • “Lack of experimentation” (yes, that’s a “lack of” but I might let this one pass)
  3. “Teams overburdened, workload exceeding capacity”, or “Expectations running ahead of budget constraints”

Much better!

If we identify obstacles more than once (as we do in both the Discovery and Exploration sessions, for example), we repeat both the reframing exercise and the teaching point that goes with it. The “lack of” trap is so easy to fall into it’s well worth repeating – and it’s funnier the second time round!

Next: 3. Generating outcomes

Notes & references

[1] “Agree on outcomes” is  Agendashift principle #2 – see agendashift.com/principles
[2] Our mission: Wholehearted (agendashift.com, CC-BY-SA licence)
[3] Visualising Agendashift: The why and how of outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation (June 2016)
[4] “What obstacles might in the way of X?” is the “cleanest” of those. And for pragmatic reasons too, definitely the right one to include on the cue card (below) for our Clean Language-inspired coaching game, 15-minute FOTO (agendashift.com, CC-BY-SA licence)

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

[5] Workshop materials are available via the Agendashift partner programme, details at agendashift.com/about/become-a-partner. See also the Agendashift book, agendashift.com/books/agendashift.

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.


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Making it official: Agendashift, the wholehearted engagement model

[Shared: LinkedIn & Twitter]

The short version: New year, new branding. It has substance. And a special offer!

Copy of Copy of Agendashift-banner

I’ve mentioned wholehearted here a few times. The response to it has been amazing – I’ve even had people citing it as clinching their decision to become Agendashift partners. And today we’re making it official, rebranding Agendashift as the wholehearted engagement model.

Time then to sharpen up the website! I have taken the opportunity to give it a substantial overhaul, most visibly here:

  • Our mission: Wholehearted – our branding, positioning, and elevator pitch in one
  • About Agendashiftgood for the engagement model part if that concept is new to you
  • The Agendashift home page – giving more visibility to the above and (while we’re at it) to the Agendashift Assessments, which are still going strong, very much something to be proud of but lacking in visibility of late

In fact, little has gone untouched. If you have a moment, check these out too:

The substance

Our mission: Helping organisations grow in wholeheartedness – to become less at war with themselves, their obstacles, imbalances, and contradictions identified and owned, value and meaning created through authentic engagement.

Expanding just a little:

Slide1

Source: Our mission: Wholehearted (agendashift.com/wholehearted), CC-BY-SA licence.

The wholehearted page expands further, describing where we’re coming from, what sets us apart, the challenge that motivates us, and so on. Here, let say a bit more about how wholehearted works, what it isn’t, and three of its less obvious inspirations.

Wholehearted (or wholeheartedness) works because it is three things at once:

  1. It’s a metaphor that resonates quickly and is capable of inspiring at a human level
  2. It describes something worth striving for regardless of whether it can ever be attained in full
  3. It’s something that can be experienced immediately, and in practical terms

That hint of paradox doesn’t hurt either! And if you’re wondering about the experience part, read on right to the end, where I’ll repeat an offer made last month.

What it’s not:

  • Another Agile reboot – I have more respect for Agile than that
  • Another Agile process framework – there are plenty of those already, and beyond the travesty of imposition (Agile’s shame) there are other serious issues with that approach that I’ll come to
  • A manifesto (whether Agile’s “this over that” style or otherwise) – there are more than enough of those too; wholehearted is our mission statement, and the internal work of clarifying that to ourselves, partners, and clients was more important than the wider response (though naturally I’m grateful for the validation)

As acknowledged here previously [1] and as documented on the Wholehearted page, the initial inspiration for the wholehearted metaphor is due to the acclaimed architect and father of the patterns movement Christopher Alexander; in Right to Left [2] I reproduce with permission a quote from his classic book The Timeless Way of Building [3]. Applying Alexander’s metaphor in an organisational context, I channel three further inspirations that might not be obvious and aren’t called out explicitly: viable system model, servant leadership, and social constructionism.

Viable system model

The more mainstream Agile becomes, the more credit seems to be given to delivery process at the expense of critical things like strategy and organisation development. Time and time again, what gets copied (out of its original context) is the surface detail; what gets missed is less easily reproduced but vastly more critical to lasting success.

That’s a familiar enough complaint. Suffering from very similar problems, the Lean community woke up some years ago to what might have become a fatal flaw and went about redefining and reinventing itself. The Agile community seems to recognise the problem, but it takes a long time to turn the supertanker around and its momentum is still very much the other way. If I’m honest, I’m not convinced that the turnaround has even started.

Lest I be accused of merely whining, we offer something very practical:

Strategy, development, and delivery integrated – made whole – through participation

Those few words describe much of my work of the last few years; I phrased it that way thanks to the consultant’s secret weapon, Viable System Model (VSM) [4]. VSM is the model developed by Stafford Beer, an early pioneer of management cybernetics, and it identifies the elements required for an organisation to be viable and how they relate to each other.

In wholehearted I’ve picked out only three of those elements (you’ll find more in Right to Left), but it’s a decent start! Students of VSM will recognise also that participation is a possible approach to solving the problem of requisite variety, which roughly translates into the organisation being able to recognise and cope with the range of 1) what’s thrown at it and 2) what happens within it, the two being related.

Servant Leadership

Organisations won’t last long if they’re not meeting needs. Today that sounds like a truism, but writing in the 1970’s, long before a decades-long shift in employment patterns played out, Greenleaf [5] grasped and articulated some profound implications for leadership. I’m a firm believer both in good leadership and in starting with needs [6], so what better model than this one!

A small caveat: I have come to understand not only that leadership development and organisation development are inextricably linked, but that the latter is often the more promising entry point. Jumping straight to my bottom line, I have zero appetite for cultural change initiatives when they’re divorced from the organisation’s practical and strategic realities. In Agendashift-speak (with credit to Daniel Mezick and Mark Sheffield for the wonderfully punny inviting leadership [7]):

The language of outcomes inviting leadership at every level

I could also cite mission command, Marquet’s leader-leader model, etc here too – see the last chapter of Right to Left for how I tie these together.

Social constructionism

Social constructionism [8], is the philosophical concept that underpins dialogic organisation development, on which Agendashift leans heavily (though not exclusively) [9]. It’s the recognition that people and their social interactions give reality and meaning to organisations (to its credit, there’s more than a hint of that in the Agile manifesto). Without them, the organisation is nothing and meaningless, and it’s another reason why a process-centric view of organisations is so hopelessly inadequate.

Much less sterile (and related to the language of outcomes):

New conversations and new kinds of conversations – renewing the organisation’s discourse and thereby the organisation itself

You know something has changed when the language has changed; the converse can be true not just at the level of terminology or sentiment, but fundamentally.

Watch out for a follow-up post very soon (it’s already drafted) on the language of outcomes and its lessons for leadership.

References

[1] Towards the wholehearted organisation, outside in (May 2018)
[2] Right to Left: The digital leader’s guide to Lean and Agile, Mike Burrows (New Generation Publishing, 2019)
[3] The Timeless Way of Building, Christopher Alexander, (OUP USA, 1980)
[4] Viable system model (en.wikipedia.org), and I would strongly recommend one of Right to Left‘s references, The Fractal Organization: Creating Sustainable Organizations with the Viable System Model, Patrick Hoverstadt, (John Wiley & Sons, 2008)
[5] Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness, Robert K. Greenleaf, (Paulist Press, 25th Anniversary edition, 2002)
[6] Agendashift model overview“Start with needs” is principle #1
[7] Inviting Leadership: Invitation-Based Change™ in the New World of Work, Daniel Mezick and Mark Sheffield (Freestanding Press, 2018)
[7] Social constructionism (en.wikipedia.com)
[8] What kind of Organisational Development (OD)? (And a book recommendation) (May 2019), the book in question being Dialogic Organization Development: The Theory and Practice of Transformational Change, Gervase R. Bushe & Robert J. Marshak (2015, Berrett-Koehler Publishers)

Acknowledgements

My thanks to Agendashift partners Steven Mackenzie, Dragan Jojic, Karl Scotland, Teddy Zetterlund, and Kjell Tore Guttormsen for their part in the many iterations that wholehearted went through. To Daniel Mezick, Jutta Eckstein, Heidi Araya and partner Angie Main for their feedback and encouragement. Finally to Mark Sheffield for his careful review not just of this post but to the linked resources.

Special offer

20% off for any private (company-internal) Wholehearted:OKR workshop held in January, and 10% off for any booked by the end of that month for delivery at some agreed later date. Perfect for kicking off not just the new year but a new decade!

Or attend a public workshop:

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

See also our workshops and events pages. Tel Aviv (early June) to be added soon. All workshops (not just Wholehearted:OKR) have been updated to reference wholehearted.


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We’re wholehearted – are you?

Is it too much to ask? Organisations in which people engage on the issues that matter, actively participate in anticipating and meeting needs, and through agreement on outcomes create fertile conditions for organisation and leadership development?

Definitely not too much to ask, but let’s face it, most organisations aren’t there yet. Helping them is our wholehearted mission:

wholehearted-16x10-2019-12-15

Not only does this describe a vision to pursue, it’s something we can help you experience right away: people engaging on issues that matter, articulating outcomes in their own words, co-creating a coherent way forward. It’s what we do!

There’s more at the wholehearted page (agendashift.com), where you’ll find a paragraph on each of these:

  • Our mission
  • Where we’re coming from
  • What sets us apart
  • The challenge that motivates us

And some background, reference, etc:

  1. Mission, not manifesto
  2. Inspiration
  3. Wholeheartedness, strategy, feedback opportunities, and participation
  4. Servant Leadership

We’re wholehearted – are you?

My thanks to Agendashift partners Steven Mackenzie, Dragan Jojic, Karl Scotland, Teddy Zetterlund, and Kjell Tore Guttormsen for their feedback on the many iterations that wholehearted went through!


Upcoming workshops – Tampa, London, Gurugram, Malmö, Oslo, and online


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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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Agendashift roundup, November 2019

In this edition: More new stuff; Tampa, London, Gurugram, Copenhagen, Malmö, and Oslo; Top posts

More new stuff!

November saw a couple of key announcements, and they’re related:

Impact! is a new 1-day workshop, a member of a growing family of outside-in strategy review workshops as outlined in chapter 5 of Right to Left. You can think of this one as covering the “outside” part of “outside in”, a way to get started in strategy not by focussing on existing capabilities (these come later in the full review) but on positioning with respect to customer needs.

Meanwhile, the latest update to our Clean Language-inspired coaching game 15-minute FOTO adds an introductory ‘Lite’ mode, which takes not just obstacles as input but an initial shortlist of outcomes too. For the Impact! workshop, the outcomes in question are product (or service) goals.

And there is more in the pipeline – read the next section carefully for clues 😉

Tampa, London, Gurugram, Copenhagen, Malmö, and Oslo

I’ve just reached the end of several weeks of foreign travel for both public and private engagements (training, speaking, and an intense half-day slot at a leadership offsite). Exciting though it all was, it comes as something of a relief that I’m now grounded until February!

Coming up in February and March (read on for some commentary):

A few comments on that programme…

As per the initial announcement of the Impact! workshop (see More new stuff above for the link), I’m thrilled that its first public outing will be at an Open Leadership Network event and certified by that organisation, of which I am an advisory board member. Then I’m back to the city of my birth for a repeat performance, by which time it will be been done privately – and not only by me – a number of times.

I make it to India roughly once a year, and I love it. I hope it’s not my only visit of 2020 but to be sure of participating in an Agendashift workshop in India soon, you’d be advised to take this firm opportunity.

We don’t have a page for it yet, but ahead of the Malmö workshop I’ll also be doing a meetup in Copenhagen. It’s on the way! I’ll fly into Copenhagen, do the meetup, and then take the famous Øresund/Öresund bridge by train from Denmark to Sweden.

As of today (November 29th) there is only placeholder information available about the Wholehearted:OKR workshop scheduled for Oslo. In London last week I spent a very productive afternoon with Agendashift partners Karl Scotland and Steven Mackenzie and special guest contributor Mike Haber to design it, and trust me, it will be worth the wait 🙂 Expect a more complete announcement in the next week or two.

Via its teaser curriculum page I am already receiving enquiries for private workshops. If you’re looking to kick off 2020 with some participatory strategy, do get in touch, whether it’s for this, one of our other workshops, or something custom. And don’t forget to ask about January discounts!

Top posts

  1. What I really think about SAFe
  2. From Reverse STATIK to a ‘Pathway’ for continuous transformation
  3. Announcing v7 of 15-minute FOTO
  4. Announcing a brand new (but tested) workshop:
    Impact! Strategically outcome-oriented for products and services
  5. There will be caveats: Warming cautiously to OKR

62baaed4-072b-11ea-a103-a0369f103266


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