At BBC Worldwide I run a weekly meeting primarily aimed at engaging the development community in a number of ways such as organising dojo’s, presentations, study groups and the like. This changed recently to alternating sessions focusing on the needs of developers and testers. With the success of the meetings other groups such as Analysts and PM’s were expressing an interest in discussing topics pertinent to them.
Whilst attending the Agile Coaches Gathering [twitter tag - #acguk] I attended a session on running continuous open space meetings. This sounded like an effective, open and inclusive approach to getting things done and raising awareness within the weekly meeting above.
The first meeting was limited to planning the agenda for the next session. The group was given time to write titles of topics they wanted to address on sticky notes. People were asked to include their name and informed that if they proposed a topic that they should be prepared to referee.
Each person was then invited to come up, announce their most important topic and place it on the board. The group then voted and the top three proposals made the agenda for the next session. The meeting also served a couple of other purposes. It acted as a useful introduction to the concept of open space meetings. My impression was that people felt comfortable with the style of the meeting; this was backed up by the fact that all attendees raised topics and were involved. It also emphasised the importance of a feedback mechanism. People started talking about the challenges and ways in which the meeting could be improved. This was completely unprompted. As a result the improvement suggestions were captured and prioritised in the same way as the session proposals.
The next meeting was split into two parts. The first ten minutes was used to raise session proposals and vote on the most important. The remainder of the hour was used to host the three sessions. The sessions were held in meeting rooms adjacent to each other to encourage footfall. Each session is responsible for collecting output which is circulated to the whole group.
After the agenda has been set for the next meeting all other suggestions are simply ignored for that week. By getting people to think about what is important each week from fresh allows people to concentrate on what is important now and reduces the effect of distraction from an existing backlog. By proposing sessions at the start of each meeting people have some time to prepare and some time to change the topic. Sessions have already merged and changed in the first two weeks. This structure has given us a very flexible and engaging way of addressing the most pressing issues we face.
At the Agile Coaches Gathering I proposed a session exploring the reasons why we coach. Managing to gather a few people on the sunny lawn at Bletchley Park to explore this topic, we created a mind map looking at the positive and negative reasons for coaching.
The outcome can be summarised by the following three categories:
- Negative personal reasons
- Positve personal reasons
- The greater good
Negative Personal Reasons
Coaching to boost your ego was thought to be the primary thing to be avoided. Being seen as clever, important or the person with the answers should not be your goal. Closely related is hubris – overconfidence or arrogance. These items are represented in green in the diagram above.
Deferring decisions for too long can have a detrimental effect. Another area where a negative impact can be introduced is through lacking the courage to make decisions. We had quite a long chat about this in regard to when it is acceptable to help people improve versus when it is best to let them discover improvements. Most people agreed that making this call comes down to your experience of similar situations. Too much hand holding and you can become a crutch on which a team depends, too little and the team doesn’t see the benefit of you coaching them.
Positive Personal Reasons
Some of the positive experiences coaches have experienced include self development, learning, enjoyment and achievement. Some also expressed the feeling of coaching being what you are best at, or your vocation in life. We also coach because we enjoy the challenge of adapting, solving people problems, meta-problems and a better understanding of psychology.
Some of the reasons for coaching the group came up with are related to providing benefit for the ‘greater good’. These reasons include:
- Fulfilling peoples potential - Giving is better than receiving; people are amazing; everyone can excel.
- Social responsibility – People should be treated with dignity, helping avoid misery and frustration. Many of the people present mentioned that they felt a responsibility to change things that are broken or do not work.
- By teaching that accountability is good, people can start to own problems and therefore do something about them.
- People are genetically programmed to coach, especially children. Most people present had a parent or close relation who was involved in teaching. As a result there was a feeling that we coach because we ourselves have been coached well.
- Coaching can help bring about change. Change requires courage, patience and confidence.
I found this a very useful session and learnt a lot about what motivates people to coach others. We had a very free, open and honest discussion. Many thanks to those who contributed. An extra special thankyou to Rachel Davies and Mike Sutton for organising.