Is this blog dead?

Let me check: Last post is from August 2018. More than a year ago. Wow, that’s worse than I expected. And that post isn’t even there anymore. It moved over to retromat.org. I guess that settles it, this blog is dead 🙁

It’s not for a lack of topics. I’ve got about 10 drafts and at least another 30 topic ideas I’d like to write about. sipgate (my employer) is a huge source of inspiration! I find something blog-worthy almost every day.

Alas, a day has 24 hours. I’ve got a job and 2 kids and very little energy left once these are taken care of. For a while there it got really bad. The only reason I’m not burned out right now is my excellent doctor (thank you Dr. Enzel!). She practically threw herself in front of me with a big red flashing stop sign.

So yeah, I’m doing much less these days and I’m doing much better. If I figure out a way how my side projects can sustain themselves (i.e. earn money so that I can reduce hours at my real job), I’d love to return to blogging, Retromat and 1-page summaries.

I probably won’t blog here, though. All content related to retrospectives and facilitation will eventually end up on retromat.org/blog. Give me another 5 years (give or take) to move it over …

As for the other posts… No clue where they’ll go yet. I might create a personal website. I’ve already bought corinnabaldauf.de. Now I just need to figure out what I want to do with the site. In the end finding-marbles.com will forward to the new site. One fine day.

I just wanted to make it official. Thank you for your input and coming along for the ride!

All the best, lots of energy and take better care of yourself than I did! Sustainability is key,

Corinna

PS: Just for the record: My job is not stressful and not to blame for the near-burn-out. In fact, I like all aspects of my life. But when you combine all of them, it’s just to much. Used to be more than 100%. I’m aiming for 80% now. Gotta have some slack!

Are you aware of the stories you tell yourself? – Clean Feedback

Have you ever wondered how discussions escalate into shouting matches? Into a series of accusations and “I never said that!” “Yeah, you did!”

Us humans have a tendency to think that the stories we tell ourselves in our heads are the actual factual truths. We are rational beings after all. Or are we? At least we can trust our perceptions, right? Not really, either. We make stuff up all the time.

Point in turn: This – only tangentially related but super-awesome – twitter thread on the brain making shit up. Read it, I’ll wait:

On a more abstract level it is hard for us to separate between the things we actually see and hear and the story we tell ourselves about it.

A great way to think about this is with the Clean Feedback model by Caitlin Walker. It separates feedback into three components:

  • Evidence
    This is about observable behavior. What have you seen or heard? There is no judgement here.
  • Inference
    What meaning do you make of it? How do you interpret the evidence? What is the story you tell yourself?
  • Impact
    How does that make you feel and behave?

Here’s an example:
“When you are absent-minded in the meeting, the meaning I make of this, is that I’m not important enough to pay attention to, which makes want to avoid you.“

Could you identify the different components? I hope not, cause that was a trap. Being “absent-minded” is not a real observation. It’s already an interpretation. So what are the actual things I’ve seen and heard?

Lets try again:
“When we’re in a meeting and you look on your mobile a lot and pick it up and use it, I assume that I’m not important enough to you and in turn I want to avoid meeting with you. It also makes me sad.”

The tricky bit is that we often think of our inferences as the evidence. But it’s worth it to try to separate it into parts.

Unpacking thoughts like this makes it easier to judge less and stay curious. When shared with the other party it’s easier for them to understand how you arrived at your interpretation of events. And they can set things straight and say what they really meant.

Have you ever tried Clean Feedback? What happens in your conversations when you do?

(I’ve learned about Clean Language and Clean Feedback in this online course by Judy Rees and Olaf Lewitz. It originates in the book “From Contempt to Curiosity” by Caitlin Walker.)

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Raise your hand to speak – Self-Facilitation Basics

For somebody who spends as much time as I do on thinking about what we do at sipgate and why it works, I missed a tiny, big detail for a really long time: Our meetings work much better than at most other places because we raise our hands when we want to speak. And we talk in the order of hands being raised.

There’s this book I’m procrastinating on writing to help teams facilitate their own meeting. And it never occured to me to include raising your hand. I had thought about talking sticks and keeping a visible list for big groups, but not about “queueing” to speak. Which is kind of the basis for all the other things that work well in our meetings and the reason we rarely interrupt each other.

I only realized this, because my colleagues talked about someone who didn’t wait their turn and how super irritating this is. It ruins the flow and also makes it more likely for others to display bad meeting manners: Interrupting others becomes more frequent because everybody is anxious to get their thoughts out.

Even now that I’m writing it down, I feel like it’s too basic, too obvious to be mentioned. I mean: “You want nicer, fairer meetings, in which people are not talking over each other? Gee, have you tried taking turns by raising your hand to get the word when it’s your turn?” Duh.

But then again, I rarely see the hand raising in other environments and meeting flow is worse for it. So, I’ll be happy to state the obvious, if it helps some team, somewhere.

You’re meetings are going smoothly without hand raising? Great! Maybe it’s because you’ve got a facilitator? Facilitators can often guess who wants to speak, based on body language. And give the floor to that person either explicitly or also using subtle body language. I often give somebody the floor, by raising my open palm towards them or just looking at them with my head cocked.

But facilitators are not mind readers so even then the hand raising bit helps. And when there’s no facilitator it helps a lot! If they know who wants to speak, the more confident team members can give the floor to shyer ones, who wouldn’t just talk over someone else to be heard.

So, yeah, queue to speak and get more orderly meetings with a fairer distribution of “air time”. Peace Out 🙂

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Ad-Hoc Leadership

[This topic in German will be part of the upcoming 2nd sipgate book \o/].

We don’t have any middle management at sipgate. In our teams nobody is anybody else’s boss. Hearing this, visitors often assume we’re without leaders. In fact, the opposite is true.

(Disclaimer: We do have a hierarchy. It only has 2 levels but it’s there. Our not-so-called C-level sets strategy and everyone else is trying to execute it.)

The roles of Scrum Master and Product Owner have elements of leadership in them. Product Owners have authority about what is being build. They do not have authority about people, their jobs, how the team builds something or the broader organizational setup.

Because nobody gets to lead solely by the power vested in them by some management title, everybody takes the lead sometime. If something is important to you and you don’t take the lead, there’s a chance nobody will. Fortunately, the issue that’s important enough to take action is a different one for different people. So it distributes nicely.

Some people will now object that there is always an informal hierarchy in a team anyway. And someone at the top. After pondering this for months and qualitative surveys at the coffee machine I can’t confirm this. Who’s on top is ever-shifting. Within any given team there are several people that lead, depending on the area in question. UX? Dan. Java? Lara. JavaScript? Kim. We follow their lead because we trust them to best judge the long term consequences of any decision. And yet, they usually don’t decide on their own, but together with others.

I’m pretty sure that half my colleagues would be team leads in other companies. They’ve got all the skills you’re looking for: take responsibility, present results in front of 100+ people, give constructive feedback, facilitate discussions and they’re reflected.

Btw, this post isn’t called “Agile Leadership” for a reason. In my experience, when managers talk about “Agile Leadership”, they babble about “empowerment” while keeping the existing hierarchy and its reporting structure as it is. Yeah, right. Wash me but don’t make me wet, much?

And what do we get from having a flat hierarchy? Everybody takes responsibility. We can take decisions fast. We don’t waste time on political games. Instead we can add value.

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Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches need an Emergency Fund

Scrum doesn’t fix an organization’s problems. It makes problems glaringly obvious so that they have a chance to fix them. Except that “glaringly obvious” is relative and sometimes you still need someone to point to the steaming pile o’ shit of a problem and say it out loud. Sometimes to someone that has the authority to fire the messenger.

As a Scrum Master or agile coach it is part of your job to speak truth to power if necessary. And while it’s certainly a good idea to work on delivery, and phrasing hard truths in a way that make it possible for the recipient to accept and stomach them, there’s still a risk involved.


That’s why you need to have a certain level of independence. And a big part of that independence is money. How can you expose someone to an uncomfortable truth, if that person can fire you from a job you depend on? Depend on for rent, for food, for insurance. For your kid.

It’s a whole lot easier to “have guts” if you have an emergency fund, e.g. 3 to 6 months of living expenses in cash in a bank account. How many months you need depends on how fast you think you can land another job. Ultimately it depends on what you need to feel secure. My need for financial security is high, so we’ve got 12 months. This is just living expenses, not fancy vacations. Not that it’s necessary at my workplace but it’s still a very comforting feeling and helps me not be afraid to say what I think needs saying.

If you don’t have an emergency fund, why not start now? If you can’t save big chunks, chip away at it. Small contributions will also help. Having some money in the bank will make you more effective in you job. And it’ll let you sleep better at night.

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