Mein rechter, rechter Platz

[English summary: Armin Schubert suggested a super nice “Set the stage” activity for Retromat that doesn’t translate well, so I present it in the original German.]

Immer wieder bekomme ich tolle Vorschläge für Retromat, die ich schweren Herzens ablehnen muss, meistens weil es bereits eine sehr ähnliche Aktivität im Retromaten gibt. Bei der folgenden Idee von Armin Schubert war der Grund, dass die Aktivität nur auf Deutsch funktioniert. Aber wozu habe ich ein Blog 😉

Hier kommt also Armins “Mein rechter, rechter Platz”: Diese Aktivität ist für den Anfang einer Retro und läuft wie folgt ab:

Die Teilnehmer sitzen im Kreis und starten mit dem bekannten Kinderreim “Mein rechter, rechter Platz ist leer, ich wünsche mir den $Name her!” mit einer entscheidenden Änderung im Text:

“Mein rechter, rechter Platz ist voll und der $Name, der ist toll!” Dann noch drei positive Eigenschaften des rechten Nachbarn und schon ist derjenige selbst dran.

Die Idee dazu ist in einer Retrospektive entstanden, weil wir einen schnellen aber positiven Einstieg gesucht haben. Das wirkte am Anfang etwas hölzern, war dann aber ein grosser Erfolg, auf dem im Nachgang immer wieder referenziert wurde.

(Falls jemand den (neuen) Kollegen rechts von sich nicht kennt, kann er gerne die anderen Anwesenden um Hilfe bitten. Hat bei uns mehrfach super funktioniert!)

Thanks for sharing with us, Armin!

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Cluster stickies next to each other

Here’s another tiny facilitation coconut for something I’ve handled wrong suboptimal in the past:

When it’s clustering time, related stickies often ended up on top of each other. Veronika Kotrba and Ralph Miarka remarked that this is not very appreciative of the bottom sticky and its author. It’s just a tiny detail but it makes sense to me. Most people probably don’t mind, but some might, especially in power imbalanced situations. Since it’s not making things worse for those who don’t mind and makes it better for those who do, I vow to cluster related stickies next to each other from now on.

This will also create a more accurate visualization of support for a topic 🙂

All eyes not on you – Chain Question

As a facilitator, I think it is my job create opportunities for others to speak. I try to keep in the background as much as possible, which isn’t always easy. Participants focus on me more often than I’d like. That is to say, not only when I talk about meta information like instructions, but also when they themselves talk about the subject matter.

One simple technique to connect participants to each other, rather than to you, is to create a questioning chain. This works well when the group forms a circle and there’s a question everyone should answer. As the facilitator you can start it of by asking the question to your neighbour. Then they ask their neighbour on their other side. It works best, when the asker actually waits and listens to the answer 😉

Just like Role Play for One this technique is popular with language teachers. I relearned it in Veronika Kotrba and Ralph Miarka’s workshop on solution-focused coaching.

I hope it’ll help you get attention off of you and on the content your participants bring to the table.

Do you have tricks you’d like to share?

Would you like a coconut?

Last week I attended a very enlightening workshop hosted by solution-focused coaches  Veronika Kotrba and Ralph Miarka. Early in the workshop Veronika introduced a superb metaphor for giving advice that nobody asked for. I’ve written about unsolicited advice before, but the coconut-model does a much better and funnier job.

Let’s start with one of the solution-focused tenets: “Everybody is the expert for their own situation”. Based on our experiences we all see the world differently and can never truly know anyone else’s impressions. We each live on our own island and usually don’t know much about the islands of other people.

Bertram's island and Zili's island

Let’s say there are 2 people on their respective islands, Zilli and Kurti. Zilli’s island sports a glorious coconut tree and Zilli looooves coconut. The meat, the milk, the pina colada – she loves all of it!

Kurti’s island on the other hand has fir trees growing. Kurti has never heard of coconuts in his whole life, let alone seen one. What a sad state of affairs! Zilli wants to share the coconut goodness and saves one of her precious coconuts to throw over to Kurti. What do you think how Kurti will react? Grateful?

Zili throws a coconut

Unlikely. Zilli just attacked him with a big stone. Unprovoked! Why would she do that? Kurti has no choice. He has to defend himself!

Bertram raises the shields

Which in turn will anger Zilli. Kurti lets her gift go to waste! That was an excellent coconut! Pfft, she’s never going to share anything with such an ungrateful person!

Not a good exchange at all. Yet, it often plays out like this when someone tries to introduce change. But Zilli could have done better. She could have asked, whether Kurti is interested in trying coconuts. And if he’s not, accept that. And if he is, all the better! She could have shown him how the crack one. The meat, the milk, the pina colada. Chances are that Kurti would have liked some of it.

Questions build bridges

I plan on using this metaphor a lot in the future. I want to pass on what I learn. I hail from a long line of teachers, I can’t help myself. Heck, this blog is nothing but a big pile of coconuts, so that I have an outlet. You’re here on your own free will, so I hope that’s okay with you. And if we meet face to face and I ask “Would you like a coconut?” you know that I’ve got excellent, excellent ( 😉 ) advice that you didn’t exactly ask for. You can say no. That’s okay. It’s why I ask first 🙂

PS: Thanks to Veronika for the flipchart drawings!

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Pink stickies considered harmful & other arcane facilitation tidbits

There are some odd tidbits of experience you pick up when you work with whiteboards and stickies for a longer period of time. Here’s a random collection of my tidbits that might be nice to know for beginners:

pink-sticky-stainsBeware, 3m pink stickies leave pink stains on most non-whiteboard surfaces. Walls, doors, tables, … Especially when wet / moist.

3m sticky notes are still the best ones, i.e. the stickiest ones that are least likely to fall off your board. AFAIR there are differences between the colors. The light yellow, archetypical notes are the stickiest.

We’ve tried out a lot of cheaper stickies and it just led to autumn being year round (= the “leaves” falling down a lot). Among the sticky note copycats I remember Tesa to be the best one.

The usual way to tear off a sticky (upwards) will make it stand off of the board at an angle. If you peel them off left to right, they’ll stay flat. Despite this knowledge I can’t rewire my muscles to tear off to the sides. My stickies always curl :/

Blue Edding boardmarker (most common brand in Germany) becomes non-dry-erasable after a few weeks. Really annoying! That’s why we’ve stopped using blue marker all together.

You can remove dried up writing on a whiteboard by retracing the lines with another whiteboard marker and then wiping. The solvents of the new line also solve the old writing. If you don’t want to whip out the whiteboard cleaner, that’s a working alternative.

Do you have any tidbits to share?

The Coach’s Casebook – Book Tip


Cover of The Coach's Casebook
If you’re even remotely interested in Coaching, I highly recommend “The Coach’s Casebook” by Geoff Watts and Kim Morgan. I’ve just finished it and it absolutely lived up to the raving reviews I read on Twitter! For the record, I’m a coaching newbie. I’d figure that newbies and intermediates will gain the most.

The book looks at 12 specific human traits ranging from Perfectionism to Fierce Independence to Procrastination. For each trait they look at a fictious yet very concrete case that’s based on reality. It’s a first person narration from the perspective of the coach and very relatable. The coach’s supervision with their own coach is part of this and really underlines the importance of supervision. Then come 3 methods that one could use to support someone with the respective challenge. At the end of each chapter is an interview with a successful person that overcame the trait.

Of all of these, I could have done without the interviews. They didn’t always seem relevant to me. I love the case studies and the methods. You get to see a wide range of approaches and the inner workings of the coach on top. I’ve learned tons and highly recommend it!

What have you learned from what you tried?

[This post is one of many sparked by Agile 2015.]

When somebody asks you for advice, you do ask for what they have already tried, right? Before blurting out all of your brilliant ideas, right?

Screen Shot 2015-08-16 at 5.03.11 PMWhat if I told you, we can do even better?

“What have you learned from what you tried?”

Can you feel how this shifts the focus from unsuccessful tries to the valuable learning gained from them? One small change in phrasing, one giant leap in focus 🙂

Sometimes I’m rubbish at remembering where I picked something up. I’m 80% sure it was Michael Hamman in his session “Helping Executives Become Agile Leaders: Coaching the Executive Leader“.

 

Coach Demand, not Supply

[This post is one of many inspired by Agile 2015.]

Another nugget of wisdom from Esther Derby and Mike Lowery‘s “Coaching Flow” (the other one being “Reframing“) was “Don’t coach Supply, coach Demand“. So, what does that mean? Let’s say, there’s someone frying bacon and you want them to fry eggs instead.

sketchnote_coaching-flow

If there’s someone shouting “Bacon! Baaaaacon!” into the cook’s ear all the time, you won’t get far with your eggplants egg plans.

You’ve gotta change the Bacon shouter’s behaviour first, before the cook has a chance to change theirs.

It certainly rings true for me. That one time at band camp I worked in the tech department of a company and we hardly ever shipped anything. Mostly because the business department demanded STARTING whenever a client shouted. FINISHING, by comparison, wasn’t in their focus. They were upset that none of their requested feature ever saw the light of day, but dropping what you were doing to switch to the latest request was way more important than finishing an old request.

In short, tech had little chance to change with business breathing down their necks and demanding unreasonable behaviour.

I tried to coach the business side, too, but my “authority” was clearly rooted in the tech dept. My influence on the business side was very limited. The overall company was very sales driven anyway. Not much wriggle room.

At that time none of us techies were able to change demand, so the results stayed the same, as coaching supply will rarely have lasting effects.

Maybe today I would do a better job, but back then, not a chance…

Reframing – Conflict Games 3/3

[This post is one of many sparked by Agile 2015.]

Whereas the first two games (click here for series start) are for teams to get to know each other, before conflict situations arise, “Reframing” is for the conflict situation itself.

Esther Derby and Mike Lowery introduced “Reframing” in their session on “Coaching Flow“. It aims to change attitudes before entering a crucial conversation.

sketchnote_coaching-flow

If you are about to have a difficult conversation with someone, it won’t help, if you think of the other person as a lazy idiot or other negative labels.

If you can enter the conversation with a mindset of respect, well, that will help a lot. Your whole attitude and willingness to listen will be better geared to resolve the conflict.

“Reframing” exercise

  1. Think of someone you don’t get along with and write down the adjectives you associate with that person.
  2. Write down a neutral version of that adjective. “Stubborn” can become “strong-willed”. “Lazy” can become “works at sustainable pace”.
  3. Take the neutral words and make them positive. “Strong-willed” can become “confident”. “Works at sustainable pace” can become “energy saving” or “gemütlich”.

I’ve always been good with words, so I expected it to be easy. It’s not. This exercise kind of backfired, because there were a number of attributes we didn’t manage to reframe. Not even when we pooled our brains and helped each other find words. Despite only modeate reframing success, we still had a lot of fun! And one participant in particular turned out to be quite the euphemistic wordsmith.

In the “stuck” cases, it would have helped us to have a list for inspiration. I don’t know of any such list, so I have started to collect reframing possibilities in this spreadsheet.

Please add your reframings and improve the existing ones! Right now, “confident” and “flexible” have to work much too heavy duty. Thank you in advance!

Disclaimer: Don’t use the list right away! Try to find neutral and positive words of your own! The list is only for when you’re stuck and think it’s “impossible”. Have fun reframing!

Thanks, Esther and Mike for “Coaching Flow“!

Team Toxins – Conflict Games 2/3

[This post is one of many sparked by Agile 2015.]

The second game (click here for series start) is from Jake Calabrese‘s workshop “Benefiting from Conflict – Building Antifragile Relationships and Teams“.

It’s based on the belief that each of us has one default “toxic” = “less than helpful” behavior they fall back on in times of conflict and stress.

These 4 toxic behaviours are Stonewalling, Defensiveness, Blaming and Contempt.

Screen Shot 2015-08-30 at 7.51.06 PM
In the original game, everybody writes down their default toxin on an “Hello, I’m …” sticker. Then you go about the room shaking people’s hands, each of you introducing themselves: “Hi, I’m Blaming.” “Nice to meet you Blaming, I’m Contempt.”

We were only 7, not 100 like in Jake’s session, so we “played” it differently. After writing down our main toxin someone suggested that the others try to guess yours, before you reveal it.

Disclaimer: You should only ever assess yourself, not others!

That being disclaimed, we were a fun little, high trust group and everybody opted-in into the other-assessment. So we did it, with very interesting results: For all but 2 (out of 7 people) self- and other-assessment were exact opposites!

For example, I’m a die-hard stonewaller. I’ll bite my tongue for a very long time until I finally erupt in frustration. The others pegged me for Blaming, Defensiveness and Contempt, but no vote for Stonewalling. These differing views were typical.

No clue, if that is because we’re really bad at self-assessment or assessing others or both. In my case the stonewalling is something I try hard to overcome at work, because I’ve seen that it leads nowhere. Nowhere nice, anyway. (In private I don’t try as hard, although it would be helpful.)

In fact, many of the participants remarked that they fall onto different toxins at work and at home. Or that the toxin depends on the person they have the conflict with. Interesting! I haven’t asked but would guess that it depends on the level of trust between the both of them.

Last observation: Although the label “defensiveness” seemed fitting for some people’s behaviors, the descriptions (“Not open to influence”, etc.)  didn’t fit anyone. I wonder if we’ve got a different concept of “defensiveness” or if there’s just many more possible manifestations of it than the given 3.

After the assessments we talked briefly about the antidotes to the toxic behaviors:

Team Toxins - Antidotes

Play this game during a team liftoff so that people will know what behaviour to expect of each other when the shit hits the fan. The game can also inform Working Agreements. You probably don’t need “We stay respectful” in a team of Stonewallers. How about “We openly address things that annoy us, even and especially, very small things”?

Thanks to Jake Calabrese for introducing us to team toxins!