The gift of failure

Failure happens. We don't usually fail on purpose. We don't intend disappointments, falling short and setbacks.

Nimble teams dedicated to growth experience more failure than slow teams dedicated to maintaining certainty at all costs. It is their intolerance of failure that keeps slow teams slow.

Nimble teams experiment continously and quickly engage lessons from each iteration. They have developed clarity on how to turn failing into a gift of new insights and accelerated experiments into far more than what slow teams even imagine.

When they make failing a gift to be engaged rather than problem to be prevented, nimble teams find that reflected failing is a rich source of new questions that spark new possibilities in realizing the long view good and near term progress they seek together.

The point of work in nimble teams is progress toward what we together define as good. Every instance of progress is failure to meet the good that most inspires and energizes our growth. As slow teams do everything they can to resist growth (and therefore failure) on their way to even "realistic" goals, nimble teams outperform slow by at least 200%.

 

Is there an ideal team leadership personality?

There is a constellation of qualities that enable team leaders to help their teams grow together. These includes qualities like curiosity, kindness, creativity, agility, mindfulness, humility, courage and trustworthiness.

Each can be developed into habits. They don't require any special physical abilities, super human powers or specific kinds of knowledge. We don't have to be a "certain kind of person" to grow any. All it takes is feeling ready to develop them and doing the practice into their growth. Any can become part of any leader's brand. Coaching, in contrast to a strategy of hope, is often the most optimal way to support this growth.

 

Question genres

There are two genres of questions in converations, meetings and virtual discussions: kind and toxic.

Kind questions are questions of:

  • Honestly seeking understanding of other people's good and goodness, concerns
  • Revealing the upsides to an idea, the lessons learned from success and progress
  • Inviting exploration of options
  • Offering help, support, clarity, value 

Toxic questions are questions of:

  • Making someone appear uninformed, not knowledgeable, not credible
  • Appearing to be more authoritative than others
  • Gaining or regaining control over a conversation
  • Thinly veiled criticism or rejection 

 

 

What if everyone had a transparent and agile exit strategy?

What if everyone on a team semi-annually shared their latest version of what they want to go to next, when (if they have a sense of that) and why?

Wouldn't this happen in a culture of integrity, translated as adult transparency, contrasted to adolescent passive aggressive non-transparency? What if people leaving or changing was anticipated rather than a surprise? Would it allow teams to enjoy better proactivity and continuity? Could it help the team better support everyone's growth dreams and intentions?

Would people paradoxically feel a greater sense of commitment to a tribe committed to their growth?

The appearances of power

However benevolent or sociable some people can be, they can exert power over others in subtle and normative ways. Here is a short list of examples:

  • "Offering" to create meeting agendas
  • Delivering opinions in a serious, authoritative tone of voice or body language
  • Dominating converations, cutting people off and interrupting
  • Hogging a shared screen or white board
  • Controlling the converation with slides
  • Dismissing a question or emerging converation as "out of scope" or off agenda
  • Using questions to regain attention and control 

Fortunately, everyone else in the group can take preemptive and counter initiatives to make the interactions more engaging, power sharing, respectful and inclusive.

 

The explicit and implicit differences between nimble and slow teams

Nimble teams outperform slow teams by 200-300%. 

The explicit difference is about tempo and agility. Nimble teams move and adapt quickly because their work in a culture of growth. People feel free to work with initiative, inclusion and integrity.

Slow teams work in a culture of approvals. They are slow and inflexible. They are too busy doing what they're assigned to do to make growing together a priority. They move at the speed of permissions.

The implicit difference is their relationship to uncertainty. 

Slow teams see uncertainty as preventable and problematic. The whole emphasis on approvals is to create a sense of certainty. It is only the illusion of certainty.

Nimble teams see uncertainty as inevitable and vital. They are clear that every plan and decision creates as much uncertainty as existed prior to them. They are clear that uncertainty is a rich source of possibility. Dedication to growth as the point and purpose of work infuses uncertainty with meaning. Nimble teams flourish in initiative, inclusion and integrity because they know that uncertainty engaged is the prime agent of growth.

When we are dedicated to growing together, every instance of uncertainty is a fresh opportunity space for growth. Nimble teams are clear on how to stay aligned and agile no matter how much uncertainty they encounter. What's most significant is how the nature of their work has little to no similarity to how slow teams operate and organize.  

 

The Change-growth Distinction

Change is often more an event. Growth is often more a process. Change is an intervention. Growth is an iteration.

With a single email or meeting we can change a team's leader, members, goals, standards, structures, resources, performance compensation, assignments and constraints. Change can be completely dictated and imposed. 

Growth comes from within. It is the iterative, incremental process of expanding clarity in three ways. It is a function of progress rather than pronouncement. 

Growth requires clarity about the good we what to see, clarity about the goodness we have and clarity in how to engage our goodness in realizing the good we seek. It is progress toward good through goodness. The more clarity we have, the more we grow in and through our work. 

Getting to new levels of team culture is a function of growth rather than change. Confusion about this leads to weakening culture. Team culture progresses when growth is at the center of the intention and process.

The core problem with mission and strategy

Leaders spend an interesting amount of time arguing about mission and strategy. These are military metaphors for campaigns to conquer enemies. The most fundamental reason leaders struggle is not about their incompetence or lack of will. It's because the metaphor simply doesn't apply. 

There are many organizations focused on doing good. They don't have enemies. Their work doesn't involve military offensive. Their work lives in a whole different realm of creativity, innovation and sensitive delivery of value to markets.

They need dream-inspired approaches to deep listening and surprising the imagination of their markets. It has nothing to do with a mission and strategy of force, conquering and capturing, or debilitating other organizations. They find meaning in an organic growth imperative. 

 

The power of reflection

Every week there are things we get easily done, done with effort and not done. There are things we begin, make progess on and complete. 

An accessible mode of growing together is in gaining and sharing clarity on what exactly contributed to what we did, didn't do and experience. It takes a little time each week to do this kind of reflection. Without it, we repeat mistakes and fail to repeat successes and lessons gleaned. Without reflection, experience teaches nothing.

Reflection works from simple questions.

  • Could we do anything faster or with less effort in the future?
  • What contributed most to what we got done?
  • What was important we paid attention to?

The #1 issue of companies worldwide

In their 2016 study of 7,000 companies across over 130 countries, Deloitte discovered that the number one issue is redesigning the future of work. 92% of companies believe the way they work is not optimized for growth and engagement and 96% are committed to change.

This is good news indeed, a refresh on optimism that we can transform work into a source of meaning, community and joy.

It doesn't have to a painful or pricy proposition or transition. It can happen in steps and phases. It can happen as we work. It doesn't require expensive trainings and retreats. 

 

3 Ways to Faster Team Decisions

Get the questions right, not the debate long

There are two ways to approach decisions: by questions or debate. By questions, we move forward together one question at a time. Questions are anything unknown, unverified, unclarified, undecided or unresolved. The velocity of question based decisions is dramatically faster and more realistic than decision by debate.

Don't postpone action for perfection

However much confidence and consensus a decision holds, it creates as much uncertainty as we would have if we postpone it. We can make good decisions well that result in all kinds of uncertainty. A sense of certainty is not a guarantee of a good decision. In most cases action is necessary to move things forward in a positive way.

Keep a nimble tempo

We can make decisions faster simply by timing conversations for increased frequency. A decision based on daily or bi-weekly conversations will go faster than those with weekly or monthly conversations. A faster tempo does not add more total effort time to a decision. If anything, a slower tempo results in the inefficiencies of more effort time.

Can a team become nimble without a commons?

The short answer is no.

The commons is the shared spaces of conversations, documents and workflow. It's the opposite of the slow practices of formal meetings, private conversations and emails. 

The commons accelerates velocity, builds trust and strengthens alignment. It requires easy to develop habits. It takes what we already know. It unleashes integrity, initiative and inclusion - the prime principles of nimble teams.

 

The slow-nimble team distinction

In a recent converation, the question arose about whether the distinctions between nimble and slow teams are exclusive. Do they have things in common? 

I would argue that they are two ends of a team culture and performance continuum. Teams can exist anywhere along the continuum and move consciously or unconsciously in either direction. 

Teams in the middle can have much in common, and less in common as they move closer to either end. At the ends, in more complete forms, they work from opposite principles and practices.

The principles of slow teams include:

  • Do your job, make your numbers, react well to pressure to not be yourself
  • Expect that focus on deficiencies is the shortest distance to improvement 
  • Stay within the lines of permissions and approvals 
  • Be careful how sharing anything can get in the way of your productivity 

The principles of nimble teams include:

  • Make growing together the point and path of your work
  • Define success together and move towards it through progress & sharing
  • Expect that focus on our goodness will best support our growth 
  • When you see something that needs to be done, do it, and pair with others for velocity 

 

The mentorship questions

The considerations for mentoring programs in organizations are many. It needs to be distinguished from coaching. It works better when people choose their own mentors from crowdsourced reviews on mentor strengths. The idea of multiple mentors simultaneously and across career phases and careers is smart. 

Many people who could mentor do well developing the art of it from seasoned mentors. Being a leader, expert or veteran does not automatically qualify someone as a good mentor. Mentor communities of practice help with this development, as well as coaching with experienced and expert mentors.

The immense power of emotional agility

In South Africa, where I come from, "sawubona" is the Zulu word for "hello." There's a beautiful and powerful intention behind the word because "sawubona" literally translated means, "I see you, and by seeing you, I bring you into being."

In her TED talk, Susan David talks about emotional agility. It is nothing less than the source of our engagement, resilience, connection and creativity.

In essence, it is the nuanced, radical realization of our emotions, all of them, without denial, buffering or medication. It is knowing how we and others feel with nuanced details of their complexity and transience. 

When we no longer fear or resist the nuances of our feelings, we realize the good signaled by all of our emotions. As we honor them, we honor ourselves. We welcome each other's good and goodness. Everyone feels valued. To be connected is to bring each other into being. We flourish.

Nimble education

What does education look like when the intention is to grow the next generation of nimble team members? 

At the least, it means graduations would involve portfolios of habits relevant to nimble team cultures. People would have strongly emerging growth mindsets, whatever their vocational focus or exploration. They would be fluent in defining good together, engaging and growing their goodness and the goodness of others. They would be comfortable in the commons and know how to contribute with integrity, inclusion and initiative. 

They would have spent a generous amount of time knowing the industries, professions or crafts they seek to engage their talents in. They would have already spent time interning that produced portfolios of work samples and stories that prepare them to start work immediately as a contributor.

This implies that all levels of education programs would be designed to make all of this possible. Growing would happen through actual work and engagement in a variety of growth contexts and media. If it takes completely changing how educators are equipped and education is designed, that's exactly what needs to happen. Education contributes value to society and communities when it operates from this good.

The possibility of alumni networks

The beauty of networks is the fact of their existence. Many people who leave organizations continue weak and strong ties in networks of organizational alumni. Many people continue to grow in all kinds of wonderful ways.

Organizations have two choices. They can act as if they don't exist, or they can nurture the growth of these networks and tap into the rich resources for its growth. This can be done by any teams. It doesn't have to be a centralized or formal function. It's an incredible gift to engage rather than deny.

Is turnover a valid metric?

Loyalty is a classic value in patriarchy based organizations. It's the parent-child trade of security for compliance. It's no longer a viable deal, given that most people know organizations that demand loyalty feel no reciprocal obligation to its employees. 

In slow organizations, the culture of permission inhibits the growth of people. When people don't grow, they stick around because they don't feel prepared to move onto new challenges. Lack of turnover in these situations is more lack of passion for growth. It's the logic that if we somehow get people to lose passion for growth, they won't grow beyond their job.

Nimble organizations and teams hold growth as a prime metric of success. When people feel free and supported to grow, they can stay around longer because their work is an opportunity space for growth. They can also move onto new opportunities for growth elsewhere. 

The conversation needs to not be about what the turnover and stickiness numbers are, but rather what they represent, and most importantly what problems do we want to have as a nimble organization.

Can we entrust teams with decisions?

As real time information and experience based knowledge is more distributed and accessible, teams are in the position to make good decisions quickly and well. If there is a nimble culture of trust within the team, the team can be smarter than any single decision maker.

Entrusting teams is possible when they gain clarity in how to make realistic decisions together. It doesn't take long, and is simply giving them decision recipes and practice.

 

 

 

The tyrany of team personalities

Before teams grow in alignment and velocity, they are dominated by the tyrany of personalities. If the chemistry of personalities is good, the team can do well, as long as this chemistry continues. If the chemistry is bad, the team will suffer and struggle in slowness. 

One of the classic indicators of slow team cultures is that people blame the personalities of team members and/or leaders for their slowness and all the karmic characteristics of slowness like fragmentation, disengagement and team learning disability.

The more nimble teams become, the less relevant personality differences become as points of blame. The more everyone engages each person's differences in goodness.