Raising passion at work

In addition to having passion for our work, passion in work grows when we know others know and connect with our emerging passion. This is what would like to explore or make possible in the next couple years.

We can take a few minutes quarterly to go around to inquire about the current state and shifts everyone's dreams. These can be as simple as their interests. Each conversation energizes passion levels at work.

What do you want to listen for?

Before we go into any important conversation, it's useful to anticipate what we want to listen for. Each point of listening is an inquiry for deeper understanding, idea seeding and assumption testing.

The only mistake is being only or more prepared for what we want to say and get from others. If we want to optimize the power of the conversation, this puts us in a position of weakness. 

We give ourselves the advantage of perspective when we are intentional in our listening.

The principles behind the Agile Canvas conversations

The 4 Agile Canvas conversations have power because of the principles behind them. 

Dreaming: The depth of our passion is equal to the length of our vision 

Clarity: The tempo of our dreams is equal to the rate of our questions 

Gifts: The scope of our success is equal to the engagement of our talents and resources

Doing: The momentum of our progress is equal to the cadence of our actions 

In business as unusual, these principles inspire and organize the process with unique power to keep us continously focused, realistic, aligned and productive. 

How much of growing nimble teams is about changing people?

It makes logical sense to many of us. If we want people to do better, we have to help them change. One small problem. People do not trust people they think have an agenda of changing them. People who are untrusted have no power to help people change. 

We see people grow all the time. In each case, it's when they have engaged their goodness in new ways. If someone has eight abilities and qualities that add to their goodness, there are over 40,000 different ways they can combine these for growth.

Growth is not a matter of "changing" people. It's a matter of giving them the freedom and support to keep creating new combinations for new levels of performance and possibility. 

Rethinking accountability

There are any variety of reasons people on teams would perform or interact at low levels. On the short list:

  • They feel their work is by command and control and they have no passion for obedience in parent-child relationships
  • They have little or no passion for the work
  • They feel not valued, undervalued or devalued and feel pessimistic about changing this
  • They don't have the self-discipline or emotional maturity to perform and interact well
  • They have no tolerance for uncertainty and see anything more than it takes to "look good" or "stay off the radar" as a risk to creating intolerable uncertainty. 

Lecturing, pressuring and threatening people has no power over any these. Skillful coaching does.

The primacy of big picture literacies

Each team in organizations optimally performs and grows when everyone shares big picture marketing, financial, operational and technical literacies. Organizational leaders in these areas make sure knowledge in these areas stays transparent, digestable and accessible by teams. Team leaders help their teams form and pursue their questions about the status on each area.

People only contribute to a big picture to the extent they know it and keep up with it. People can't contribute if they lack real time clarity in the organization's markets, finances, operations and technologies. 

Organizations that don't make this a priority maintain slow cultures of micromanaging that keep engagement and growth low. Teams flourish when they have big picture literacies.

Mindful listening

Listening has as much with what not to do as it does with what to do. More later on the what to do list. On the short list of not to do: Interrupting, tech distracting, assumption holding, conversation hijacking, dominating, personalizing, lecturing, criticizing, counter-attacks and defensiveness.

In mindful listening, we create space by noticing when temptation for these come up and simply return to listening. People feel heard and have the possibility of hearing us and others. 


Walking around a problem

Problems are bundles of uncertainty and ambiguity. Solving for any kind of problem is an unbundling of the questions implied. There are always more unknowns than knowns. 

Naming all the questions we can is what it means to walk about a problem. Each new perspective reveals new possibilities of clarity in understanding and action. Curiosity unfolds a realistic understanding of the possibilities and actions. 

This is the opposite of attacking a problem with the brainstorming  of opinions, solutions, counter opinions and counter solutions. These are often assumption based and therefore sources of confusion rather than clarity. Clarity is the result of curiosity, one iteration of new questions at a time.


Does it (really) matter if people grow together?

Teams that grow together reach new levels of performance and possibility. The velocity of new levels is equal to the velocity of their growing together. 

It is an insane superstition to expect teams to perform better without growing together. This is expressed in the declaration that teams "don't have time to grow" given the pressure we exert on them. This is the dyslogic that if teams take time to grow, they're not doing their work, getting behind and making their numbers worse. It is profound ignorance about the relationship between growing and performing. 

Until leaders get clear that, when it comes to team performance, growth has power that pressure lacks. If a team doesn't know how to grow, it doesn't matter how many goals we impose on them, how much time we invest in the distrust of holding them accountable, how many lectures and motivational talks we send them through and how many mission and vision and value statements we wallpaper the organization with.

All that matters is growth.

What to do with new ideas

In every organization, new ideas emerge in a variety of forms: as problems, opportunities, solutions, breakthroughs, questions and disruptive possibilities. In an idea friendly culture, there can certainly be more new ideas than capacity to explore, learn from or fulfill them.

In the triage of ideas, there are some basic options.


Some are action ready. We just need to implement them as they are. We have the optimism, resources and talent to put them into practice.


Some need to be tested in iterations from minimal viable products to fully formed and implementation ready forms.


Some need to be developed through the 5 Growing Ideas strategies into more functional, problem-free, constraint-responsive approaches 


Some have promise and any number of open questions including technical, operational, financial, marketing and strategic questions.

Dependency cue

Some can only happen after other conditions, resources or talents are available. We keep an eye on these as possibilities open up for them to move forward.



Team sync

From "The Growth Imperative: Reimagining the Future of Work"

The churn of uncertainty and ambiguity in any workplace today is dizzying, unpredictable and impossibly managed by any one person.

In nimble teams, we manage the constant of uncertainty and the opportunity of ambiguity by staying in sync. Being in sync is alignment in timing, made possible by freedom in communication and coordination. Sync creates connection. It makes new levels of clarity in our work more possible.

On the communication side of the equation, everyone shares in real time what they know and need, what they're starting and working on, what's changing for them and what they're delivering. People who need any kind of clarification ask for it when they need it.

Coordination sustains alignment among multiple people working on a single deliverable. When things are well coordinated we work from agile and shared understanding of what doneness is for each deliverable, who's working on which parts and how dots need to be connected.
Sync is a challenge in slow teams because the need to work by permission keeps everyone's focus self- centered. Lack of sync in slow cultures is further exacerbated by the slow practices of emails and meetings.

When we're in sync, no balls get dropped. Nothing waits for something else. No one depending on a deliverable wonders about its status or the shared definition of doneness. Handoffs are smooth and optimally timed for momentum toward on time delivery.

Everyone is always on the same agile page, anticipating and responding to any changes that occur along the way.

Teams grow in their capacity for being in sync by growing in the use and mastery of virtual tools, mutual agreements and real time communication and coordination practices.


Why teams need to work from agreements

According to a recent HBR piece on work stress, 92% of work stress stems from team dynamics. Studies show stress occurs at the intersection of unilateral expectations and perceived lack of control. 

The antidote to both is the use of agreements, specifically ones that address the more tension inducing dynamics. The article doesn't outline an approach, however it isn't complicated. All it takes is crafting and testing proposed agreements related to what matters to us as we work together. 

Not everything needs to be a formal agreement. Some alignments can be understanding or promises.

Attention: the secret to team sync

Team velocity and momentum is directly related to everyone being in sync on a day to day basis. Sync is attention. We're in sync when we pay attention to the nature and timing of what everyone is working on, so we can optimally coordinate and collaborate work and communication. 

This comes from the question: As we work together what should we be paying attention to? This creates a mindful team. Nimble teams are mindful teams.


The essential difference between nimble and slow teams

The core difference between nimble and slow teams is their relationship to uncertainty. 

In slow teams, there is intolerance for uncertainty. Success is a lack of failure. Uncertainty is seen as a risk to success. The priority is on the illusion of predictability through approved roles, rules, plans, agendas and goals. This culture of approval is what keeps slow teams risk-averse, reactive and slow to respond.

Nimble teams see uncertainty as inevitable and vital for growth. Success is growing together. The priority is on freedom to define the good we care about together and to engage each other's goodness in realizing the good we seek. This freedom is what gives nimble teams their velocity, alignment and agility.

The creativity-trust magic

Creativity in teams requires trust. When we can depend on each other to help grow ideas we are less apt to self-filter unfamiliar, different and essentially untested and unproven ideas. We have more space to listen and inquire, discover and explore.

When we don't have to fear ridicule for raw and undeveloped ideas, we have the patience of courage. When we don't have to compete to win over others, what we create together is richer than what we could create in isolation or opposition. We experiment with those we trust. 

Trust grows as we share understanding, promises, agreements, storytelling, connecting conversations and growing together.

When it comes to being more creative together, we don't need training as much as a growing culture of trust.

The power of realistic expectations

We trust realistic expectations. We trust others who have realistic expectations. We mistrust unrealistic expectations and those who have them.

In the growth realm, realistic expectations have to do with progress. Progress is by definition actionable. It only requires what goodness, resources and opportunities we already have. Making progress releases the motivation chemical of dopamine in our brain, which energizes us for continued clarity and momentum.

Progress is possible in aspect of growth, individually and together as teams. 

Progress is in no way short view focused. Our best progress is inspired by our longest view definitions of the good we seek.

The first 100 days

My amazing serial entrepreneur friend, Doug Craver, likes to help new hires work from a 100 day plan. By design, he makes it feel more like a successful launch than a probationary period. 

The plan can be a beautiful way for people to discover the work to be done, the alignments already active in their team, the ecosystem of talents and networks of resources. Others on the team help inspire, inform and adapt the plan as onboarding and enculturation unfolds. Of course it can and should begin with what would be good on day 100 and what goodness the new hire brings to the table. Growing questions are quickly defined and used to give shape to each of the 100 days.


The wisdom of simple

A recent HBR piece talks about how, in defining core leadership competencies, Microsoft went from the exhaustive complication of 100 essential skills to the elegance of three principles: create clarity, generate energy, deliver success.

Complicated makes growth inaccessible. It's obnoxious and an effective albeit paradoxical strategy for sustaining the status quo, which is what slow organizations do to preserve the illusion of certainty and keep uncertainty at arm's length.

Yours might be different. Three things are good. In nimble organizations we grow together when we continuously expand clarity about the good we seek, the goodness we have and how we can experiment with new ways to engage our goodness for good. 

The relativity of "best practices"

The declaration of something as a "best practice" begs for curiosity about best where, when, how, for whom with what adaptations required? 

The reality is, with so many people daily experimenting with new practices under the radar, it's literally impossible to know at any point in time the best, worst and most mediocre practices around. 

This is cause for boundless exploration and openness to discovering what other organizations and team find better for them. All of the nimble team practices described in "The Growth Imperative" have many times over proven to be better practices for a variety of organizational applications. 

The key to adopting better practices is experimenting from curiosity not implenting from assumption that use contexts don't really matter. 


How much freedom do (and should) teams have in their work?

Freedom is a big deal. It's a prime factor in why nimble teams largely outperform and out innovate slow teams.

In slow teams, the culture of permissions leaves people feeling untrusted to take and share initiative. And so they don't and that significantly impacts team velocity, tempo, agility and recovery.

Nimble teams are cultures of growth. People feel entrusted to take and share initiative on all dimensions and scales of team performance and growth.

There are two simple ways to start understanding how much freedom people feel in their work.

One is to ask them. When in your work  do and don't you feel free to initiate, communicate, ask, question, decide, change, and include others? Where they don't feel free, or have doubts or concerns about their freedom, they will fail to take action required for strong team velocity, tempo and growth.

Another way is to observe them. Whatever we see people not doing, or doing after permission or assignment, it's a signal they might not feel free. What they postpone, do reluctantly or with resistance is another signal of not feeling free.

Creating clarity about where people should feel entrusted can go far to release them from the confusion of assumptions and misunderstandings. Supporting people to be more entrusted frees them up to be a more nimble team together. 

If we want teams to be and stay slow, we just skip these assessments and interventions. If we want nimble teams, we do whatever we can to help them feel and act with a more expansive sense of freedom in their work.

At the same time, freedom works when alignment exists. Alignment grows as people define their desired future together, when they know and engage their goodness and when they work from presence, promises and agreements. Teams become more nimble when they equally grow their capacity for freedom and alignment.