April 12, 2017

PUSH – PULL neither works; well, then – “Are we Closed”?


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Herndon, VA – Its late afternoon, my coffee worms in belly, were out, yearning, to get dipped into familiar Tall Pike, at Starbucks, but, only if this retrospective gets over. Team retrospective session has been going on for over an hour, for a 7-member team; seriously! My contribution was at minimal, as this was my first Friday at a new client.

My task, fix this so called self-organizing team. As I was going through this ritual of listening disgruntled team, my mind wavered to an interesting and a clever signboard, somewhere I don’t recall, I had read a sign, it was about two opposing actions of Push or Pull to open a door of a shop. If either action doesn’t work, “We are closed!”

It is ironic, but conflicts are good for the team, differences are necessary evil for challenge to thrive. These conflicts are akin to my physical workout, conflicts are to be used to shed extra fat, reduce cost, improve quality, improve team dynamics, make team lean and most importantly, inspect and adapt.

To channelize the energy created from team conflicts, team retrospect sessions are one of the viable medium and provides conducive forum to prepare teams to be better at their jobs. This enables teams to go through different cycles of maturity. Wonder, why some change management institute has not come up with team maturity certification akin to Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI).

But, NO, they dare not create a maturity model for a self-organizing team, as they will have to deal with people. People behavior is not a repeatable process, people are not robots. Hence Chief Information Officer (CIO) and their supporting leadership has a very important role to play. CIO office will be well served to differentiate types of conflict teams experience and to have a plan for helping the team move forward.

CIO office has to understand difference are inevitable when passionate people work and challenge. Conflict can be constructive as long as it is managed and dealt with directly and quickly. Policies and practices laid out by CIO, gets the ball rolling on inter as well as intra team dynamics. It provides tools to local leadership, to resolve conflict when it does happen, and also work actively to manage it, disallowing the situation to get out of hand.

CIO office’s clarity in providing guiding principle with policies and practices, ensures to maintain a healthy and creative team atmosphere. The key is to remain open to other people’s ideas, beliefs, and assumptions. My bias towards Agile methods and tools are natural, a practicing Agile coach, I look at team, differently, I look at them as a fighting unit, unified in mission and goals. Self-organizing to achieve higher value for customer.

Am I sounding idealistic? The point here is, conflict is universal, use any methods or tools. Conflicts are within school soccer teams, and as people grow up, they grow up with same bad habits that they learned in the school soccer team. These bad habits grow with age, some of them is pushing team members to gain over positions, strategies or opinions, or pulling away from team members by, acting in mistrust or conduct uneven communication.

This Push and Pull occurs in the “dissatisfaction” stage of team development. The bad habits surfaces, when the team recognizes the discrepancy between what is expected of them and the reality of getting it done. This is not a pleasant stage. What is it “are we Closed”?

CIO’s can choose to ignore it, later complain about it, or even worse, blame someone for it, and then try to deal with it through hints and suggestions; and attempt to broker a resolution through common negotiation techniques like BATNA i.e. Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement. or some kind of truce, compromise between waring egos within a team. This truce is a hotch-potch understanding not to see the daylight.

It’s clear that conflict has to be dealt with, but the question is how: it has to be dealt with constructively and with a plan, otherwise it’s too easy to get pulled into the argument and create an even larger mess. Success of agile transformation is to promote conflict in healthy environment, with identifiable policies and practices actively promoted by self-conscious leadership, determined to think for betterment of the organization as a whole.

If Push and Pull exist in the organization, would a CIOs assume, “We are Closed”? Well not for me, it is not a ‘door’, it’s my team & I need to fix it. I walked through the door and grabbed my Tall Pike. I smiled to myself, I knew, I had plans for my team.


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