Is the Scrum Master best placed to be the meta-knowledge champion?

Business Psychology is evidence-based. In other works ‘good’ science. We move away from ‘fads and fashions’ and have an open-minded curiosity about what works; and carefully examine how it works and in what settings- using the scientific paradigm or range of methods to these ends.

So, with that in mind, this week a pod on the British Psychological Society (BPS) website caught my interest as it links to my previous blog, from last week, around moving teams from ‘good to great’. The BPS presenter, Christian Jarrett, does a genuinely fab job of bringing these insights to life.

Firstly, he interviews Dr Julija Mell (from the Essec Business School), and she says that meta-knowledge is “knowing who knows what in the team”. Of course, this does not have to be a Scrum Master although that type of role is quite well placed. You will be reminded that in most IT teams Scrum Masters do not have any line management responsibilities as they are by definition, a Coach. Being a really good Coach is an excellent example of a meta-knowledge champion. You ought to have the time, skills and knowledge to really get a sense of the breadth and depth of each individual. A decent Coach should get to know the team members experience, knowledge, training, interests and strengths. In this way, the evidence is encouraging that you significant leverage to underpin higher degrees of collaboration,   cooperation and team performance. Good news indeed!

But there’s an implicit point in here: and this is having the time, and Coaching training. Of course other roles might have those skills (e.g. a technical lead or a project manager) but this assumption should be tested!

This review of this applied research is fascinating. What we learn is that helping the team members to get to know what they each bring to the team (and I would advocate both technically and as team players too by using a strengths based approach) the team start to broaden their cognitive or knowledge ‘map’ of the total team. In psychological terms their decision-making and problem solving space enriches.

Christian Jarrett then turns his attention to the ‘extra miler’ or the team player that goes beyond the ‘call of duty’ for the team’s objectives. To explore this point he interviews Dr Alex Fradera who shares research that the ‘extra miler’ has a massive  influence (or what we might say a disproportionate positive impact) on the team. This is because they are influencing the team in a significant way; and the good news is that this seems to be a strength that can be carefully (i.e. psychologically) identifiable. And of course, with peer award and reward systems this distinct attribute should be one that is rightly celebrated.

However, there is also a counter-intuitive point too. (I love counter intuitive points as they underscore even more importantly why Psychology is a social science and not simply the latest book at the Airport!); and this is around distribution of star players or the ‘extra milers’. The evidence is that it is best not to have them all in one team; but rather distribute them across all your teams- such is the positive impact they can have. This is akin to the Pareto 80:20 Law. Why? The researchers suggest this is because they are in effect role modelling to the team. In this way, we have the right behaviours as well as the right outcomes. When we have performance appraisal systems set-up that address (perhaps even equally) behaviours and outcomes; this can be an important point. Each team would benefit from both a decent Scrum master or meta-knowledge Champion as well as an ‘extra miler’ for the reasons detailed above.

Lastly, Christian Jarrett then turns his attention to the physical space for the team to work and collaborate within. He asks Dr Katherine Greenaway (University of Queensland) for her advice. She gently warns against a 1920’s ‘lean stark minimalist’ approach as the research is that these are much less effective. Dr Greenaway shares how the relative meaning of the space is important. This team meaning enhances team outcomes such as creativity, productivity and sharing information. Her basic advice is to ask teams to decorate the space to make it ‘more like home’; to have an input into it; and to make it team-centric rather than the ‘bland, white, and corporate look that reminds us of Apple’.

This again is a fascinating evidence-based point.. It underscores the importance of space. It also means that problem-solving space for daily and weekly Stand-Ups should all be co-created by the team themselves in terms of colour, styles and memorabilia that they jointly contribute together. This is another important point; and one that might run counter to current Corporate trends and fashions?

So, in summary, the evidence is that moving from ‘good to great’ teams you would be do well to carefully consider these key three points:-

  1. A Scrum Master or Team Coach that is the meta-knowledge Champion across the various professions with the skills, time and training detailed
  2. Ensure that each team has an ‘extra-miler’
  3. Give permissions for the Team to co-create their own team space that is meaning for them

Take care Jason

NB:- Podcast Episode credits: Presented and produced by Dr Christian Jarrett. Mixing and editing Jeff Knowler. Vox pops Ella Rhodes. PsychCrunch theme music Catherine Loveday and Jeff Knowler. Additional music Zander Sehkri/Zeroday Productions (via Pond5). Art work Tim Grimshaw.

Insights from working alongside a high performance team: Using strengths

This last week I have being working alongside an IT team helping them to improve their team performance. A key weakness for frameworks like Scrum and Kanban is that they have little to offer in terms of actual team development. Thankfully, being a Business Psychologist one of my own professional areas of interest is team development. I am driven to help individuals and teams to find their ‘optimal performance zone’ to improve the ways by which they collaborate, problem-solve, resolve conflicts, communicate and so-on. Moving them from ‘good to great’ as they say.

I’ve found that taking a team through the Clifton Strengths Finder really helpful. Gallup research has found again (and again) that when people within teams focus on what they do best (i.e. their strengths) then they tend to succeed; perform better and are more engaged.

The Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment has helped people to excel for over 22-years. From top business executives and managers to salespeople, nurses, teachers, students, pastors, and others, millions of people have realized the benefits of leading with their strengths.

In 2001, Gallup introduced the world to the original Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment in Now, Discover Your Strengths. The book became a New York Times bestseller and sold nearly 2 million copies. Its author and creator of the Clifton StrengthsFinder, former Gallup chairman Dr. Donald O. Clifton (1924-2003), was named the Father of Strengths-Based Psychology by the American Psychological Association

 

Gallup have found that individuals that use their strengths regularly are:

  • 6x as likely to be engaged at work
  • 6x as likely to do what they do best every day
  • 3x as likely to have an excellent quality of life

This is an impressive set of results and resonates with my own experiences over the last 16-years.

“So what are my strengths and how do they complement my team?” asked one .net developer a few weeks ago. This is a really good question. It is good because it is framed by curiosity and it also underlies a desire to learn and grow; as well as taking personal responsibility.

The product that I have used the most is the Clifton Strengths Finder (Top 5 strengths).

Gallup Strengths Center Store

I have found that the top 5 is a very accessible introduction. It provides enough data for the individual to make sense of. And then you can easily map each of the 5 strengths for each team member across the total 34 strengths. I use a simple Excel spreadsheet for this purpose.

To give you a flavor of these I’ll include my own Top 5:

  1. Relator: People especially strong in Relator talents forms solid, genuine, and mutually rewarding relationships. Their relationships are close, caring, and trusting.
  2. Input: People with strong Input talents bring tools that can facilitate growth and performance. They love to provide relevant and tangible help to others. Their resourcefulness and curiosity lead them to store knowledge that can be culled and shared.
  3. Intellection: The particular genius of people with especially strong Intellection talents stems from the processing that occurs when they think.When they have time to ponder and process, wisdom and clarity result. They can serve as a sounding board that helps others “stretch” to discover new ways to solve problems or enhance the quality of their work.
  4. Learner: People with strong Learner talents not only love to learn, but they also intuitively know how they learn best. They can learn quickly, and when focused, they can keep a group, team, and organization on the cutting edge.
  5. Connectedness: People strong in the Connectedness theme build bridges between people and groups, showing them how to relate to and rely on each other. They help others find meaning in the unpredictability of the world around them, providing a sense of comfort and stability in the face of uncertainty. Putting it simply, their ability to “connect the dots” from the past, present, and future can give others perspective, guidance, and hope.

As you can see this reveals great insight for each team member and then the total team too. I’ve also noticed that something quite important happens in a team meeting when each member is appreciated for what it is that they bring to the team. It lends itself to what we call an appreciative stance to the work.

It also helps the team make sense of one another in new, novel and fresh ways. In the past it has also ‘released’ key energy and movement for the team too. Next, the team can reflect on any immediate ‘gaps’ across the total 34 strengths. They can question if this strength is needed or important for them? Or, can this contribution/ strength be made by someone else outside of the immediate team? Someone like a Senior Responsible Officer, or a Project Manager etc?

Simply seeing or just acknowledging this point can be quite liberating too! I’ve found in a number of contexts (more especially where there is pressure to deliver) that this ‘reframing’ of the positive contributions of those outside the direct team is very powerful too.

It is fair to say that over the last 16-years of using this strengths-based approach with various teams- across a range of professions- I have been genuinely struck by the practical ways by which it has helped moved teams along in their own unique journey from ‘good to great’. I hope it can help you too?

Take care, Jason

 

 

 

 

Coaching Welsh Directors: Can you pass The Statesman Paradox?

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had several one-to-one personal coaching discussions with Executive Directors in the Welsh public sector. Whilst each session has been deeply personal, different and unique that has been an overarching ‘meta-narrative’ in and between them, that has been bubbling away with my own sense-making. The reality is that I am not quite sure how to fully or properly express this. And, therefore, this blog is my own personal attempt to ‘get it out of my heart’ and on to a page that it may invite challenge, and also help me to write to my-self as a part of my own first-person inquiry process (see Reason & Bradbury, 2002).

Stated briefly, it has struck me how successful leaders are getting ‘stuck’. Each has significant personal strengths which will not come as too much as a surprise given that they are Executive Directors with a median budget of £ 1.1 billion of public sector money. Each of them has strengths around strategic design; personal resilience; influencing and negotiating skills, and political acumen for working in complex, political systems. In the same way, as we review their personal and organisational achievement there are evidence-based success that bring to mind a deep sense of achievement, meaning and pride (in the positive sense) not avarice.

But here comes the thing. It is slightly elusive. These skills, strengths, experiences and values seem to turn in on themselves. But why? The Welsh Government policy framework calls for a new leadership skill. It is a word used often and understood, it seems, just a little. Collaboration. Suddenly, we ask highly competitive, driven, challenging and individual leaders that fully appreciate, and can energise, systems under their ‘span of control’ to drop these skills to the ground.. and surrender their own organisational strategic needs..as we ask them to think, feel and value something very different. Almost odd.

To give this some texture, in my own psychology, I call this the ‘statesman paradox’.

We suddenly ask Directors to start with a fresh, new frame of reference. But it gets more demanding as the question is underpinned by a new value-system too. We get them to ask: What is in the best interests of the citizens of Wales? For clarity-this is just over 3.0 million men, women and children that live in Wales.

The paradox it seems to me is this. To date, each of these successful Directors and CEOs have worked incredibly hard under their own ‘span of control’ and each of them (that I have talked this through with) have a profound internal locus of control too. They are highly skilled at making things happen that fall under their legitimate authority. That is to say, their own organisations. They are fantastic at strategically bringing scarce resources to bring to bear evidence-based outcomes on…their own patch. They are organisers par excellence. Their career paths demonstrate (both to themselves and others) that these skills, strengths and experiences help them to succeed. Therefore to gain promotion, and consequently high credibility, so that you can rise-up ‘through the ranks’ these are the skills you need. You will recognise this pattern I am sure.

But then…and here comes the paradox. At the very ‘pinnacle’ of their careers; we ask them to “give-up their most cherished and deeply held beliefs, values and skills” (as described by one of them recently to me) and do something completely different. Totally at odds. In complete contradiction!

We ask them to start first with a statesman like frame of reference by asking: What is the right thing to do for all the citizens of Wales? In other words: Forget competing for scarce resources for your organisation for just one moment. Forget the embodied value of competition that has successfully brought you to this point in your career. Forget your own span of control; because much of what we are now asking of you will be in other organisations over which you have no control. And, to make matters even more complex, by definition when working at this all-Wales level- you are looking around a room that is full with people with the same set of skills, strengths and values as yourself! Oh my goodness!

When Directors ‘pass this test’ they go through a more or less ‘agonising’ stage in their personal life, in their careers, and in their embodied values. One says it like this:

When I heard the words come from my heart that said I was willing to implement a system that was not in my own organisations self-interest so that other organisations would realise the benefits as well as my own something peculiar had happened. That night I had a sleepless night. I wondered if I had ‘lost my edge’ or that this meant I was becoming weak. It is nine months later and I realise now that this was a marked transition. Am I stronger or weaker? Neither. I simply understand collaboration in a different way. A more profound way.”

It seems to me that any future Welsh leadership development should include this paradox as a key leadership stage of we are to suceed in our ambitions as a devolved Country. I will leave aside, for the moment, of whether there are different values from Welsh ‘home-grown’ talent when compared with other leaders developed from outside Wales- as I think such a debate is a red herring. What we do know, empirically, is that leadership in the main, can be trained, coached and developed. This assertion seems a healthy response. There is, of course, sound evidence that a diverse workforce is a good and worthwhile thing.

As for the question around core cultural/personal values I will explore this for a future blog.