May 16, 2013

If you wish to Empower me talk to me with question marks!?

“I want you to end every sentence with a question mark, do you think you can do that?  Why? Maybe because it’s a small and easy step towards empowerment and it’s also fun?”

In this post I would like to present a magnificent technique I frequently use with scrum teams and with managers as part of an agile coaching towards developing an agile mindset. Whenever I feel the need to emphasize the experience of empowerment while at the same time add some fun and value to the team without dealing with too much ego risks and project risk, I turn to this fun technique.
Well, like many other techniques we use in agile coaching, this one, I believe can also be used with our kids at home or with anyone else. You’ll be amazed how fun and creative it becomes.
First thing first, What is empowerment ?
In one sentence, we can define empowerment as a process where the one with power (that’ll be you, the manager or a parent) gives up some of his power for another (your employee or your children), and at the same time he also maintains his limits and authority. This way BOTH sides grow and gain in strength. In fact, we change from a position of no control, to a position of relative control. The empowerment process strengthens the self-confidence of the one being empowered, in his ability to function, make decisions and complete tasks. (From the Wikipedia article)
Frequently when we start implement agile we talk about empowerment. This concept is not that easy to comprehend, or to act upon. It demands practice, understanding, techniques, coaching, confrontation with verity of challenges and it takes time. It often comes to my attention that a day workshop and some games may only introduce some tools that may be later use for empowerment, but it does not mean that the students will know how to use it in a verity of challenges that their day to day supply them.
Well, you may say , this is why you are there. Isn’t it?
Right again I answer; I see my duty as an agile coach to supply tools fits to the stage of learning, organization and atmosphere. Those tools should also be easy to use. But my main goal is to be able to supply the scrum master, team and mangers with such tools that allow ongoing and a true firsthand experience according to subjective challenges.
This is exactly what talking with question marks does.
And what if there is no coach around? This is one of those tools you can easily use by yourself J
So how do we do it?
1.    Usually I use this game during daily sessions of a scrum team. A team that I already have a fierily good buy-in with , but still  are in the early stages of the agile mindset where empowered is not yet understood.
2.    I will ask the Team leader or the scrum master to start talking with question marks.
(It depends on my insight as a coach whether we will have the entire team talking with question marks or will it be just the scrum master assignment)
3.    Then, obviously I give some examples at first. (Remember the “I do , we do , you do” learning technique ? This is the “I do” - step )
·         “I think this and that, what do you think?”
·         “I it will be good for our goal that you start working on this task… what do you thin?.”
·         “Who’s next? Do we have any impediments?”
·         “And so on..
4.    During the meeting I will guide the scrum master/ manger or the team and encourage them to use the technique, sometimes even correct a sentence to a question form. (Remember the “I do , we do , you do” learning technique ? This is the “We do” - step )
5.    I will even write a big question mark on the team white board. So it will remind them the assignment at hand.  (Remember the “I do , we do , you do” learning technique ?  This is a preparation to the  “you do” - step )
6.    The team next assignment is to use this technique when they communicate, first during the daily session and next in other forms of communication. (Remember the “I do , we do , you do” learning technique ? This is the “You do” - step )
I will usually asked, how was it for them? What did they learn from this drill?
I will check upon them again in few days and see if they had a chance to “play the game “again.
If not, why? If yes, why?
***We may elaborate this session asking the entire team to talk with question marks. We may also ask them to return a question to a question for 2-3 times. The options are endless.
Using this fun technique I learned that:
·         The team likes it. It’s light, easy, productive and fun. I got very good feedbacks from managers and scrum masters that used it, that it improves their ability to learn more, its easy and doesn’t demand any special “psychology craft” skills.
·         It’s so easy to use that it holds almost no resistance.
·         As a team member you don’t lose the sense of control when someone makes decision over matters that affect your performance and goals.  In fact you gain the sense of power,  when you require to answer and to bring your opinion over matters that should affect your performance.
·         The feedback is immediate. The person who asks the questions sees the feedback right away and the information starts to flow better and with better cooperation.
·         The team leader, that needs to answer everything with a question mark, is denied from giving a direct order as a reaction to a team member issue. This teaches him to think first, then to listen, then to get the feedback. This teaches the importance of listening and gives him firsthand experience of the first step of empowerment.
·         Since the assignment is part of a team session, and introduced as a game and Team members are aware of it, it’s easier to the team leader to go along. After all it’s just a game.
·         It becomes a fun session.
·         The issues raised are a true day to day challenges with the real actors and the real need to solve real problems. It’s not just another workshop simulation.
·         No one listen to us? They listen now.  We ask, and we listen, and most of all, as team member, someone is asking us and listening to what we have to say. The one, who is asked, gets a proper attention. We want to hear what he thinks. It brings our opinion out to the air where in other circumstance team members will not be able to say nothing till it accumulate into a  burst of anger.
·         When opinions are out to the air, it enhanced decisions making and makes it easy to solve problems. Especially when we add the rule to answer a question with another question.
Trying this at home with our kids has almost the same effect.
With kids, it’s even more fun. I will usually start first to get into a fun mood by having a good laugh on that technique using variation of questions.
The parent learns to listen, the kids learns to answer and the same advantages happens here as in the workplace. Just replace the words “team members” with “our children” and the words “manager, team leader or scrum master” with “a parent” in the section above. J
So try it, you’d be amazed how fun and easy it is.

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