Graphic of many lines of ‘shaking hands’ emoji
Graphic of many lines of ‘shaking hands’ emoji

Why it’s up to you to facilitate your colleagues’ dealing with change

Having previously been exposed to practices of agility through your work, on the pandemic-induced level playing field of distributed collaboration, you have a key advantage: as a PO, developer, analyst, tester, you already know that change is a given, and you’ve got the tools to iteratively deal with it. Help others do so, too.

🗣 This article is a companion piece to my conference talk Facilitating Intentional Agility from Home, delivered at Agile Tour Vilnius 2020.

Stepping up to the plate

Even if you’re the biggest anti-agilist on your team, or if you think that all meetings are a waste of time — as long as you’ve had any experience with regular inspection and adaptation: this is it. You’re up.

Like it or not, you have more experience than your colleagues in other departments in adjusting to changes in small steps. That’s an advantage, and with effort to connect to colleagues at an all-time low through the magic of video calls, you must use this advantage to help yourself and your colleagues thrive.

Assist each other to reframe “paralysing disruption via global pandemic” as just another circumstance to inspect and adapt to: put some normal into all of that much touted New Normal. Small adaptations can bring about big differences and the thing is, you don’t need to wait for anyone’s permission to start adapting together.

You’re already used to delivering shippable results, and to inspecting both how you did that and what comes of it. What you have to do now, is help others recognise the first experiment to conduct in order to proceed.

All you need is a bit of facilitative practice.

Facilitating Intentional Agility

I’ve said, and heard others say, that the COVID-19 situation can be a catalyst for agility. That’s fine, if being agile is your goal. For our purposes here, it isn’t, or not exclusively, so forget about the distraction-ridden rabbit hole of agility as a purpose.

My main and obvious argument is that in turn, agility can be a catalyst for dealing with COVID-19’s disruptions. The core tenets of inspecting and adapting can be applied to any level of your collaboration.

Especially in a situation with little in the way of certainty, it is important to do so with intent: increasing the awareness of why and how we do particular things.

That’s where facilitation comes in. Defined as “The act of helping other people to deal with a process or reach an agreement or solution without getting directly involved in the process, discussion, etc. yourself,” it is essentially making happen that things happen.

Facilitation is an activity, and a skill to be trained. Being a facilitator is not necessarily a job, nor is it a position to be occupied by one person; it is a role anyone might fulfill. Much like leadership, facilitation is situational.

Where I take the barest essence of agility to be inspecting and adapting, the barest essence of facilitation, to me, is actively keeping an eye on the goal.

That means that you can facilitate your team’s next conversation, you can help bring about calmness in meetings by increasing focus, you can gently cut through off-topic fluff to help everyone stick to their joint purpose. You can make space for voices that aren’t heard just by asking out loud if there are more perspectives we might consider. And so forth.

Explicit statements will help you inspect

Help yourselves by turning implicit expectations into explicit statements. That way, you have something to concrete to test and hold on to — later, you can assess the impact of your actions to iterate upon your work and the way you’ve done it together.

Your colleagues from other departments won’t be used to this, but you already know how to do it. Take stock periodically and adapt your plans. Retrospective questions you may have considered trite for years, can have newfound power now that everyone needs to reinvent their work. Intentionally facilitated agility can have an even higher impact in light of drastically changing circumstances without an end in sight.

TL;DR — Change, for good

Being explicit, setting expectations, iterating on all aspects of our work — these are things we can do, all by ourselves, all together. It’s rare for our individual actions have this direct an effect on our collective results. It’s like washing your hands and keeping your distance to stay alive together, only for having meaningful collaboration in the workplace.

We have a tremendous opportunity to help each other make practical sense of radically changing circumstances; especially those of us with any sort of agile experience. There’s great room for human-centric and question-driven work, if we facilitate each other’s inspection and adaptation.

Start today.

Thomas van Zuijlen is a passionate facilitator and an agile practitioner, working as a professional Scrum Master and occasional quiz host. His weekly newsletter on facilitation, agility and development is called 📬 The Backlog.

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Facilitator & Scrum Master

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