Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Do yo' Dojo?

One of the major bits of my personal development has been through coaching dojo's, which were first run by Helen Meek from RippleRock.

Taken from martial arts a dojo is a place for practice. How we use them is not much different - it is where we practice coaching.

Just like a real dojo a coaching dojo is a special place and it needs to be cared for. In a coaching dojo:

* We create a safe space - nothing is judged, nothing is shared with others
* We are all learning and mistakes are inevitable
* We turn up on time!

The setup works best with one host and 3 participants, 2 is OK as well. 1 hour sessions work well, you can expect to be pretty tired at the end of one!

We often focus a session on a particular coaching method. Starting with GROW feels right and is a simple method for people to understand and use for the first time. We usually include an intro for first timers to help them understand what coaching is and is not - discussing the difference between coaching, teaching and mentoring often helps people understand.

Through multiple sessions, once people have enough practice in one method you can then introduce more: SARA, OSCAR, CIGAR, 5 Whys etc.

We ask people to come with a problem. Ideally this will be current and real, something you need help with. Alternatively, you can go back to a situation you have already been through and maybe had some sort of resolution to. The key thing is that it is real for you. You can role play but it is just not the same, you are welcome to have your own opinion.

In a timebox of your choosing (7 - 10 mins) you have a coaching session. Someone volunteers to be the coachee (the one with the problem) and someone to be the coach. Everyone else is an observer, writing notes is a great idea allowing you to play back your observations in sequence. It is important to feedback both good AND bad since both perspectives are required. Suggestions are always welcome.

You allow the coach to complete their session and then the host gathers feedback. We ask the coachee for their perspective as well as the coach and the observers, including the hosts. It is somewhere in these perspectives that you learn what works and where you can improve.

Swap the roles round and repeat as many times as you can in your session.

In running these sessions, we have found there is no one type of person who benefits - everyone who has attended these sessions has found them useful irrespective of role. There is a lot that can be said about people taking the time to learn how to listen and ask 'powerful' questions....

For me personally, I have a tendency to solutionise. This led to me asking closed questions very frequently which is not helpful for the coachee. I was also pretty terrible as listening, often steering a conversation to where I wanted it to go rather than where the coachee needed it to go. Had I done this with a 'real' person I fear I would have done more harm than good.

True Story: In an effort to show me how many closed questions I was asking, Helen once simply responded 'no' to each one. It was brutal. Having said 'no' for most of the session, it was pretty obvious what I needed to improve. It was only through coaching sessions did this happen even though I had read several books and been to several meetups about coaching.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Diversity in thinking about Diversity

There has been a lot of talk of diversity in tech. This has been building for a while which is awesome, specifically around women in tech. I can still remember when it was inconceivable that you could be a software engineer without a degree of some kind. Although the movement is glacial, there is movement which is one reason to be cheerful.

I had a pause to think about diversity recently. I have worked in all male teams and there is definitely a different energy. When there is a mix it feels different - it's not something that I can explain but I can recognise it even if I can't explain it.

What I am a little worried about is that thoughts about diversity seem to stop at gender. What about other types of diversity, which we seem blind to?

How about age? How many 50+ do you have in your team or organisation? Given that we will be working into our 70's, what does that say about our industries view on experience? Where do all the 'old' developers go? If you were to band your developers by age, what would that look like? Are we happy with the diversity of ages that we would find?

I am currently working in a team which speak over 10 languages between them. Lots of people have a different cultural background. This is a great bit of diversity to celebrate! Each person has a different way of communicating, thinking about problems and working with people. I can see differences in how people pair, discuss and even get annoyed. We can all learn something from differing ways of interacting with people.

Where I really started to think was when I thought about neurological diversity, covering conditions such as Autism. I think these are currently labelled incorrectly under disability in most organisations.

Neurodiversity helps us understand that people with Autism, who see and experience the world differently to most people, have natural variations in their physical neurology. I don't identify this with disability. By pulling these into the light of diversity, we quickly see problems with our workplaces.

From the outset, neurodiversity is hampered by our recruitment processes. We typically have a process and for most with Autism this would be a big challenge. There has been some fantastic thinking about by Microsoft, which is well worth a look.

Is it 'the' way it should be done? Probably not - but it's represents people thinking about the barriers in place that are stopping a more diverse workplace. There is a beautiful saying that if you have met one person with Autism, you have met one person with Autism... each person is different so no one approach will work universally.

Most of us find interviews stressful, so thinking this same process would be fit for someone with Autism feels very unfair. At worst, could it be purposely shaping our workplace by stopping certain types of people from being able to join our organisations in the first place?

If we make it though that barrier, I think our workplaces are actually quite hostile. We often work under time pressures, in noisy environments which you cannot control and mandate ways of working that some people may find hard or even distressing. For people who are stressed out by the workplace alone, is it fair to add commercial pressures? What does our responsibility as people manager look like in this scenario?

Taking this further, what about career progression? Do our current methods of assessing people for promotions in an organisation work in a workforce which is purposefully neurodiverse? Certainly matrix style assessments could be so explicit that they effectively rule out career progression for certain people, obviously taking us away from a fair employment culture.

So the next time you hear about embracing diversity, maybe ask a few questions about what people think this is and where is stops for your organisation.

Friday, 6 October 2017


If you have the pleasure of working on a big programme of work, which involves many teams you will have probably encountered a status meeting.

For those from the 21st century, this where a collection of people get together on a regular frequency to share their status with the rest of the group. This usually forms some sort of rag ("RED AMBER GREEN") status which is usually in a huge spreadsheet which is usually accompanied by some words to explain why your status is not green.

If you cannot get rid of this then how about changing the way we deliver the news.

My favourite so far is by dressing in the colour of your status, so you proudly show everyone as soon as you enter the room.

The person asking for this will be able to focus immediately in people wearing red, forget about people wearing green and selectively pick on the more nervous looking oranges.

Who knows, if you all end up wearing green the encounter might only last for minutes freeing the meeting space for less fortunate souls.