Friday, October 24, 2014

Organizational Change with Transparency and Inclusion

The deputy CIO heard about my session on removing blame and requested that I facilitate the session with the management team. During the session I had the management team surface blame that existed in the organization. The responses were grouped and through dot voting we prioritized what should be focused on. They then got into small groups and worked on perfecting an idea for change on the highest-ranked topics. The session was well received. The group wanted more time to create action plans to implement the ideas, but we ran out of scheduled time and the deputy CIO wanted to share the results of the employee satisfaction survey.

The survey results showed that scores for one area was very high and another very low, most enjoyed their teams but management was failing at communication and many would leave for just a little more compensation. The next steps were for managers to share the results with their staff and find out more so action plans for improvement could be made. I subsequently asked how would this be done to foster safety? The deputy CIO then requested I partner with her to do this.

My recommendation was for me to facilitate workshops since I was not a part of leadership for each survey group. The workshops would exclude anyone who has a direct report but we would have a separate session for managers. The workshop would be designed to share what we learned from the surveys, get insight on what concerned employees, and identify what change employees wanted to see.

I advised the deputy CIO to open the workshops so employees understood that this initiative was supported from the top and that they were intimately involved and invested in this learning exercise to help bring about positive change that is of value to employees.

The deputy CIO summarized for each group what was learned including the positives and the concerns of employees; informed the groups the purpose of being there; and outlined the session goals and next steps.

I was introduced as the facilitator and the deputy CIO departed. I armed them each with a pad of sticky notes and a marker and let the group know that I would ask them "powerful questions" aimed to gather insights into where they are unsatisfied and what keeps them happy. They were asked:

  • What does better communication look like? Describe how that would look.
  • What do you need from your manager in order to feel supported?
  • What keeps you here?
  • What makes you want to leave?

I had the group "silently brainstorm" by writing one thought per sticky note and then collectively group the like thoughts for each question, name the group, and share the patterns.

Lastly I inquired "What would make things immediately better for you?" and  had them perform the same exercise. They got into self organizing groups for each improvement category then created a proposal for change which each group submitted before departing. It was also reiterated that their proposals for change will be reviewed for common themes among all workshops with leadership and we would let them know which ones were chosen in about a month.

After each workshop I immediately recorded the feedback for each question with the category the groups placed them in, as well as, the proposals for immediate change. The sticky notes were all shredded and recycled for anonymity.

I reviewed the individual feedback for each question and the proposals from each small group for each session with the deputy CIO. Upon this review and with the knowledge that each group desired more inclusion, it was decided to share all actionable proposals with participants from all workshops and to have them collectively vote on if a proposal should be implemented. Like proposals were then grouped with a small team that had the delegated authority to determine if a proposal was actionable. The proposals that were not actionable were set aside. Duplicate/similar proposals were combined.

I used the site Tricider to post each proposal as options to adopt. Votes were allowed to be cast with their real name or a pseudonym. Participants could vote for as many as they desired, post arguments for or against each proposal, and add additional proposals. Some proposals that were not actionable reappeared but we left them up there and the employees debated them by adding arguments. In the end there was a clear top four proposals which we would not disenfranchise voters by choosing something else but wanted to continue our quest for transparency and purposeful change by inclusion.

At the management forum I summarized what has been done and identified the top proposals which covered roles, salary, training, and communication. I then had them self-organize into committees to develop action plans for each proposal which everyone wanted to make sure employees were involved in its development. Subsequently, the deputy CIO communicated to all staff that action plans would be developed for the top four voted proposals and committees have been established for each of them which they could join if interested.

Up next is to communicate early and often as the action plans progress, as well as, to do all we can to make sure employees are involved in the development and execution of them.

The beginnings of a cultural shift has occurred in these five weeks. Management has become aware of the value of including employees in decisions which will increase transparency, alignment, trust, and communication. Employees are sharing that this process felt safe, has been therapeutic, and how they felt they have a voice. I believe most would characterize this as positive change thus far and it will be exciting to see if the culture of collaboration by partnering with management is adopted.

Follow me on Twitter @_AprilJefferon

See the posts below for more on transforming organizations and teams.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Transforming a Dysfunctional Team: Has it only been 6 weeks?

The DBA team was collocated with the Data Management Services (DMS) team to help build a closer relationship between the two teams and to encourage conversation, collaboration, and pairing so support work can be transitioned in time and without impacting customers.

After one-on-ones with each team member, I quickly realized that the relationships within the DBA team were more than strained and had been this way for a long time. So much so that it was an unhealthy work environment for team members, it impacted the progress on project work and support work; moreover, it affected the quality and speed of customers service.

I consulted upper management with my recommendation that the team not be ignored but instead we take time out to assess the team and its management to see if they could be salvaged with coaching. Since I was already currently busy coaching another team and did not have the bandwidth to coach another team full-time, they paired me with an internal senior manager, Steve. Steve had a history of successfully coaching dysfunctional teams. He collocated with the team and we spent the next week observing, asking questions, and taking notes with the team and management.

The culture of blame overwhelmed this team and management so much so that it was impeding progress of work, relationships were fragile, team ownership was non-existent, team members and management frequently quarreled, the team was not empowered, work was micromanaged, work was not prioritized, work was not visible, there were no WIP limits, a team member was not working at a sustainable pace, there was a lack of communication with team members, and new team members were not on-boarded nor was work transitioned.

In the end we recommended that the team return to a time where all the DBA's were equal to help nurture a team environment along with guidance from coaching and management. I would coach the team on playing to win and being solution-focused, aligning change with canvases, and agile practices to help improve their processes. Steve would pair with me coaching around team dynamics and he would maintain the delegated authority as a interim supervisor for priorities and HR issues.

To allow the team to start owning change, transition meetings for the work from DMS, that the DBAs will now manage, would include all of the DMS and DBA team members.

To set the stage for this transformation Steve and I paired on presenting my session on removing blame with the DBA team. It was difficult to discern how much they retained but we felt there was enough buy-in to share our intent to introduce the concept of a lean transformation canvas to the team and for me to begin developing the strategy canvas with the change agents.

The change agents included their interim manager Steve, other senior management, directors, and the deputy CIO. They collaboratively created, with my facilitation, a shared vision of the DBA team for the next six months with an improvement strategy canvas.

We then designed an interactive workshop with the DBA team to share this strategy canvas with them, get feedback from the canvas, create a team canvas for the next six months, and initiate process improvements through exercises focused on prioritization, pulling work, and visualizing work.

Due to resistance throughout the workshop, one day was spread across three days because of frequent attempts to derail conversation, reluctance to collaborate, and frequent participant disengagement. The team was hobbled by reservations about whether they would have a voice in REAL change and if progress could be made with team dynamics. Despite the struggles, Steve and I remained patient, took the time to answer each question and encouraged when someone tried to disengage.

We believe this contributed to the team walking away with a bit of curiosity, some working agreements, criteria to prioritize their work, a mechanism to visualize their work, a clear vision, and a commitment to try to foster a team environment by the end of the workshop.

For this to actually happen we reiterated that they must own this change and that we will be there to help facilitate conversations to initiate collaboration; however, the goal is for them to self-facilitate, to self-manage, to be solution focused, and to function as a healthy team without oversight.

The team had to commit to taking the time and putting forth the effort to foster these changes. Team dynamics, the culture of blame, dealing with imposed priorities, and process improvements were not going to change overnight. We were going to do this incrementally. Implementing facilitated retrospectives, stand-ups, backlog grooming and planning, and reviews were options the team agreed to learn to help get them there.

Retrospectives allowing the team to start a dialogue about what is working, what's not working, and how can they improve began yielding team agreements despite the persistent resistance of a team member to participate by contributing ideas.

Stand-ups helped the team to start having daily conversations and bring visibility to their work. Moreover it has grown to them pulling work, establishing pairs for work when needed, discussing priorities, bringing visibility to WIP for each team member, identifying items for escalation, focusing on project work, swarming on project work, and discussing process improvements in-time.

The state of the backlog was unknown and many tickets were open for over two years without action. There was no process on how work was pulled and requests got ignored. Planning has helped prioritize work, share ownership of scheduled/repeatable work and identify project stories ready to play next. Those stories came from the story map we built for a project that started a year ago that had not progressed. Grooming the backlog has closed outstanding tickets that were actually completed, estimated and identified tickets that were really projects that should be prioritized and approved, reassigned tickets to appropriate groups, removed 2/3 of a team member's WIP (45 assigned tickets), estimated open support tickets, and reduced the entire backlog by over half.

We have made many incremental changes that has led to small wins. These change experiments only move from a stage of learning once it is a part of the team's culture of how they work.

Still plaguing the team is team ownership of work is not yet accepted and understood, WIP is reduced but limits are not set, and not having a digital kanban board in place to visualize work in-time with a remote team member. There is also a lack of trust due to the history of blame and conflicts among team members which is demonstrated by the spirited confrontations that occur almost weekly.

The team has the potential to flourish and build a reputation for quality service and practices if they desire to move beyond the past, become solution focused, begin to trust one another, and truly commit to work together. The potential is there for this team to become one that other teams desire to emulate.

Follow me on Twitter @_AprilJefferon

For more on transformation canvases go to or checkout my post on Road to Team Transformation: My First 30 Days.