Self-Appreciation Game

At Play4Agile, Olaf Lewitz and I hosted an exploratory session on personal growth hacks. Everyone shared ideas and turned into the self-appreciation game.

Purpose of the Game

The purpose of the game is to give people practice at accepting praise and recognition so that we feel good about our accomplishments and successes. This cultivates our sense of self-worth so that we are more resourceful at work and in our personal lives.

Why Play the Game

In our society there’s rarely room to learn how to accept praise and recognition. We squirm and say “it was nothing” because it feels uncomfortable. We have a hard time seeing our own self-worth and feel this disconnect when we receive praise.

This is a great game to help people and teams become more resourceful so they are able to co-create a more positive environment.

It is very helpful if you are working to create a people-oriented organization.

Game Rules


Form a circle. If you have more than 10 people, consider the option of forming two smaller groups.
Explain the purpose of the game and it’s mechanics.


Self-Appreciation Game
Go around the circle with each person taking turns:

  1. Brag Protocol: Pick something that you are proud of and share it with the group.
  2. Applause: Everyone cheers and claps to celebrate your success.
  3. Soak it in: Let the appreciation soak in like maple syrup in a pancake. Connect deeply and fully with the feeling for 10 to 15 seconds. See Hardwiring Happiness for further explanation of letting in the good.

Go around the circle 2 to 4 times depending on how much time and energy you have.

Game Results

As we went around the circle the connection and trust increased. Everyone left this game feeling awesome.

Why This Game is Important to Me

I am on an epic quest for self-worth so that I can engage with the world from a centered and whole place. So that I carry my own weather around inside me. The game was invented to help me level up on my quest. And it worked. I hope you are interested in similar benefits.


We are deeply grateful to the participants of the workshop who helped co-create and test drive this game.

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WholeHearted Manifesto: We Value People

The WholeHearted Manifesto consists on one value statement:

We Value People. (Period)

People are the driving force behind getting results. This is the secret recipe for success.

We value all people. Our customers. Our peers. But most of all ourselves.

It would be a mistake to think this is fluffy bunny stuff. It’s not. It is the hard stuff that makes all the difference.

Wholehearted Principles

The principles of the Wholehearted Manifesto are:

  1. People happen. Not right, not wrong. They will amaze you.
  2. Awesome outcomes emerge from people who truly connect.
  3. Collaboration is our oxygen: we co-create environments for people to flourish and grow.
  4. We all are on a unique journey and help each other along the way.
  5. We love and celebrate people for who they are.
  6. We are open and honest.
  7. We ask for help before we need it.

If you have any comments, suggestions, or enhancements – please add them on the manifesto page.

Help make a difference

If this message resonates with you – please go sign the manifesto. And please share the message. Let’s move towards a better world.


The manifesto spontaneously emerged during an intense, emergent collaboration session I had with Olaf Lewitz & Christine Neidhardt. We were not seeking this, it just arrived. So I imagine that many other people must be thinking the same thing. So this is a shared idea – not ours. Not anyones.

A wonderful group of people came together to help build the Wholehearted Principles at Play4Agile in Ruchersbach, Germany. Many thanks to:

We would also like to thank Brene Brown who has greatly influenced with her wonderful books and TED talks. She introduced the term “wholehearted” to describe people who are able to fully love themselves and bring joy to those around them.

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Beyond Roles in Scrum

In this post we will explain how we can move to shared responsibility by focusing away from roles in Scrum.

(This is a joint post with Olaf Lewitz).

Build the Right thing. Build it Right. Build it Fast. ?

Henrik Kniberg produced a kick-ass intro video on Agile and Scrum that we use a lot in trainings. It’s titled “Agile Product Ownership in a Nutshell”. It’s a great general introduction to Scrum, not just for Product Owners.

One amazing detail in this video is Henrik’s visualisation that helps understand three project goals and how the three Scrum Roles relate tend to focus on each:

Kniberg Roles
Kniberg Roles

He highlights how Scrum teams continually get better at finding and exploiting the sweet spot, of doing the right thing in the right way at the right point in time.

A Problem with Roles

We were using this model in a training and a participant in a training inspired us with a question: “What if these circles are closer together or further apart? There is no sweet spot any more if they don’t share these responsibilities…”

We noticed that the word “role” is actually not helpful in this context. A role is a “not my problem” rule. (cf Somebody Else’s Problem)

A team employing the traditional “role interpretation” to Scrum roles would look like this:

Somebody Else' s Problem
Somebody Else’ s Problem

They will have a hard time finding a sweet spot on their own, and they might choose doing what they are told: deliver on expectations. Such an environment has a low probability to continually improve.

Roles have been useful in the past, when organisations were structured based on one proven way to do things. In today’s ever-changing business contexts, following an established process, having clear roles and responsibilities, is limiting our options. One example is blame: “He is responsible for that, so it’s not my fault.” When we want to enable a group of people to discover a path to success, having shared responsibility for the outcome, it’s helpful to use a different language that focuses our awareness on the new game we’re playing.

Value Interests over Roles

We want to talk about interests instead of roles:

Interests, Not Roles
Interests, Not Roles
  1. Do the right thing.

  2. Do things right.

  3. Get better and better every day.

Positions not Roles

We may think about positions like on a team: forward, mid-field, defense where we all work together to win. This is a more useful and less limiting model than roles.

In soccer, we’ve seen goalkeepers score in the 92nd minute. When the goalkeeper falls other players help keeping the ball out of the goal. This is the behaviour we want to see in teams.

The Heart of Scrum: Shared Responsibility

When we focus as a group on these shared interests, we may end up as shown below.

Shared Responsibility
Shared Responsibility

As collaboration and shared responsibility increases, teams explore multiple beneficial sweet spots to have an abundance of options for success. We see this as a huge “sweet blob” in the middle where – we call this the Heart of Scrum. For us, this means the group fully works together as a team towards a common goal.


A big thanks for Henrik Kniberg for creating such an awesome and valuable video. We would like to thank Tobias Mayer for inspiring this concept with the People’s Scrum and Krishan Mathis for co-facilitating a session with the same name at OOP.

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How to Hard-Wire Happiness to Develop your Leadership Capacity

Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and ConfidenceWould it be useful to learn how to hard-wire you happiness so that you can be a more effective leader? Or just a happy person? Read on as we explore the key ideas in Rick Hanson’s book Hardwiring Happiness. The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence.

Leadership is about Character

Effective leaders are emotionally aware and work hard and staying in a resourceful, positive, happy place. Character is rolling up your sleeves and doing the hard work of dealing with you own shit. Leaders need to work on themselves before they can really help others.

All major conflicts at work are about Identity according to the Google book Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace). Conflict arises when any of these three questions gets activated:

  1. Am I competent?
  2. Am I a good person?
  3. Am I worthy of love?

So as a leader it is critical that you take care of your own emotional well-being.

Good News! We can Change!

The good news from neuroscience is that are brains are plastic – we can change how they are wired to generate new behaviours and get rid of patterns that are no longer serving us.

Bad News! Negative Events Stick Like Velcro

Our wonderful brains are really, really good and remembering and acting on negative events.

Bad experiences stick like velcro.

Even worse the impact of negative events far outweighs positive events. By 3:1 or 5:1.

So how do we take enough good stuff in to be happy (and great leaders)?

A Recipe for Taking in the Good

Consider the visual note below.

On left, we have a visual summary of the above perspectives.

On the right we have a recipe for taking in the good so that we are resourceful and available when interacting with others.

Hard Wiring Happiness - Taking in the good

Let’s go through the five steps in the recipe for taking in the good.

  1. Identify Negative Experience. Notice your body’s sensations, feelings and thoughts. Get a sense of where the negative feeling is in your body and what it’s about. Don’t fight it – that makes it worse. Just accept it. Acknowledge that it exists. Simply be with it.
  2. Identify the Emotional Antidote. See Emotional Antidote Map for list of antidotes OR ask yourself “What is your heart longing for?” This is the antidote – the positive resource that will help you.
  3. Experience the Antidote. You can remember an experience of the antidote. Or imagine one. Or ask your higher power for help. After that, the next thing is to AMPLIFY the experience to make it more powerful and LET IT SOAK IN like maple syrup into a pancake. This may take practice as we are great at deflecting what we really need.
  4. Daily practice. Take in the positive every day. Focus on the areas where antidotes would be helpful. And then cultivate those antidote. Even small positive experiences add up up – especially when you savour them and let them sink in.
  5. Linking the negative to the positive (optional). This techniques uses strong positive antidote experiences to scramble negative ones so they don’t effect you any more. I learned about this first from NLP 10 years ago and the practice is tricky to get right so suggest you focus on the other parts of the recipe. In my personal and professional practice I don’t use it as I have more effective techniques for integrating negative emotions.

If you haven’t already done so, you will find more details in the related post on Emotional Antidote Map which goes into more details of that antidote part of the process.

Of course this fits in beautifully with anyone interested in the business benefits of an authentic workplace.

I have been using this method (except step 5) with myself, friends and clients. Enjoy.

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Emotional Antidote Map: Identify and Mitigate Negative Emotions

In my last post, The Business Case for an Authentic Workplace, I talked about the economic value in seeing the whole person – including their emotions. But what do we do when people actually have emotions?

In this post, I present a model that helps identify our emotions and provides guidance on working with that emotion to reduce it’s impact. A model like this is helpful navigating a workplace where emotions are no longer hidden.

The model comes from Rick Hanson’s book Hardwiring Happiness. The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence. Rick has used these concepts extensively and the book contains guided activities to connect with emotional antidotes.

My novel invention is the creation of the inforgraphic below that make the process easier to understand and use.

The Emotional Antidote Map

The basic idea is that every negative emotion has a positive emotion that is it’s antidote and will mitigate it.

Emotional Antidote Map

We have three sub-systems in our neurology where emotions show up:

  1. Avoiding Harms
  2. Approaching Rewards
  3. Attaching to Others

For each sub-system, a negative emotion is listed on the left with it’s emotional antidote on the right. It’s called an antidote since it is the specific thing that will help with that negative emotion. For example, if one is feeling alarmed, then the antidotes would be feeling protected, safe and calm.

How to use this

Print out a copy of the map and post it somewhere nearby. Next time you are feeling unsettled:

  1. Use the map to identify the dominant negative emotion
  2. Acknowledge/accept the feeling
  3. Get a feeling of the antidote in your body (to mitigate the negative emotion)

Way to Feel an Antidote

There are several options for bringing the antidote into awareness and fully feeling it in your body (to mitigate the negative emotion):

  1. Remember a past experience.
  2. Imagine an experience.
  3. Ask your higher power or connect with your sense of spirituality.

Once you have practiced on yourself, you may wish to share this with others. Remember the caution from airplane safety procedures: “Take care of yourself first, before assisting another passenger.”

More Resources Don’t help – Only the Right Ones

Only specific antidotes help specific negative emotions. For example, if someone is experiencing failure (rewards subsystem), helping them connect with feelings of safety (avoiding harms subsystem) will not help.

Experience with this Method

I have been using this model for a couple of months and have found it very valuable for helping people identify what emotional challenge they are facing.

I have used it extensively on myself, with colleagues and in a meetup group on authentic connection.

One common observation is that a pervasive negative emotional is often linked to a pattern of ignoring the relevant antidotes. To illustrate with myself, a consistent pattern of dismissing recognition and appreciation fueled a sense of inadequacy and worthlessness. For sure I craved recognition and sought it, but when it showed up I would minimize or discount it. I would say things like “It wasn’t just me – I had help.” “Anyone could have done it.” With my new awareness around this, I now take a 5 to 10 seconds to let recognition be fully felt and registered in my body. It feels good.

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The Business Case for an Authentic Workplace

People are messy: they have personalities and emotions. In this post we explore how we can embrace people’s messiness for advantage rather than have it act as a drag.

Default Business Model is Mixed Engagement

Workers are DisengagedA recent study from Carnegie Mellon Training shows that there are very mixed levels of engagement from workers. See diagram to right.

Current estimates are that staff disengagement cost $11 billion from turnover alone. If we include the costs from low productivity, then $11 billion looks like pocket change.

One challenge with the traditional business model is that it denies people’s individuality and feelings. People put on an “office persona” for how they think they need to be to fit in.

In our workplaces, we do not dare to show our true and whole self. We do not feel welcome, and co-create work environments where sub-optimal results and shared ineffectiveness are normal.

The Authentic Workplace

An alternate model for our work environments is to invite people to show up as themselves – as the wonderful human beings that they are – and fully welcome them.

We might imagine an environment that allow us to:

  • Relate and connect authentically.
  • Share and acknowledge feelings.
  • Trust each other
  • Feel safe
  • Be vulnerable

Typical vs. Authentic Workplace

Consider the following diagram illustrating difference between these models:

Authentic Workplace

In the traditional workplace we create a work identity that is often a shallow project of our true self. Our minds our filled with distractions from our life outside of work. We put in effort to create a distortion field around ourselves to that no one sees our true selves or our distractions.

In an authentic workplace we welcome each others dreams and ambitions, personal history and most importantly our feelings.

Authentic Workplace Benefits

Here are a few benefits:

  • People are motivated when they feel valued and connected at work
  • “Distractions” can be dealt with so people can focus
  • Emotional support for challenges so people get unstuck
  • Better decisions since people are safe to share information

Authenticity is a Spectrum

It is valuable in this discussion to keep in mind that this is not a black or white situation: traditional or authentic. We might imagine measuring or sensing the level of authenticity in a given environment. I am not thinking of metrics but guideposts such as: Do people talk about their emotions? Do people feel a sense of community and support? The 12 Questions from “First Break all the rules” can be a helpful here.

How can we develop the skills?

Below are three ways that I have been developing these skills in my own life and practice.

#1 Authentic Connection Circle – Toronto

This week I am starting an Authentic Connection Circle in Toronto as a way for people to build capacity for authentically relating to one another. We will do this by talking about the stuff that scares us to build trust and create a safe environment.

Some might dismiss this as fluffy Bunny New Age. It’s not.

It’s about character.

Mastering out own patterns and history so that we can engage effectively with others is hard work. It takes character to be authentic and welcome what shows up in people.

#2 Temenos Workshops for Trust and Connection

Temenos is an experiential workshop that invites us to experience connection, openness and trust on a level that’s not accessible to us in daily life. With Temenos, we can safely test more effective methods of relating with others.

Temenos provides a safe setting to explore this space to develop our existing skills. We discover that we can open up to people and learn that this satisfies a deeply rooted human need.

With this experience, we may dare to treat each other more openly, truthfully, and effectively than before. We’re more aware of who we are, and what we want.

Upcoming workshops:

#3 Core Protocols

The Core Protocols are a set of rules designed to support high-performance teams. Some of the protocols are very supportive of building an authentic workplace. I will briefly highlight a few of them here:

  1. Check-in. At the start of a meeting or day everyone shares their emotional state so that there is awareness around how people are entering this context. A simple format of: I am … <glad> <sad> <afraid> is used.
  2. Check-out. People check out when they feel they cannot focus and be productive.
  3. Alignment. People share what their personal development goal is and lets others know how they can help.

Leaders Go First

In “7 Habits of Highly Successful People”, Stehphen Covey talks about this as “Victory begins at home”. If you want to see these changes and benefits in your organization, you need to go first. Leadership in organizations comes from all levels. Be the change you want to see.


The primary source of this thinking for me comes from Brene Brown. Olaf Lewitz and I have been collaborating on the developing these ideas and applying them in workplaces. Parts of the text around Temenos were co-written with Olaf. Pascal Pink contributed key ideas in helping explain what Temenos really is about.

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Understanding and Working with Agile Culture (Slides)

Here is my current thinking on how I communicate and consult around Agile.

For me, it’s all about understanding the desires and wishes of the organization I am working with and mapping that to an approach to Agile that fits their context.

This will be presented at PMI-SOC PDD in Toronto.

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Secrets of Specification By Example

I was fortunate to attend Gojko Adzic’s Specification By Example training. Although I was familiar with the topic and the content of his book Specification By Example, I learn a lot. In this post, I will share insights around:

  1. How to build software right the first time.
  2. How to facilitate a specification workshop
  3. The secrets of great test automation

By the way you may have heard of Specification By Example through it’s other pseudonyms: Acceptance Test Driven Development, Story Testing, Feature Testing.

How to Build it Right the First Time (Zero Defects)

As illustrated in the diagram below, Gojko argues that the key problem in software development is a lack of shared understanding about what needs to be built. Language is imprecise and different assumptions lead to errors.

Specification By Example - Overview

A powerful way to justify spending time developing specifications is that it takes much less time to specify the behaviour of something than to build it. If something takes a long time to specify, this is a clue that it will also likely take a long time to implement it. The secret is to ask good questions and keep the examples rather than trying to create a written specification. It turns out these simple, small steps save a lot of time.

When everyone – domain experts, developers and testers – all have the same shared understanding, software will be built right the first time. This is the most essential property of Specification by Example – having a shared understanding.

Whether or not you create automated tests is somewhat of a secondary concern. It’s a good idea for sustainable development, but not required to deliver correct software.

And best of all is that everything here will work with a waterfall team as well as an Agile one.

How to Facilitate a Specification Workshop

A big part of the training (which I recommend) was participating in a simulated specification workshop so that we could see how they work and learn how to facilitate such them.

The most important thing is to call it a “Specification Workshop” and not talk about tests or test cases or automation so that it is easy for busy business people to attend.

The diagram below illustrates the key points:

  1. Cycle between large group and smaller groups
  2. Look for differences in language, models as well as where there was lot’s of discussion and conflict
  3. Seek to converge on a shared model using a ubiquitous language
  4. Conflict is a sign that there is a business decision to be made.

Specification By Example - Facilitation

Secrets of Good Test Automation

The final bits of wisdom came from reviewing real examples of test automation to determine how valuable they were.

Great specifications:

  1. Have a concise description
  2. Have a clear model
  3. Use business language
  4. Show a clear connection between inputs and outputs.

This is true whether or not we automate them. Automated specs need to be readable for business folks.

See diagram:

Specification By Example - Automation

The other key point is that the automation layer needs to be kept very simple – just wiring of the specification to the system under test (SUT).

How to Evaluate the Quality of Your Specification/Examples

There is a really simple test to see if you specification/examples are any good. But it’s scary.

Here is what you do:

  1. Hand the specification to someone and have them read it.
  2. Don’t say anything.
  3. Don’t say anything. (This is the most important step, so I am repeating it).
  4. Write down questions they ask – these are clues of how the spec can be improved.
  5. Looks for the “ah-ha” moment when they understand. If you don’t see this, then there’s something missing.


I am deeply grateful to Gojko Adzic for delivering such an interesting and engaging training. He is a master storyteller and has an immense collection of real-world examples. If you get the chance, I highly recommend this training.

I would also like to thank the Toronto Agile Community for brining Gojko Adzic here as part of Agile Tour Toronto.

Thanks also to my classmates who made our time together challenging and fun. And especially to Paul Carvalho for reminding me what testing expertise really looks like.

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Lean Culture is about Cultivation and Control

I have thought for a long time that Agile and Lean are pursuing similar goals and quite similar in many respects. Although compatible, I now see they have significant differences in focus.

(Reader’s Note: this analysis was done in early  2012 but became a forgotten appendix for my book on Agile Culture. Thanks to Liza Provenzano who sparked a conversation on this topic at Impact99.)

The Schneider model is a very good tool for creating a quick and understandable analysis of a stated or implied culture system. If you are not familiar with it, I suggest taking a quick read and then coming back here.

Consider the result (below) where the principles of Lean are placed into the Schneider culture model. I used Jeffrey Liker’s 14 point model from his book The Toyota Way. As we can see the two dominant cultures are Cultivation and Control, with Competence a distant 3rd when we place each principle on the model.

Toyota Way - Lean Culture

The focus of Lean and Toyota Production System is on effective management of manufacturing facilities. As a result, it is not surprising to see such as strong operational focus with elements of control.

With this model of Lean, Collaboration culture is not strongly valued. Here there is a striking difference between Agile and Lean – Agile is much more about people since Collaboration and Cultivation are dominant. I would expect a different result if we looked at the culture of the Toyota Product Development which I imagine would be more similar to Agile.

Schneider identifies Cultivation and Control as opposites so having these be co-dominant would imply that either 1) the Schneider model is not sufficiently complex to deal with Lean philosophy, 2) The principles in Liker are a confused westernized attempt to model Lean based on the Toyota Production System or 3) I have misinterpreted the principles. Sadly, I don’t know the answer but this perhaps is indicative of the challenges that are encountered in real life with most failed attempts to instill a Lean culture.

I am aware that respect for people is considered a fundamental aspect of Lean. I have two observations to make. First, respect for people does not imply Collaboration culture. Second, Lean can be a dehumanizing system.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line for me is that we cannot safely ignore the culture we are working in or the culture that our ideology and tools bring with us. It is only by seeing the bigger picture and letting go of labels and tools that we can make effective, lasting change.

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Guy Laurence – Culture Change Through Renovation

Guy Lawrence – former CEO at Vodafone – tells of an organizational transformation effort that is intrinsically tied to office renovation – he says: “Conventional offices and working is dead”.

A Simple Recipe: Death to cubicles and offices

  1. Buy everyone in the company a cell phone and a laptop.
  2. Remove all offices and cubicles. Open plan office with desks.
  3. Remove all personal material so that every day starts fresh
  4. People sit with the people they need to work with that day.
  5. Meeting rooms are just for meetings of 6 or more people.
  6. Build coffee shops in in the center of each floor to create a “buzz”

Innovation & leveraging Gen Y

The motivation for undertaking these sweeping changes is to have people from Generation Y (born after 1982) actually want to work at Vodafone. A basic requirement here is that the tools they get at the company are as good or better than what they have personally. Nobody wants to use an infrastructure that sucks but for Gen Y this is a real problem.

Gen Y work on a collaborative model and do not tolerate a dominant hierarchy. Their employee engagement score plummet and they quit in droves.

Subversion of Management Hierarchy

A central part of the plan is to put the organizational hierarchy in the background and push communication and decision-making lower down in the organization. Part of the idea of getting rid of offices is to reduce the power differential between managers and subordinates. Guy reported that 49 of his 5000 staff did not make the adjustment to this brave new world.

The net of all this is to create a place that can rapidly respond to changing events. To use open networks of communication to tap into people’s creativity.

Video of Guy’s Talk at Google

What About Teams?

I am curious about teams in this brave new world. Agile Software Development and many others observe that building stable teams is a great recipe for high performance. My suspicion is that this model would be further enhanced by having a clear role for teams.

Curious About Culture

One thing very interesting is that Guy is leading a cultural transformation without clearly outlining the culture of the organization the way many other great organizations such as Zappos do. Instead, he uses simple rules to subvert traditional corporate behaviour. I imagine that this type of transformation could be even more successful if accompanied by an explicit culture model.

What’s next? Rogers Media/Telco!

I have been involved with Agile at Rogers (based in Toronto) on more than one occasion and it is by and large suffering from the typical culture and bureaucratic challenges of any large organization. I have been wondering what hope there is for the organization to truly transform without top-level leadership in a new direction.

Guy starts at Rogers in December, 2013.I am truly delighted to see that he will take steps towards a people-friendly work culture. I am also very curious to see if he will be able to overcome deeply entrenched resistance to change. Go Guy, GO!

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