VAST – Virtuous Cycle for Connection

It’s all about how we show up. If we show up in a way that invites people to connect, to trust, to feel safer than usual, they probably will. And astonishing results will follow. Olaf and I have a vast experience of limiting our results because we didn’t dare to show up, speak up, stand up. We’ve been not daring, not trying, not challenging, most of our lives—like most people! We’ve learned the hard way how to show up in a way that enables connection, and impact.

We use the VAST cycle to increase connection to grow engagement in the workplace. We know safety and trust are important, but that is not the whole story. We need whole humans, intensely connected, to unleash the co-creation of astonishing results.

Joint post with Olaf Lewitz.

VAST Cycle

Virtuous Cycle for Connection

Virtuous Cycle for Connection

VAST =
Vulnerability
Authentic Connection
Safety
Trust

How to use VAST for Yourself

We use VAST as a way to navigate relationships. It works in personal and professional contexts.

Use VAST for introspection: In relation to another, we may ask ourselves:

  • How trusting am I?
  • How safe do I feel?
  • How connected do I feel?
  • How vulnerable am I choosing to be?
  • Am I acting authentically?

With this new awareness, the model suggests a variety of moves:

  • I can choose to be vulnerable and share how I feel. How I am feeling unsafe. How I am not trusting.
  • I can choose to trust the other person and see how my behaviour shifts.
  • I can state what I want. “I want to restart this conversation. I want to focus on how we can support each other. I want to focus on the goal.”
  • I can ask for help.

In our experience, the most powerful move is vulnerability. Owning our experience and how we feel and then sharing it really kicks off the cycle. That’s what we mean by showing up.

I have a short video explanation of VAST in my People over Process talk.

VAST for Organizations

We use VAST to build awareness and choice for organizations. It is especially useful when contrasting with organizational debt (fear, mistrust) as a way of being.

A team, group, or organization may choose VAST as a future way of being. The cycle helps guide behaviour and create ideas for experiments.

We can use it in retrospectives, to collect narratives that demonstrate the behaviour we want. Acknowledge when someone was daring, inspiring us to move forward.

Run a Temenos lab to experience the cycle for yourself or with your team.

Origins of VAST

The VAST cycle is the result of a sense-making journey between Olaf and I over the past years. We have been learning and studying its elements to help ourselves and our clients grow. We didn’t go out to invent something, it just emerged – it’s a discovery. We then noticed how well it explains many beautiful personal and professional growth experiences with ourselves and our clients.

The term “VAST” was created by Anton Gillis-Adelman – who is an expert in turning a jumble of letters into words.

Related Work

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Organizational Debt Cycle

Many consider the modern workplace inhumane and uninhabitable. People are not fully engaged. It is killing our bottom lines. It is putting our organizations at risk. With our prevailing management system we have created a vast organizational debt that inhibits growth and performance.

We define organizational debt as the baggage that prevents people from delivering astonishing results. The diagram below shows the key problems that impact each human being and ultimately the effectiveness of our whole organization.

Joint post with Olaf Lewitz.

Organizational Debt Cycle

This is how the organizational debt cycle works:

Organizational Debt Cyle

We learn not to trust people we don’t know well, so our first principle is not to trust anyone. We act as if we’re afraid and sometimes we are. We want to be safe, avoid to be noticed, avoid to stand out. The more we cover our *ss, the less we connect. The less we connect, the more we feel alone… and can’t build any trust. The cycle continues.

The cycle works the other way, too: We start being afraid, not trusting people, feeling alone, so we make sure we don’t get hurt…

Impact

There is a direct connection between each of these problems and our organization’s effectiveness. For example:

  • No trust → I will try to do this myself rather than cooperate with you. I don’t believe in my leaders.
  • Fear → I will not ask for help when I need it. I will not take any risks that might improve things.
  • Cover your *ss → I will not report important information. I will not speak up to avoid disaster.
  • Alone → I will disengage. I will be powerless and not valued.

Henry Ford reportedly said that “every pair of hands comes with its own brain”. Many people got used to leave their brain at the door when they came to work. In many organisations people additionally leave their hearts outside. We don’t fully show up at work.
Prominent words like “work-life-balance” only make sense if we leave our life outside when we go to work. This cycle describes how we do that and why we keep doing it. We don’t feel we have a choice.

How We Create Organizational Debt

In organizations we create structures to support it:

  • RACI matrices have single responsibilities → alone
  • Performance reviews → fear
  • Reports are expected to match plans → cover your *ss
  • Don’t rock the boat → cover your ass
  • Gap between what we say and do → Trust no one

As leaders, we may unwittingly create or support an organizational culture where mistrust and fear impair performance.

How to Use this Model

The purpose of this model is to create awareness. When we choose to acknowledge and accept what is actually going on, then new behaviours and choices automatically emerge. Once we decide that we no longer wish to operate in this cycle, we may then ask, “What do we wish for ourselves?”

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Whole Agile – Unleash People & Organizations

Agile missing partsAgile is incomplete. We need to augment it to create the “whole product”. But what is it?

There are many ideas: transformation approach, culture, leadership, but something is still missing.

 

 

Whole Agile

Whole = Agile + People + OrganizationWhole Agile is a holistic way to see the functioning of the entire organization.

In order to fully unleash the potential of workers we need to augment Agile with Valuing People and rewire the Organizational Model.

Valuing People is about building a place where the whole person is welcome so they are fully engaged in work. A place where there is safety, trust and authentic connection.

Organizational Model refers to the approaches we use to run organizations: organizational structure, planning & control, roles & titles, compensation, performance management, information access, leadership and power. These need to shift for us to reinvent our organizations to unleash people’s capabilities.

This is essentially what I have been doing the last few years. Now I have a good name for it. I will be writing more about Whole Agile in the coming weeks but in the meantime, here is a video summary and slides.

Video Summary

Slides

Why “Whole Agile”?

An obvious question is: Why do we need something more than Agile? Why make up a new name?

One answer is that Agile is great at a team level but provides no guidance at an organizational level. We need to replace burdensome organizational processes and with lightweight ones that foster self-organization and engagement.

The most important reason for selecting a name is that we want to create a movement within the Agile community. Not everyone will be interested in building whole organizations and that’s OK.

Here are some alternative names:

  • Holistic Agile
  • Conscious Agile
  • Evolve Agile
  • Beyond Agile
  • AgileAsItWasMeantToBe

Online survey results with comments on names. You can add to the survey as well.

Acknowledgements

First, I would like to thank my dear friend and colleague Olaf Lewitz who has been deeply involved in developing this. Other key contributors include: Melanie Meinen and Laura Powers. Thanks also to those who responded to my online survey: Clint, Jeff K, Fanny, Olivier Gourment, Shyam Kumar, Geir, Peter Trudelle, Frank Olsen, Alistair McKinnell, Justin Reyna.

 

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Scrum and Kanban – Which one to use?

Scrum is the most popular Agile methodology with Kanban a growing second choice. Learn about the core parts of each one as well as how they differ so that you can find the best fit for your team or organizational context. For example, Scrum is great when you want to shake up the status quo and transform the way you work. Kanban is great when small changes are a better fit for the environment. Learn how they work and how you can use them in your environment.

How to Choose Between Scrum and Kanban

Choosing Between Scrum And Kanban

Scrum will be more successful in environments where it’s requirements are met. If you have all six, Scrum is great. When you start loosing important bits of context it becomes more difficult.

Kanban is much more fault-tolerant and work in many more contexts.

The Big Question

I see choosing Scrum and Kanban as secondary to the larger questions around Culture.

What kind of an organization do we want to be? How do we want to work together? How much do we trust and value each other?

This is the important stuff and informs what might make sense around Scrum and Kanban.

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People over Process – Win with People

Success comes from Valuing People

Woody Hayes, PeopleWhen we simplify the Agile Manifesto’s “Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools” we get “People over Process”. Agile is about people. It’s about a people-first culture.

Sadly, many organizations are mired in organizational debt: mistrust, politics and fear. Changing the process won’t fix this. We need to go to the root of it – to find a way to talk about and shift to a healthier culture: one that values people.

The VAST (Vulnerability, Authentic Connection, Safety and Trust) shows us how we can make our workplaces more human.

We outline a fundamentally different approach for organizational change: one where valuing people is integral to building lasting success.

Slides from my Keynote at Lean Into Agile Conference

Video Summary (7 minute PechaKucha)

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Letting Go of Agile (Culture)

Letting go of Agile Culture“If you want something very, very badly, let it go free.  If it comes back to you, it’s yours forever.  If it doesn’t, it was never yours to begin with.” – Harry Kronman

I have discovered the truth of this with Agile. The one time in my whole life I truly surrendered my attachment to Agile, it resulted in a beautiful transformation starting. But most of the time I was too attached to Agile to let it go.

This post is about how we may accidentally harm organizations with Agile and how we can let go so that we may succeed.

Accidentally Harming Organizations

Here is the basic thinking:

  1. Agile is a good thing.
  2. We can help companies if they use Agile.
  3. Let’s do it!

Trap #1: Accidentally introduce cultural conflict

Agile for me is basic common sense – this is how to get stuff done. BUT Agile does not work in most organizations due to culture. Sure there are some small pockets where Agile just works but this seems to be relatively rare – especially now that Agile has crossed the chasm.

Agile is a different culture from most companies, so the first trap is to accidentally introduce organizational conflict. That’s why I wrote “An Agile Adoption and Transformation Survival Guide: Working with Organizational Culture” – to help people notice this trap and avoid it.

My suggestion was to look at two options:

  1. Adopt elements of Agile that fit with the culture.
  2. Transform the organizational culture.

For many, option 1 is like giving up on Agile since they key part of it is missing so many Agile folks don’t like that option.

Increasingly Agile experts go for option #2 instead: Transform the Organizational Culture. I sure did. I set out to learn how to change organizational culture. And I figured it out. But there was a problem. A big one.

Trap #2 Attempt to Transform to Agile Culture

The core of the problem is that Agile is not an end in itself. It is means to an end. Some common goals (ends) are: a quality product, time to market or engaged staff. The problem is not that Agile doesn’t help with these goals (it certainly does), the problem is that people confuse Agile as the goal and often act in ways that undermine the real goal. We see Agile being used as a Whip or a Shield. That is why it’s a good idea to Stop Agile Initiatives. A better alternative to an Agile initiative is to have an initiative around the real goals. One way to get at the real goals is to run a workshop to clarify why people want Agile.

It is a good thing to change culture in service to what organizations really want for themselves. A specific culture is not a goal in itself, but a means to accomplishing something. We may seek a culture of engagement and innovation not for itself, but because we want our organization to thrive in a competitive landscape.

There are many many beautiful, productive organization cultures all over the world that have nothing to do with Agile. The implication is that there are many ways to get to a place where people love what they do. If we really want to help people, then the best move is to work with them to evolve a wonderful culture that is right for them. And for sure it will not be exactly “Agile Culture” (especially since this is not completely precise). If it is a progressive culture, it will likely be Agile-compatible and using Agile to get benefits will be very natural. It’s a win – win.

Agile Culture should never be a goal. If it is, we will likely just cause harm.

Let Go of the Outcome to Find Success

Here is my secret to success: Let go of the outcome.

I wrote a couple of years about about how leaders have a choice between the red pill (deeper reality) and the blue pill (surface reality). I stated it like I gave people a choice. But I didn’t. The only choice I wanted was the red pill. I wanted so much to help the people in organizations I pushed for the red pill. The truth is I cared so much for the outcome which I assumed was best that I didn’t really give a open choice. In subtle and more obvious ways I was attempting to coerce leaders into taking the red pill. Ooops! Coercion is not any part of Agile, but here I was wanting my outcome for others. And it is not just me. I have talked to dozens of professional coaches and this is pandemic in the Agile community.

The solution is obvious. If we really want to stay true to Agile values, we can’t coerce. We have to let the people (especially management teams) make their own decisions and their own mistakes. We have to help them find and walk the path that they choose. This means letting go of the outcome. This means letting go of Agile.

This business of learning to let go is not new. In fact, letting go of attachment is a central message of Buddhism.

To close, the one time I fully let go of Agile it came back in such a beautiful sustainable and lasting way. Time to rinse and repeat.

“If you want Agile very, very badly, let it go free.  If it comes back to you, it’s there forever.  If it doesn’t, it was never meant to be.”

(Stay tuned for a follow-up post on Agile as a means of creating freedom by Olaf Lewitz.)

My Apology

I helped a lot of people see Agile as a culture system and learn how to stop causing accidental conflict.

Unfortunately, I also energized a lot of people to seek culture change with the goal of growing Agile. As clarified in this blog post, this was a mistake. I am sorry.

What’s the alternative? For those who want real change, let’s help them meet their organizational goals with culture transformation and let Agile come willingly.

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Stop Agile Initiatives!

Stop Agile HeadlineI am sick to death of Agile Initiatives because they usually fail. Sure there are some companies where Agile just fits, but the most common case is a culture conflict. Best fix I know is: Agile is NOT the Goal (Workshop)

The core problem is that the typical approach used to initiate Agile is inconsistent with Agile goals of empowerment and engagement.

Paul Heidema and I ran a session to explore this at Agile Open Toronto this Spring and this post is a way to share the key learnings.

This is a great workshop to run with people to help them understand different options for engaging with change.

I Caused Damage By Agile …

My mom used to say: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”.

Here is how I and others have caused damage with Agile:

 I caused damage with Agile by...

Of course you can replace the word “Agile” with any other word such as “Lean”, or “Total Quality Management” or <Fill-in-the-blank>.

 Real Change Happens When…

We then reflected on the times when we participated and witnessed real change and found that it emerges – it’s not forced:

Real-change-happened-when

How Change Your Agile Initiative into Something Better

Real success comes from digging in deep on what is important and really valued in the organization – not just jumping on the Agile bandwagon.

Here is are practical exercise you can use to transform your Agile Initiative into something more resilient and lasting: Agile is NOT the Goal (Workshop)

Acknowledgements

We really appreciate all the folks who showed up and participated in this session. It was awesome.

Stop-Agile-Initiatives-Contributors

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Transformation Case Study – Video Interview

At Agile 2014, many people were inspired by this case study so Olaf Lewitz interviewed me. Here is what happened.

Slides and Highlights are here.

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Transformation Case Study Highlights

I was fortunate to act as  a catalyst for a transformation of a 100 person departments. Here is an early release of a presentation summarizing my learnings.

 

What I did (that made the difference)

  1. Uncover what’s really going on
  2. Share observations in a loving and caring way
  3. Help people choose their own reality and destiny

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Goodbye From the Bobs

(This is goodbye letter shared with the department Paul Heidema and I have been working with for the last few months).

Hi All,

This is a goodbye letter since we are at the end of the main part of project Cocoon.

Why the Bobs?
Someone identified us early on as kinda like The Bobs from Office Space. We like that and think this is really funny.

We hope by now that you see us differently.

We are not here for Agile
If this hasn’t been clear, we are to help you succeed with project Cocoon – which is about re-inventing your department. It’s not about being Agile or using Agile practices. Sure that helps support the goals of Cocoon, but Agile stopped being a goal in April. The goal is helping everyone here be fully engaged and unleashing talent.

Are we Done?
We all wish we had more time. But we don’t. We have made an explicit decision with your leadership team to balance work between tactical, strategic and cultural to best move the needle forward on the Cocoon Vision. We wish we had more time to work with teams, but that would have taken away from sustainable change.

Lasting Change Takes Time
Real and lasting change takes time. It takes everyone working daily to make healthier and more loving interactions.

So sorry, if you were expecting a big TA-DA celebration of success, you are not going to see one. There is a lot of hard work ahead and it takes time to turn the ship around. This is an all-hands type of change.

Keeping in Contact
If you want to stay in touch, you are welcome to connect with us via LinkedIn or email.

When will we be Back?
Paul and Michael will be back together in late August and Michael will be back in Sept/Oct to provide follow-up support.

Happy & Sad
We are so happy to have been able to work with all of you. We are proud of all that has been achieved together. And we are sad to go as we have enjoyed traveling on this road together with you.

You are in good hands
I am glad that you are in good hands. You have a very courageous management team – they are working on themselves first so they can lead by example. And starting to tackle difficult decisions. And of course Corey who has grown so much through this process and enabled all of this to unfold the way it has.

Hugs.

Michael & Paul

Photo: In our support center with Corey

The Bobs

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