Your Agile Leadership Journey: Leading People, Managing Paradoxes

schedule Nov 5th 02:15 - 03:15 PM place 200 ABC people 50 Interested

When the people of an organization embark on their quest for increased agility, they are essentially begin working on the opposite side of a paradox that has been ignored. Often times, though as they take their journey, they begin experiencing the downside of now ignoring the the traditional, control-based approach and there is an outcry to revert. A dilemma is created.

What are these paradoxes? Well, the first four you encounter are described in the Agile Manifesto’s values. If one could have both sides of the “over” statements easily, we’d take them. Successfully maximizing the appropriate upsides of each side of these values while minimizing the downsides becomes a swinging pendulum to manage. This becomes key to leading others in your organization. If you are a manager, team leader, or executive trying help your organization get traction, then this session will provide some new insights into how to balance change with stability.

These four values are just the start of the paradoxes that will emerge as you take your journey. This workshop will help you use a technique called Polarity Management to help manage the upsides and downsides of this balancing act so that you can lead people effectively. Once out in the open, dilemmas created with a swing one way or another become easier to handle and perhaps can even be avoided.

 
 

Outline/Structure of the Workshop

This workshop is designed to provide a problem-solving/systems thinking technique to help leaders understand and manage paradoxes that may emerge within their organization. I’ll also point out not every problem they encounter is a paradoxical dilemma. You can find out some basics on Polarity Management here: https://kindling.xyz/next-systems/polarity-management-101-solution-unsolvable-problems/ or https://www.jpr.org.uk/documents/14-06-19.Barry_Johnson.Polarity_Management.pdf

The flow of the workshop (from my experience in giving this has been given a few times now):

[5 min] Present: Welcome and open by describing what a paradox is

  • Opposites on a spectrum with upsides & downsides to each
  • What is not a paradox – something where there is no upside to an alternative
  • Why as leaders we should care – recognizing it’s not binary, binary swings cause churn; reducing churn helps people through the changes they will be making
  • Upsides and Downsides - these plus the spectrum form the Polarity Map
  • We’ll start with the Agile Manifesto’s values as our first set of paradoxes to explore

[20 min total] Exercise: Table groups work together to identify the paradox within one of the Manifesto’s values; the Value itself will constrain the spectrum and thus the space to be examined and thus the space to be explored more openly. I have the participants exploring the upsides of the left-hand of the value statement as the usually understand why they want agility. This also makes the downsides of the right easy to understand as that is what they want to get away from... Then I have them think some of the upsides they may lose by over emphasizing the left-side. Then finally downsides that can occur with over emphasis of the left.

Here's a short, incomplete example:
Working Software over Comprehensive Documentation; this is the spectrum. So an upside of the left - we have tested software being deployed regularly meeting business needs, one downside of the right would be taking too long to create a document and not getting a feature completed or inadequately tested. One upside of the right - having some documentation that describes the rationale of a programming or design choice made so that people know why the developer coded what he did. One downside of the left, the developer goes on vacation, the person he paired with gets hospitalized, and something that was developed 3 months ago needs to be changed due to new acceptance criteria. We end up redesigning the code, but went through all the prior choices with little insight from the prior effort.

I'm being somewhat conservative on my timing here as it may take a bit for people to get into the latter part in particular... My hope is that I actually end up with some extra time, so a longer Q&A session could occur at the end.

  • [2 min] flow of exercise and instructions
  • [4 min] Upsides of Left-hand side
  • [4 min] Downsides of Right-hand side
  • [4 min] Upsides of Right-hand side
  • [4 min] Downsides of Left-hand side
  • [2 min exercise slack time]

[10 min] Debrief

  • What did you learn?
  • What are some of the downsides of having the pendulum swing too far right?Examples?
  • Now how about too far left? Examples?
  • What antidotes to these downsides did we find in the opposite upsides?

[5 min] Present: Describe how organizations or groups/teams move through paradoxes from a Polarity Management viewpoint; downside problems become signals to add in some of the upsides of the opposite end of the paradox.

  • These can either be managed or unmanaged, with a preference towards managed
  • Constant learning through these movements

[15 min] Exercise: Table groups identify –

  • [ 2 min] Instructions
  • [5 min] When a downside on the right was experienced and what the reactive upside on the left for this was. Explore how long was spent in the downside before moving.
  • [5 min] When a downside on the left was experienced and what the reactive upside on the right for this was. Again, explore how long was spent in the downside before moving.
  • [2 min exercise slack time]

[10 min] Debrief

  • What insights did you gain?
  • What movement to an upside was totally reactive? How far did you swing? How long did you spend in the downside before moving to the upside?
  • What movement to an upside was at least partially if not whole proactive? What differences were there in the swing and time spent in the downside?

[10 min] Exercise: In your table groups for your paradoxical value - Identify signals that may allow you to proactively handle these activities as opposed to simply being reactive

  • [2 min] Instructions
  • [2 min] Identify signals that could be used to indicate when downsides are occurring.
  • [2 min] Identify actions to take based on those signals that move you to the upside proactively and smoothly.
  • [1 min exercise slack time]

[5 min] Debrief

  • What did you learn about signals you can look for..?
  • How can you use them?

[5 min] Exercise: In your table groups - Examine the Agile Principles, see what paradoxes may grow from these, either from within a principle or across principles also considering how organizations tend to do work.

  • [1 min] Instructions
  • [3 min] Identify one other paradox you see that perhaps grows out of the Manifesto’s principles. Identify the spectrum to be managed.
  • [1 min exercise slack time]

[5 min/remainder] Debrief & Closing

  • What are some other paradoxes people see?
  • [1 min] Jot down to yourself one thing you will do differently based on what you learned
  • What questions do you have?

Learning Outcome

Recognizing the paradoxes within an organization’s Agile Journey

Applying the Polarity Management technique to understand and manage them effectively

Understanding how to depict your paradox using a Polarity Map

Target Audience

Executives, managers, and coaches that feel they take unnecessary steps backward in their transformation efforts.

Prerequisites for Attendees

While no specific prerequisite knowledge is required, it is helpful if the attendees have had moments of struggle trying to get the right balance between the left and right side of the value statements of the Manifesto or in putting the principles actually in practice. This workshop is targeted at people trying to lead/help others implement these in their context.

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