Week 7of our re-read of  Agile Conversations by Douglas Squirrel and Jeffrey Fredrick begins Chapter 5 addressing the ‘Why Conversation’. Like the ‘Fear Conversation’, we will approach this in two parts; focusing this week on two areas, position and interests, and inquiry and advocacy. We will tackle joint design next week. 

Two points made in the first few paragraphs of the chapter provide an interesting lens to observe interactions across organizations. The points that the authors make are that the ‘Why Conversation’ must explain the need for joint action and be jointly made. The part after “and” is my issue as it is often interpreted incorrectly. People sometimes hear ‘involved’ and think that all ‘Why Conversations’ (often coupled with decision making) are consensus-driven even when they should not be. The over-reliance on consensus in teams is problematic. When working at a team level, I often ask how teams make decisions. A large proportion of teams describes a consensus process in which every team member has their say (great), then synthesis is hammered out. When pressed, team members feel that every decision needs to reflect all of the ideas and needs. In many circumstances, I view this answer as a lack of self-awareness and reflection. Even when consensus seems to be the right approach it should be examined to understand the influences on the process. Establishing a why for a project or product is rarely a pure consensus even though everyone needs to participate, but rather is influenced by the direction and vision of others. Consensus is one form of deciding on why, but equally (and in some scenarios more prevalent) is leaders listening and then sharing why. 

‘Why’ is the third conversation covered in the book, and Squirrel and Fredrick point out that the order of the book was not random.  Without establishing trust and dealing with fear (the first two conversations), establishing why will fall on fallow ground. 

The heart of the chapter for me revolved around understanding the difference between interest and positions. Positions define where we stand. Making attendance at next week’s community of practice mandatory is a position. A position is generated from an interest (not always stated). There could be a number of interests leading to the demand for mandatory attendance. Understanding the possible interest opens up a number of potential avenues for satisfying the demand and/or for shaping the why for the organization or team. Defining a position-interest matrix is my experiment for the coming week. 

The second technique in the chapter is combining advocacy and inquiry. This technique asks the reader to inquire about others’ positions and interests and advocate for your position. It is important to remind myself that when asking questions I should seek to learn something new rather than to confirm what is known. Sometimes I think I know too many lawyers than is healthy.  The authors also point out that the goal of inquiry is not to lead others in the conversation into a logic trap (described as a Perry Mason Trap).

Update on last week’s experiment.

I set out to create a fear matrix – that sounds like a movie title.  I failed BUT more importantly, I was able to use the fear matrix approach as a structure for a retrospective.  It worked well. The idea of exposing and mitigating fears shifted perspectives nicely. Interestingly, what was hard was tying the fears and mitigations to an espoused norm. In conversations afterward, it became apparent that it is hard to admit that your behavior is or was at odds with the norms of the team and organization. It will be worth another conversation to make sure the link is clear.  

Next week, I am going to explore building a position-interest chart. 

Buy a copy of Agile Conversations by Douglas Squirrel and Jeffrey Fredrick and read along. 

Previous Installments

Week 1: Logistics and Introductionhttps://bit.ly/3EZspxT 

Week 2: Escaping The Software Factoryhttps://bit.ly/3HIlivg 

Week 3: Improving Your Conversationshttps://bit.ly/3ty0nYe 

Week 4: The Trust Conversationhttps://bit.ly/3ApUrSk 

Week 5 The Fear Conversation (Part 1)https://bit.ly/3gahSpt 

Week 6 The Fear Conversation (Part 2)https://bit.ly/34lLON4