Bring out the good

· November 28, 2016

The other week I saw the most amazing transformation of a person I’ve seen in a few years. The number one spot is taken by Ibu Elsye.

As many of the other times I’ve seen changes like these I realize that the transformation, as well as the state before and after, are solely (not largely, but solely) created by the system we create for people.

I’ll elaborate on that as soon as I’ve described the change that I saw.

At first …

In my current team we needed to pave the way for easier deployments and to iterate and move faster. Since the company we work on doesn’t really embrace these ideas (yet) all, we have created a little task force to automate our build and some of our infrastructure creation needs.

In doing so we created a team with people from the different organizations needed to pull this off. One of those organizations was very old school. They are all resource utilization and maximizing the efficiency in the individual workers output.

It was, in a word, shocking to witness. The people (in which we soon will see an amazing change) from that organization was a bit like this:

  • Came into the room unprepared to our first meeting and the task in general - since he had been busy until the meeting started with other tickets
  • Stated clearly that tickets is the way to get paid around here so we need to talk about how that will be handled during these weeks
  • Looked gloomy and disillusioned during the initial days
  • Repeatedly asked what he really was here to do
  • Referred to problems being “not my area”, “I only do X - I know nothing about Y” and “you’ll have to ask [corporate function Z] about that “

Everything about them was siloed and slow. They even kept uptight around the coffee we had together.

.. but then …

Before you get your hopes up… we didn’t achieve anything earth shattering for the entire organisation. But for the individuals the change was important enough…

What we simply did was to create a team consisting of the people from the different organisations. We gave them two discrete tasks to achieve. Together. As good as possible within the allocated time frame, which was ten weeks.

We then went on to create a space for them to sit together (and implored them to do so), made some simple decisions for cooperation such as holding a standup ever morning, making a visual board with the tasks being worked on and finally showed them around the teams they were there to help.

The board was, btw, super-simple; just columns for “To do”, Doing, Done and a WIP limit of the number of team-members on the Doing-column.

We then let them start their work and I offered my services, should they be needed.

…and all of a sudden …

In the beginning I still heard a few “I don’t know what I can do about that” and “That’s networking’s problems - I only do security” etc.

But two days in something amazing happened. All of a sudden I heard a different tone in their voice, a more cheerful tone. And from time to time I could hear “Can you help me work on this thing”. There was some common coffee drinking, the morning meetings even contained some laughter and playful bantering.

On the fourth morning meeting we started to hear “I can take a look at that. I don’t know how to accomplish that yet, but I’ll work something out”.

I was flabbergasted! What happened?! How could someone that just four days ago was all about “Not my table”, “I don’t know - talk to those other guys” become a “I can help you with that even though I don’t work with those things”.

It’s by no means perfect and a total change, but it was clear enough for me to see a new person emerging from the closed up individuals that was here before.

…that probably has to do with …

There’s of course many things at play here and I take almost no credit for the change personally. I do, however, note the following:

  • A greater deal of trust was shown to the people in the team
  • A greater deal of autonomy was given to the people in the team
  • We gave clear direction and goals as to what to accomplish and left how to accomplish it up to the team
  • We visualized their work
  • We held daily synchronization meeting in the team, that helped them see their work progress (or not) frequently. Also this gave the opportunity for the team to talk, as a team, about how to finish stuff as a team.

But, just as with [Ibu Elsye]((, the big moment here was to see amazing people emerge out of a system that have held them down for a long, long time.

And it gave me another opportunity to think again about the environments and context that I’m creating in the future; how can I help to bring out the best of people and not hold them back?

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