Inspiring Agility .. intent.. purpose and the way ahead
Let’s always ensure to make people around us happy.
As we live an era where the need of agility is every growing, I felt on the recommendation of people to have a blog where I can share my views, share the agility changes around me and what I feel about them. The intent and purpose of this website is only to share, and hope it help few. The knowledge I’ve gained over the time is from help of many teachers and I respect them a lot for what I’m today.
We all live in times when the meaning of Agility is not confined to just Development teams, but go beyond to Org, HR, Finance, Sales and where not. I felt the Agility is like Oxygen as I did my last workshop with some local kids.
All this said, let me say that in my life if I consider my greatest discovery has been that in the end it’s about Happiness. How we can be happy is important right from an individual to a team to an organization to a country to the world. The people and their interactions are very critical and no process in the world is above that. So, let’s always ensure to make people around us happy.
It was 2008, and I had taken a train to Bournemouth, on the South coast of the UK. I had worked only in Reading before, so it was my first visit to Bournemouth. At the interview I had scheduled there, I met Robert. I loved the way he asked me questions – he was looking for what I knew, and I felt very comfortable explaining myself and my professional experience to him. I could be myself, because someone wanted to really know what I knew, whereas sadly, most of my interviews before that had focused a lot on what I didn’t know.
To be able to be yourself is something which might sound very simple, but in reality, not many people are able to do that. It’s almost like people wear this mask in front of others, and I’ve seen many colleagues of mine wear that mask for a very long time, feeling like the more fake they are, the better they look. In reality, the more you act against your true self, the more you need to work on it.
Sometimes I feel many organisations have this pressure to have people behave in a certain way. The employees don’t understand the need or the culture of the company, they just prefer wearing the mask, and behaving in a way which the company likes, and they become fine doing that for years and years. Some even feel as long as they are getting promoted gradually and get a good financial hike, they are fine with the mask.
I remember moving into a house back in Bournemouth with 2 amazing housemates to share with. It was a great place, but I was scared of being new to the place, and not knowing the culture of the place, so my first reaction to everything was defensive. The UK taught me to say thank you and sorry for anything and everything. Don’t get me wrong, I used to do that before too, but they do it for every small thing, and this habit made me apologise even if I wasn’t doing something wrong. Comparing this to a company, many people feel that being their true self is risky, they feel if they get their true self out, people might not like them, or people might feel they don’t need to respect them. I’ve heard this from many friends, that often they fear the real them coming out and spoiling the whole relationship status in office.
How often have you seen a meeting room with 8-10 people talking about emotions? You’ll see people talking about something good or bad from electronics to politics, but they don’t talk about emotions, because people feel scared of showing them to their office. I remember a guy once told me he wanted to cry, but can’t because people will think he’s a girl (kind of a sick convention that only girls cry – hate this), He was really upset with the way his manager behaved with him, but was reluctant to either tell him or go to HR. He finally quit the company after suffering for about 2 years. On his last day, I was shocked to see him say thanks to his boss, and when I asked him, he told it’s a small world and they could meet again.
Some people I worked with were very different, they would crack the odd joke, really feel their true self in office, speak what they want to – and really do what they believed in. I feel at times, these people really are very passionate about what they do, and often are very successful. Sometimes to be scared is good, but ensuring you bring your true self to the picture often helps.
It took me a long, long time to realise that we are not meant to be perfect; WE’RE MEANT TO BE WHOLE – Jane Fonda
I was in GE for 7 years, and often when leaders came to speak, I saw a lot of storytelling. Those stories were not only about ones about success and superheroes. They believed in sharing a lot of failures, and the way they told it, it really made you connect well to the story. Yes, they were very senior in their roles (VP, Director, CXO’s) – but even at that level, being your true self is a big thing. How often have you heard a VP come to a stage and say well I failed in xyz? You don’t, or it’s rare, and that’s what made me happy to hear stories in GE. I felt those people really had learnt the lesson of wholeness and were very vulnerable in front of people. It was not always failure stories, there were good/great ones too, but sometimes we all need to face the big fact of life – we all learn the most when we fail.
In a similar manner, I also saw people bringing personal items to their workspaces. Some people having family photos at their desk makes them feel good and ensures they don’t have to keep that mask on. I was big Friends fan, so I had a photo with my friends in a coffee shop, and often people talking about it made me open and happy.
I think this whole thing also ties to the psychological safety of a team. If people don’t feel safe, they can never speak up or be open or true to themselves. It’s the duty of team members to ensure everyone feels safe to speak up and point out anything and everything.
Another aspect which ties in is being vulnerable when speaking to your team. I’ve always seen that we as leaders are often telling success stories where we were amazing, but fewer people like to accept and share their failures in public. They might have learned the most during those failures in life, but they don’t take pride in speaking about them. Being vulnerable for a leader is a very important attribute where people start seeing them as normal human beings, and not superheroes, and then the team feels safe to speak up and share their own opinions, even if they are the wrong ideas. Often the wrong ideas lead to the right ones, and every thought should be taken as an opportunity to learn and grow from there.
I will end this by telling people to think how easy it would be for you to work if you have the real you out front, and you realise you might have strength and also some weakness, but you learn to live with it, but always make sure you don’t wear a mask, and get your true self to your workplace. Because at the end of the day, YOU ARE SPECIAL.
My journey to finding my purpose started back in 2014 while I was working in GE, and one of my managers asked me where I was going with my life, and what I wanted to do. I had been talking with him to about my role, and the need to get promoted to the next level, and he totally changed the topic and asked me where I was taking my life. I got one of the greatest leadership lessons when he explained that the responsibilities I was asking for didn’t, in fact, require a promotion.
I was looking to be a leader by title, and he said there’s no such thing. It was a big moment for me, because he taught me the lesson that to become a leader, all you need is the right mindset and behavior, and once people see you as one, no one can stop you. Fast track one year, he asked me how I felt, and I told him that the promotion might have been useless if I didn’t understand that lesson. It was really something that made me think and build some great relationships.
Some time back I did a course with IDEO on the Power of Purpose, which again made me come back to this question. The course had pretty good ways of showing how your sense of calling had to do with your team purpose, and also to do with your organization purpose, and how they should really align. Working for an IT company but thinking of playing tennis with a group of expert miners isn’t going to create anything good. The course made us write and refine our purpose statement which was very cool. I also understood that when you connect your purpose to what you are doing in real life, it’s really satisfying.
We have a duty to ourselves and to our organization to enquire about our personal sense of calling, to see if and how it resonates with Org Purpose
– Joe Brown, Portfolio Director at IDEO
Today I work at Symplr, a company that works on how to improve operations for people in a hospital, so that caregivers have more time to be hands on. While I do my job and deliver products with quality, I really see myself connected to the purpose. For me, my healthcare journey started in 2012 with GE (and being a Grey’s Anatomy fan), but now I can really connect myself to my organization’s purpose and that really makes me happy doing what I do in life.
Whenever I think about purpose, I can’t forget about my failures. In life, I’ve seen a lot of failures which have taught me how important it is to treat them as opportunities, that help you learn and discover the next steps. It could be as small as a decision not gone your way, to a big thing, but every time you need to think of it as a step towards learning and growth. That’s what will make you become stronger and more prepared. This is a mindset we as leaders need to develop over a period of time and really prepare ourselves for. Failure can come at any stage of life, but it’s the way we react to it which matters.
I remember working in GE through 4 products/programs, and I could see myself being challenged all the time on the way we work. Sometimes when you work in a place, you tend to believe in a year or so that you now know how to succeed in the system, you get how to behave and how to live around that. Life taught me that what/how you work on a project might be totally different to others. I saw projects where there was a huge focus on quality, whereas others which were super aggressive on execution, and every time I changed, I could take help from a mentor who told me that you need to tune yourself according to the system where you work.
I remember working on a program (as a Program Manager) where I had people from Mumbai (India) /Bangalore (India) /Hino (Japan) / Beijing (China) /Milwaukee (US) – and that program taught me how the behaviours of each country/continent are so different and unique. I could start with the simplest things, like in Japan you need to suffix a name by “san” to address a person. The way you behave with people could be the same, but if you need to learn and grow you need to learn the regional conventions and learn how to connect. You need to know that culture matters, people around you matter, and how they perceive you is equally important, and you need to work on those regularly.
Those different projects made me realize that what works in one environment might not work in others, and so you need to keep learning to tune yourself, and realize to tie back to your purpose and giving importance to people. People are really at the heart of everything we do.
I would strongly advise all leaders to ask themselves this: What’s my purpose? Does it tie to my org purpose? Does my team know why we are working on the product, and how it affects people lives? I feel when people know the purpose and can connect to the same, they work the best. Hope you are able to find your purpose and can connect it to your team and organization purpose.
I remember there was a time in my life when I began every day at the office by turning to youtube.com and watching funny videos for a few minutes. I used to love it. As someone who likes to start early, I really enjoyed this quick, happy ritual before diving into work and getting on with my day.
We all like to be happy, to laugh occasionally—and yet, most people don’t think about how we become happy at all. I will not venture into the science of it, but I do know that sometimes when you are in a good mood, things start to fall into place, the right words start flowing and before you know it, you’re having a good day.
When we work with teams, we always ensure they like working with each other. We want people to feel connected as a team, and so we like to give them some time to bond with each other by playing some fun games. In the team I currently work with we have a designated game time: whenever we reach it, everyone turns their work mode off for a while and we immerse ourselves in play. This short break not only helps to de-stress but also facilitates bonding between colleagues.
Unsurprisingly, the gamification is my favourite part when organising workshops and events. Sure, you may drive meaningful conversations through formal tools and procedure, but if people don’t enjoy being there, such an exercise is not worth it. On some level, this depends on the concept of psychological safety and how people participating in a meeting or discussion like to be themselves. If you employ a tool or process during these discussions that makes them walk the way you want them to, they will still follow, but eventually they might stop bringing out their true self. This is the reason I advise people designing such workshops to ensure they include icebreakers and other activities which let people enjoy along the way.
For a long time, I used to begin release retros by having 2-3 people stand together and draw an emotional seismograph on the whiteboard. Although I told them this graph is merely a tool for self-reflection—which it is—I feel there’s something compelling about the activity that made them stand up with their teams and draw their lines across the board, bumping into each other and having fun. At times we had 20-30 people making their seismographs—we always joked how much it looked like modern art at the end, and everyone admired this artistic streak.
Turning to look back a few years to when I was living in the UK, I remember my project manager Wayne who had a unique way of holding daily standup. He used to invite everyone to talk about one funny thing that happened to them or which they witnessed in their daily lives—the results, trust me, were often hilarious, and we would all be laughing out loud within minutes. Occasionally people would pass if they had nothing to say, but even getting one or two real time stories made for a very jolly morning. We all used to return from these standups with the widest of smiles on our faces.
I’ve had similar experiences when using Rory’s Story Cubes to run retros: people are incredibly enthusiastic; the whole experience of rolling dices and making up stories energises them and makes them feel like kids all over again. This technique involves participants rolling 9 dices and using the symbols on the faces of the dice—4 or more symbols—to construct a story related to their life in the sprint. Thanks to the symbols, the storytelling depersonalises the story and gives it the shape of fiction, which makes this technique a real winner. Running such a session, it is impossible not to see smiles all around—it is true that storytelling is an art, but what we often don’t realise is that most of us can be really good at it if we try.
These examples are only a drop in the ocean of ways in which we can connect with people. As everyone becomes comfortable, they will bring out their real selves. We can ensure this by making them talk about their thoughts, by engaging them (confession: up to this point, I was avoiding this word!), and making them feel human and in the company of friends.
The simplest human action is laughter—after all, at the end of the day, who doesn’t like to smile; who doesn’t like to laugh while working? Some of the most successful teams I’ve seen are also the ones which are the happiest and most comfortable around each other. In one team I remember working with, we used to set Friday evenings aside for team dinners. I know this is not uncommon, but the reason why I remember these dinners so fondly is the quality of time it allowed us to spend together. Team dinners for us were always a fun occasion, full of jokes and chatter, with us often shouting to make conversation in noisy places and just generally enjoying ourselves. Friday evening always ended happily and full of merriment, and it was smiling faces again when we all met on Monday morning.
We all use metrics to drive behaviours, and even look at the organisational culture using behaviours at play, but in my opinion, ensuring people are happy while working is as important as anything else—if people are happy, they will remember that work is not a one-person job, it’s about the team, about the organisation, and also about the little joys in life.
Right now, happiness takes on an added importance of a kind we could never have imagined. After all, humans haven’t seen a pandemic in a century, and everything has changed dramatically over these last months. For most of this year, we were caged inside our homes for months in either a government-mandated lockdown or in a mental lockdown that made us avoid stepping out. Even as we begin to venture out in the world again, being happy is taking on an immensity we simply cannot ignore.
Since March, I have attended many sessions emphasising the effect of the pandemic on our mental health and how critical it is, and trust me—the touch, the care, the sense of still being connected to the world; all of it seems to be in a good place if you’re happy doing what you’re doing. Sometimes, you may even feel happy doing the worst of things—long as you have a reason to smile, it’s all worth it.
Yesterday, I was scrolling through LinkedIn when I saw a post that drew lines across my heart. It said that Work from Home is good because of two reasons: a, you have work; b, you have a home. In the course of this pandemic, many have lost jobs, many may no longer have homes, and yet some of us crib about working remotely. Don’t get me wrong—I too would like nothing more than going back to working from the office—but I certainly think we can learn to appreciate and be content with what we currently have, to seek the best we can do, and to then move along that.
I have thought about this often while growing up, but only during the pandemic have I realised the true weight of the fact that contentment with what we have and what we do is was ultimately makes us grow and learn beyond the obvious. This is somewhat like taking money off the table while hiring someone—we sometimes need to get the obvious things out of the picture so that we can focus on the more important ones. In the end, I believe, it is all about being happy, and if this year has taught us anything, it is that we only need little to feel that way.
For instance, I often conduct Lego sessions with people at the office. During these sessions, I have witnessed adults become cheerful and carefree like kids as they play with the Lego and use storytelling to weave together deep and meaningful tales. This, again, is a very powerful form of facilitation that takes very little and makes people very happy.
Personally, I see a lot of happiness in food, too—as a foodie, I consider relishing various cuisines and enjoying food as integral to my joy. I have also noticed how well people connect over food—be it post-work drinks in the evening or team lunches; people eating together and chatting away always lends a lot of positivity. The more we interact with being ourselves, the happier we get.
It is only after this pandemic that I’ve realised how much of the things and people in our lives we used to take for granted—especially the people. For instance, I have always loved to meet my maternal uncle and aunt because of how much laughter they bring into my life. Even if I sit with them for 15 minutes, I would hear at least 3 different jokes out of which 2 would make me roll over because of how good they are. I admit, it runs in my family to keep laughing once we start—but isn’t that human? I believe that the most human of all things is the happiness that comes from a single smile or a laugh. No wonder everyone wants that—whether we get it or not is a different thing.
So, the next time you see your team, your colleagues, your friends, and your family, try to make it a fount for your happiness and that of everyone around you—maybe with a smile, an icebreaking session with the team, a fun game on Mural or Miro, a joke you heard the other day or even a YouTube video of a standup comic you love, and see how these simple acts and activities takes everyone to the next level of happiness, and from happiness to more productivity and success. After all, we only live once, and we need to make sure there are enough things to smile and be happy about.
Recently, while wading through the uncertain waters of the pandemic, I got an opportunity to go back to the Healthcare Domain where I had previously spent 6 years in GE. I had many reasons to plunge myself in, but most of all, I was excited to be part of the symplr family. And so, I did it.
The first few days were spent getting to know the wonderful people and getting familiar with the workings of the Provider Management I was going to be engaging with. Before I realized how time had passed, I was deep into the program execution and spending my days joining heads with the team.
After some more days, we had a chance to bring all the managers to office again, and while it felt strange in light of way these past few months have been, we were all very excited: the idea of being in the office—which used to trouble us alongside Bangalore’s traffic in the time before—now felt like bliss. There were some other changes too: it was only 7 people now in an office with a potential for 12, but we still had a great time being safe; and most importantly; together.
While planning for the visit, I thought about how delightful it would be to hold some sessions with the team, make our day more interesting, and drive meaningful conversations.
We started our day with Personal Maps (a management 3.0 practice), where I had people walk up to the board and making their own personal maps, which is something like drawing yourself and your journey on paper. It took everyone a while to figure out the best way to do this while maintaining social distancing, but it was great to see everyone expressing themselves and drawing things about themselves so heartily.
The Personal Map is a simple activity: you write your name in the middle, and then draw circles around it depicting details about your life and aspects of your personality. However, in effect it was much more than that, for people ended up expressing things they wouldn’t normally discuss at work—their love for Marvel, their attachment towards family—all of which ultimately helped us to bond and bring the team closer together.
But that is not all! The fun part came next, when I told people to go ahead and introduce another person using the map they had drawn. It’s always interesting to see how different people read each other’s maps: often, they emphasize things they believe to be most important about the person they’re describing, and in this process some people realize that they forgot to write those things. It happened here too, but I told them it was alright. For after finishing all introductions, we went back to our own maps and traced our connections to things that we had previously forgotten or later recognized. This part was even more fun: you see all these adults drawing big lines from the left side to the right and enjoy themselves, and it’s amazing to see how we all connect with each other—how very human we are; how much we have in common; how we are so diverse and yet so alike. In the end, we all looked at the big picture, and realized that there were more ways in which we connect than what we had known.
The maps not only made us smile, they also unleashed our creativity in ways we rarely get to do any more. I have done this activity many times in so many different ways, but it never ceases to make me feel good.
With our smiles still plastered to our faces, we jumped into the next thing: A Value Mapping activity using Lego. As a Lego Serious 1.0 facilitator, I introduced the team to Lego and its usage in this session. We started with a fun foundation built of a tower, where we built the tallest tower possible. Some people were new to the concept of Lego; while others had fun as SMEs helping others—after all, a tall tower is always, always exciting!
After this warm-up, the team started the main activity. It made me immensely happy to see how clearly and confidently everyone had memorized the company values, and how quickly they could recall them—this is one of the things that exhibits how well the company ensures and prioritizes value-training their employees: whereas I usually see people having trouble remembering at least a couple of values, in this session people got everything right. We often talk about using our values in everyday life, and it made me feel great to see how his activity reinforced and reminded us of that.
As part of Lego formation build, I asked everyone to come up with a build which also exhibit how one or more values can be employed by their teams during real-life programs. This is where the teammates’ passion came out, and some were so engrossed in it that they put in extra time to ensure the perfect build. Now came the time for storytelling, which is something I personally always look forward to.
Usually, when people tell stories, they make them up as they speak, and find things to add from their memory. However, the 40 minutes we spent on storytelling on this day were the definite highlight of the day for me. Listening to people, I realized how we really connect those values to our products, to our teams, to our families, and to all aspects of our life and work. It was positively mind-boggling to see how as a boss, as a buddy colleague or even a close friend, we may have never thought of the ways in which people end up using company values in real life. Something about this felt so powerful and real; I could feel that each story had its message, each formation its colors and pieces which represented something unique and important. It was pleasing to see how most people had woven at least 2 or 3 values in their stories, and the passion with which they told them was truly gratifying to witness as a facilitator. It moved me, in the end, to do my own formation and tell a story as well. This was one of the best activities of the day and seeing the team’s passion and energy made me feel humbled and energized as well.
The final activity we participated before breaking for lunch was the Moving Motivators piece, which is a management 3.0 practice. This piece involves a set of 10 cards which we give to each person, and ask them to arrange them in order of what motivates them the most (C = Curiosity, H=Honor, A=Acceptance, M=Master, P=Power, F=Freedom, R=Relatedness, O=Order , G =Goal , S=Status). I have facilitated this activity with over 60 people so far and usually arrange people by their motivators to get out the real stories. And yet, with this group, I saw a genuine outpouring of stories that described their motivations as people connected how their motivators and demotivators shape their work. We even proceeded with a storytelling session, where I asked the team members to talk about their motivating factors in terms of real-life experiences they have had, there were some AHA moments. Our boss, too, was extremely happy with the whole thing, and spoke about how she received some truly valuable insights from this activity.
All in all, it was a day spent well—not only because we were finally back in office and accomplished so many things, but also because we were finally together as a team. Although we could only meet for one day, we will remember that day most fondly and more than often. There was also some novelty to this experience in following social distancing while working closely together, and I can assure you we only took our masks off while taking pics!
As for me, the biggest takeaway as a facilitator was the value-building exercise. It made me incredibly happy to witness how our values are not merely written, but also remembered and followed in real, normal life—something that makes everything we do worth the while. It was so refreshing to take part in these activities and talks, and to catch-up with friends and colleagues at the end of it all. Although the pandemic has made our lives uncertain, I am glad we had such a wholesome day in the middle of it, for I will treasure and cherish this day for all the times to come.
While the world tries to battle the Pandemic, most of us are at home working for our companies. Some of us are trying to learn how to work effectively remotely, while some others are also looking for jobs.
Irrespective of what we are doing at home, we all are at home, and while you’d think that being with your loved ones is something which is best, I’ve talked to a number of people who’ve brought up the topic of Mental health and its importance recently.
Now often when people talk about this topic, I see a lot of people assuming mental health to be mental illness and then often it’s about shame which sometimes defeats the whole purpose of the talk.
Human has been used to family time, office time and then as many recognize it as the “me time”. These past few months, we were away from office, but even at some levels the “me time” has reduced or vanished for many. The feeling of touch (sometimes just telling a friend to come for tea) is somewhere missing, and while it might feel very small, it used to be a big stressbuster. The sense of being together with office folks and then the team lunch, maybe just a evening samosa, seems to be missing.
With all this, the mental health of people has become more important, because we all are used to being more social. I know so many introverts who can barely talk to people in public, but even they feel this. And while some talk about it, some don’t. The first thing I usually tell people who I feel are confused, sad or having any such emotion is that “It’s Ok not to be Ok”. That’s usually the first step, where you accept that things are not going fine, you get emotional because of something there, or something missing. This step is the toughest for most of the people.
Many of us face this situation, while working remotely, we forget to see the time, and we just keep working and working. We don’t realize that the body needs some peace, the mind needs some time with family and some with peace, we just keep working. And this all adds up in long run, in the short run, we might be working amazing and giving great results, but in long run, this adds up to stress.
And sometimes the mental health comes up in forms of these incidents where you feel uncomfortable, confused and troubled. At times you question yourself whether really, it’s a thing. And that’s where you need to tell yourself – that it’s Ok. And then discuss. Find a person who you feel comfortable discussing with. At times if you don’t find those people, go to a senior, go to a loved one, go to anyone and talk. Talking helps big time.
There is another version of this where I’ve often heard that some people try this and fail, because some people just say to Chill the eff. They just don’t want to hear. And that’s where it gets very difficult. We should always try to listen to people who want to speak. While growing up I realized Listening skills is not a leadership skill, it’s a life skill. If you listen, sometimes that does wonders for the other person. So, if some person comes to you looking to talk, please listen. Because maybe that’s the best medicine that they can ever get, and you might be the one to give.
I will not go to extremes here, but it’s often no one to talk, where it all starts from. I’ve heard a friend say, that at 2am once he messaged 28 people, no one replied, and he couldn’t sleep. And when he could talk, he could feel the calm.
Life will change, the world will keep changing, the pandemic is a surprise, and let’s face it we might get more as we live. The only thing goes back is Survival of the fittest, and while we all focus on running in the gym, mental health is a big strength. Me writing this blog doesn’t mean Its my strength.
I keep telling teams to take breaks in evening, spend time with family, probably go for a walk with a mask when you see not much people downstairs. And talk to people. Have the coffee sessions, engage and interact!
Not sure how long we will work remotely, but I’m sure the mental health is important at every aspect of life. So, let’s believe it, accept it, and see mental health as a journey and ensure we take care of ourselves and the people around us.