31 Oct 2021
From 18-22 Oct we had a team workshop in Spain, at the Insular co-working space (https://insulacoworking.es/).
Since we all usually work remotely, it's great that we can have some time occasionally to work directly together in the same place at the same time, as we can be very productive in these workshops. We've had these types of workshops several times over the last years, usually in Alcala, but also one in Joensuu, Finland, but of course the Covid situation has made things hard for us to travel to meet.
We ended up spending a lot of time focussed on the Oct sprint delivery technical development items, which is something that I hoped we would avoid, so that we could spend more time on organisational development. But despite this, it was great to have some time working directly together, as has been the case with our preivous in-person workshops/
We've been going through a change management process, to help us manage ourselve better, and as part of the EMC course that I'm doing we need to submit an assignment on change management processes... So I'd like to share here what I submitted for this assignment:
For this assignment I have chosen the Kotter’s 8 Step change management model, to apply to my current work
Firstly, some background about my organisation and where we currently are. We are a small team of 4, who all work remotely and part-time, since we all do other work as consultant programmers, technical manager and a medical doctor. We have been working together for over 6 years, and being a very flat organisation, we never set up very clear roles. Of course, in a small organisation, people need to be very flexible and contribute to a wide variety of tasks/roles.
Over time, we each ‘fell into’, rather than as a conscious/planned decision, taking responsibility for different areas, albeit with some overlap. Over the last 12-18 months the reach and impact of our work has increased significantly, so highlighted that we need to change how we work. Two key factors over the last 6 months reinforced this, (a) one of our team was unavailable for an extended period (3+ months), due to both personal and family ill-health, (b) there were many disparate areas where I was almost solely responsible (e.g. client liaison, quality assurance, technical management and support, and communications). Essentially we identified that we had very high dependencies on specific individuals for particular roles.
Over the last months we have had some organisational coaching to help us work through this, and how we can develop as an organisation . So we are already part way through a change management process. For this essay I will explain what we’ve already done, where we are and how this matches the Kotter model steps.
We did not specifically select a change management model to follow, so we are not following one of the 5 models precisely, we are using parts from different models to fit our needs. Each of the models could have been appropriate, especially Lewin and ADKAR. Had we only been focussing on contingency planning, I might have selected ADKAR (for it’s narrow focus). However we wanted to have open discussions about other areas that might need to change, rather than focus on one single aspect. Overall, Kotter’s 8 Step Model most closely matches the coaching, development and change management process we are going through.
With the absence of one of our team, it was clear that we needed to change how we worked, so step 1 (creating a sense of urgency) didn’t need any particular persuasion from the leaders to the employees. We were already all in agreement that change was required, although not necessarily how we needed to change.
Similarly, steps 2 (building a core coalition) and 4 (involving everyone in the plan) were straightforward, being a small team we are able to include the whole team in this process. Clearly this would be more difficult in a much larger organisation, so for step 4 especially there would need to be methods/processes for all staff to give their input to the core coalition.
Through our coaching, several exercises helped us define where we see our organisation in the future (step 3 developing a strategic vision). This covered not only the issue of contingency planning (through roles analysis), but others, such as how we develop our technical platform and how we attract new clients.
Steps 5 (reducing obstacles) and 6 (focussing on short-term wins) are roughly where we are at present. We are developing a behavioural agreement/social contract  to help improve how we work together. This seems particularly important when we are a remote, part-time team. None of us have fixed days or hours, but this has it’s pros and cons. It’s very flexible for the team to be able to work when and where they want, however issues can and have occurred when we’re not always sure of who is working on what, or if someone is away. Our behavioral agreement should help us to address these challenges, amongst others.
Although we use an agile methodology for managing our technical development, we don’t yet use a similar approach for the other areas of our organisation. We are in the process of setting up a Kanban board  to help us manage and plan these other non-technical aspects. I anticipate that I will learn a lot from the “Being an Agile Leader” course too.
Some of the specific quick wins include having our two developers more involved in the quality assurance processes and attending our regular client meetings - as these will help them to better understand some of the challenges we have. We’re also making our regular calls more structured and focussed.
Steps 7 (Keeping the Momentum Going) and 8 (Add Some Stability) will be challenging. The changes we need to make involve breaking old habits, and developing new ones, which can be difficult in all areas of life (new exercise regime, new diet etc). However, if we keep our regular calls well structured and make good use of our organisational Kanban board, then we can regularly set new tasks/developments and deadlines. In time, these should become our new habits as our team recognises the benefits.
For the type of leadership needed, a lot of this falls on my shoulders to ensure that the changes are effective, appropriate and accepted by the team, not leaders imposing change. We need to stay open, react to concerns from the team about how changes are implemented and keep them involved in the process at all times.
Having an external facilitator for coaching and taking us through this process I believe is very beneficial, by ensuring that we are equals in the process (not managers and staff), and everyone’s voice is heard.
The changes we implement and how they are implemented should be consensus-driven, so neither a top-down nor bottom-up approach. With this approach we also need to be aware that some changes might not suit everyone. But by having a robust, inclusive, clear and transparent process, the whole team can recognise the value of the change and their input and opinions have been taken into account. The leaders need to recognise that changes in habits cannot be made overnight.
For full disclosure, my partner is an agile leadership coach with Accenture, she is currently taking the Organization and Relationship Systems Coaching certification (ORSC - https://crrglobal.com/about/orsc/), so the coaching she has been providing is part of the practical component of this certification.
How to create a social contract that works, Rajesh Marhur, https://www.rajesh-mathur.com/how-to-create-a-social-contract-with-people-you-work-with-in-agile-team/, accessed 16 Oct 2021
What is kanban?, Atlassian, https://www.atlassian.com/agile/kanban, accessed 16 Oct 2021