- Sometimes we reflect
- Sometimes we use metaphors
- Sometimes we have constructive conversations
- Sometimes we assess our impact
There is new research that suggests that if we are able to combine these modes of communication into one game like activity that’s fun and intuitive, we can help our teams communicate more effectively. Dr. Arthur Shelley is developing these ideas in his Reflective Performance Cycle (RPC) and wrote about it in the most recent PM Journal (December 2012).
Metaphor is defined as: A thing regarded as representative or symbolic of something else, esp. something abstract. Using metaphor helps to enable people to talk about behaviors in a way that separates the person from the problem.
Reflection is something we already do in the lesson learned, where we think back and analyze what happened in the past.
Constructive conversation is when you use the conversation to achieve an outcome. In other words constructive conversation is a discussion of a subject upon which, at the end of the conversation there is a decision or an action in relationship to that subject.
Impact is something we touch on in the lesson learned sometimes, but this article suggests that we role play and pre-evaluate the potential impact of behavior, before we engage in that behavior.
This makes me think about how I set up meetings, aka what-I’ve-learned-to-do-from-leading-crash-and-burn-meetings in the past. When I set up meetings, I always describe the behavior and the method of the meeting. So for example, I might say:
This meeting is to discuss the most recent production push. Please think ahead about those things that worked and those things that didn’t.
We are going to:
1. Discuss what went well
2. Discuss what didn’t go well
3. Brainstorm ideas about how to shore up areas that didn’t go well
4. Decide which changes we can make right away
I think that most agile teams build this type of reflection in with a standard sprint retrospective. But what I’m talking about here is setting up the desired behavior that you want from the team, in advance. By sending a message like this before the meeting you are:
- Using a metaphor, brainstorm, to describing the way the team will interact.
- Describing the desired behavior from the team. We will think, we will describe, we will decide.
- Asking for reflection ahead of time: please think ahead about these things.
- Indicating that the conversation will have an outcome; therefore it will be constructive: decide which changes we can make right away.
This type of message engages the human brain in setting the stage. I’ve found this setup to be really useful in getting the desired outcome that I’d like.
But here’s the meat of the matter
The article provides even more delicious ways to engage your team by combining behavior, reflection, constructive conversations, and impact assessment.
One activity that I believe shows promise can be run with a team where “participants can pre-select which behaviors are the the most appropriate for achieving the desired outcomes of each
conversation, depending on the situation” (Shelley, PM Journal, December 2012, Page 89).
I could see an IT team using this to help smooth communications with their business stakeholders. This activity would be done without the business stakeholders.
In the activity, a deck of cards is used. Each card has a type of animal. Because of cultural conditioning, we all have ideas about animals and what they represent. The lion for example usually represents decisiveness and bravery. While a snake usually represents sneakiness.
Shelley describes this activity:
“The nine members of the group were asked to (Individually) use the cards to profile at least one of their stakeholders with a view to understanding them better.
They were instructed to consider how they should behave in order to secure their desired outcomes from the next interaction with the stakeholder.
Before engaging with the stakeholder, participants were encouraged to role play the planned interaction or at least discuss it with peers.
[Other] participants were asked to record and challenge their thoughts regarding the interaction with the stakeholder in a reflective impact diary template.” (Shelley, PM Journal, December 2012, Page 90).
Breaking it down, the activity goes like this:
Using a metaphor for behavior (the cards) describe the behavior of a stakeholder.
ex. “The project sponsor is a Pirana. Everytime I go to talk to them, its like a feeding frenzy, they jump all over me with everything that could go wrong.”
Think about the next interaction with that stakeholder and consider how the team member should adjust their behavior in order to get the desired outcome.
ex. “I could not jump in the proverbial water! Perhaps if I prep myself by considering the good and the bad that could happen ahead of time, and then approach them with a more complete analysis, I’ll pre-empt the strike.”
Role play the new behavior.
One team member plays the stakeholder. The team member would practice the new behavior while other team members record the interaction.
Reflect on the role play and assess the impact of the change in behavior.
The observing team members share their reflection of the interaction, and adjustments are made.
Check out Dr. Shelley’s slideshare presentation to learn more: