Do you know a group who’s been told to do Agile by management? As you can imagine there are various degrees of acceptance for the ‘next silver bullet’ management has come up with. It is unfortunate when management continually comes up with the ‘next greatest thing’ and fails to do the transformation justice. The result is they actually wear down their people’s desire to change how they work. However, that’s another story.

I have a group I am coaching and I must say I’m generally impressed with them. They seem to have a great disposition towards transforming. However, they are very busy so they need to reconcile between working with us to transform and doing their day job (and no the pressure has not be removed from their workload yet … we’re working on that).

In our initial discussions with management we provided them with several approaches we can use as coaches. At one end of the spectrum we flip a light switch and start working different tomorrow. At the other end we cook stone soup and slowly bring them along. We provided the advantages/disadvantages of each approach and let management choose. Long story short … management asked us to cook stone soup.

Don’t know what stone soup is?  Here’s the story I found in Wiki:

images-8Some travellers come to a village, carrying nothing more than an empty cooking pot. Upon their arrival, the villagers are unwilling to share any of their food stores with the hungry travellers. Then the travellers go to a stream and fill the pot with water, drop a large stone in it, and place it over a fire. One of the villagers becomes curious and asks what they are doing. The travellers answer that they are making “stone soup“, which tastes wonderful, although it still needs a little bit of garnish to improve the flavour, which they are missing. The villager does not mind parting with a few carrots to help them out, so that gets added to the soup. Another villager walks by, inquiring about the pot, and the travellers again mention their stone soup which has not reached its full potential yet. The villager hands them a little bit of seasoning to help them out. More and more villagers walk by, each adding another ingredient. Finally, a delicious and nourishing pot of soup is enjoyed by all.

Essentially this means we started by getting them to visualize their work using Kanban and started stand-ups. Once this started, the group started collaborating more effectively and seeing how bad their work load is. They also started to see some problems in their work system.

The cool part happened yesterday at our first retrospective. There were lots of great themes up on the wall such as how they appreciate the visualization, team work, etc. The puzzles & risks they had identified had lots of things which amounted to wanting to know more. In the end the #1 one thing this team asked for is training from us coaches. They just added a few carrots to our soup. They also want to start breaking down some of the heavy governance holding back their work.  Mmmm … potatoes!

What all of this made me consider is whether stone soup can be an elixir for promoting the growth of responsibility. When management forces new approaches to working on their staff, the people become really good at not acting with responsibility. I’ve seen and experienced it many times myself. The people become really good at blaming management’s methodology for a failure. Teams justify weak results by pointing to the process. I also see people wasting precious time doing something out of obligation so they can receive a process check-mark.

So let me ask you … would you rather be in an environment where people are directed down the next great path, or one where they are invited to help cook a delicious stone soup? To get great results from a team the people closest to the work must own how they work. The best way I know to do this is create a culture promoting responsibility, and bring out your big cooking pot. But remember like any good stone soup you cannot force them to take responsibility. Responsibility comes from within and starts with you.

I can’t guarantee cooking stone soup will result in great outcomes but I do know responsibility will.

If you want to learn more about responsibility I recommend looking into The Responsibility ProcessTM. This has been one of the toughest but most rewarding things I’ve learned. Goto to sign up for a  free preview webinar on Oct 7 and 9.    When you signup use my discount code mikeeedwards and you will receive $100 off if you sign up for The Leadership Gift ProgramTM after the webinar.


Building Great Teams

Building Great Teams

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