The ERs have entered a new phase: it was the first time we run it for the second time for the same person.

Few short comments and notes:

  • If you have no (good) role description, you end up with feedback session, not a real ER. Still useful & engaging, though.
  • Last time I created a too ambitious development plan. Lesson learned: development plan is not to please the audience, it is to help you work better. So don’t lie to yourself, that you would be able to do X and Y and Z. You won’t. Tackling X will be an achievement.
  • You need to make sure the participants understand their role well. Devote some time for it or you won’t get what you are looking for (i.e. interesting, well-thought, sensible appreciations and improvement suggestions).
  • Select your participants wisely. They need to work with you a lot. Of course, since all your colleagues are intelligent beasts, every each one of them is capable of telling you something interesting, but the most valuable comments will come from people who had a lot of chances to see you in action.
  • People get used to the fast-paced way of conducting ERs.
  • More and more people prepare themselves for ERs. We talk more about roles. Not much done yet in the area, but I hope it will change soon.
  • New joiners think ERs are an established practice and they treat is as one of many weird things we do here. 🙂

My comments written down after the 4th effectiveness review (ER) at Codewise.

First of all, the ERs are becoming “no-events”. I mean, people know what to expect (both the hero of ER and the participants). They come prepared, they know what to expect. Around 30 people already participated in the ERs (and few more decided to have one for themselves).

ERs Beg For Well Described Roles

During the S3 course I attended, I heard that implementing some of S3 patterns results in starting using other S3 patterns as well. I think I start to observe a little bit of this happening. The fact we started to run ERs initiated some discussions about our roles. Sometimes we are happy with what we have (usually old job specs from the ancient times when we applied for a job or we were promoted to certain positions) but in some cases ERs are a catalyst of discussion and changes. It would eventually happened anyway, but it seems it will happen sooner thanks to ERs.

The Development Plan

I observed a difficulty with coming up quickly with development plan. I struggled with this myself during my ER. It was hard enough to grasp all the improvement suggestions (there were ~25 of them) and rapidly creating a sensible plan out of them… well, this was challenging. I felt time pressure (10 people staring at me and waiting till I present a plan to them) and that definitely wasn’t comfortable.

Yesterday, I observed how the hero of ER was preparing his plan and I was under the impression that it wasn’t easy for him as well. One of the improvement suggestions he got was that he should delegate things more. So he added “delegate tasks” as one of the points of his development plan. I was expecting more concrete steps towards delegating, not only the promise of “I will delegate more”.

Can we expect the hero to come with some detailed plan just like that? What about the big tasks – like the one that “you should delegate more” – is it OK to have a development plan with point “I will prepare a plan of action on how to delegate and then I follow it”? Or maybe the hero should spent some time on the spot and try to figure out what would be the actions moving him into the desired direction (or at least the next step – like in the GTD method – to set things in motion) ?

The problems with preparing Development Plan might stem from the fact that this were our first ERs, which resulted in a gazillion of improvement suggestions. I would expect to have less of them next time we run ER for the same person (provided that we do not wait too long with it). If so, then preparing a development plan should be much easier.

Things You Learn About Yourself

One guy – let us call him Andy (a leader of one of our teams) – gave the following appreciation: “I really appreciated when you came to me to talk about X. It was good that you reminded me about this. Thanks to you X wasn’t forgotten.” I asked the hero after the ER whether he was surprised by Andy’s words. He said it was unexpected. He rather thought about his own actions in terms of being PITA (kind of: “Here I go to this Andy guy, to give him one more issue to solve, as if he hadn’t got enough of them already… He must hate me for this…”). Now he knows better how his actions are perceived by others. Valuable knowledge, isn’t it?

Hoping for More

We had only 4 ERs so far, and even though I believe they were pretty valuable, I do not want to call it a success yet. Let me wait with fanfares until we run few of them for the same people consecutively. Will we still benefit from them as we do from the first ones? Yes, let me wait before I call it a success. But what we have right now is a promising start. Good!

Recently I read an article about the (alleged) fall of Holacracy and one part related to meetings draw my attention. I’m interested in the topic of meetings efficiency for quite a long time. It reminded me of a novel way of facilitating a meeting that I witnessed during a Sociocracy 3.0 training some time ago. What I read in the article somehow resonated with my own feelings and thoughts.

But let me start with the prevalent opinion about meetings nicely expressed by this tweet:

Surprised? I guess not. I know many people who think that “meeting = waste of time”(And BTW. my observation is, that the same people who complain about the meetings, act themselves in a way, which makes meetings a nightmare.)

Now, if you search for it, you will find a gazillion of advises on how to make meetings more efficient.

…but what actually happens when you try to squeeze the time spent on meeting to minimum aiming at making them as productive as possible? People should be happy, right? Hmm… not so fast. Read this quote from the aforementioned article:

As Zappos onboarded its employees to the system over the past four years, one of the biggest complaints, far and away, was around the rigid meeting format, which provides the guardrails for the system. Tactical meetings […] tightly govern how and when employees can speak up. The meetings, which typically are held once a week, open with a check-in round and then dive into checklists and metrics. […] there is “no discussion” during the check-in and closing rounds. In other words, there is no natural, back-and-forth conversation that begets camaraderie, respect, trust, and connection. No small talk.

Whoa, wait! That is really interesting, isn’t it? At one hand people are tired with meeting taking too long and often not bringing expected results. They are dead tired with some talkative assholes who waste time of everyone in the room. They want to reach decision quickly and go back to their work, right? They would love to end the endless debates and discussion.

And what happens when you actually give it to them? They are disappointed because “there is no natural, back-and-forth conversation that begets camaraderie, respect, trust, and connection” .

I find this really intriguing. Recently, when trying to start the process of effectiveness reviews, I experimented with strict facilitation rules (rounds & no discussion & no preamble). And I felt that some participants were not enjoying this formula (even if they witnessed its effectiveness). I wonder if what I try to achieve is so much against our human nature (and thus destined to fail) or maybe – and this is what I hope for – it is only an initial pain of doing things in a new way? Will see about this. 

As for now, my plan is to have the following deal with meeting participants:

  • during meetings, we get rid of “human element” as much as possible – we aim at efficiency,
  • after the meeting is finished then whoever feels like he wants to socialize does so (and let me tell you that our office provides plenty of ways to socialize!).

Would that work? Or maybe we are so used to the fact that the meetings are about socializing and small talk, and endless discussions that we won’t let it go no matter what?

 

Since the last blog post(see http://tomek.kaczanowscy.pl/2016/12/sociocracy-3-0-effectiveness-review/) we run 2 more effectiveness reviews (ER in short). This blog post gathers my thought, comments and lessons learned. Hope you find it useful.

Preparations.

Based on previous experience I took the following steps to make the next effectiveness reviews even more fruitful:

  • I prepared a document explaining shortly what it is and what is expected of the participants.
  • I tried to make driver & role description more visible during the meeting – so that the appreciations and improvement suggestions were more related to it.
  • Last time we ended the ER with development plan in form of some additional notes added to the “improvement suggestions” flip-chart card. This time I wanted to end the meeting with more explicit development plan (i.e. written down separately, so there would be no confusion on what was really decided).

Also, I created a short checklist for anyone who wants to run an effectiveness review (with some basic stuff like how to prepare room etc.)

Time

Recently I’m pretty focused on the meetings efficiency. I hope to run ERs regularly so I want them to be as concise as possible.

In one of today’s meeting I set some strict rules: we speak straight to the point, no discussions, no preamble, no starting with “Uhhmmm…. Well… so…. Of course I agree with what [name of previous participant here] said, because I also feel this is very important. And also I would like to add that …” (15-20 seconds gone, now multiply it by number of participants and number of rounds!). It worked wonders – we avoided a lot of time wasting talking and the whole event was much shorter.

However, later when I discussed the event with some participants, I learned that there are some downsides of this approach (excerpt from an email I got):

“I thought the meeting was slightly rushed with the onus being on short sharp bullet points of feedback however I think we could have elaborated on our points more and given examples which could help benefit the person.”

In general there is some tension between having an efficient meeting and allowing people “to do the long and non-value talking as they usually do”. Currently I value efficiency more (but I try hard not to be rude interrupting people etc.) Still, my approach could be improved – one person suggested that giving examples (context) for appreciations could be valuable, and I agree with this idea.

Anyway, I believe that with artful participation it is possible to have a very fulfilling first ER taking less than 30 minutes. I also think that the consecutive ones (for the same role) can take half of this time.

My learning also is, that if you clearly state the purpose of the meeting (easy-peasy in case of ER: first we do appreciations, then we do improvement suggestions, so in the end we can have development plan) then it is pretty simple to stop any discussion that is not moving us towards the goal of the meeting.

Taking notes

Taking notes sounds simple, but it ain’t so. After one of today’s ERs we had notes so good, that people who wern’t there would benefit from reading them. The notes from the second ER would be completely cryptic to someone who wasn’t there.

In general, I think taking good notes is a skill that could be trained.

As for now, flip-charts worked for us better than whiteboards. The notes on flip-charts were more readable. Not sure why – probably because the flip-charts offer infinite surface which encourages the scribe to write longer sentences (and thus achieve better readability afterwards).

My ER

One the ERs today was mine (“lead by example”, isn’t it?). I have to say this was a positive experience. First, it is really encouraging to hear the appreciations and learn that this thing, that maybe I was even embarrassed about (oh, no, I can’t bother them again with this, no, I really can’t), that they actually appreciate it. Second, the participants gave me some really valuable feedback on how I could improve. Some of the things I was aware of (“delegate more!”)  but some were new to me. And even for things I knew about it makes a difference if you hear it from few people. At least for me.

And BTW. I think I did a good job on selecting people – I took some close cooperators but also few “independent thinkers” that I do not work on daily basis but who are influenced by my job. Thanks to this, I got feedback from very different perspectives. 

I ended up with a 5-points development plan. Some of the tasks too big to be “action points” but rather directions I should move into.

During my ER I had this feeling that some participants are actually more nervous than I was. It seemed to me, that it was hard for them to express their opinion in a public setting. Probably my role might have some impact on this, however, I know all of the participants pretty well and we are on friendly terms, so I’m not sure where this hardship is coming from. Also, it seems that for some people it is awkward to give feedback in such public setting. No problems with appreciations, but improvement suggestions are hard for some. I wonder if this is only because we are not used to do it in such manner? Some also dream of good, old, corpo days when managers would handle the hard stuff (an excerpt from the email I got afterwards):

“Obviously its a lot harder to give more constructive criticism face to face so I prefer anonymous then the manager will collate all feedback.”

Final Notes / Random Observations / Concerns

Notes to myself on what to improve:

  • Work on roles – our old job descriptions we use instead of driver&role are not good enough.
  • We need more skilled scribes.
  • We need more skilled facilitators.
  • Sending email with guidelines for participants seems to work pretty well.
  • I still have no clue how to efficiently amend the driver/role during the ER meeting.
  • The 1-month frequency is not good for everyone. Need to be flexible with this.

Some doubts:

  • If the role is not clear enough then so are the improvement suggestions. So, first work on the roles.One of the concerns we have is the following. The ER concept seems to work fine when there are no major issues with roles. The atmosphere is friendly. How will it work if there are some serious issues with person in role? Will the participants be polite enough to express their doubts in form of civilized “improvement suggestions” or will the whole meeting divert into some kind of judgment and punishment for the hero?
  • In general I feel ERs are a valuable addition to what we do, and we should continue. However, I have doubts whether ERs are suitable for everyone. Will developers benefit from this kind of meeting? I’m not sure. I think in the case of many devs code reviews, 1-on-1s with tech leads and team retrospectives might be good enough.

I rarely write about S3, but when I do, it is long and boring. 🙂

Below you will find my experiences with the S3 effectiveness review  – an idea that I borrowed from S3. I hope that maybe some comments that I share will help you to run yours. 

Ah, names of people are changed in order to “protect the innocent”.

So, there is this team, that was going some reconstruction, meaning people changed roles. And I thought, that maybe this is a good point to introduce some new practices (and I have to admit I was looking for some opportunities to introduce selected S3 patterns since I attended an S3 training with Lily & James).

Fortunately, John, who was appointed team lead, agreed to become my guinea pig. So here is what we did plus some comments/improvement ideas:

  • Started with the driver (why this team lead is needed) and with role description. All written down by John & me, and later reviewed and enhanced by another member of the team. We ended up with 1-page doc (used google docs which is nice for collaboration/sharing).
  • Decided to run effectiveness review once a month.
  • Asked Joanna – an agile coach from an agile consulting company (with some S3 experience) – to facilitate the meeting and help us prepare.
  • From the very beginning we planned (and John agreed) that this event will be opened to observers – I wanted few leaders of other teams to join us so they could observe and learn how it looks like (and hopefully want to introduce effectiveness review for their teams as well).
  • Since we had no previous experience, we tried to plan it very carefully. Joanna & me worked (shared doc again) to list all things to be done – like what kind of materials should be printed, who the scribe will be, what should we tell the participants beforehand etc. In short, we wanted to make sure this event will be well prepared, so that it runs smoothly.
  • I talked with every participant (selected by John) explaining the idea and their role. Also, I talked with all the observers. All received an email with links to:
  • We set the room so there was a circle of 6 chairs (for the main participants) and some places outside the circle (for the observers). We decided to take notes on flipchart.
  • The scribe, wrote down every appreciation & every improvement suggestion on the flipcharts. Tip: We used two different colors alternately so each idea was well visible.
  • We ended up with some action points for John (all related to the gathered improvement suggestions) for the next weeks.
  • After the event the scribe sent around all the notes gathered during the event
  • The whole event took us ~55 minutes. I think we can cut the length of this meeting by at least 10 minutes next time.

The results / comments / improvement suggestions:

  • Reception
    • In general this was well received both by team members and by observers.
    • I asked some team members how they feel about it. They say it seems really valuable.
    • Some comments from the team members like “a pity we haven’t used this approach earlier” (this team has quite a troubled past, so maybe such effectiveness reviews could had been useful).
  • What was good
    • Friendly attitude is IMHO crucial. The fact that our facilitator (Joanna) was beaming with positive energy helped a lot.
    • Asking “external expert” – Joanna in our case – to facilitate this event was a good idea.
    • It is very valuable to have different people participating – in our case we had 3 team members, a product owner, and IT recruiter. All of them had recently worked a lot with John. Thanks to this diversity John received very different comments. Good.
    • A note about transparency: as I said before we sent around the notes from the event. Surprisingly, this helped another team member (who wasn’t participating) to understand his situation in the team (do not want to go into details here, only stressing out the fact, that unexpected – and good – things happen after you let the information flow.
    • Flipchart notes worked very well. Recommended.
  • Emotions
    • One person told me he would probably die if it was his achievements being discussed in such public setting. This is an important information to me – maybe for some individuals we should go with something less public (kudo cards?).
    • John is a very open person, but I observed that he was nervous before we begun. Fortunately, he was doing a really good job recently so he received a lot of appreciations and this relieved the tension.
  • Next steps
    • I talked with the observers trying to persuade them that maybe, possibly they could also benefit from establishing roles and running such effectiveness reviews. One person wants this very much, others are more cautious, but in willing to give it a try.
    • And yes, we will definitely run the next session for John in one month time.
  • From the discussions with some observers we have this idea, that such effectiveness review might not be feasible for some roles – for example, we were wondering if for regular devs, this would give anything more than what they learn during daily code reviews & architectural discussions. Not sure about this one, will see.
  • When discussing the idea of organizing such effectiveness review for a specific person I heard that “in case of this particular person, such a very positively-aligned meeting could make things worse”.
    • The context here is that the person in question has a very high idea of his skills/quality etc. And since effectiveness review is pretty much about positive feedback it could result in even bigger ego.
    • Also, in this particular context, the idea that the person selects participants seems kind of dangerous – we could expect this particular person would select only those, who would praise him. I guess in such cases the list of participants should emerge from some discussion among e.g. person and his boss, and not based solely on person’s opinion.
  • Improvement suggestions
    • We should focus on the driver and role description more. We drifted too much from John’s responsibility to general ideas of team improvement. It was also valuable, but not exactly what we hoped for. Next time I want to have the driver/role visible all the time (overhead projector).
    • We need also to help people prepare even more than what we did this time. I think it is crucial to first have a good discussion about the driver and the role with the whole team. Also, all participants should understand that the meeting is about helping someone fulfill his role better. However, as for the first time I’m really happy with what every participant brought to the discussion.
    • We will probably ask Joanna to facilitate few more events but then we want to do it ourselves. After all, it doesn’t seem such a big deal.

That is all folks. Comments/questions welcomed! Cheers!