XP Days Germany: Resolving resistance to change

At the XP Days Germany, Rachel Davies talked about how to resolve resistance to change. Davies said that she faces this resistance often as a coach, and what to do about it.

Rachel Davies said that the Agile Coach helps teams grow strong in Agile practice. It would be fine if you could lay out all the XP and all the Scrum practices, and let the team decide what to do. Davies said that a coach supports the team rather than setting the direction. As an effective coach you cannot tell people what to do. A coach works from the back getting the team together, and focus them back on their course.

Davies reported from one of her earlier teams she coached in a bank. From an Agile point of view a coach need to get the whole team involved into the decisions that the team is going to make. Coaching is about change, since in order to improve we have to change ourselves. Change needs to take place across multiple levels. Change needs to happen for individuals, for teams, as well as for the whole organization. She asked the audience who had experience on a team using test-driven development, and whether this ever worked in case just one programmer used it.

Davies explained why resistance to change happens using the Satir Change Model. In the chaos phase of the change model, individuals are struggling with the foreign element, and try to get back to their old comfort zone. In some cases teams might also give up, and reach a sub-optimal new status quo during the transition.

On explaining why people resist change, Davies showed a picture of grass-cutting farmers using old tools. Since they need to cut the grass until the end of the day, they will focus on the goal, rather than the change. Particularly Davies explained that teams often don’t think they got time to improve. Often people rush through their work, and don’t think they got the time to improve themselves and the ways in which they work.

Davies continued by explaining that showing just some cool new tools to teams struggling with change does not work on its own. Instead she said that you have to keep the culture of the team in mind, and the new ways of working have to support the values the team has.

Davies referenced to “Leading Teams” from J. Richard Hackman, which she found useful while working on Agile Coaching. Hackman explains three kinds of coaching interventions. First, motivational, improves the effort by minimizig free riding and building shared commitment. Second, consultative, which improves process by reducing thoughtless habits like cargo-culting and fostering invention based on situation. Davies said that coaching is about challenging perceived rules in teams. Last, educational intervention improves knowledge and skill. As a coach you sometimes have to flip into a teaching mode to help people understand what the new way of working is going to look like. Davies said that these three can be combined.

Davies referenced Resistance as a resource from Dale Emery. In order to change something, a coach has to understand the resistance. She explained that a coach needs to dig deeper behind this resistance. Resistance is a source of information, which can help the coach.

Listening to the team what they are struggling, and how work is perceived is an essential skill. Davies explained why a coach should listen. Listening shows respect to the team. In addition the coach can gather data about the team and the company in a larger context. The coach learns about feeling and opinions in the team. The coach is then able to see the big picture and re-focus the team on their larger goal.

Davies proposed force field analysis as a tool to understand forces that drive change, and forces that restraining the change process. By this barriers can be removed, and forces for change are amplified.

Davies said that as a coach you need to prepare the ground. The environment that a team needs in order to grow, might start with the management level of the organization. As a coach it could make sense to start consulting at this level.

Being Agile is usually not the real goal, Davies said. A coach tries figure out what the team really want. Being Agile is vague, and does not reveal the benefit the team tries to get. Sharing the visions how things could be like after the change provides a real vision for the team to focus on. This brings more driving force to the change process in the individual, the team, and the larger organization in that context.

Davies also proposed to make blockers visible after having identified concerns about the change. Bringing transparency related to the factors that hinder the Agile transition can help to make forces that restrain change observable.

Davies said that feedback for the team should be visible. For example the number of passing tests, user satisfaction survey results, or work-in-progress limits on the taskboard make problems visible. By this the coach helps the team to make more informed decisions. She told the story of a team who was working on the legacy system, while the remaining teams were working on the cool new stuff. The team was rather depressed, but once the system was released, and the team got the feeling that their project was meaningful to the customers, the team regained energy.

Another way to help teams as a coach is to be an example. Asking for help is one way to do this. When facing resistance to change the coach should ask the team to help her overcoming it. Also, testing the waters by encouraging experiments and trying things out helps to deal with people who object to new things. By reframing the change to an experiment for a limited time flips around the problem to focus on the things which are not working instead of debating theoretically about it.

A coach should also encourage ideas, Davies said. By asking the team how they would solve the problems, the team is able to change themselves. Also Davies said, that teams and coaches should consider more than one solution for new ideas. The coach should go with the energy of the team. What is the team interested in? What does the team want to try?

In order for a team to work together, the team needs working agreements. These working agreements should be built in a workshop at the beginning, be kept open and visible, and reviewed and changed once they are broken. Davies said that a programmer and a tester might have different understandings about the work of the other. A working agreement makes this transparent, and agreed-upon.

Trust equals credibility plus relability plus intimacy devided by self-orientation. Davies referred to the book “The Trusted Advisor” on how to build trust. A coach can work on any of these factors that influence the trust in the team.

Davies most important tip for resistance to change is to be patient, since change takes time to foster itself. Quality interactions with people are way more valuable than forced changes. People being respected and having influence to the change is a way to bring change to organizations.

One of the questions after the presentation asked about Fearless Change and whether Davies found it useful to bring changes to organizations. Davies explained that the patterns in the book help a lot. Another question referred to Weinberg’s vicious cylce on the “We don’t have time” syndrome. Davies explained that making the pain obvious with a systems thinking diagram can support forces driving the change.

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One thought on “XP Days Germany: Resolving resistance to change”

  1. This is good a write up and presents a serious message from Rachel to Agile team that change does not happen overnight by individuals working in silos but by the whole team working as one. There will be obstacles on the way but a united team with the facilitation from a good coach work wonders. Agile is not important but agreeing common goals is. Good coach can bring best in individuals and ease the pain of change. To me change is always better and instrument for progress.

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