The building blocks working together. First part: “networking”
What I want to share here, are my very personal reflections on the smallest ‘pebbles’ any agile collaboration is based on. Furthermore, being connected to others is THE stress reducer #1. So please, consider this when staying at home during these times of the pandemic.
Part I — Ouverture
I am working as an Agile Coach and Scrum Master, mostly with teams learning how to deliver products using Scrum or Kanban as their frameworks to work together. In a podcast done lately, we borrowed the term “rudiments” from a drummer’s formation program to create the term “scrum rudiments” (in episode 7 of the podcast ‘daily of the month’, the podcast has been done in the German language). I’ve been asked in this episode to contribute some of my views on how to learn Scrum and, what the major things a Scrum Team and a Scrum Master do, might be. Working truly together with people of your ‘network ‘, collaborating, is one of those pieces. So I would like to share some ideas we talked about in this podcast and elaborate on them further.
My overarching goal is to create a series (thus the 90+ in the headline of this first piece) of small texts reflecting on these “rudiments” of collaboration, to share my insights and observations as a Scrum Master and Agile Coach on how to promote teamwork in Scrum or anywhere else.
I personally connected so far to more than 10.000 humans on all continents as a effect of the pandemic. Some I have ‘met’ once in a MeetUp or at a BarCamp, Online-conference or the like. Others are more close and we keep contact to each other regularly. With others we exchanged links and follow our news-feed only. However, since the first lockdown, rarely a week passed without having a chat over a coffee or cup of tea with somebody ‘new‘ to my network.
Rudiments are in music elementary exercises to promote technical skills in learning an instrument. Drums were in our case the reference point, as one member of the podcast team, Chris, is a drummer. The exercise in learning drums is usually not practiced on the drums set but on a simple rubber pad (practice pad) and consists of different beat sequences of the right and left hand. A classic rudiment in learning to drum is a “paradiddle” (see here for example). Or just tap your hands on your knees: Right — Left — Right — Right — Left — Right — Left — Left -…
Is networking necessary? As playing music is mostly being done in small groups, we reflected in that podcast, what parallels there are between jamming or creating a song, and doing some other work as a group. Scrum has become really popular and maybe in these COVID-19 times more than ever on the rise. Anyhow, the underlying wish to co-operate is as old as mankind. So, leaving Scrum aside, what’s promoting extraordinary results truly collaborating? Well, it’s co-operation as a team not a group of people sitting in a co-working space together by chance, isn’t it? What serves then as a basis for co-operation? Networking is one of those rudiments. So let’s start there.
“Networking” is one of the most basic skills of co-operation. Why’s that? Whenever being confronted with a tough and especially with a new problem, solving it in a small group is experienced to lead to better results than trying to do it alone. So finding a group more easily is an advantage in solving complex tasks.
See “networking” as a small pebble to build a house on, as a ‘rudiment’ of co-operation, a form of musical notation to create true common spirit. In your network, you will find people deeply interested to work on the tasks for solving the common issue, which is the assumption behind it.
In what context is networking helpful? How to be done? Are there downsides? These additional questions I will reflect on in this article.
Part II — ‘lick’
The lick is an instrumental phrase used in jazz and rock music. It can be felt like musical “words” or “sentences” played on instruments, which are used, among other things, as a kind of vocabulary and for learning improvisation.
I’d like to share, starting with you from scratch, reflecting on the most influential, ‘smallest’ pebbles out of which a good co-operation grows. It resonated on a broader scope of what is needed for a good, outcome-oriented co-operation between people. Our ‘right-left-right- …’ so to say.
What would be a ‘lick’ of networking then, I wonder? Let’s assume it will have to do with reaching out, being open to connecting, finding somebody or an existing group of people to share a view, ask for help or advice, collaborate with. On the other side as well: being open to be found. Things like this.
Our ‘lick’ would be then systematically giving and taking impulses to and from others as a request for co-operation.
Context: I consider networking useful as one of the most basic foundations in ‘agile’ collaboration. Whenever a new or unclear challenge might be given to me, my team or any group I feel being part of, discussing and finding out about its core and content, as well as any circumstances to be considered could be done more effectively with the help of my network. We share and explore from the angles of our knowledge and experience the ‘why’, ‘what’, and ‘how’ as far as our current understanding of any complex problem allows. Having different backgrounds and joining forces helps a lot to come to more clear, better, and inspirational insights of non-trivial problems. Thus, avoiding personal ‘blind spots’ and thought traps. Coming to better ideas for the design and operational realization of experiments. To get better feedback from reality about the nature of any suitable solution, the approaches to find them, the architecture of, and inspiration to find new answers.
How to ‘learn’ networking for better outcomes and what could be seen as a ‘rudiment’ of co-operation?
In our western societies — generally speaking — it is most common to firstly think about one’s own capabilities, skills, and the like as we tend to see ourselves as “individuals“ who are somehow self-reliant and independently searching for our own best. Schools and universities are teaching skills and pupils are receiving grades based on metrics that mainly value individual results. Co-operation is in this system not a primary focal point in schooling or higher educational paths.
Deriving from this observation, I have to admit a certain initial difficulty to connect and share my views, as the “other” could ‘steal’ knowledge and profit from it without giving something back. Taking the ‘laurels’, fame, and honor to do a thing or solve a problem. ‘Divide-and-conquer’ might serve as a principle to explain this behavior.
Overcoming this fear took me some time, as I learned along my way to trust with an attentive mind, seeing the positive intention to share and help more valuable as any fear of ‘losing’ or being left out. We’re all in this world connected to each other.
How could then the ‘lick’ be learned? My insights: simply to start with being open for any respectfully presented request arriving at you.
Not saying ‘no’ to a request for any potential co-operation in a field of our own interest would in my opinion be my minimum skill for any networking.
I assume we shouldn’t take any request as a ‘yes’ I potentially will co-operate with you. There are limits to be set. Taking for granted the ‘respectful’ requests are the ones we’d like to see, let’s consider accepting these as the ones we base our networking on.
How might we build-up your networking skills, thus? From there, joining groups of your special interest, commenting, and liking the work of others in groups openly, contributing to the works of others — and at the extreme — reaching actively out to ask others for becoming part of their network will be further steps in networking. This needs obviously some practice and might to the full extend be easier for more extroverted people. Anyhow, being open for others connecting to me, the ‘min spec’ so to say, can be done by anyone.
Part III — Jamming
For any challenges, there’s psychological safety needed mostly. Studies show (see here), that there are several factors in any group of people needed to perform better in problem-solving. Having a broad choice of skills ‘networking’ helps to choose the right people. People are ‘the right people’, when we trust them, when — within our circles — we can count on their special pieces of knowledge, creativity, or powers to come up with a suggestion or solution. People that are available at the moment we’re reaching out. As more people are available and willing to help me in a case of need, I’m directly increasing my powers of doing by having a larger network.
An interesting starting point for improving on these skills might be joining the #WOL — movement (see here) founded by John Stepper. There is always some group being build and being ready to accept you as a new member if you would like to be open and invest an hour of your time a week. Other suggestions that worked for me was a local club or group of people, as well as any MeetUp group around the world. Try it! It’s easy and from my experience also fun. Another alternative could be asking around in your family or friends circles for joining any group that brought fun and knowledge.
My insights: don’t hesitate, start networking and try out, where you’ll find new opportunities to collaborate with or help others on things you’d like to be improved. Any minimal step in that direction is helpful. Remember when and how it felt to co-operate with a group you’ve once joined and liked to work with. Find a similar situation. Create an opportunity for others to join you.
Part IV — Finale
As every good thing has to come to an end, let’s talk about some final thoughts and considerations about networking: limits.
How much networking is sufficient? Are there any downsides to it? What, if my preferences change over time? I consider myself a more introverted person, what should I do?
Networking has a ‘natural’ limit in taking time from my calendar. Writing to and connecting with somebody whose advice or action I’m interested in takes time — mine and the other person’s. Valuing others and my time in doing networking with positive intent, listening, being open for other’s requests, and actively reaching out takes time and energy. How much is too much? Well, as long as I’m not feeling stressed, as long as I’m feeling more energized and empowered by these exchanges of thoughts and ideas, I’m within my personal limits.
Downsides might become visible if your circumstances change or you consider yourself as being overstretched from doing networking wholeheartedly. Managing your personal levels of energy and comfort should be a priority. Networking is not an end in itself but a means. So, if there are changes in your personal circumstances don’t worry and be open and clear about it. It is at its core truly human to expand and contract along with the flow of life. Just be honest and take good care to not hurt anyone asking, without explaining why you didn’t react to the request for communication, help, advice, or a common undertaking.
Is there a difference in networking for someone considering themselves a more ‘introvert’ person? Not really, as far as my experience can contribute to this question. Having discussed this issue at a coffee talk with some agile enthusiasts, it is more the scale of what you would like to have as a network, and how many contacts you would like to have been close to you, not the thing itself.
What is sufficient networking? As long as I’m able to find creative answers to the complex challenges I’m being confronted with, as long as I‘m feeling limits to what I find inspiring to be solved and this can be done within my existing network, I’d consider it to be sufficient. As new insights are brought to me from people out of my network, working and collaborating with them, I might feel tempted to expand, to learn more about this topic or way of thinking, reaching out to find more sources, to learn and to contribute.
- networking with others, sharing the same or additional interests to what is important to me is technically easy,
- it can be learned, initiated, and done anytime,
- it is valuable as a means to reach personal and team goals,
- it should be done ‘wholeheartedly’, listening and contributing with respect, openness, and focus, the basic agile values,
- it enriches your thoughts and insights, views, emotions, and your potential to accomplish difficult endeavors,
- it is not about me, but about ‘us’, giving and taking whatever might be needed,
- the extent to what I consider it valuable and helpful can be defined by myself, so it ‘flows’ with whatever my personal circumstances allow for,
- it can be done by anyone.
So reach out, we’re open! have fun!