Wednesday, May 9, 2018

How agile coaching changed me

When I actively started going into the direction of coaching, I was a typical consultant. In short: Do as requested, give the customer what they asked, play by the rules - help wherever possible, and be a nice person overall. All of that has changed. I will use Dungeons and Dragon's "Alignment Model" to explain what, how and why. To avoid confusion, remember that this is a model, not a religious view. The terminology is set like this simply because I'm copying a pre-existent model!

This is a rather personal post, I neither expect you to agree with my position, nor to adopt it. I created this post to encourage you to reflect on your own outlook at life with this model.
As coach, it's not our job to tell others the rules, they are well able to discover their own.

The model

One can sink quite a bit of time into this model, so I'll keep it short:

On the "Stance" X-axis is the distinction between "the belief that everything should follow an order, and that obeying rules is the natural way of life" (lawful), as opposed to "the belief that life is random, and that chance and luck rule the world" ("chaotic).

On the "Morality" Y-axis is the distinction between the belief that one should put the benefit of others before oneself ("good") and the belief that one can take advantage of others for one's own benefit ("evil").

The "Neutral" middle ground in either direction is a respectful attitude without any form of compulsion in either direction.
From a structural perspective, it means that law has advantages and disadvantages, and while order is often preferrable, it is neither attainable nor unconditionally desirable.
From a moral perspective, it is a stance that helping others is preferable to harming others, yet taking care of oneself and those with a close relationship is more important.

My journey

The past

For most of the past ten years, my behaviour could have been described as "Lawful Good" in the model.

My stance
I used to believe in explicitly defined structures and processes. I supported organizations and managers in optimizing their structure, defined rules, created process charters, developed and conducted change initiatives. I monitored and enforced the adherence to plan, structure and rules. It was my duty.
That's "Lawful".

My moral attitude
I always believed that I must help others and that my contribution is important. Is that bad? No - and yes. I made thousands of hours of overtime to help projects and help my company succeed. I didn't have time for friends or family. I neglected those who should have mattered to me in order to help others. Help them succeed, help them earn money, help them advance their career.
That's "Good".

The journey

As I started the coaching journey, I already had some issues with Scrum and the ScrumAlliance's moral setup. But because my company wanted me to become a CEC, I tagged along, so I applied. I got rejected, but that's a story I already told.

How my stance changed
As coach, I learned that it was the structures, processes and rules which destroyed the productivity of intelligent people in so many different ways. For example, developers are forced to commit to plans that can't possibly work out, they are expected to make a forecast on the Unknown - and they are entrenched with processes which forbid them to do the right thing.
I learned that neither is structure always helpful, nor does predictability always exist, and there's no way we can correct that once for all.
There was a short time when I resented and loathed hierarchy and structure, but it was a phase. I have become agnostic to those things, seeing both ups and downs.
I came to accept that we can't know upfront whether the rules we're following are helping or hindering, and rules themselves can lead to both good and evil: One can't be good and support evil rules.
I learned that a "Lawful" stance can achieve the opposite of what it is meant to do.
I have taken a "Neutral" stance ever since, being much more wary of the impact a rule might have.

How my moral attitude changed
Through reflection, I came to realize so many things:
First, that "well meant is the opposite of well done", aka. "The road to hell is paved with good intentions" - I had no way of knowing whether the help I provided was actually achieving its purpose. Too many times, things happened such as misguided transparency bringing people into trouble, well-meant processes misfiring and causing damage yada yada.

And the worst part - the people whom I helped and for whom I sacrificed so much were, for the most part, evil (based on this model). Not evil like Dr. Mabuse or Hannibal Lecter - but they hired and exploited me as well as others for their own benefit. The systems I created exploited many for the benefit of a few. And I let it happen!
Being good doesn't mean the outcome is good.
I have since learned that trying to help others is a double-edged sword. I have taken a "Neutral" attitude, dropping the concept that doing things for others is better than enabling them to do things on their own.

That's me

I classify myself as "True Neutral" in the D+D model, and I'm proud of having come there. I am no longer under a compulsion to do something for others, and have become unwilling to further an "evil motive", as in letting others take advantage or oppress me.

I can appreciate beneficial rules and structures without losing my freedom to scrutinize anything that I disagree with. I accept that we can't control the future, and understand that tremendous harm can be caused by trying to create a "perfect system". While I have no problem with ambiguity and uncertainty, I understand the fears of people who prefer to be stuck in a bad structure towards having no structure.

I can positively respect both Lawful and Chaotic people, I can get along with both Good and Evil people, but I don't have to be like them or support their cause. I prefer a good environment over an evil environment, but I won't go on a crusade to make it the way I think it should be. Instead, I will seek balance with my environment and harmony with the people around me. 

I work to help others gain a deeper understanding of their situation, so that they can freely choose to take whichever course of action they consider most suitable. At the same time, I reserve my right to not join them on a course I personally disapprove.

I am "True Neutral".

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