How to have the courage to fail when failure means…The End of the World!?

At our open space we had the lovely Torguy Andersson, Doug Scherbarth, Lloyd Mitchell, Kristi Nigulas, Tom Howelett, Adrian Potter, Vincent Lassalle, Suzanne Dougile, John Chadwell, Enrico Braganje, Ranouf Abrougui, Dav Tsal Sela, Stefano Lucantoni and many more butterflies and bees who came and settled around the edges, who I am sorry I did not manage to capture the names of.

"I have to do this 20th thing today, right now, because if I don't… The world will end." It can feel like that a lot of the time for the teams I work with. We're an environmental charity and like most charities we're strapped for money, people and time to do all the things that it might take to fulfil that one mission that is on forever scope creep(?) – changing the world for the better.

Here are some of the ideas both practical and profound that came from our open space:

Where's the problem really at?

1) It's over-commitment for every individual, but one that is ingrained in existing culture of always seeking to do more, give more and the pride that can come from that as part of the organisational and personal identity.

2) Is failing really the issue? We're failing to get things done all the time, but its not really seen as failure.

3) Is it less about each person and more about the interactions between the team and others. You always saying "yes" to that extra request, knowing in your heart it really is a "no" but too polite/scared/used to saying yes? What's the "why" behind this and can it be challenged

The Practical

4) Move the the stand-ups. At the moment the team flat-out refuses to a daily 15 mins, but ad-hocs do happen around a desk quite often. So how about taking a stand-up to them. Designate a desk and at certain time, pick-up the rest of the team (the team-train :P) and do it round the desk.

5) They love to talk. Another reason why 15 min commitment is never 15 mins and the fear of meetings. So try 5 mins to start. Take a stop-watch, start with 1 minute each. There can always be extra time at the end if people want to hang back. Don't label it a 'meeting' or some grand process thing.

6) Really work harder on the definition of done making sure it shows the value and do it together. Ask the question for every task, "what would it mean for it to be done"

7) When the hesitation comes to moving something into done. i.e. Want to add another layer of we could do 1 more thing, instead add it as an extra task, then add these as new things to be prioritised rather than allowing continual progress, but no completion.

8) Make more of DONE. So that success and progress is celebrated with this as the key focus. Visual prompts, anything to recognize and shift pride in the done rather than the constant doing. Can we make 'done' more fun.

9) Recommended Ted Talk "Power of vulnerability". Find the space to talk openly, challenging the always saying 'more' or 'yes' and examining the why behind habits.

Diving Deeper

The mission is big and gets bigger each time we look at it and the urge is to run full pelt at it, all day, everyday. Perhaps we need to recognize that it's not a sprint at all. Or lots of sprints that we need, but a marathon. We need the grit and pace to keep going.

Perhaps the courage needed isn't about failure, but courage to call 'it' done, to accept 'it' won't be perfect and to be courageous enough to admit we only have so much we can give. To know what we are capable of.

Thanks to all participants, who came and contributed or just listened in. It was incredibly useful to delve into the agile values and how these rub up in reality against the ones in non-profit teams. Love the ideas for sneaky stand-ups and other creative ideas, as well as making an effort to go back and challenge the team to be more open with each other to break some old habits.

It was fun and full of energy. I'm ready to go back and try them out!

I'm sure I didn't manage to scrawl down all the great insights and range of discussion that was had. If there's something key I missed, further thoughts or would like to keep in touch you can find me at @startmyquest or linked in Wendy Yuen.

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