The Elephant In The Room – Part III – Tools and Tips for Addressing or Removing

My last post in this series “The Elephant In The Room – Part II” I discussed why this type of impediment is tolerated in many organizations.  I also explored how understanding  the context and motivation behind a team member’s poor performance can change other team members’ perceptions of it.  I discussed the importance of not labeling someone as a low performer before making sure that the individual is in the right context to leverage their strengths. 

In this post will be exploring some of the tools and tips for understanding what motivates people, how they operate when things are going well and when things are in conflict, and what types of positions / work best fit a person.  Armed with this knowledge, teams can be assembled that have a complementary motivations, strengths and interests.  Teams formed with this knowledge of each other, are much better equiped to build understanding, more open communication and trust.  In my experience, assuming you hire intelligent and technically competent people, these are the key ingredients for achieving sustainably high performing Agile Teams.

There are three tools or instruments that I have seen used effectively in organizations to equip people with an understanding of their own motivation / values, strenghts  and communication style as well as those of their team members. The three are:

1. Strengths Deployment Inventory (SDI)

“Strengths Deployment Inventory (SDI) is a suite of psychometric tests and a practical methodology for empowering people to improve relationships and manage conflict more effectively. SDI is rooted in the theory of Relationship Awareness®, a self-learning model for effectively and accurately understanding and inferring the motive behind the behavior”. – Personal Strengths website

2. Strengths Finder 2.0 – This is a book and on-line instrument that enables people to understand and develop their strenghts rather than trying to improve on their weaknesses.  When used in a team environment it allows team members to understand and leverage their other team members’ strengths and not interact with them targeting their weaknesses.

“In 1998, the Father of Strengths Psychology, Donald O. Clifton, Ph.D. (1924-2003), along with Tom Rath and a team of scientists at Gallup, created the online StrengthsFinder assessment. In 2004, the assessment’s name was formally changed to “Clifton StrengthsFinder” in honor of its chief designer.

In 2007, building on the initial assessment and language from StrengthsFinder 1.0, Rath and Gallup scientists released a new edition of the assessment, program, and website, dubbed “StrengthsFinder 2.0.” Rooted in more than 40 years of research, this assessment has helped millions discover and develop their natural talents.” – Strengths Finder Website, Gallup Corporation

3. Beblin Team Roles – This tool looks at the team dynamic based on roles within the team.  It identifies nine different roles.  Based on an understanding of these roles, teams can be assembled with the best complement of team roles to help ensure success.

“In 1998, the Father of Strengths Psychology, Donald O. Clifton, Ph.D. (1924-2003), along with Tom Rath and a team of scientists at Gallup, created the online StrengthsFinder assessment. In 2004, the assessment’s name was formally changed to “Clifton StrengthsFinder” in honor of its chief designer.

In 2007, building on the initial assessment and language from StrengthsFinder 1.0, Rath and Gallup scientists released a new edition of the assessment, program, and website, dubbed “StrengthsFinder 2.0.” Rooted in more than 40 years of research, this assessment has helped millions discover and develop their natural talents.”  – Beblin website

While I have exposure to each of these tools, I am most familiar and have the most experience applying SDI.  In fact I am a qualified facilitator for this tool.

I prefer SDI because it is simple, has a strong visual component and instills people with a basic vocabulary and set of tools from which they can build their own set of tools.  SDI is based on Relationship Awareness® theory which has for simple tenants:

  1. Behavior is driven by motivation to achieve self-worth.
  2. Motivation changes in conflict
  3. Strengths, when overdone or misapplied, can be perceived as weaknesses
  4. Clarity and face validity enhance self-discovery

This has always seemed very common sense to me and can be seen while truly observing any team during its interplay.

Relationship Awareness® gives organizations and individuals the awareness and skills they need to build more effective personal and professional relationships. It helps them to sustain those relationships through understanding the underlying Motivational Value Systems™ of themselves and others under two conditions:

  1. When things are going well
  2. During conflict

Leveraging Relationship Awareness® theory throught the SDI instrument, people can evolve from choosing their behaviors to accomodate just their own underlying values to also considering the underlying values of others. It is a dynamic and powerful way of looking at human relationships that aids in building communication, trust, empathy, and effective, productive relationships.

If you’re interested in the specifics of any of these tools, feel free to click on the links I’ve provided to explore them further.

In the rest of this post I will explain how I have leveraged SDI on the Agile teams I have lead  to help their members grow personally in their communication and collaboration skills as well as to help empower the teams to move to the next level of performance.

The first step is that I train everyone in SDI (I can do this since I am a facilitor).  Most organizations hire a certified SDI facilitator to deliver the training.  After everyone has been trained and it is known what is each team members’ Motivational Values System, these are plotted on a poster sized MVS diagram as shown below.

Once the team was thoroughly trained I would then have a separate meeting with the team to go over the results and help to re-enforce the simple vocabulary based on the colors in this diagram as well as the interpretation of each person’s plot.  Each plot shows where a team member operates when things are going well and where they go when things are not going well (are in conflict).  Once you understand this diagram, and Motivational Value Systems, these plots are very informative.  For instance the longer the line connecting the dot and arrow head, the more you can expect someone to change in behavior from when things are going well to when they get in conflict. 

I can recall a specific situation where one of my staff was a blue-green when things were ok, but they traveled all the way into the red when things got into confict.  This is the makings of a very volitale personality, one that can absort alot of crap but then one day they “fly off the handle”.  I coached this person to ensure that they communicated openly when things were done or said that rubbed them the wrong way.  They continued to avoid the issues and just swallowed it and went on with life.  Each time they did this their tolerance for the behavior or treatment that they say as wrong would get reduced until one day the person blew up at their lead and almost got physically violent…luckily they didn’t.  The person was gone for 3 days.  When he came back he came in my office and said, “Man!  You were right.  I should have let him know that the way he was treating me wasn’t working for me.  I’m going to start now.”  Funny thing is that when the genisis of this blow up was explained to Lead, he had no idea, because he was still operating  and treating others based on his MVS.  Both these individuals learned a valuable lesson that sticks with them to this day.

Applying SDI as a servant leader, I would re-enforce it at each team meeting and at one-on-ones.  For instance, when someone would come to me and want to discuss a problem they were having in communicating effectively with someone else on or outside of their team, I would ask them to apply their SDI knowledge.  What did they know about their MVS?  Where they in conflict with them and if so, at what stage? (SDI has a 3 stage conflict model).  What do we know about their MVS when they’re in conflict, what do we know about yours?  Basically I’d have them work through the problem just offering tips to help facilitate their thought process.

It doesn’t take long when applying SDI on a regular day to day basis that the team integrates SDI’s terms into their regular vocabular.  This is exemplified when during meetings people will joke with eachother when someone is exhibiting strongly a certain color, especially when it isn’t conducive to the discussion at had.  More than once I hear “Mike’s being red again” :-).

I am personally mostly red when things are going well and I move toward being blue when I get into conflict.  This helps to explain why I have much interest in the human side of things 🙂

Eventually you can see people applying Relationship Awareness® thinking when they are constructing e-mails, planning for difficult conversations and even when they are preparing presentations.  If you know what motivates someone, it is not hard to communicate with them so as to not de-motivate them 🙂

If you’re dealing with the issue of “The Elephant In The Room”, I urge you to equip yourself and your teams with tools such as SDI or the others mentioned.  If you do, I believe it will make it much harder for such elements to creep in and also enable a team to understand and leverage eachother’s strenghts so no one on their team becomes this ‘Elephant’.

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About Mike DePaoli

Mike DePaoli has been contributing to the IT community for over two decades and practicing agile and lean approaches to software development since 1996 in roles from programmer to CTO. His evolved approach to crafting successful lean-agile software development organizations was forged by the meaningful challenges he undertook at prior employers and as an Agile Coach at companies such as eBay, Adobe Systems, AOL, NetApp, Disney, Boeing, EMC, and Trizetto. Mike’s area of expertise is helping organizations craft strategic change initiatives that educate on and establish agile and lean values, principles and practices at every tier of the organization. Mike applies systematic thinking with a multi-discipline approach to his work. Mike is a Certified SAFe Agilist, Certified Scrum Professional, Certified Scrum Master (CSM) and Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO). He is a highly-regarded speaker in the Agile community having spoken at Agile conferences in North America, South America and Europe. He is currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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