Welcome to Uncommon Leadership.
I’m Michael Hunter with Uncommon Teams.
Today I’m talking with Paul Carvalho.
Paul is a leadership coach and psychotherapist often disguised as an Enterprise or Agile coach and consultant.
He helps motivated people discover, ignite, and develop their inner strengths to improve relationships with themselves and with others so that they can go far beyond where they are right now.
Paul likes to write about, teach, and guide passionate people on journeys of agility, wellbeing, happiness, leadership, and quality.
Paul Carvalho 0:44
In your journey to seeing people as people and leveraging the unique gifts each person brings, what has had the biggest impact on your progress so far?
There’s two moments.
The first was, from an early age I always liked teaching.
Then I went to teachers college, and there we really practiced the idea of you don’t just teach to one person and everybody gets into that each person is unique in their preferences for learning styles, auditory, visual, kinesthetic, musical.
That was a novel concept to me.
That in order to relate one idea to different people, I need to adapt and I need to find different ways to connect.
Going forward, when I started working in IT, I got to a point where I was trying to teach concepts to others.
I always approached it with this idea of, I know I need to adapt to different people in order to help them get the same concept.
But, the one defining moment that really made everything click was a conference that I went to, almost 15 years ago now, hosted by Jerry Weinberg and Johanna Rothman and Esther Derby. Awesome people. It was Problem Solving Leadership.
I remember I didn’t get it until the last day. Then it hit me like a hammer on my head.
It’s not about me.
It’s about them.
I was really good at what I did.
I was that problem solver, right?
I was the one that you went to, to go and figure things out.
The idea that they were trying to help us get across is, it’s not about you. It’s about how do you create the environment for other people to learn, to be awesome thinkers and problem solvers.
That really shifted my perspective from “Oh, I can try this, this, this and this” to “No, what are your thoughts?”
Suddenly everything was really about each individual.
Even when I’m looking at a team, it’s, do I know what each individual’s thoughts and passions and motivations and goals are and preferences, and how do I turn it back to them so that they can feel empowered and show openness and courage?
They will really amaze you every time.
That’s the part that I love most about the work that I do.
What has been the most amazing thing you’ve seen teams do as you help them be who they are and bring that to their work?
When I encounter teams that are all in.
The Agile Manifesto talks about work with motivated individuals.
It’s probably the least referenced principle.
And yet it’s so powerful.
It makes such a huge difference.
When I’m hired by some manager and told to “go Agilify the group,” that never comes out well.
I’ve had the privilege to work with some amazing groups and teams that, when they embraced it, they were just happy to experiment, to learn to work together, to try new things.
They knew that whatever they were doing in the past led to a certain outcome. So, let’s try something different to get different outcomes.
There was this one team that I helped, I was coaching, several years ago.
It was probably one of the most amazing teams I’ve ever worked with.
We broke all the boundaries.
It was a true, what we would call a cross-functional team.
We had business folks and we had marketing and we had developers and testers and business analysts and operations and security.
It was one team.
Everyone was working for that common purpose, that common goal.
There was nothing that they couldn’t do.
It was just so amazing to watch the passion they had for working with each other and to go beyond what they had done in the past to continuously deliver value and then adapt whenever they would learn something that didn’t meet their expectations.
It was truly a beautiful thing to be a part of.
Did they get there on their own? Or was there something you did that helps them make that switch from, “I’m not so sure about doing this thing that might be not the normal thing,” to, “Oh, we really can just do whatever we want and work the way that we need to, because that’s what people really care about, is that outcome”?
It was one of the first things—and I learned this in psychotherapy, too: you need a foundation of trust, and that relationship needs to be there.
Did they get there on their own?
Well, I helped facilitate it.
I said, “Trust me, try these things. See what happens and adapt.”
For example, when we started working together, they went through the traditional two-day agile training.
They heard the messages that we’re empowering them to make decisions.
Then I said, “Well, why don’t we start with one-week sprints?”
And they’re like, “Well, you just told us that we make all the decisions.”
I said, “Let’s just try this as an experiment. And after you’ve done it two or three times, then you’ll be in a better position. You will have tried it and you’ll say, ‘No, no we want to go longer,’ or ‘We’re happy to stay here,’ or ‘Go shorter.’ Let me just prime you with an idea first, if you don’t have a frame of reference.”
They’re like, “Fine, fine, we’ll try it.”
About three or four weeks later, I went back and I said, “Okay, now that you’ve been doing these one-week sprints and delivering consistently and adapting, the choice is yours. Do you want to pivot? Do you want to go to two-week sprints?”
“No, no, can we do three three-day sprints?”
They got the lesson that in one week they needed to think differently about how to work together.
They were open to suggestions that I had proposed.
Even things like working with the business.
This was a whole new product offering for them.
I’m like, “Just get, you know, all of your relationships and all of those big obstacles out of the way. But how do we visualize it? Even coming up with a story map is a powerful, interactive and communication tool. Here’s the big picture.”
I would help them to think of, “What’s the smallest thing of value that satisfies one person?”
They were, “Well, yeah, but that’s not our target audience.”
“I know. But it works.”
And when they delivered that little thing, there was this load that came off their shoulders.
“Oh, it works and we can use it with someone even though it’s not our end goal.”
They knew that they were making progress.
That’s a key: that when you’re breaking down these practices for teams, to show them how to continuously get these wins so that they really understand the value of what feedback means. “We did something, this works, and we got feedback.” So that when they go back to that big picture, they know how to continue to adapt it so they’re always providing value.
Those are really important lessons for me to show them how to notice and observe.
How do you help them notice the way that their unique approach, of each of those people on a team, is bringing everything together better?
I’m kind of unique in that I’ve been in IT a long time. Worn a lot of hats.
I started off as a programmer, did tech support, QA and testing, project management.
I was an auditor, manager, business owner.
So, when I talk to each individual, I have this strong relationship with each one.
I know that I can’t keep up with all the latest and the greatest, but that individual one-on-one for me, my approach is the positive psychology approach.
“Hey, what are the strengths that you build on? And then how did those strengths match others that fit into this picture?”
When you’re boosting the positive, we tend to focus less effort and energy on overcoming the negative.
A really important catalyst for positive change is really engaging the strengths of each individual person so that no one’s left without a voice.
That diversity of voices and thoughts and contributions and perspectives is what makes a team great, when they can bring in their uniqueness and create something whole together.
The celebrations and it’s just so powerful.
That’s the part that I really like about that.
I am unique in that I have done so many different roles.
It’s really important to make those personal connections with each person and encourage them to just shine.
Is that how you bring out their willingness to show who they really are when they are worried that that may not be who the team wants or expects? Just get to know them one-on-one? And then help draw that out into the team?
The short answer is yes.
The one-on-one, this is where some of those lessons that I got from Jerry and Esther and Johanna, was introducing me to the work of Virginia Satir.
She’s been a hero of mine.
She passed away a while ago, but she’s been a hero of mine in terms of the models that she left us with for understanding people and communication are simple and so fundamental and powerful.
That idea of congruence, this circle with three parts, where you put yourself in one part, and the other in another part, and then the third part is that context: how do you know you’re on the same page?
That model I’ve used with just about every individual and leader that I work with.
How do you know you’re on the same page?
What does that look like?
What does that sound like?
What does that feel like?
That level of alignment is something you can feel.
This idea of congruence.
How do I encourage people to be open, to show that level of openness, and build that psychological safety that leads to trust?
First, get to know individuals and understand what level of congruence are they as an individual.
So many of us bring hopes and wishes and passions.
Then, they’re squashed in the workplace through fear and stressed intent.
We’re not operating as a whole congruent people.
If you’re not operating as a whole congruent person, then you’re not going to have congruent relationships with others.
It’s not that I do therapy with individuals.
I listen to them, thinking, “What’s important to you? What’s something you’d like to keep moving forward that you thought has really worked well for you?” versus, “What’s maybe something that you would change if you waved a magic wand kind of thing?”
I like to help people really reclaim their power.
Find those inner strengths and resources within them, that when they achieve that level of self-congruence, then we go to the next level.
I think Jerry Weinberg called that integrity, that level of self-congruence.
My thoughts and actions and words are all in alignment.
I can’t look at you and say, “Well, Michael said one thing, but I’ve seen him do other things. How much can I trust him if he’s not consistent with himself?”
You can’t build that trust within a group of people if the individuals aren’t integral and whole.
Those one-on-ones are really powerful opportunities.
And again, I don’t need to do therapy.
I just need to listen and give people a chance to be heard.
That’s a powerful tool for all coaches and leaders.
Just be present and listen.
You can really alleviate the stresses that individuals have.
When they can feel more whole, then we can start building trust with others and building that rapport with a whole team.
There is time that’s involved, for that journey for everyone that’s involved.
That’s the foundation of building a solid team.
This is the part where walking into some organizations, where the leaders want to focus on clients and “The customer is number one,” but your individuals aren’t whole and the teams aren’t whole, how do you know that they’re going to give you one solid picture to make customers happy?
This is the wrong view.
Focus on your people.
On your employees, making them whole.
They will take care of your customers.
We’ve seen this time and time again.
But that’s a hard lesson for some leaders to grasp.
The focus is always “customer, client, client, client, client, client.”
Broken people aren’t going to make whole and complete pictures for your customers.
If I as a leader want to help my team become whole, and yet my larger organization seems intent on keeping them broken, how do I create a space where my team can become whole? And then maybe we can show the rest of the organization that that’s really a better way to get to the outcomes that the organization is looking for?
When I’ve done it in the past, we’ve created a little bubble to experiment, a little safe space.
I’ve done this when I’ve worked with large consulting organizations, and then sometimes independently as well.
If we can create an environment where we relieve them of that project management pressure, because project management is going to be focused on individual performance.
“Oh, I’ve got this little checklist on this clipboard. Is Michael busy? Is Paul busy? Is Sally busy?”
We can go through and make sure that each individual person is busy so that we’re getting our money’s worth because we’re paying you.
That’s solving the wrong problem.
We know the science of flow and work in progress, and that when we have a lot of work in progress, and we’re doing a lot of multitasking, that we’re going to have work quality and slow deliverables.
So, how do we start to ease off some of that pressure?
How do we ease off the pressure on, and the focus on, the individual, so that we can focus on whole teams?
That shift requires courage and leadership.
It requires that vision.
So from Lean Management, my general focus for managers and leaders is: give up decision making and control and all of that stuff that you like to do or you’ve been taught to do.
Those aren’t important.
You have two responsibilities.
One is to your people.
How do you grow your people?
Listen to them.
The investment in education and time for them to learn is critical for the ongoing success of your organization.
Focus on your people is the first one.
The second one is focus on the system.
There are things that individuals and teams can’t change because of the way teams are structured and the organization is organized, that are out of their control, that managers and leaders can.
Sometimes they can’t. Sometimes they’re also in a position of fear for whatever reason it happens to be.
But, if we focus on those two things, grow the people and adapt the system, that’s a good use of their position and authority that enables the organization to grow.
It creates a space where suddenly people aren’t told individually what they need to do.
When it creates conflict and stress and burnout and all of these things, these pressures, there are things that they can do, leaders can start to do, to alleviate that.
First, we need to create that bubble.
What does an experiment look like?
By saying, “We want to try and achieve different outcomes for our employees.”
Let’s look at this like an experiment.
Let’s create a space.
Work with them.
Not tell them, “Hey, we’re, we’re doing this experiment, but we would like to have a different outcome. So hey, for the next six months, here’s your outcomes.”
You work together.
“Here’s a coach to guide you, to answer some questions, because this is going to feel weird, as we enter new, uncertain territory.”
A lot of us are afraid when we’re dealing with unknowns and uncertainty, a lot of emotions.
That’s another skill for leaders to develop, as part of active listening: emotional intelligence.
Don’t fear emotions.
Learn to acknowledge them.
To respect them.
To learn from them.
Emotions are also information.
And if we respond poorly to emotions, then you continue to aggravate the negative, which leads to further negative outcomes.
So, there’s a lot of learning that can happen.
I would probably say, “What does it look like to create a space for us to try something new?”
I’ve seen that happen.
I’ve seen that work so successfully in some organizations.
So, the most important thing is not recognizing the dissonance between who we are and what everything else seems to be. It’s providing a buffer between where we are and where we feel everyone else is, so that we feel safe in acting differently within that safe space. As we gain that confidence, that we do have our solid footing, we can push out into that less well-known space or less comfortable space where we might not feel so solid footing under us.
That’s right. That’s right.
I like the way you worded it.
That’s the sort of ideas I try to capture in the working agreements.
When we try something new, it’s going to be weird. It’s not familiar.
That doesn’t make it wrong.
It just means we’re going to need some time in practice, to get to a point where we can make a better decision going forward.
Like the example I gave earlier with that team.
I said, “Let’s try one-week sprints. Why should we do three? Because the first one is going to be weird. The second one, you’ll probably still resist, but by the third time, it’ll be a little bit more familiar. And at that point, you’re in a better place to say, ‘Okay, we’ve done this three, four times. We have a general sense of how this is working for us, and it’s less awkward at this point.’”
So, we can have a better conversation that isn’t completely fear-motivated and fear-driven.
Cognitive dissonance is an interesting word that you raise, which is, we tend to like doing things that seem familiar to us.
As soon as we break that pattern, we get someone off autopilot.
“Hey, this is weird. This is hard. I have to think. I’m expending a lot of energy right now, just trying to do things that I thought were easy before.”
You are trying to break that autopilot.
You are trying to develop a new way forward.
Maybe it’ll be a new autopilot.
But, there’s some energy required in that transition.
Sometimes as we make that transition to becoming more confident, more stable, other people who had felt confident and stable transition of feeling less so. Because they see us making that shift, and they’re not certain what that shift means for them. Are there things that we can do to help them maintain or find a new stability in the face of the movement that we’re making?
That’s a hard line for me to walk as a coach.
As a coach, I’ll turn it back to you and say, “You were doing something. You were happy. You were in this routine. We broke that routine; you’re unhappy. What would you like to do instead?”
“I don’t know. I want to go back to doing things the way I used to be doing.”
Let’s assume for a moment, we’re not gonna go back.
I really like being 10.
I’m not going back there.
So how can I be happy?
Maybe not the same as a 10-year-old.
How can I be happy now and going forward?
What does that look like?
As a coach, I don’t want to lead people.
But, there are people who truly get stuck sometimes.
When I’ve been in this situation where people were truly lost, saying, “I was told that there’s no business analysts on an Agile team.”
“Who told you that?”
“Someone so and so.”
My general response is, if you’re providing value, then you’re providing value.
What does that look like?
“Well, I don’t know.”
We’ll sit down with each individual person around you and see, “Where are the gaps? Where are the opportunities?”
In general, we should be leveraging computers and tools and technology for the things that we don’t have to really think about.
A lot of things like moving software from one place to another, automating these processes.
Why are we spending human energy doing these kinds of heavy lifting?
We should be spending more time doing the creative thinking.
Understanding how to identify risks and mitigate them.
There’s a lot of work for, especially with middle management.
Management by definition is there to control variation.
Agile introduces variation.
They’re inherently in conflict.
When I’ve coached managers, “We don’t need you to make the decisions. We don’t need you to control variation. We don’t need you to get those progress status reports.”
“Well, that’s my job.”
“What else can you be doing? If your role is going to be focusing on growing people and adapting the system, how can you get new insights into how people are doing? What does that look like?”
Not just happiness, “Are you happy today?”
Not just happiness indicators.
True indicators of health and relationships, or the system, where they’re stuck.
“We tried to do this and we couldn’t, can you help?” and managers are “Yes, yes, I can.”
I’d like to introduce even something like the Toyota kata at that level, which is, start thinking in terms of large experiments with people in systems.
Again, you’re not experimenting on, so much as with, to say, “If we keep doing this the way we’re doing it, what are the expected outcomes? If we’re not happy with what that’s leading us to, let’s think about new ways of working and set up a new experiment.”
There’s a lot of important thinking that happens in different roles.
I’m never sad about automating someone out of a job.
That means that you were doing something that you probably shouldn’t be doing.
It’s the same issues that we had with manufacturing as soon as robots came in.
Did you really need to be hammering and screwing 10 hours a day?
We can get a machine to do that now.
Did we lose that person a job?
Or did we now free that person up to do more creative problem-solving and thinking?
There’s no shortage of opportunities to innovate.
I’m not worried about this idea of automation.
I’m really worried about the lack of desire to be creative, to show your skills and your talents in new ways.
A lot of systems are really discouraging people from being unique and talented.
We definitely need to encourage that more.
How can we encourage that when the system around us seems to be discouraging that?
A lot of systems, organizational systems, are built based on fear, and command and control.
That’s just the historical structure of how the organizational model works.
This is where it takes leadership, vision, and direction.
“What kind of an organization do we want to be?”
And not just for show, saying, “Oh, look, we’re an eco-friendly company.”
It’s more than that.
There’s very few companies on Earth right now that are truly visionary in terms of that area. Patagonia is one of them.
It’s more, “How do we recognize the current state that we’re in, so that we can acknowledge that, and then start to think of what are some of those ideas that we can go forward? “
I like the work of Christopher Avery and the Responsibility Process.
I keep coming back to that one.
I see a lot of state of denial.
Why is this state of denial?
“This isn’t really the problem.”
It’s actually, all evidence to the contrary.
Whether there is a cognitive dissonance and they’re disregarding that data, I don’t know.
This state of denial is very present.
A lot of is tied to fears.
Fear of letting go.
Fear of this zone of certainty.
The comfort zone in terms of, what would it take to help people to overcome some of those fears?
The structures of the organizations that are really built on command and control, it’s a really complex problem.
It’s one of those things where we need action in order to try and understand some potential outcomes to help us determine what the next steps are.
The “Ready, fire, aim, fire” kind of approach.
Change is going to be driven by the leaders who want to make a different world.
Not who see it.
Who want to make it.
It has to be action driven.
So we don’t need to know where we’re going, as long as we’re taking steps towards what feels like the right direction.
And we’re doing so together. Yes. Yes.
How do we bring those other people in, if they don’t want to come? Where they don’t realize that they really do want to come, it’s just seems like that’s something other than what they’re looking for?
Everyone’s in different journeys, different paths.
We can’t make everyone come along.
Science fiction is full of these stories.
“Hey, let’s create a utopia.”
There’s always someone who’s going to be upset with this utopia.
Something’s gonna go wrong.
The idea behind the Matrix movies is “We tried to create this perfect utopia. It was a massive failure.”
So, we have to have a little bit of give and take.
I don’t believe that we should leave everyone behind.
But I don’t know that what is fair is that everyone should be forced to come along at the same rate.
Creating environments where everyone is presented with choices, and given opportunities to leverage their talents to be happy, make positive contributions.
I do believe that there are spots in every organization and group and team for that.
There are times when people will leave certain environments because it’s not in alignment with their values.
That’s okay too.
When we talk about, for instance, if we’re looking at Agile, what does Agile mean?
Agile says, first and foremost, we’re going to value our relationships with others.
If this isn’t important to you, do we really need to go to the second or the third values?
The second one is, we’re going to be consistently delivering value.
Working means, working and tested and delivered software. Not just, “Oh, hey, I’ve coded it and now it’s in production.”
Is it really working?
Or is it full of risk and potential problems?
That’s not what we’re talking about.
So Agile really is the set of values and principles that is demonstrated through particular frameworks and practices and models.
It’s not about the practices.
We can adapt those as long as we keep coming back.
The question is, do you align with these values and principles?
Do these values and principles align with you?
When there is a disconnect, there’s going to be natural resistance.
Those practices and desired outcomes won’t align.
Therefore, it’s not going to work for everyone, certainly.
There are other ways.
If they’re not in denial, and refusing to see should they choose to see, then…
My mind is stuck.
I’ve seen so many different examples of what you’ve described, in terms of, “Here’s a programmer who only wants to work in one way and that doesn’t fit in with this model. Should we fire this programmer?”
Is the programmer happy and contributing and doing valuable things?
If they don’t fit in with this team, there’s other places in the organization where they can be fit.
Make them a part of that solutioning.
Don’t impose solutions on them.
Agile is really this community-driven, values-type organization.
Empowering people with choice is really, really important.
To say, “We’re moving in this direction. Do you want to give us a period to try to come along, see if it fits, and if it doesn’t, then we can come up with some other options together?”
The larger the organization, the more the available options, that’s for certain.
When we’re looking at large organizations in particular, the whole organization doesn’t have to be Agile.
However, the parts that do make sense that they are.
And the parts that aren’t, in the Agile spirit, work the way that makes sense for you.
Now, this brings us back to where we started this conversation today.
That if we’re really honoring their gifts, and asking them to work the way that’s best for them, we’re acknowledging that that may not be the way that we work.
And that working together doesn’t necessarily mean working side by side.
In some cases, that’s correct.
It’s not about physical proximity.
As a coach, it’s funny. This pandemic has been an excellent experiment.
As a coach, we see all sorts of behaviors happening.
For people who have been hired during the pandemic period into remote working environments, they’re coming into the office.
I see them sitting side by side with headphones on.
Yeah, you’re still working apart.
That’s not the intention.
The intention of an Agile team is, you’re pairing, you’re working together, we’ve eliminated those boundaries.
Having people in the office and not talking to each other is the same as not working together.
When we’re talking about an Agile team, we are talking about pairing, we are talking about listening, being engaged all the time.
Some people see this as being interrupt-driven all the time.
It’s not about interruptions so much as constantly being open to ideas that may enable you to deliver higher quality faster, sooner, happier.
In that level of openness is a shift in how you work separately and independently.
There’s an old proverb that goes something like, “If you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together.”
As a coach, that’s my mantra.
I’m here to build a sustainable team that can lead you into the future, long term.
If people would rather work alone because “I can go faster on my own,” that’s fine, then you’re not part of this journey.
You’re on a separate journey.
There is really a difference, though, when people come together.
That you are working together and you have connections and relationships.
And that is one of the responsibilities of a good leader: to say, “Yeah, they’re sitting together, but are they talking together? Do they know each other?”
They don’t have to be super friends.
But, do they socialize?
Do they celebrate?
Do they eat together?
Eating together, it’s such a powerful tool for building relationships.
And some people don’t want to do that.
Okay, this is not for you, and I can respect that as well.
This has been a great conversation today, Paul. What else should I ask you?
One of the things that I’ve observed lately is, Agile has been around since the mid-90s, sort of formalized in the early 2000s.
We had a lot of the early adopters and innovators in the late 90s and early 2000s.
We’re at a late-majority-and-laggards stage right now, where organizations are afraid to say that they’re not Agile.
But what they’re doing is nowhere near the concept of Agile.
By this, I don’t mean the word.
I mean, do we see teams where people trust each other? Where they’re empowered to work together to make decisions on how they’ll implement or what they’ll implement in order to meet some customer need or perceived customer need, or outcome?
The answer to that question is “No.”
Are we agile? Yes.
But are they working together and actually delivering high quality software rapidly so we can adapt?
The answer is, “No.”
There is this huge disconnect for these late-majority-and-laggards where they’re afraid to admit that they’re not there.
As long as they’re going to keep working the way they’ve always worked, and lie to themselves and lie to everyone else, it’s difficult to help them to help others to grow and to adapt into the foreseeable future.
If there would be one last sort of parting idea, it would be: challenge yourself to identify those fears that are keeping you from looking at the world.
The way it is, not the way you want it to be.
Ask yourself if the way you’re comfortable with right now, if that’s really going to help.
What’s best for you and the organization and your team around you to adapt into the future?
When they can pause and really reflect on a question like that, then that opens the door for coaches to come in and to say, “Cool, you’ve taken that first step, you’ve shown that commitment to wanting to be open to change. How can I help you?”
If our audience would like your help doing that, or to follow up with you on any of the other things we’ve talked about today, what’s the best way for them to connect with you?
Well, I used to be an active user on Twitter. It’s a little weird right now. But @can_agile is a good way to get a hold of me there.
I’m on LinkedIn.
I would say probably one of the fastest ways is through my website quality-driven.com. There’s an email right on there, just firstname.lastname@example.org. That goes right to me.
So that’s my first…it’s a separate folder right below my inbox. So I always see those first. Right away.
Thank you for your time today, Paul, for all these great insights and ideas you prompted.
Audience, thank you for being with us.
Please let us know: what did you find interesting, irritating, and inciting.
Thank you for being here, and have a great day!
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