Posted By - Geoff Watts
In this post, I shared how one of my coaching supervision clients Maya tackled with some resistance to agile from within her client organisation. A number of people wanted to know what we talked about so here is a summary of the conversation we had in our supervision session. I have changed a few details to keep confidentiality and summarised for brevity.
Maya is a competent agile coach who had some great early successes at a new client. After a while she reached out to me and told me “It’s like I’ve crashed into a brick wall. I really thought I was changing things, but it feels like I was kidding myself with those superficial changes from the early days of my time there. They’re just not listening any more.”
Maya began by giving me a brief run-through of her time at this client, describing the people and departments she had come into contact with. After a while, I asked her to play into her natural tendencies and visualise by drawing out these people and their relationships.
When she got on to the more recent interactions, she began to show her frustrations and her energy levels dropped. I began the rest of the conversation by asking her to summarise these interactions a little. What follows is a summary of the conversation with names and details removed for confidentiality.
Maya: *Sighs deeply* “I’ve been pushing the benefits of agile, showing them success stories, trying to get them to see the light, but it’s like they’re not even listening.”
Geoff: “It sounds like you’ve been putting a lot of effort into this. When you say ‘they’re not listening,’ what goes through your mind?”
Maya: “Frustration, mostly. I feel like I’m speaking a different language. It’s like they just don’t want to change. Sometimes I question if I’m making any real impact.”
Geoff: “Frustration can be tough and I think most agile coaches question their impact at some point or another. What do you think is behind their reluctance to change?”
Maya: “I don’t know. Fear of the unknown, maybe? Or perhaps they’re just comfortable with the old ways.”
Geoff: “That’s certainly possible. How much do you know about what drives them, their daily challenges, or their goals?”
Maya: “Well, not much, really. I’ve been so focused on getting agile across that I haven’t delved much into their personal or departmental goals. As a company, the culture is ultra-professional, and distant. There’s a kind of formality in their interactions with me and there’s not much room for anything that might be seen as supplementary or unproven. I get the feeling that’s how they see me.”
Geoff: “That’s an interesting realisation. How might knowing more about their perspectives change your approach?”
Maya: “I guess it might help me tailor my communication, make it more relevant to them.”
Geoff: “From what I’ve heard so far, I’ve got the impression of continuing with an approach that had worked for you with one group of people but isn’t necessarily appropriate for the next group. Tailoring your communication sounds like a constructive step. How might you start gathering the insights you’re looking for?”
Maya: “I suppose I could try having more one-on-one conversations, but I’m not sure where to start.”
Geoff: “Let’s explore that. You already have a visual map of the current key stakeholders. How could that help you in planning these conversations?”
Maya: “Ah, yes, the stakeholder map. I could expand this and identify other key individuals, understand their influence, and maybe figure out their stance on agile.”
Geoff: “That sounds sensible, and practical. Tell me more about what you mean by ‘their stance on agile’.”
Maya: “Well, there are a few who are open to it, some sitting on the fence, and others who are quite resistant.”
Geoff: “I see. How might you approach each of these groups differently?”
Maya: “For the open ones, I could build on their enthusiasm. For those on the fence, maybe present some success stories… but for the resistant ones, I’m not sure and that’s the big group for me to tackle.”
Geoff: “OK. So let’s focus on the resistant group then. What could be some reasons for their resistance?”
Maya: “Fear of losing control, perhaps? Or maybe they don’t see the value in agile for their departments.”
Geoff: “Understanding their fears and perceptions could be key. How would you like to go about finding out what’s going on there?”
Maya: “Maybe I could ask about their current challenges and what they think about the current processes. The company’s culture is very risk-averse, short-term, profit-focussed and set in traditional ways. I guess that’s a significant factor in how they perceive agile and new methodologies.”
Geoff: “Seems logical. What else are you thinking about here?”
Maya: “Hmmm…well maybe like I’m opening up to you here, perhaps these stakeholders need a space where they feel they can open up too.”
Geoff: “That’s a thoughtful approach. How comfortable do you feel initiating these conversations?”
Maya: “Honestly, a bit nervous. But I realise it’s necessary.”
Geoff: “In my opinion, it’s normal to feel that way. Remember, each conversation is an opportunity to learn, not just about them but also about your approach. How will you ensure you’re actively listening and not just waiting to respond?”
Maya: “I need to remind myself to be present in the conversation, really hear them out before suggesting anything.”
Geoff: “That sounds like a good strategy. How will you prepare yourself mentally for these discussions?”
Maya: “I’ll need to go in with an open mind, ready to understand rather than convince. And maybe keep reminding myself that it’s okay if not every conversation leads to a win for agile.”
Geoff: “That’s a healthy perspective. Keeping an open mind and being prepared for different outcomes can be very beneficial. How will you take care of yourself through this process?”
Maya: “I need to be patient with myself, accept that change takes time, and perhaps reflect after each conversation to learn and adapt.”
Geoff: “Reflecting after each interaction is a great way to evolve your approach. Remember, it’s a journey, not just for the organisation but for you as well. How do you feel about starting this new approach?”
Maya: “More hopeful than before. I see now that it’s not just about agile; it’s about understanding and working with people. This feels like a new beginning.”
Towards the end of the conversation, I asked Maya if she was aware of the “seven-eyed model of supervision”. She had heard of it and knew it was a way of thinking about a situation from multiple different perspectives but couldn’t recall what they were. We went through them and looked at how she had essentially done this in our conversation.
Eye 1: The Client and how they are presenting
Maya described how she saw the “resistors” as she called them, presenting as “like they’re not even listening” but this is an interpretation. The first eye attempts to get more objective and identify the unarguable actions or words. When revisiting this she identified some more specific behaviours such as shifting the conversation from agile to other topics, the rolling of eyes when talking to them about her diagnoses and declining meeting invites or people not showing up when accepting invites.
Eye 2: The Coach´s Interventions
Here we look at the approaches that the coach has currently chosen to adopt. It can be enlightening to look for defaults, biases and patterns.
Maya explained her strategies to date: “presentations, one-on-ones, but it feels like I’m hitting a wall each time.”
She noticed that these strategies were effective to begin with but less so with “the resistors”.
Eye 3: The Relationship Between Coach and Client
When looking through the third eye, we focus on the relationship between Maya and her clients, indicating a formal and somewhat strained dynamic.
As she reflected in our conversation “As a company, the culture is ultra-professional, and distant. There’s a kind of formality in their interactions with me and there’s not much room for anything that might be seen as supplementary or unproven. I get the feeling that’s how they see me.”
Eye 4: The Coach
The fourth eye is looking at Maya’s personal experience, emotions, and reactions.
In our conversation Maya expresses her feelings of frustration and self-doubt: “I feel like I’m speaking a different language. It’s like they just don’t want to change. Sometimes I question if I’m making any real impact.”
Eye 5: The Parallel Process
Parallel processing refers to a repeating pattern or opportunity presenting itself in indirect circumstances. In this situation, there is a parallel between Maya’s behaviour in the supervision session and how her clients might be behaving with her. It Maya observes that “Hmmm…well maybe like I’m opening up to you here, perhaps these stakeholders need a space where they feel they can open up too.”
This indicates that Maya’s own openness and willingness to reflect in the supervision could mirror the need for a similar approach in her coaching.
Eye 6: The Supervisor
The next part of this model reflects the the supervisor’s own reflections and sensations during the session. This could be direct feedback from the supervisor or even inviting the coach to consider what they are receiving from the supervisor.
In our conversation I attempted to play back the normality of Maya’s experience and the longer-term nature of it being a journey as well as the observation “You have given me the impression of continuing with an approach that had worked for you with one group of people but isn’t necessarily appropriate for the next group.“
Eye 7: The Wider Context
The seventh eye considers how external factors such as organisational culture and traditional practices impact the coaching situation. Maya recognises that these broader factors significantly influence her clients’ attitudes towards agile methodologies.
“The company’s culture is very risk-averse, short-term, profit-focussed and set in traditional ways. I guess that’s a significant factor in how they perceive agile and new methodologies.”
The seven-eyed model is a useful approach to consider alternative perspectives and adopting a more holistic and balanced approach to a coaching or supervision conversation. The model above was designed by Peter Hawkins but there is no reason why you couldn’t create your own multiple “eyes” or lenses to look through if they are more helpful than these seven.