A Coaching Power Tool Created by Lynn Winterboer
(Agile Coach, UNITED STATES)
Early in my ICA journey, “Obligation vs. Opportunity” popped into my head when thinking about the experience many professionals have when going through an organizational change to an Agile way of working. Sometimes, the individuals going through the change are imposing it on themselves – they want to change from a traditional way of delivering value to an Agile approach, and they see it from the beginning as an opportunity for increased relevance, happiness, and professional satisfaction.
Often, however, the organizational leaders decide that being “agile” is the only way to survive in a fast-changing and often unpredictable world, incenting this change from the top-down as an organizational imperative. While having leadership buy-in to a change of this magnitude is important, it can be hard on the workers who need to change the way they have done their jobs for many years. They might fear losing their hard-won status, not earning their annual raises, or possibly losing their jobs. Until each individual can find the opportunities in Agile for themselves, they see this change as an obligation they must comply with rather than a shift to a healthier and more productive way of working.
An obligation is “an act or course of action to which a person is morally or legally bound; a duty or commitment.”(1) One does not necessarily dislike an obligation, but one does not need to thoroughly appreciate an obligation to fulfill it. The case of leaders in an organization asking those that work for them to make a change falls into a “legally binding” scenario – they have an employment contract where the organization pays the worker in exchange for the worker doing what the organization requests.
Maria had worked her way up in her company over many years to the position of Senior Project Manager and had become quite comfortable with her ability to do a good job, get promoted, and earn her annual raise and bonus. When the CIO of her company decided to move the company from traditional project management practices to the agile framework of Scrum, Maria was caught off-guard by the lack of a “project manager” role in Scrum, and by the vastly different approach to Scrum teams take to delivering IT capabilities. Suddenly all her hard-won expertise and skill in project management seemed to be not only unnecessary but even discouraged in Scrum. In conversations with other project managers, she learned many of them shared her fear over the uncertainty of whether they had a place in this new approach or even a place in the organization overall. However, Maria wanted to keep her well-paying job with this company she’d been at for many years, so when her manager asked her to go to “Scrum Master” training, she begrudgingly put it on her calendar. She saw this new role as an obligation she had to comply with to stay employed at this company.
In contrast, Olga, who came from a similar background as Maria, had mastered the role of “Project Manager” and was looking for something new to focus on. She had already worked for the company for many years and knew there will always be a different challenge in her future, whenever she wanted it. She jumped at the opportunity to move into the Scrum Master role, and eagerly put the training on her calendar. Olga saw this new role as an opportunity to learn something new and apply her expertise to a new way of working.
According to Dictionary.com,(2) an opportunity is:
- an appropriate or favorable time or occasion.
- a situation or condition favorable for attainment of a goal.
- a good position, chance, or prospect, as for advancement or success.
In Maria’s case, she was so focused on what she was losing that she couldn’t give energy to what the opportunity might bring for her. Olga, on the other hand, saw this change as a great opportunity to learn something new and take the next step in her career.
David Rock’s SCARF model (3)provides a framework for assessing various threats and proposes counter-balancing them with reward-focused perspectives. This tool can be used to shift a client from a perspective of obligation to one of opportunity. Rock points out that“the ‘minimize danger and maximize reward’ principle is an overarching, organizing principle of the brain (Gordon, 2000).” He then makes the connection between the survival aspects of danger and reward and how our brains use similar circuitry in response to social stimuli. It turns out, responding to threats can significantly and negatively impact our perceptions, problem-solving, decision-making, stress-management, collaboration, and motivation.
Knowing that social situations can trigger threats for people experiencing them can help leaders prepare to respond to those threats… possibly by providing balancing rewards that reduce the threats.
Ways a coach can help balance the employee’s SCARF threats when moving from a Project Manager toa Scrum Master role, thereby shifting the client’s perspective from the obligation to opportunity:
This is such a common scenario in Agile Coaching, in that many people experiencing an “Agile transition” are having to use their knowledge and skills in new ways, which can be disorienting and threatening. I’m excited to be putting more thought into how specifically a coaching approach can help people move forward, away from the obligation of an Agile approach, toward the opportunities this approach gives them to learn, grow, and increase their teams’ successes.
I am just finishing ICA’s Vocational Coaching Program and recognize that as I continue into the Advanced Coaching Program, I will learn much more that I can apply in this Power Tool. I look forward to getting feedback from other ICA students, and further refining this tool in the coming year.
“Obligation” Googled Oct 4, 2020: https://languages.oup.com/google-dictionary-en/
https://www.dictionary.com/browse/opportunity, accessed December 4, 2020
“David Rock’s SCARF Model” Accessed Nov 28, 2020, http://web.archive.org/web/20100705024057/http://www.your-brain-at-work.com/files/NLJ_SCARFUS.pdf, and https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/SCARF.htm