Saying "Yes"

Tuesday, 21 July, 2015

“Say yes and you'll figure it out afterwards.” – Tina Fey

My career is one that has largely been improvised from the start. At no point have I ever known what I wanted to be when I grow up. I still don’t. I think back to the meandering experiences of my professional journey, and I put most of my fortune down to “being in the right place, at the right time” and saying “yes” to most new opportunities that were offered to me. In 2003, I said “yes” to my boss in BT, Denis Lee, who asked me to join his team as a ScrumMaster. Shortly after, I said “yes” to a job offer to join the pioneering agile coaching team in BT. In 2006, I said “yes” to the offer of co-teaching with Ken Schwaber.

All of those things were enormously scary at the time. But I am glad I did say “yes” to them. It’s hard to imagine now where I would be if I hadn’t. When we say “yes” we are rewarded by the adventures that uncertainty brings, rather than remain within the realms of safety by saying “no”.

Since saying “yes” to leaving BT in 2009, and saying “yes” to a working for Nokia, I also ventured into the agile world as an independent coach and trainer. Many training courses, workshops and coaching engagements later, in March 2014, I said “yes” to writing a book.

The book I have written combines two things that I am hugely passionate about. The first is agile coaching. Although not something I trained for at the beginning, it is something I have found I enjoy enough to pursue as a career. The second is improvisational theatre. Whilst these subjects appear completely unrelated at first, I considered myself lucky to discover how these two subjects are, in fact, so closely linked.

I have watched and admired improvised performances since I was old enough to stay up late and watch Whose Line Is It Anyway? on Channel 4 on a Friday night. Performers like Josie Lawrence, Greg Proops, Ryan Stiles and Mike McShane would captivate me for the half-hour episode, by playing games, singing and role-playing strange scenes. Little did I know then, that the same interest I had then would be so useful to me in my professional career.

From studying and playing with improv myself, I have learned how the principles and skills an improviser survives by, can be not just applicable, but can revolutionise the way that an agile team operates, collaborates and creates.

I summarise these principles as five primary themes:

SAFETY – improvisers implicitly trust their fellow performers, and believe there is no such thing as a “mistake” on stage.

SPONTANEITY – our creativity is filtered and slowed by not “being obvious”.

STORYTELLING – improvisers can connect more with their audience when they tell a story.

STATUS – collaboration can be affected by subtle changes in our behaviours.

SENSITIVITY – improvisers practice the skills required to remain “in the moment”.

When you watch a group of improvisers working together on stage, you will begin to understand how these principles apply to an agile team too. 

If you, like me, have an interest in looking at agile teams through a different lens, I encourage you to say “yes” to reading my book. It’s available to PRE-ORDER NOW through Amazon, and will be available to buy on 31st July 2015.