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Getting Them To Do X

 15. July 2017

coaches come to me and ask me questions that start with “how can i get them to …”

there’s a quote, i’m having a hard time finding a reference, but it’s something like this… (reference appreciated) “the easiest way to steer a horse is to want to go where the horse wants to go.”

i find that the easiest way to “get them to do X” is to find them wanting to do X and let them.

when you first arrive with a team, dewy-eyed and shining bright from your method-flavor’s reflected light, you’ll see a million X’s. after all, anything they do that isn’t what you think they should do is a place you might ask that starter question. in this story i’m laying down here, what i’m saying is that you can get them to go to X by picking an X they want to go to and letting them.

so then how do you pick an X?

the natural reaction of any agilist worth her salt is to pick the X whose absence is hurting them the most. this doesn’t work well, especially in the beginning. remember that going to X is never free. that biggest pain-relieving X is likely to be pricey as hell to get to. it is very likely to be far beyond our means.

now, before you jump in & point out that the actual cost is minimal, and the actual benefit is humongous, we need to ask about the currency. we’re not measuring cost in dollars. we are measuring cost in what, for want of a better word, i’ll call “belief”. (you might near-synonymize that to “faith” or “trust”. that’s okay, we’re playing in the same ballpark. go with it.)

changing what i am doing, at your behest, requires me to hold some beliefs at, scale 1-10, at least a 5 and likely greater. i have to believe that i am in pain. i have to believe that i am in control of my behavior. i have to believe that your idea will help.

in the early days in a team, these “belief points” will be very low, and justifiably so. your team & you have, effectively, little to spend.

that’s why the biggest pain-relieving X is usually not the best place to start.

instead, i start by looking for the smallest pain that 1) we can feel, 2) we can control, 3) i have confidence i can resolve cheaply. it’s important that we (most) can feel it. if we can’t, nobody wants to bother with a change. it’s important that we can control it. it has to be in our grasp (or easily put there, often by me reaching out). and it has to be something i know how to resolve cheaply. this might be the hardest criterion to swallow, so i’ll say a little more.

sounds corrupt, doesn’t it? why does it have to be a problem that i can solve. shouldn’t i be getting the team to solve it? here’s the thing. we’re talking about early days here, not later ones. that makes all the difference. even a little further down the road, i’ll plop problems down in front of the team w/no clue how to resolve them. “what are we going to do?”

but note that doing that means spending belief points we don’t yet have.

it’s rare to get unanimity in belief. very rare to find a problem that sits at 9-10 on those three beliefs i mentioned before. and every move we make with sub-optimal unanimity costs belief points. the third condition is there to minimize the risk of spending them.

so that’s it for now. to get the team to do X, find an X the team wants to do that is doable, cheap, and will help resolve a widely-sensed pain point.

in short, the best way to steer a team is to want to go where the team wants to go.