Archive for the ‘Self-organizing teams’ Category

I just got back from the first edition of GentM 2015. Today the topic was Social Togetherness.
A topic that I expected to be close to my heart because of one of the speakers Frank Van Massenhove.

I don’t know Frank personally, yet I have heard his story many times and it keep inspiring me.
For those who who don’t know Frank, he turned (one of the) worst FOD (ministries – is that an English word?) around to become one of the hottest places in Belgium to work for.
Inspired by semco, the new working etc…

Many people felt inspired by the talk, yet what also happened was that a few people wondered yeah but would it also work (fill in anything you want…)

Now I have been working as an agile coach for ten years, and more specifically the last 5 years helping large to huge organisations in that role. And then my role is partly a change agent.
Helping to turn an organisation into a new way of working, with a big mindset shift.

I helped companies around EMEA and at the same time I spoke at conferences in many different countries.

Two of the most common reactions I get are:

– yes this is fine in (name another country/company ), but this would not work in (the country /company of the speaker)
– yes this is all nice in theory, but in the real world...

And yes, I have to admit, when I read some books, blogs or hear about company x or y, that I think mm this would not work here.
Well, that never is about the other people, that is me being scared of trying.
And so when you think, what I heard at GentM, or what I read about Semco, or saw in the video of spotify, stop thinking it won’t work here. But look for the smallest step you (not your company, you), can make in that direction.

Thus this mean, I’m never frustrated about where my clients are and the speed they go?
No, I’m always frustrated. I always want to go faster. And that is good because that is my job. The moment I’m happy with where a client is, that means I stayed too long.

The story that Frank told today, is where he is now, and yes it’s the good part. I’m sure there were moments he was frustrated, I’m sure that he still has things he wants to improve and he might even feel they just started. That is not the point.

The first big change assignment I took in a large organisation, I felt frustrated about the speed. I felt frustrated about how little we achieved. I thought I was frustrated because I compared them to what I knew in other companies. It took me a few years to realise that was not really the case.

I compared my clients with:

a imaginary team existing of  
– the best developers from the best teams I worked with
– the best tester from a great team I worked with
– a great scrummaster (who is now working as an agile coach)
– a Product owner that is a combination of two great PO’s I worked with, mixed with the person who taught my PO training and wrote one of the best books on user stories.
– …

mixed with stories I heard at conferences, read online, and hopes I have build up over the years.

so really that is not fair to anyone. None of the teams I have worked with or any of my colleague coaches, will win this comparison. All teams will look pale compare to this imaginary team.

What I started to do instead, is compare my clients to how they were when I joined.
F ex: at my current client, we now have the support of the CIO. That is something that I consider necessary for the kind of change we are trying to achieve now. And I have to admit, one year ago, I did not think we would have this already now. That is a huge achievement.

I can choose to complain about all the possible roadblocks and thing that go slower then I want, and yes I sometimes do that, because I need to let go of my frustration.

yet I love my job, because I am asked to help people to find a better working world.

Just as Frank, I meet a lot of good people that are capable of doing extraordinary things, if we allow them to think. And I know they are capable, because they do it. Unfortunately some of them don’t do it at work, but do it in some kind of volunteer work. And I’m totally not against volunteer work (I’m a coach for coderdojo, and I love helping kids discovering technology), yet I don’t like it when people do voluntary work because they can’t do what they would love to do at work.


Ask people their values, give them a why and trust they will figure out the how. (After all you hired them because you thought they were smart.)
Basically treat them as adults.

PS If you think they are behaving as children, ask me at the next GentM, about some of the times I treated my children as adults and what that resulted in… (Thanks Lamazone to ask me the questions that reminded me of these stories…)

What if you would use #agile 2.0  to build a car and create one in iterations?

23 people, who never build a car, have put a working car together in 2.5 hours. They did not get instruction how to build it, they did get test explanations…

  • OO in manufacturing …
  • publishing code of the car on github and ask developersin the world to make a change…
  • they reduced documentation by pairing
  • they film every demo
  • every thursday, the team gets to play with the cars…
  • automated crash tests
  • 100 dollar houses with a door, a shower etc…
  • When you buy a wikispeed car, you can be the ProductOwner of your car and change the priorities…
  • The future of car manifacturing: R&D will be part of the line
  • Our computer tests are so similar to actual tests, we don’t have to do fysical tests anymore
  • we practise radical trust: our shop is always open.
  • extreme finance: We try to have enough money in the bank for the next week …

Lets look at:

If you like what you saw, please donate 10 dollars to this project.

Ask me again if agile can be used outside software…

I guess wikispeed is one of these companies I want to visit as part of my RemoteCoaching tour

Hé ALE people: what if building a wikispeed car at #ale14 would be the kids program?

if you like the idea: vote for this 




As a coach one of the things I run into a lot is the limited budget that companies have these days for training.

I’m always looking for tricks (let’s call them hacks) that will allow my clients to get more value out of their limited budget.

When I ran public training with (Before I gave the domain away), I quickly discovered that hiring public training rooms upfront was not smart for my business. Either the rooms were not needed, when I could not sell a certain training. Or they were too small when I had a huge success.
The hack I discovered at the time was to not book a room and then a week before the training was due, to contact a company I knew, and ask them if they had a training room available for that day and offer them a free place in the class in return.

I discovered this hack, when totally unexpected, I received new subscriptions for a training a few days before it was due. I had no idea what to do with the request. I was ready to send an e-mail to reject the subscription. As a last crazy idea I ask the question on twitter, does anyone have a room available on this date? And less then 5 minutes later, Jo replied to me: I have a board meeting in 5 minutes, let’s talk tomorrow (it was 8 pm at the time)

My luck had turned, instead of rejecting an interesting order, I now would do a training, in an office that is close to my home.
Even better, their office was at 300 meter of my children’s school. I could park my car with my training stuff on their parking lot, take my kids to school, and come back and install myself for the training. But wait, that was just the start, it got even better, during the break of the training, I started talking with Vincent. Vincent had started to work agile at OneAgency. We stayed in touch -remember I give free life time support on every talk I have- and a few years later One Agency became a client.

I’m telling this story because I want to turn on the heat on this way of working.

I know that when I deliver agile training, it’s best to take a team offsite. Teaching a team in an offsite location, changes the dynamic totally.

1) Everyone takes the training more serious

Managers think that when they do a training in-house, they can find the people when there is an emergency. That is 3589% true. Unfortunately in most occasions the interrupts are not emergencies. Sometimes, they are urgent, yet not important. Sometimes important, yet not urgent. Over the 15 years that I give training, the times that an interruption was urgent and important I can count on one hand. And I’m sure that in these rare cases, the people would have been able to contact the people in the room if we would have been offsite.

2) part of an agile training, is also building the team together. An offsite helps in creating such a team.

3) With some of my training, we do crazy stuff. Play with lego or blow up balloons, even -dare I say it-, even talk about emotions. All that stuff works so much better offsite. People are not afraid that the CEO will walk in and ask what they are doing. Especially if the training room is a nice glass room.


Now in the current economics most companies can’t afford an offsite training anymore.

As a change agent, I understand this dynamic and I want to see if I can’t turn these disadvantages on it’s head.

What if one company would offer their training room for free to another company, that would in return do the same thing for the first company?

It’s like professional CouchSurfing …

What do you think? Are you interested in this?




you want to build cool thing: you don’t give them a cool environment.
you give them less time…

Last week I blogged about how I helped a team decide if they wanted to split.
This week I will write about how I helped teams to do their split. By now, I have been using this technique with multiple teams, their sizes vary from 40 till 7.

If you want to use this technique, I want to stress that it’s crucial that the team itself wants to split. I was myself part of a group where this technique was used, when we were not convinced that the split was needed. That was a disaster. If you don’t want to take the time for a team to decide if they need to split, you might as well decide on the split yourself.
Update: ok disaster was a little harsh. One of my teammembers told me, it did work, yet we spend a lot of time discussing after the fact and a few people where really hurt. I’m convinced we lost more time after the split then we would have if we discussed before. For me as a coach I learned a lot, as a participant, not really.
F ex not everyone realized that the groups needed to be resplit. (there was a real need, yet not everyone was aware of it.)

Please read my previous post, to have an idea how I did that in one occasion.

Ok, by now your team has decided that they want to split. In a lot of cases, they will come back to you and say, please help us, we don’t know how to split our self up.
In most cases, what they mean is: make the decision for us.

Or to put it more bluntly: “I don’t like to say to person X I prefer these other people over you.”

People have told me, they did not like that, as it made them think of in school they had to select someone for sport or other activities. As someone who was bad at most sports and frequently selected last, I can see people don’t like that.

This technique is different, it does not let one person select, and there is no one selected first or last. Also this technique won’t help you as a manager or coach to select your dream team.

The team does not want to do it. You can’t either.

With this, you will help your team to self–organize in multiple sub-teams.

What you need: a large empty room.
I have used meeting rooms where we put all the tables and chairs to one site.

Then I ask the team to walk around in silence.
I ask them to feel the atmosphere. I tell them that won’t give them any criteria to decide. I also tell them I will not ask them to discuss criteria. The reasoning behind that, is that when you discuss criteria, you are looking for an agreement up front, and then people will come up with lots and lots of criteria they want everyone they agree upon. Which only slows down the process and usually does not help. (If you disagree, please read on, and at the end I will explain how I solve this.)

I ask them to form groups. (In some cases they agreed up front in the decision part about splitting up, how many teams they want. Yet I have seen teams split up in a different number and feel ok with it.)

I tell them that the way we will select teams is by physically standing together.  As long as they are not happy with the TOTAL result they should be moving.

That simple? Yes that simple. Yet as most simple things not easy.

How long does this take?
I have seen a team do this in less then 30 minutes and another team needed a few days for it.

How many facilitators does this need?

2. One to help the group stay quite and sometimes facilitate some questions. And one to talk people who have a hard time.

Does this get emotional?
yes. This is why you need a second facilitator that can have a person chat with people for who this becomes to emotional.

Does this guarantee the best team split?
No, not at all. Yet I know this is a much better split then any manager of coach can come up with.

What if there are some real constraints on how to split up the team, like every team should at least be able to do x?
For that I trust the people of the team. I know that there are multiple spoken and unspoken rules that these new teams have to follow. When you start discussing these rules -especially the unspoken ones- you have discussion and create separation in the total group.
When you don’t discuss them. The people that care about a certain rule, will not be happy with the end result. These people will keep moving. In the end, everyone will be happy, even if people might not agree on all the rules that everyone individually had for herself.

If you prepare people for the split, won’t people create alliances before? 

Cool question invented by a member of  my group, (the one that did not receive time to understand they needed to split)

For me this does not really matter. The fact we walk around and feel, these things will become very explicit.
When we see everyones pre created alliances, two thing can happen.
– Things won’t change: this basically means that the pre-split alliances are accepted by everyone. >> Great.

– Things do change:
Now people see that the created alliances don’t make sense for everyone. This might make people mad (remember the emotional part?) At least the not followed alliances are also very visible to other in the alliance (and outside).
Making things visible, make it possible to deal with.

Did the question to split came from the team?
I think this has been partially answered by my first post. Yet maybe not enough.
One of the teams had an external customer refusing to work with a sub-team. To reorganize the team was a team decision for them. The team were I explained the process of deciding, there I was hired to see if I could help the team splitting. I have no idea who came up with the original idea. Yet it was 100% the decision of the team to split. If they would have said no, it would have been no split. One of the things I guaranteed also was that after x time (x decided by themself) we would reevaluate the split. (That evaluation was also positive and I will post  that as a third post).

Could you give a few examples when things get tough?
Good question. yes I can and will.
1) It’s their fault
In one of the teams, the original problem that let to the desire of splitting up, was not solved after one of the moments that people stopped moving. (They wanted to split up a sub-team that customers complained about. And these people where still together, now with a few more people. )  When I asked if everyone was happy, one person complained that the people where still together and that they boycotted the process. I told him that although it was true that these people where together. I disagreed that it was only their fault. As everyone had been moving. So if everyone really wanted the split, they should all behave like it.
This seems to be typically. People prefer to put the blame on others, yet they don’t see how their own behavior had also on influence.

2) It does not work. Yves, you have to choose the team split…

This was a funny or maybe sad reaction. The team where this reaction came, they had been discussing before about the reasons for changing the team. One of the main reason that came up why the last set up did not work, was done my boss and the person who was in my job before. When someone said: “it does not work” (and multiple other were nodding)
I looked at them. I could not find my words. I looked at them for a full minute, and then I said something like: I don’t understand. You wanted another team split, as the previous one was done by x & y. And now you tell me I have to do it?
No. I refuse to. I have told you when I started, that I would give you tools that would help you to take decisions on your own. I could not explain then, what I ment. Well this is one of these tools.
When I said that last sentence, I looked around. I could see in their eyes, that it clicked. They started to walk around and some time later, they ended up with a team I would never have selected. Later a few team member told me, that was the moment she first understood what a self-organizing team really was about.

Agile is about self-organisation. Yet self-organisation does not mean self-creation.

Yes, agile teams can take all the decisions they need to make, yet sometimes, especially in the beginning, they can use a little help with it.

One of the ways I am helping teams is playing games.

We have agile games that are good at teaching people new skills, like leadership, iterations etc. And we also have so called serious games.

Serious games, don’t teach people stuff, they help do stuff. And sometimes what needs to be done is take a decision.

In one of the teams I coached, there was the option to split the team in two.
In the team, we had people in favor, and we had people strongly against it. Which is good, at least it did not let people indifferent.
Taking a decision like this, should not be taken lightly. To help the team take this decision, we took the time.


Let’s  have a look at what we did.

1) As a coach I had F2F with everyone on the team (which was normal as I had been joining the team only recently, and I asked every team member his or her opinion.

2) In the coaches team we had long talks about:
– the why (Remember Why over how)
– was it the right time? (is it ever?)
– Did the team have a choice? (yes they had)
-etc etc…

3) It was not the first time I had helped a team split up. I knew a technique that was really good at helping a team split. Yet this blogpost is about the decision, does the team want it.
I will post a few follow post on how to do a split. And how to evaluated it, 8 weeks later.

4) On Thursday after the standup I announced that we would have a workshop about the split on Friday. (Instead of a “normal” retrospective, whatever that is…) I wanted to do the announcement earlier, I let slip a few occasions, were I could have done it. In retrospective it was a good moment to announce the workshop (not a perfect one, as one team member was missing at that time.)

We had lots of idea’s and made a few plans on how will we help them decide.
In the end, we chose the challenge cards game, I had played this before with my friend Jurgen De Smet, yet then he led it, now I would be in charge. My PairCoach would be an observer for this exercise.

I asked the team to split into 2 parts. (I made clear that this was not the real split)
One part would write on pink post it’s why splitting the team was a bad idea.The other would write green post it’s why splitting the team was a good idea.

People sat at opposite sides of a large table.
Lots of laughter, funny idea’s and some real good serious ones. We had it all.  We did this workshop, after the demo (Show & Tell), so we had chocolates and beverages on the table.
After that, I asked the groups to change places.  Now thye replayed the exercise, yet from the reversed position.

After that we played the real challenge game. People could choose the site they wanted.

I did a decide to see if they had all the information to take a decision.
They did not. A few questions where still unanswered. I let them write down the questions.
We let the team go to lunch and the coaches team + management met, to gather the answers.
After the lunch we (actually management) answered all the questions.

When I then asked the team to decide, they could not. Discussions went in multiple directions, yet I felt they needed some space alone to discuss freely.
So I proposed we (coaches team + management) would leave the room for 15 minutes . This would give them the option to speak clearly.
And so we did.
We left to go to the roof of the building where it was sunny and windy. It was my first time at this roof and it was good as I felt I was tense.

When we came back. The team had not decide, yet it looked they were close, so we left them for another 15 minutes.

After 10minutes they called us. They had decided they wanted to split.

In retrospect, I think it’s dangerous to leave a team without facilitator to discuss such a hot topic.
It’s good as it shows a team I trust them. As a “media is the message” it is strong.  Yet I have seen a lot of teams having a hard time to take decisions without a facilitator. It was a risk I took.

I also think that the small timeboxes, helped them to focus.

Update: if you are interested in this, you might also be interested in how I help teams split up


With agile going mainstream more and more entrepreneurs, are looking for new ways to organize their company.
When a company goes agile, it has an impact on the company culture.
Some of the smart managers I coach, ask me:

  • what’s next?
  • where can I look for examples of companies that don’t work the traditional way?

This is a list of books & documents about companies that are working in a less traditional way.

Although not a book (yet), the most amazing company I know is /UT7. read the /UT7 story at Infoq
nothe rblogpost about how Buffer works as a Distributed company

If you are not in a mood for reading, you might want to watch this video about how open source projects survive poisonous people

Scott Berkun also wrote an interesting book about the year he worked at WordPress
The Year Without Pants: and the Future of Work

Update 2:
In the year 2014, I want to learn by doing. I would like to join companies with creative (aka non standard structures or ways of working) and help them a week or so. (If they work distributed maybe even longer)

Yves lots of people don’t have the time to read these books. True, will you give me links to articles about these and other companies in the comments?



Last week we published version 43 of the book Who is agile, Volume 1 (Yes Volume 1 as we have decided to create also a volume 2)

With version 43, we added Peter Armstrong as 89 person to the book.  That is the last person we add to Volume 1.

From now on, we have a quality control phase. (Wow, how un-agile of us…) What would Lisa  or Elisabeth say of this? 😉 )

these are the different steps we have to do for each person in the book:

  1. Spelling and grammar
  2. Are the  links to person you mention that are  in the book, are these internal book links working?
  3. Are the books you mention in the book list?
  4. Are your links you provided in the contact list?
  5. Is your question in the question list?
  6. is there anything you are missing in the book?
  7. is your location on the map correct?
  8. Update: is your location mentioned at the bottom of your answers?
  9. Update: Does  your location (mentioned at the bottom of your answers) have a correct wikipedia links?
    (You might want to download the latest version of the book for 9 as we only added the links on 2012/10/30)
    As you can see, doing this for 89 people and +20 community events is a lot of work. That is why we are sending out mails to everyone in the book to help us.

    Will you help us too?
    If you send us info, please add the version of the book you  have been reviewing.





Here are the slides of my ALE2012 Presentation about all the online collaboration projects I started.
Unfortunatly on the slide I only have pictures of 68 people. somehow I did not find out how to create a picture of 146 people in google picassa.
The presentation was originally called: “What I learned from Who is agile”, but when the ALE2012 organisation to talk for 1 hour instead of 30 minutes, I started thinking about more projects then just the book creation.


I love metaphors, they can help you to understand a situation better.
Yet sometimes we can take a metaphor to far.

Imagine what would happen if you would design a plane for a self-organizing team.
No need for a flightcrew, and the passengers fly themselves.

That is what this video is about. Oh yes I’m well aware, that it’s not the best metaphor to think about a self-organizing team. Yet, I am convinced this metaphor could help us to think differently about a self-organizing team…