Easy Agile Podcast Ep.2 - John Turlay, Digital Transformation Consultant, Adaptavist

Published 01 Oct 2020
by Sean Blake, Head of Marketing


linkedIntwitter

I really enjoyed this conversation with John Turley from Adaptavist.

I knew John was well respected in the industry but I wasn't prepared for how deep we'd go into psychology, research and social networks.

I trust you will enjoy listening as much as I enjoyed recording

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Transcript:

Sean Blake:

Hello, everybody. I'm Sean Blake, the host of this episode of the Easy Agile podcast. I'm also Head of Marketing at Easy Agile, where our mission is to help teams around the world work better together. We have a fascinating guest with us today. It's John Turley from Adaptavist. John is a pragmatic Agile leader with 25 years experience working in companies at all levels, from teams to C suite, always bringing real value, adding change to the way organizations work. Dissatisfied with the standard discourse around transformation and agility, he is passionate about applying cutting edge knowledge from fields as diverse as sociology and psychology. We're really excited to have John on the podcast today. So John, thanks so much for being on the Easy Agile podcast.

John Turley:

You're welcome, Sean. Pleasure to be here.

Sean Blake:

Thank you so much. So John, you've got a lot of experience in the Agile space, in the tech space. And I'm not trying to call you old. But I'd love to get a sense of what's changed over 25 years. It must just be night and day from where you started to what you see now.

John Turley:

There's a lot of change. And I'm pretty comfortable with old. I'm 48 now, and it's closest to 30 years now. That tells you when I first wrote that bit in the bio. So the technology has changed. That's mind blowing. I started off in ops, and then infrastructure and project management and stuff and 1999, 2000, it would take us three months and 50,000 quid to build a couple of web servers with a pair of load balancers and firewalls and a database at the back. And now we spin them up in seconds.

John Turley:

This is profound. Platform technology is profound slack or I mean platform technologies, that makes a massive difference to the way we interact. Scale is a massive issue. I would say that the world is sort of dichotomized into very large and quite small organizations. There seem to be less in the middle. It's just a gut feeling. We see, I think trust is collapsed. We see that in Edelman Trust Barometer. We see the complexity has increased. That's deeply problematic for us. [inaudible 00:02:23] has been measuring that one.

John Turley:

And we see that workforce engagement is at all time lows through the Gallup World Poll. Those things are big, big changes. What's the same though is the people, the way the people think, the way we construct our reality, our mindset, if you like, the way we make sense of the world around us is very, very similar. So although we now talk a lot more about Agile, the waterfall and waterfall for many is a bit of a dirty word, not for me and same with command and control. People are taking the same mindsets. This is measurable and provable. People are taking the same mindset that they had around waterfall and command and control using different language of Agile and behaving in the same way. That hasn't changed.

Sean Blake:

Very interesting. So you touched on trust, and how basically we've seen this breakdown of trust across the board. And I've just watched a documentary that's come out on Netflix around the Social Dilemma, and how the trust that we have in these big social media platforms is eroding. And we're getting a little bit skeptical around what these big companies are doing to us as the customer. Do you find that that's a hard balance with the people that you work with around being customer focused, but still building a profitable and growing business?

John Turley:

Yeah, I do. Yes, and the way I think it manifests itself, which again maybe we'll get into the sort of the psychology and the sociology as well as the complexity science, I'm into it later. But there's a very clear way that that lack of trust manifests itself. I'm not sure it's the lack of trust that manifests itself. But there's a very clear thing that's happening is people, there's repeated patterns of behavior I see all over the place in a lot of the work I do, which is one on one and with groups, that people hold on to this idea that their view is right and anything that doesn't comply with that is wrong.

John Turley:

This is a view that comes from the predominant mindset from what [inaudible 00:04:33] call the sort of expert or the achiever mindset, and it becomes a barrier to us collaborating and learning together and innovating. If somebody with a different point of view is dismissed as wrong, then there's no common ground to start to build trust. Trust is eroded from the outset, and that means that we can't collaborate, and in a complex world where we need to collaborate ever more closely and learn together and innovate, that's a deep, deep problem.

John Turley:

And the response seems to be that people actually withdraw, they withdraw into groups, we might call them cliques or echo chambers. The sociologists call this process homophily. This is a function like many say of platforms like Twitter, we retreat into groups that echo the opinions that we already hold that then reinforce those opinions, and separate us from the opinions of others and reinforce the opinions we have. So the gaps between the cliques grow wider, and particularly in times of COVID and the lockdown that we've had here, and that we seem to be maybe heading back into the isolation perhaps adds to that, and we see it more and more. So at a time where we need to be getting our act cliques and talking with understanding with others with different views, we're actually psychologically in a difficult position to be able to do that. And so that's what we might generically call the lack of trust manifests itself in the work that I'm doing. And that's how I see it with almost everybody that I work with, including myself, by the way. It's not an easy thing to conquer.

Sean Blake:

So what does your day to day look like, John? I think your official job title is Digital Transformation Consultant. You work for Adaptivist as one of the most well known Agile consulting practices in the world, I would say. What does that mean for you day to day? What does your nine to five look like?

John Turley:

So we're really involved in three things. I'm really involved in three things. And it's all about learning, collective learning, organization learning. So we're involved in a lot of original research. We do that original research with a number of academic partners in a program that we're putting together. We've been doing a lot of the research on our own. But as it gets bigger and more credible, other partners are coming to join us and they're very credible partners.

John Turley:

And the research is uncovering new learning. And that new learning points us to new consulting practices where we can take that learning and embed it into a workshop, say or how we might use the research instruments that we've borrowed from academia in the real world to measure social networks or psychological complexity or the amount of autonomy in the environment. So we can then use that to work with teams to help them shift from a sort of functionally oriented way of working to a cross functional way of working, which whether we're talking about safe and Agile release chains, or whether we're talking about Lean software management and value streams, whether we're talking at a team level or an organizational level, the challenge is essentially the same. We need to orientate ourselves around the creation of customer value in cross functional teams that are focused on delivering that value, not just delivering on their function. And that switch brings with it some deep, complex, deep psychological challenges that we're just not really equipped to meet. So we bring sort of the people and culture element, the tools and the Agile methodology simultaneously to bear in teams to help them make that shift. So that's really what my day to day work looks like, so the research and the practice.

Sean Blake:

Okay, research and practice. And when it comes to the practice side and encouraging that cross functional collaboration, how hard is it for people to get on board with that recommendation or get on board with what the company is trying to do?

John Turley:

For most people, it's really hard. So my experience before doing the research that I guess we started a couple of years ago I was just referring to, was something like this recently. We'd often get, so I've worked in the Agile space for a long time, I don't quite know when I started working in that space, in other words, full space, but a decade or two, let's say, and now bumped into a repeated problem, we get our, let's say, thinking of a specific example with a specific client about three years ago, very functionally orientated, trying to make that shift into cross functional teams. So we got a group of five people together from different functions, so designers, testers, developers, a couple of ops people, and between them, they should be able to obviously, launch some working code within 10 days or whatever. We were probably trying to spring into the real world.

John Turley:

And they were all great people. I knew them all personally. I spent time working with them all. They were very sort of Agile in the way they approached the development of the software that they did, and we put them in a room virtually to begin with and we asked them to produce a piece of code that works across functions, produce a piece of code and release it at the end of the week. And they didn't. And we thought what on earth happened there? We didn't really understand this, so we tried it again. But we assumed that the problem is because we'd done it virtually.

John Turley:

So this time, we got everybody together in Poland, as it happened in a room, we set it all up, we talked to them at the beginning, then people like me sort of left the room and let them get on with it, got to the end of the week, same outcome, nothing has happened. And if you talk to them, while they say, "Yeah, my phone pinged and there was a support incident, and you just couldn't.", and they had lots of very plausible reasons why they couldn't come together as a cross functional team. But the fact remains twice in a row, the most capable people haven't done it.

John Turley:

So we had a really long think about it, one of the senior leader in the business and myself. And we realized that the only thing that could be happening, the only thing that could be going wrong here is that there must be some sort of breakdown in the dialogue between the group in the room. So we ran it, we ran the workshop, let's call it for a third time. And this time, we had somebody else in the room just watching what was going on.

John Turley:

And they spotted something happened really early on. One of the people from the UK said to one of the Polish developers, they said, "Look, think of us like consultants. We're here to help you, to transfer knowledge to you so that you develop a capability so that you can do this on your own." And at that moment, the person who was in the room said that the dynamic in the room seemed to change. People glazed over. And I think what it was is that that word consultant that the English person had used had a different meaning for a colleague in Krakow. I think that meaning, the meaning of consultant meant, we're just here to tell you what to do and not actually do anything and put ourselves on the hook for any work, just kind of watch you do it.

John Turley:

And I think at that point, they kind of went, "Okay, well, all right, I get it, same old, same old. We'll do the work you English guys talk about it, because it's an English company.", and that breakdown started to occur. So the question we started is, I've seen that all over the place. So the question we started to wrestle with in our research is what's happening in those moments when that dialogue breaks down what's happening?

John Turley:

And what we've discovered is that there is a number of research studies, the biggest is about 10,000 people, that shows that around about 50% of people are at a level, and this is 50% of leaders in a study of 10,000, so for middle management, senior management, so it's a skewed number. So in reality, in software teams, it's probably more than 50% of people have reached a level of psychological complexity that suits the environment as it was, but has some limitations in cross functional working.

John Turley:

So they have a mindset, a way of making their reality that works well in a functional environment, but it's challenged in a cross functional environment. And that mindset, this way of thinking, which is very prevalent, is a way of thinking where individuals draw their self esteem from their expertise, just to put it very short, simple as an oversimplification. And the thing is, if you're drawing your self esteem from your expertise, when your expertise is challenged, it feels personal.

John Turley:

If it feels personal, people are likely to get defensive. And it's not because they're stupid, or they're not interested or they don't want to, the psychologists can show it's a level of psychological complexity, where that's just how our minds work. That's just how our meaning making works. Now, if that's the stage you're at, if we imagine me as a developer sitting down with a tester, and the tester's saying to me, "Look, the way you've written the code isn't the best way to do it for me, because I can't test it."

John Turley:

If I'm drawing my self esteem from my expertise as a developer, I'm likely to reject that, and might even start to think thoughts like, "Well, I think what really needs to happen here is that you need to be a better tester." I think that's the problem. And then we get this separation. Now at the next stage is psychological complexity. And these stages are in a framework that we do move through these stages. Again, it's an oversimplification, but it's observable and measurable. At slightly later stage of psychological complexity, things start to change. People start to recognize that the world is much more complex, that it's not black and white. And actually, there are multiple ways of doing things.

John Turley:

So to go back to my example as a developer, the tester might say to me, "This isn't the best way to write the code as far as I'm concerned." And what I'll hear is the, "Oh, as far as I'm concerned." It might be as far as I'm concerned, it's not fair enough. How can we change the way I'm writing the code to make it easier to test? But I can't do that if I respond like it's a personal criticism, you know what I mean? So what we started to uncover in the research is a correlation between how successful cross functional teams can be, and the level of psychological complexity in the leaders and the individuals in that team.

Sean Blake:

Interesting. So there's a book that we've been reading at Easy Agile recently called Radical Candor. And really, it comes down to giving constructive feedback to each other, not in a way where you're attacking them personally but you're trying to be honest around how we can work more collaboratively. And like you said with that example, how can a developer write code in a way that the QA tester can actually perform the tests on it? For someone who's new to cross functional ways of working, what advice does the research have around preparing that mindset to receive some of that radical candor, to receive that feedback in a way that you don't take it personally?

John Turley:

Well, so it's a great question, you put it really well, because radical candor is fine. We have, I work in a team that is very candid. We have some difficult conversations, and we don't even really dress our words up. And nobody gets offended. We just know that it's a shortcut. We might get our words wrong, but it's a shortcut to unlocking value to finding out how to work together. But it's not about the words that each of us picks to express. It's about how the other chooses to react to the words landing, as much as now that's a dialogue, it's a two way thing, it takes two to tango.

John Turley:

And the way we can develop a mindset that's more suitable to cross functional work is interesting. First of all, we've got to get out of comfort zone. We've got to be prepared to get out of our comfort zone, not far necessarily, and not for very long necessarily, and not without support and understanding from the colleagues around us. But we do need to get out our comfort zone. Otherwise, psychological growth can't occur. This is what I'm talking to about now is the work really of Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey, who do a lot of work in dialogue on radical candor.

John Turley:

So we've got to get out of our comfort zone. But we've also got to be addressing a complex problem with a group of people when we're outside of our comfort zone. And that complex problem has to be meaningful, and it has to be salient, it has to be something that we care about, it has to be something relevant to our day to day work. And if we've got those characteristics in the environment that we working in, then there is an opportunity for individuals to choose to develop their own psychological complexity.

John Turley:

So that environment that has those characteristics, we would call in Kegan's word a deliberately developmental environment, because we can't separate the development of individual mindsets from the environment that that mindset functions in. The reason most of us have got the mindset that draws self esteem from expertise is because that's actually what most environments that we work in or not. That works in a functional environment. It's where you get promoted, it's where you get hired. It's where you get your Scrum Master badge and all that other stuff that gives you status and makes you feel good.

John Turley:

The world that we work in for many of us honors that expert way of making meaning. It doesn't honor learning and admission that yours might not be the best way to do things in the same way. So we have to shift the environment to support the individual to choose to take that developmental step because it can't be something that's done to them. You can't make people develop a more complex psychology. You can't train them to do it. You can only give them an environment that supports that step if they want to take it and if they don't, fair enough, that's okay. But maybe cross functional teams for them, if they don't want to because the hard place is to work.

Sean Blake:

Is it a problem that people find their expertise or find their self esteem from expertise? Is part of it encouraging men to find their confidence in things outside of their work or is expertise an honorable pursuit?

John Turley:

I wouldn't say it's a problem at all. Expertise, and the development of expertise is an honorable pursuit. Drawing your self esteem from your expertise is a very necessary part of our psychological development is a stage that can't be skipped really. I said to you before that I don't like to say things like that without the research base, but the psychology certainly imply that it's a stage that can't be skipped. So we've got to do it. We've got to go through this stage. The stage before we're drawing our self esteem from our expertise is where we draw our self esteem from our membership of the group.

John Turley:

And that's very important too, if you think of us as children or being part of a group is essential for our survival, so ingratiating yourself into that group, not rocking the boat, so we don't jeopardize our group membership is critical. But at some point, people start to realize, well, actually, I have to rock the boat a little bit if we want some direction. So separating your meaning making from drawing your self esteem from the group to drawing your self esteem from your expertise is a development in that sense. Drawing your self esteem from your expertise means the best way to write this code is let me train somebody to do it.

John Turley:

It's critical. But like all developmental stages, it has its limitations. So it's not problematic in any way, unless the individual is in a complex environment in which that expert way of making meaning isn't well suited. And then you got a mismatch between psychological complexity and environmental complexity. And when you've got a mismatch like that, the individual's anxiety will go up probably, employee engagement goes down, certainly wellbeing goes down, people revert to an earlier way of making their meaning that's more embedded in their expertise or the group, just to the point, they need to get more sophisticated.

John Turley:

So the problem is the mismatch between psychological complexity and environmental complexity. That's why we need to support, as the world gets more complex, that's why we need to get all get better at supporting the development of individuals into a level of psychological complexity that suits the more complex environment. That's kind of the nub of the problem. Nothing wrong with being an expert in drawing your self esteem from your expertise. People have done it forever, and will continue to do so. Every time you get in a flash car and you feel good, because you're in a car, you're drawing your self esteem from the status symbol, which is very similar to your expertise. As a young man, I put on my sharp suit and I feel a million dollars. Nothing wrong with that at all, but it's limited. That's the problem.

Sean Blake:

Understood, understood. So you've spoken about research and measurement and having an evidence based way of making decisions. When it comes to this cross functional way of working or digital transformation or teams moving from the old way of working to an Agile way of working, do we have evidence to say one way of working is superior to another way of working? And when you're talking to these clients or these customers, can you guarantee that if they work in this way, it's going to lead to better outcomes for the business? How do you approach that conversation?

John Turley:

No, I can't do either of those things. So I would never go anywhere near nor would I research saying that one way of working is better than another way of working or we can say like the mindset and the environment that there are ways of working that will work better depending on the problem that you're trying to solve. But it's very unlikely that one could be considered right and the other wrong in all sorts of circumstances, but more than that, I would say that doesn't matter what your way of working is or a team's way of working is. If the mindset is the way of making sense, if the reality doesn't also shift, then you're just following a new process, a new way of working with the old way of thinking, and you're going to get the same results just with different words.

John Turley:

So for me, that isn't entirely true, I'm quite biased. I guess in the work I do, I've got quite a perspective. If you shift mindset, then everything else will drop into place. If you change everything else, but don't shift mindset, nothing else will drop into place. What we can say however, is that there are three things, let's call them the three elements of a cross functional team that are hidden to people in organizations at the moment.

John Turley:

So generally, we think if we've got people with the right experience and skills working suitably hard, then they're going to work as a successful cross functional team. And if they're not, they're either not working hard, they're not the right type of person, or they haven't got the right set of skills, so fire them and hire somebody else or give them or put them on a training course, and that solves the problem, which of course it doesn't.

John Turley:

We would say that there are three other elements that remain hidden parts of the cross functional team that are more critical than that, and we're beginning to be able to demonstrate that there is a correlation between these three things that I'm going to tell you about on both employee engagement and team performance.

John Turley:

And these three hidden elements are the structure of the social networks that underpin the way people work. So if we think about how we as groups of human beings organize ourselves, we might think about hierarchies and hierarchy diagrams and old charts and bosses and stuff. That's not really very important for a cross functional team. What's much more important is the social network that develops across that team, who works with whom and when and how, right? Do the developers and the testers and the testers and the ops guys and the designers and the technical architects, do they all work together in a cross functional team?

John Turley:

Now that's a social network. That's a network that's formed through individual autonomy because they want to get the job done not because the boss says you've got to go and do it. In fact, it can't be done because the boss says go and do it. So we have worked with some friends in academia with actually an Australian company called Polinode to measure their various ways we can get the data, what those social networks look like. And the structure of those social networks is key.

John Turley:

As we look at the structure of social networks, we can see whether those teams look like their function, sorry, organized hierarchically, or were they organized for cross functional working because of the network structure. So network structure is one element. The other is psychological complexity. So we've worked with a gentleman called David Rook, who did the original research and developed a psychometric instrument that can measure an individual's stage of psychological complexity, both the structure and the substructure. And that mindset complexity is also linked along with network structure to where the teams can function cross functionally.

John Turley:

The third thing that was the hardest bit, the last bit of the jigsaw that we sort of put into our hypothesis is we need to have adequate degrees of autonomy. We needed to develop a much better understanding of what it means for teams to be autonomous than we had, and how that autonomy relates to control and how control undermines autonomy and how we all tend to be orientated, to taking the cues in the environment either as instructions, which we must comply with or invitations to be autonomous. And we now have another psychometric instrument. So the third instrument that we use, we call the motivation orientation scale, excuse me, that can measure an individual's likelihood to interpret inbound information as an instruction or an invitation to be autonomous.

John Turley:

And once we know that, we can start to challenge this common perception within product teams, software teams that the team is autonomous, because everybody thinks they are autonomous. And in fact, everybody is, research shows mostly autonomous, but we might be almost entirely autonomous, or we might be 60% autonomous. We can measure this. And then we can say to teams, "Look, you are autonomous as a bunch of individuals. But you also have this control thing going on where you're responding to inbound requests."

John Turley:

And we need to be more autonomous. So once we can start to measure it, we can start to challenge their ideas of how autonomous they are. And we can start to examine where the teams are choosing to respond from that control orientation or their autonomy. So they're the three things, autonomy and control, complexity of mindset and network structure, equal employee engagement and team performance. That's what our research says. So what we can say is, to your question in the beginning, there is a network structure, a level of psychological complexity and the amount of autonomy that correlates to successfully working as a cross functional team. And in that sense, we might think that those levels are right, in some sense.

Sean Blake:

Okay. So what does a 100% autonomous team look like? And do they still have interaction with, say the executive team on a day to day basis? Or are they at odds, those two concepts?

John Turley:

No, they're not at odds. They do have, they might have day to day, I suppose they would, they will have either directly or indirectly interactions with the executive team. So the first thing we need to bear in mind here is that the research that we're leaning on is something called self determination theory, which is a theory of motivation. And it has quite a specific definition of autonomy, which is not what we might normally think. Often autonomy is taken to mean as sort of the general use of independence. So if we buy a company, we might leave it to run autonomously, which would mean we just left it alone for a while. And autonomy in this context doesn't mean that. It means individuals acting of their own volition, individuals deciding how to act towards a common purpose. So the team has to have the vision which they can self organize around. You can't self organize without autonomy. If you don't got autonomy, you have to wait to be told what to do. And then it's not self organization.

John Turley:

So autonomy leads to self organization, and self organization can be around a common vision or a set of goals or an OKR is quite a sophisticated way to do instead of management by objective, then we can self organize in a way that sort of honors the need to be part of an organization, doing some coordinated work, but that doesn't rely on a manager telling the individual what to do.

John Turley:

That's what an autonomous team looks like. An autonomous team, you need the autonomy is really a self organizing team. And the self organizing team is deciding what the team ought to do in order to achieve a wider objective, which could be integrating with other self organizing teams. And obviously, the direction is set often by the executive. So all these things sort of come into play. It's not a question of control on the one hand or autonomy on the other or Agile on one hand or waterfall on the other.

John Turley:

So we're going to blend the two. We're going to balance them. And that balance needs to shift not only across teams, but also depending on the level that the organization is, that the team is working in the organization. And what I mean by that is the need for control and measurement increases in many ways as you go higher up the organization. So we want high degrees of autonomy at a team level where we're creating customer value. But we need to recognize that that self organizing team has a legitimate requirement to integrate with some elements of controlling the organization, because if we have some elements of control, then we can't do the accounting and be accountable for where we spend investors' or shareholders' money, you know what I mean? So it's much more complex in the sort of the dichotomized world that people tend to look at, which is very black and white. Is it Agile or is it waterfall? Are we autonomous or are we control orientated where you're both and the blend of which needs to shift depending on the environment here.

Sean Blake:

Okay, okay. So there's always a need for a bit of control on top of the autonomy.

John Turley:

It's a balance, right? We're all comfortable with control, aren't we? We all comply with speed limits, for example. We're perfectly okay with that. Control is not a dirty word. Some will do things that we're told to do sometimes, and we're happy to do it. Sometimes we do it begrudgingly. We're not happy to do it. Sometimes we reject it. There's nothing wrong with control in itself. It's the overuse of control to coerce people to do things that they don't want to do. That's when it becomes problematic because it undermines an individual's autonomy, which is a basic, universal psychological need. We all need to have a sufficient degree of autonomy to feel well.

Sean Blake:

Okay. Okay. So we know that Agile's had a good run, it's been decades now. So do you still find that you come across the same objections when you're speaking to these executive teams or these companies perhaps from more traditional industries? Do they still have the same objections to change as they did in the past? And how do you try and overcome them?

John Turley:

Yes, they do. So one of my strange experiences as a young project or program manager, whatever I was, is that when I would end up in a room full of software developers who were Agile, probably the language they would have used at the time and a bunch of infrastructure engineers who followed waterfall, and the distaste for one group for the other, it was almost visceral, and you could see it in them. There would be a bunch in, I don't know, Linux t-shirts and jeans, and then the infrastructure waterfall people would probably be wearing suits.

John Turley:

I mean, it was really obvious, and it was hard to bring these groups together. That was my experience in let's say, around about 2000, I sat with a client yesterday, who said exactly the same thing. They said that in their organization, which is going through a very large, Agile transformation at the moment, they said, "These are their ways. We kind of got people at the two extremes. We can sort of bookend it. We've got the waterfall people who think their way is best and we got the Agile people who are totally on board with Agile transformation."

John Turley:

And what I heard when the individual said that is quite senior leaders, the Agile people are on board with the Agile transformation brackets because they think their way of working is best. And what I tried to point out to that senior manager was that that was one group, there were perceptions anyway, that one group was into Agile and got cross functional working, all that got cross functional working and the other group didn't, actually the two groups were operating in the same way.

John Turley:

They both thought their way of working was right, and one was espousing the virtues of waterfall and the other Agile, but the fact was they both thought that they were right, and the other was wrong. And they were both wrong in that. Waterfall works really, really well in a lot of scenarios. And full on Agile works really, really well in some environments. In some environments, it's quite limited by the way, in my opinion.

John Turley:

My friend and colleague, John Kern, who was a co author of the Agile Manifesto in 2001 or 2004, whatever it was, I can't remember. He says, "I love waterfall. I do loads of waterfall, I just do it in very small chunks." And because the fact is we've got to do work sequentially in some manner. I can't work on an infinite number of things in parallel. There has to be a sequence.

John Turley:

And that really, when I heard him say that, it sort of filled my heart with joy in a way because for somebody with a waterfall background, I used to say, "Look, I don't get this. In waterfall project management, we're talking about stages. And in Agile, we're talking about sprints." And they've both got an end. One's got a definition of done. And one's got some acceptance criteria, and they both got a beginning. The only difference is the language and the duration.

John Turley:

So what if we make sprints, sorry, stages 10 days long? What's the difference now? And yet people would say, "Well, we're Agile, and we do sprints, and that would still be a stage." Come on, we've got to find some common ground right to build a common meaning making between large groups of people. Otherwise, only the Agile listeners amongst us can work for Agile organizations, and everybody else is doomed. And that's not true, is it? That's nonsense, right? So we've got to come together and find these ways of working as my friend John Kern points out so eloquently.

Sean Blake:

Okay, that's good advice. So for these, some people that you meet, there's still this resistance that has been around for many years. How do you go about encouraging people to get out of their comfort zone to try this cross functional way of working and be more transparent, I guess with contributing to the team and not necessarily pushing towards being just an individual contributor?

John Turley:

Another great question, Sean. So there are a couple of ways we can do it. The psychometric instrument that I mentioned earlier, that can sort of measure I kind of always put that in inverted commas, because it doesn't really measure anything, it assesses, I suppose, is a really, really powerful tool. Off the back of that measurement, the psychologists that we work with can create a report that explains lots of this sort of meaning making stuff, adult developmental psychology to the individual. And it tends to be mind blowing. It really shifts people's perspective about what they are and how they're operating in the world.

John Turley:

Once people start to understand that there are these developmental stages, and we all move through them potentially to the last days of our life, we can start to see the disagreements. They just start to fall away. Disagreements start to fall away, because they cease to be seen as opposing views that can't be reconciled, because I'm this type of person and they're that type of person.

John Turley:

And they start to be seen as incompatibilities in meaning making. So people start to go, "Okay, well, I think this and you think that. How are we both making our meaning around this, that means we can see other's perspective?" And immediately, then you've started to find a mechanism to find some common ground.

John Turley:

So the leadership development profile report, which is the report that comes from the psychometric instrument really sheds a lot of light on for the individual, both on how they're working and what development looks like, what psychological development looks like for them. So that's a powerful tool. We have another service that we call dialogue partnering, which we're piloting, which is sort of what over an eight or 10 week program, it's a one on one collaborative inquiry into how an individual is making their meaning, and what the strengths of their meaning making and the limitations of their meaning making are.

John Turley:

And once people start to realize that the way, the reason they feel defensive because the way they code has just been criticized is because they're drawing their meaning from being the best coder on the planet. But there is a development path that leaves that behind, which is where many, many people get to. It's kind of like an a-ha moment, people just realize that reality is different to what they thought and it can be adjusted.

John Turley:

So the LDP, the Leadership Development Profile reports, dialogue partnering, and working with senior management to create a deliberately developmental environment, which does those things I mentioned before, they're the critical tools that we use to help individuals unlock their own psychological development. And the question is, of course, why would they be motivated to do this? Why would they care? And they care, because 80% of people have got a very low level of engagement in their work. Most people are treading water, killing time. It's not a joyous place to be. Once people start to work in cross functional teams and get involved in joyous work with their colleagues to create things they couldn't, which is a basic human instinct, that's a buzz, then you come into work and enjoying yourself.

John Turley:

That's what I said to you at the beginning of that call, right? I'm having a great time, I'm working with some brilliant people unlocking new knowledge that we believe humankind doesn't have. That's a buzz. I'm not treading water in my role, you know what I mean? And this isn't unique to me. In my view, the whole world could be like that. We could all work in roles like that, maybe that's got a bit far. But certainly, many more of this could then currently do to get on board with the psychological development and enjoy your role more, enjoy your work. There's a lot of time.

Sean Blake:

Yeah, I really resonate with what you said about the buzz. And I've seen that happen when the light bulb comes on in people, and it's no longer this factory line of work getting passed down to you. But you realize you're now part of a team, everyone's there to support you, you're working towards a common goal. And it's transparent, you can see what other people are working on, and you're helping each other build something together. It's actually fun. For the first time in a lot of people's careers, it's a fun and enjoyable experience to come to work. So that must make you feel really good about doing what you do.

John Turley:

Yeah, it does. It's why I get out of bed, and it's what I've been about for 20 years trying to unlock this, really help other people unlock this. I got a phone call from a colleague the other day who said they were doing some exercise, and they were thinking about their new role. And they thought to themselves, this is what it feels like to do joyous work.

John Turley:

I mean, that [inaudible 00:42:51] job done, because this is a very capable individual. Once they're feeling like that, you know that they're going to do great things. When they're feeling like they're other people feeling, that people are clot watching, or there's this culture of busyness, where we can't admit that we don't know things. And then we've got to be in a meeting doing something, in the transparent world that you're just talking about, if I've got any work to do, I can just sit and say, "I'm going to work today, I'm waiting for more stuff to write." And it's not a bad thing. It's like, great, you're working at a sustainable pace. That's a good thing. I worked for a Swiss bank for years and years, working at a sustainable pace but nobody was interested, you need to work at a full on flat out unsustainable pace. And when you're burned out, you can go and we'll get somebody else to come in and do it. That's how it works. That's miserable.

Sean Blake:

It's not what we want, Sean, is it? It's not what we want. And unfortunately, a lot of people have been there before and they've experienced it. And once they see the light, they never want to go back to it, which I guess is a good thing once you recognize that there's a better way.

John Turley:

Yeah, agreed.

Sean Blake:

Yeah. Okay, well, I think we're going to wrap up shortly. I do have two more questions for you before we call an end.

John Turley:

I'll try and keep the answers brief.

Sean Blake:

No, that's fine. I'm really enjoying it. I could probably go for another hour but I know we've got other things to do. So in the research, I've read some of your blog posts, and I watched some of the talks that you've done and events in the past, and you speak about this concept of hidden commitments. And I just like to learn a bit more, what is a hidden commitment? And what's the implication?

John Turley:

Great question. So Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey, developmental psychologists, wrote a book called Immunity to Change. This is a book that I read here a few years ago. And in there, Bob and Lisa talk about hidden commitments. And so they start by pointing out that we all make New Year's resolutions and they all fail. We really mean them when we make them. And when I was in my late teens, maybe I really did mean them when I made them. But I could never keep them.

John Turley:

In another book, Kegan points out, I think it's in the book called The Evolving Self. He points out that a large majority of men, after they've had heart attacks, I think it's a study in America. But it's been a while since I read it, I think it's six out of seven, don't change either their diet or their exercise regime after they've had a heart attack. And the reason he uses that as a case study in the book, because he's pointing out that it's not that these people don't know what to do, you need less calories in, more out. And it's not that they're not motivated to do it. They've had a near death experience. They'd like to stay alive, we presume.

John Turley:

Yet still, they don't make any meaningful change to their diet, their exercise regime, why not? And what Bob and Lisa say in the book from their research is that it's down to hidden commitments. We all have our way of making meaning. We have our values and our assumptions that we absorb from society as if by osmosis. And we don't question them. We can't question all of the assumptions that we absorb as we grow up. It's just not possible. So we have these hidden assumptions that we're committed to hidden commitments. And sometimes, these hidden commitments conflict with our stated objectives. And when the hidden commitment conflicts with our stated objective, the result is that we get very confused about the fact that the stated objective sort of falls by the wayside, and we don't really understand why. We might think, I would think a common out, because I just need to try harder, I just need more willpower. I just need to stay the course. And it's not true very often. There is something else in your meaning making this conflicted with our stated objective. And once you can surface it, then you can start to examine that hidden commitment, and you can play around with it.

John Turley:

And when you can play around with it, then you're adjusting your meaning making. And the technique that we use in dialogue partnering comes from Bob and Lisa's book, where we're essentially uncovering those hidden commitments and seeing how they conflict with commitment. So that's sort of, and then once you can see it, and you can experiment with it, you can start to unlock change in yourself. Peter Senge, I think he's director of innovation. He's very famous, director of innovation for MIT. And he has a beautiful little quote, something like, "What folly it is to think of transforming our organizations without transforming ourselves?"

John Turley:

We need to change our relationship with power in order to change the way power is distributed across our organizations. And that's an example of a hidden commitment that we don't normally think about. We just think we can empower people magically, whilst retaining all the power for the senior manager. And that just doesn't work. There's a hidden commitment, conflicting with the idea that we want to empower our teams, which is a quite flawed idea.

Sean Blake:

Wow. Okay. Well, I really like the approach to work and looking at the social structure, the social networks, and the psychology behind it all. It's really fascinating and it's not something I've really come across before, especially in the Agile space. So that's really unique. Thanks for sharing that, John. Last question for you. 2020 has been interesting to say the least. We've talked about some things that have stayed the same over your career, some things that have change. What do you think is going to come next, looking forward to the next five, 10 years? What are some of those trends that you think are really going to stand out and maybe change the way that your work, it changes the way that that your nine to five looks or changes the way that you interact with your clients?

John Turley:

I think that this won't just change the way my nine to five looks. It will change like everybody's nine to five looks. I think that the world is in a difficult place. A lot of us are upset, and it looks like a bit of a mess, and we're all anxious, I think. A lot of us are anxious. But as a friend said to me, he was quoting somebody else, never let a good crisis go to waste. The amount of changes, a lot of energy in the system, the amount of changes in the system is palpably changing things.

John Turley:

Many of us recognize there must be a better way of doing things because our ways of organizing ourselves as society, including our organizations is collapsing. It doesn't work anymore. People are realizing through work that people like the names I've mentioned, and through our original research, I hope will sort of contribute in an original way to this, that there is a better way of organizing ourselves that humankind does have the knowledge and the experience to do what we need to do.

John Turley:

It just isn't in IT. We need to look outside of it to what the psychologists say about mindset, not what the Agile people say about mindset. That's a radical idea. And as we import this learning and this knowledge, we have a framework that helps us understand to a much greater degree what's really going on, and how we can unlock real change. So everything that I talked about today, very little of it is original. We have some original work I can't really talk about. Does it matter? The knowledge is out there. If we do the people and culture bit and the tools and the methodology together, then it scales, then we change the way organizations work, which is going to change everybody's nine to five.

Sean Blake:

That's great. It's bringing it back to basics, isn't it? What we know about human beings, and now let's apply that to what we know about work. So that's really eye opening. And I've learned a lot from our conversation, John. I've got a few books and a few research papers to go and look at after this. So thank you so much for appearing on the Easy Agile podcast, and we really appreciate your time.

John Turley:

Sure, my pleasure. I mean, I love and we love at Adaptavist to sharing what we're doing. So we can all engage in more joyous work, man. So thanks for helping us get the message out there.

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