Are Coaches and Scrum Masters overhead?

It’s always interesting to me when I hear coaches and Scrum Masters referred to as overhead.  “What’s the value of coaches and scrum masters?”  I understand the question.  It’s a valid question to ask about every role in an organization really.  It’s an especially valid question to ask about coaches and scrum masters when you’re not, well, Agile.

Scrum Masters help teams learn and grow.  They protect them from those outside who want to much with their productivity,  they help those not on teams learn how to work differently and they point out the things in an organization that are preventing their teams Agility.  They are an awesome resource UNLESS no one else and nothing EXCEPT the teams are Agile.  Then, the Scrum Master is a gnat around the heads of managers and non-team managers.  They’re asking for people to change something that works perfectly fine just the way it is….for them.  They get in the way of managers managing work and delegating to their directs.  They aren’t a “team player”.  HA!

Coaches help people learn and grow in and beyond their role professionally and, sometimes, personally.  They are objective advocates of each person in the organization and champions of the system they all have to work within.  They see things that most cannot see anymore and they can question it safely – helping the organization and being the voice for those who may not be heard or may be worried about speaking up.  Coaches help people make the mind shift and take action to create an environment where all can flourish.  But, you don’t necessarily KNOW they’re doing it.  And, if an organization has no real desire to be Agile, then, the coach is quite annoying – always asking questions, challenging conventional wisdom talking about people and waste.

I would challenge those who might be asking this question to first ask “Do we really want to be an Agile organization”?  If the answer is “yes”, then ask what needs to be true in order for you to realize the full benefit of your coaches and Scrum Masters?  Some possible truths:

  • You need to care about your teams and their ability to deliver value
  • You need to commit to continuous improvement
  • You need to be open to thinking and acting in a different way
  • You need to care about the efficiency of your systems
  • You need to believe in what you’re trying to achieve through Agile (notice I did not say “believe in Agile”)
  • You need to be honest, hear honesty and not get defensive
  • You need to have a blind spot when it comes to titles, age, gender or former role – think about the person and NOT the org chart
  • You need to be able to get over yourself
  • What else????

That said, the first question might really be “Do I even know and understand what Agile is and what it means to my organization?”  Your coach may have already asked that….you *might* have said yes.

An Alternative to the Question: “Why?”


It’s something we all do.  We question.  We ask “why”?  However, while a good question, it’s not a question I find to be very helpful.  When I’m asked “why” my thoughts go all over the place.  I’m NOT a linear thinker and I find this question difficult to answer sometimes even though I know the answer.  Actually, I should re-phrase that a bit and say I find it difficult to answer this question in a way that will be easy for the interrogator to understand my thought process and reach a common ground quickly.  It’s a problem.   To make it less of a problem (for me), when people ask me why, I re-phrase  it in my head to ask “What needs to be true”?  I started doing this with others and have been pleased with the outcome.


Hopefully, this is something that is useful to you or at least worthy of trying. I use the question “What needs to be true?” in the following scenarios:


  • When someone says something isn’t possible.
    • What needs to be true for it to be possible?   
  • When someone says they cannot complete something.
    • What needs to be true in order for you to complete______?
  • When someone says there is a problem.
    • What needs to be true so this will no longer be a problem?
  • When there is a goal or objective that needs to be met.
    • What needs to be true for you to meet this goal/objective?


When I ask “What needs to be true?” it shifts the perspective a bit more towards action-oriented versus laundry listing.  It also seems (to me) to be a bit more positive in general.   The problem solving is already beginning.  It’s not the final, end-all or be-all question to be sure but, it’s a more active start.  Here’s how it works in a non-work setting:


Statement:  I can’t organize my house.


What needs to be true so you can organize your house?


  1. I need to have time to dedicate to the task.
  2. I need to have a structure in place that will be easy to maintain.
  3. I need my family to agree to help organize and, then, maintain it.
  4. I need to have less stuff.
  5. I need a place to start.


From there, I can dig in a bit more:


  1.  How much time do you think you need to start? Where is it in priority to other things you have going on?
  2. How much structure do you need to begin?  What does “easy to maintain” mean to you?
  3. How do you go about getting the family to agree?  What if they won’t or don’t?
  4. How much less stuff?  How will you decide what stuff you need and don’t?
  5. What area of your house drives you the most insane?


I also like using this question when I put an idea out there for people to consider and they have a visceral, “That is NOT possible here”, response to it.  Then, they tell me so many things that would need to be true and I can follow up with another one of my favorite questions:   “What are you waiting for”? 


Giving Thanks For Scrum…..from Virginia

Oh how I wish I were at the Agile Boston “Give Thanks for Scrum”  event!  Unfortunately, travel and hosting Thanksgiving made the trip impossible.  Since I can’t give my thanks personally, I figured I would write it all down here.

My background is in Product/Project Management.  Back in the day, there wasn’t anything about IT that really and truly interested me other than getting things done so I could move on to the next challenge.  I was one of “those people”.  You know the ones….

  • It’s *just* a web page.
  • I need it by the <insert date here>.  You will need to figure it out.
  • Why can’t you tell me how long it’s going to take?  I sent you an e-mail with a full paragraph explaining what I wanted.

Then, I became the IT project manager and every one who had ever been on a project with me previously had their revenge.  Holy cow was it ugly.  I swear, when you’re coming up a seriously steep learning curve you find things out about yourself.  Who knew crying for joy when the file mounts were finally installed was completely acceptable?  Then along comes Agile and my very warped and limited understanding of it.  I botched it – completely.

Happily, there’s this class “Certified Scrum Master” you can go to and learn about being a Scrum Master.  Joe Little and Jeff Sutherland were teaching and my eyes were opened (WIDE) to the fact I was doing it completely and utterly wrong but, man!, did I leave that class inspired!!  Have you met Jeff Sutherland?  He’s got the best vibe about him; straight shooting, practical, kind and real.  Throw that Boston accent in there and there you go!

Scrum felt like home to me (once I learned what it was about for real).  It is so clean, straight, common sensical and simple (but not easy).  Following that class, for me, there was no other option and I began the journey of experimentation, learning and exploring.  Today, I get to work with people every day who want to learn this too.  I get to watch teams come together,  see minds opening, coach others, write about it, expand my own knowledge, teach, explore, learn, grow and try.  The list goes on and on.  If you had asked me, even 10 years ago, if I would doing this kind of work, I would have told you no.  Yet, here I am, having learned so much about myself and hoping against hope I can do the same thing for others as so many wonderful people have done for me.

I have accomplished much more than I thought (or dared to believe) I was capable of accomplishing.  What’s more, I believe I will accomplish even more.  I have a true, sincere passion for the work I am lucky enough to do and the people who are kind enough to allow me to work with them.  I’m very thankful for Scrum and I wish I could thank Jeff personally for the time he gave me, the framework he helped create and the course my life seems to be on right now.

WANTED: Environmentalists

Description:  The Corporate Environmentalist will work tirelessly to ensure the organizations environment is one that allows a new culture to emerge.  Additionally, this person will strive to make is safe for teams and individuals to realize their maximum potential through learning, disagreeing, experimenting and communicating openly and honestly both inside and outside their teams.  The environmentalist will create an environment which:

  • Encourages simplicity
  • Is intolerant of waste – all kinds of waste (time, tools, process)
  • Models the behaviors they would like to see in their environment
  • Challenges the status quo – banishes the phrase “It is what it is”
  • Rewards improvements – individually and organizationally
  • Respects every person and part of the environment as they all help maintain the balance of the ecosystem
  • Inspires others 
  • Enables everything in the environment to be as awesome as possible

I believe an environment is separate from culture but neither can exist nor be healthy without the other.  Perhaps it’s a bit chicken and egg but, there it is.  Culture emerges as a result of an environment.  If an environment isn’t one that encourages, fosters and expects open and honest communication the resultant culture will likely be “CYA”.  A real world example is a large project has been running along for well over a year.  All possible resources are working on it and it’s mission-critical for the business.  For months, the project has been reporting “Green” and everything is on track for delivery.  All of the sudden, one month from launch. WHAM! It’s RED with no hope of delivering.  Why wasn’t this known beforehand?  The environment.  It’s not OK for projects to be yellow or red.  Everything must appear to be in hand – even when it isn’t.  If you do have a problem, it’s not OK to signal it without corresponding solutions and options for stakeholder consideration.  Also, please make sure the problems don’t point at all to systemic issues of an organization like, too many projects in progress, people over-allocated across too many efforts or technical development constraints that don’t  support what it is you’re trying to do.  No…..rather, it should be due to missed dependencies, departments like business and/or IT not doing what they said they were going to do or ineffective project management.

Sound familiar?  Again, I find myself writing about issues organizations actually have whether or not Agile is something they’re trying to adopt.  In order to avoid situations like the one I describe above, the environment is the key.  I hear people say it’s the culture but the culture of an organization is a direct reflection of the environment people work in.  Again, Agile or no, the leaders of an organization are the ones who create the environment.  Why?  Because they’re the ones who associates look to set expectations, model behaviors and support (or not) the people operating IN the environment.  

If the environment isn’t supporting the ability to deliver value, faster, cheaper and higher quality today it will not support it later either.  So, before demanding, mandating or expecting different results, an honest assessment of the environment is in order.

  1. What makes it difficult for people to get work done today?  Too many meetings, too many projects, too few people, too much documentation? WHY are we doing those things today?  How, if at all, do any of those things add value?  How do those components enable or not your efficacy with regards to getting work done? How can you simplify? What needs to be true of the environment to support simplification?
  2. What behaviors would you LIKE to see in your environment?  How does your current environment support – OR NOT – those behaviors?  What needs to be true of the environment to support and encourage the desired behaviors and allow what’s already good to expand?
  3. What role are you willing to play in the environment?  If the answer is “none” or “whatever my manager says I need to” you’re not an environmentalist yet and probably, won’t do much in the way of creating one other than mucking it up more.  What needs to be true of the corporate environmentalist?

Funnily enough, it’s pretty straight-forward and comes directly from the “High Performance Tree” developed by Lyssa Adkins.  A corporate environmentalist needs to be:

  • Committed – To constantly improving the environment.  This means hearing the good, bad and ugly and not getting defensive or dismissive.
  • Open – To hearing things objectively and trying things that didn’t originate with you.
  • Courageous – Going boldly where others have been afraid to go and walking the walk so others can too.
  • Focus – Not on the day to day but, the bigger picture.  Warning!  You must first have an understanding of the day to day.
  • Respect – For the people and parts that make up the environment today.  Bulldozers and rain forests don’t go together.  Your ecosystem will be fragile for a bit…

If you’re a leader, and happen to be reading this, conduct a self-assessment first using the dimensions of the high-performance tree.  If you find yourself lacking, do some soul searching as to why that might be and seek to learn how to improve and change.  Start with you, then move beyond into the environment.  It’s not something that will happen overnight and none of it will be easy but, I’m telling you, it will be totally worth it.

Why I Do What I Do and LOVE Every.Single.Minute of it

Not too long ago I took a 2 day class on personal presence.  It was an incredibly good use of time and I highly recommend it.  It’s taught by actors – real ones – and they work with you to learn how to make an impact with your presence.  It’s about knowing, when you get up to speak, what your passionate purpose is and “setting” the stage to maximize the efficacy of your message.  However, the very best tool I took away from the two days was an understanding of my “personal elevator pitch”.  In short, you had to create a summary about yourself that would convey to others, in plain non-corporate speak, what you’re about.  I had a very difficult time with this particular exercise and was fortunate to have a co-worker help me work my way through it.  Here’s the gist of the “elevator pitch”:

I’m a composer NOT a conductor.  I can hear, in my head, how amazing a piece of music will sound.  I understand how all the instruments work together.  I work with each section of the orchestra to learn their part and help them understand how it fits into full piece of music.  And, when the pieces come together to create something amazing, I’m in the very back row to appreciate the brilliance each musician, each instrument and the full orchestra brought to the performance and celebrate their achievement as a team.  I take pride in seeing them work together and experience what I heard in my head.  Once complete, I slip out the back and begin to think about the next piece of music.  

I do what I do because I love it.  I love the people I get to meet.  I love the challenges I get to work through.  I love the learning I experience every day. And, more than anything else, I love seeing the amazing things that happen when people begin working together well and finding ways to be even better.  I also love that what I do isn’t immediately obvious to anyone.  When awesome things happen – it’s not me that made them happen – it’s the team of people I was fortunate enough to work with.  It’s THEIR accomplishment and that’s what I love the most.

Go Small or Go Home

Have you noticed how BIG everything is these days?  Think for a moment on the size of org charts, resource allocation models, project requirement documents, the number of projects going on at any given time, interaction models, the process one must go through to get a decision (following, of course, the socialization process), an average work day, process flows, number of processes, project plans, meeting attendees/roster, e-mail distribution lists, meetings, time spent in meetings, time spent prepping for meetings, project scope, teams, org charts! backlogs, project duration…..Even the inventory of big things is BIG.  Bigger isn’t better.  It’s just not. But, for some reason, there seems to be a great deal of satisfaction in having big things happening.  

Lately, Agile seems to be a hot buzzword or trend used by large companies who want to deliver more, better and faster.   They want BIG results.  These companies also tend to have quite a few of the items on the BIG inventory alive, kicking and growing bigger by the minute.  Funny really b/c the move to Agile is BIG too.  The other 2 things that are really BIG?  Egos and mind-sets.  All of these things on the inventory of big things are pitted directly against 1 lonesome BIG thing….Agile.

Honestly, this post isn’t even meant to be about Agile.  I would like organizations to simplify, a little each day and a little at a time.  

Imagine what would happen if…..

  • people were only allowed to spend 2 hours in meetings a day (and, no, you don’t get to carry over)?
  • we only delivered the minimum amount of scope possible?
  • we only had projects that took less than one month to complete?
  • we sent out meeting invites with a duration of “no more than 15 minutes”?
  • we only documented that which was TRULY needed?
  • we had a maximum of 5 projects in flight at any given time?
  • we let people work on 1 thing at a time…until it was done? 
  • we insisted on the simplest solution possible?
  • no overtime was tolerated?

If those questions just sent you into a panic – breathe.  This isn’t actually happening.  That said, I believe organizations who want to do BIG things and achieve BIG results need to “go small” or…go home.  What I mean by go home is stop trying to change the outcome unless you’re willing to change the BIG things in your organization.  I believe one approach to change could start with the question “How can I achieve <insert desired result here> with the minimum amount of effort, overhead and management required?”.  Blue sky.  No constraints. For the love of pete, don’t start with looking at an existing BIG thing to modify it. Once designed, the 2 follow up questions might be:

1.  Is this as simple as we can possibly make it?

2.  Is this the best we can do?


The way it’s done now BIG things get BIGGER.  Heck, even Agile is getting BIGGER.  

New battle cries (picture the Franklin Covey motivational posters):

You need do small things to achieve big things 

Find the smallest solution for the biggest problem and go with it

Smaller is better

5 small accomplishments are better than 1 big one

Quotes from other people who say it better:

“Little things make big things happen.” – John Wooden

“If you’re going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters.” – Colin Powell

“I don’t take on big things. What I do, pretty much is, make big things small and small things big.” – Larry David


If those of you reading would be so kind, I’m genuinely curious to hear thoughts and experiences from others.


What did the team say?

I’m posting this on behalf of a guest this week who is not quite ready to “go public” yet.  Happy Monday! – Valerie

As a new Scrum Master, I have had the extreme fortune to have a personal Agile Coach guide me.  Well, she’s technically not my personal coach, but with the attention and information she has given me, it sure feels like it.  In a previous blog post, she stated she wasn’t sure what she taught me.  Well I can tell you that.  She taught me to “ask the team”.  Seems simple enough right?  Well it’s not.

I knew the number one job of a Scrum Master was to protect the team.  No problem.  I’m good at that.  I love being the person people can rely on.   Co-workers, family, doesn’t matter who.  If someone is having difficulty, I want to solve their problem.  I want to fix it.  You want me to be a Scrum Master?  You bet!  I got this!

Well, in some situations solving the problem works just fine.  But as a Scrum Master, well….. not so much.  You see “fixing it” doesn’t help anyone in the long run.  Plus, even if I wanted to, I couldn’t do the teams’ job for them.  I don’t have the time, or the ability.  These folks are smart!!  They have mad skills that I can’t even comprehend.

So, I found myself in situations where I wouldn’t know the answer to a question or a problem and I’d run to my coach.

 Me:  Okay, here’s the problem.  What should I do? 

Coach:  What did the team say you should do?

Me:  I don’t know, I didn’t ask them.

Coach:  ***silent stare***

We had this conversation more times that I can count.  I couldn’t understand how I was helping the team unless I fixed the issue for them.  After all, if they knew the answer, they wouldn’t need me!  I finally understand that this is exactly the point.  The ultimate goal is for the team NOT to need me.  A Scrum Team is supposed to be self-organizing… not Scrum Master organizing.  If I do my job well, they will eventually no longer need me.

So that’s the scary part.  What will I do then?  I know what I’ll do.  I’ll move on to another team and do my best to make sure they eventually don’t need me either.  Or maybe, just maybe, I can start my journey to becoming an Agile Coach.   I can talk future Scrum Masters down from the ledge by explaining to them they don’t have to fix everything.  I’ll explain to them they should work to make sure their teams can work efficiently without them,,, just like I’ll make sure the people I’m coaching can work efficiently without me,,, just like my coach has been doing for me all along.  So thank you!  With your help, I got this!

And here’s the best part.  I’ve talked a lot about not “needing” each other.  The reality is we will always still be there for each other.  Even if my teams don’t need me on a daily basis, I’ll still be there for them.  My door will always be open.  My coach’s door is always open for me too.  I know this, and I will walk through that door from time to time.  I’ll just make sure before I do, I have the answer ready to the first question she’ll ask me.  “What did the team say?”

Whipped by WIP?

I bet if you asked any CIO if they would rather release 5 features into production or have 10 efforts in flight they would prefer the former.  Based on my observations, there are way too many decision makers out there who, based on what’s happening in their IT departments, seem to prefer the latter.  When I ask why that is, often, what I hear back is the roadmap was set, the business has their dates and, so, we need to get things started.  Remember, the business strategists are on the hook for ROI so, it would make some sense they would ALSO prefer to deliver 5 features instead of having 10 in flight.  Again, based on what I observe…not so much.  Shockingly, the end result is less delivery, lower quality and a really frustrated group of associates.  Executives are also frustrated by late delivery and lack of completion but, they are unwilling to pull back and limit the WIP.  Their ask?: Work Harder.  My ask?: Stop Starting and Start Finishing!!

To me, the most simple solution is to JUST SAY NO.  This approach doesn’t seem to be an option most places.  The business, the managers and the executives won’t take no for an answer.  Also, it’s not safe to say no.  I mean, really, you’re probably not going to be climbing the ladder if you say no even if it means doing so would yield a better return for all.  Saying no takes a great deal of courage and it’s not fair to put that burden on those who are lower on the totem pole trying to deliver on everything.

One could also PAINT THE PICTURE.  Make a square “plate” out of a piece of paper.  Write everything on a post-it (standard size please.  don’t cheat with the really little ones) you currently have in flight.  Go to your immediate supervisor and have her fill your plate.  Anything that doesn’t fit, doesn’t get worked on.  When something finishes, bring back the stack of post its and fill the space (or NOT!  *gasp*).  I recommend only having room for a maximum of 4 items (and, really, that’s pushing it).  If you’re a manager, ask those who report to you to go through this exercise.  I would bet you will receive their undying gratitude for even caring about it in the first place.

Another means to address it is ROLL UP YOUR SLEEVES.  This is for managers.  I am really suggesting you return to your roots for a bit and pitch in.  Either tackle some of the work yourself to help close things out or, at the very least, de-prioritize anything you have going on to focus instead on serving your team.  Find ways to, at a minimum, make their jobs easier and less frustrating to minimize the impact to morale.

Probably the most impactful would be QUANTIFY THE LOSS.  What would have happened had you closed 10%, 20%, 50% more?  Demonstrate the loss to the bottom line and get the attention of those decision makers!  Other sources of data to pull from may be associate surveys and attrition rates.

It pains me to see people in funks due to the sheer quantity of work in flight.  It’s not a good feeling for anyone to never complete anything.  If you get excited by the fact you were able to respond to 10 e-mails and set up 1 or 2 meetings, it’s a sign.  Take a look around wherever you are and if there’s any applicability to your situation and consider prioritizing how to reduce the frequency and duration of being whipped by WIP.

The Dormant Environment

Death Valley Spring 2005 Bob Canfield

I was listening to a TED talk and the speaker threw out the word “Dormant”.  He used it to describe Death Valley which is named Death Valley because, well, nothing grows there.  No rain=No growth.  However, something happened in 2004….it rained (7 inches in fact) and in the Spring of 2005 Death Valley was having quite a hard time living up to the name.  The floor of Death Valley was covered in flowers.  Turns out Death Valley isn’t dead.  It’s dormant.  Underneath the barren landscape was loads of potential just waiting for an inviting environment.

I’m a little obsessive about environments – specifically environments for teams to be successful.  Today, more than ever, there are companies, consultants and coaches out there trying to crack the Agile nut in order to deliver value more frequently, efficiently and of higher quality.  It’s a HARD nut to crack.  The frameworks, Scrum, Kanban, XP and the consolidation of them in SAFe provide the manual and direction for companies to take.  Yet….they’re [still] not seeing the expected and much-desired results and I believe, with every nook and cranny of my heart, the reason lies in the environment.

DORMANCY:  The state of quiet (but possibly temporary) inaction. – Definition from

Underneath the surface of the frameworks we’re using or, if you prefer, the foundation, are the Agile and lean values and principles.  But, I don’t believe the appropriate amount of time and attention is spent on teaching these.  Certainly not to the point where they’re understood well enough to be put into practice.  What’s more, I don’t believe most environments are suitable for the demonstrative manifestation of these values and principles.  So then what you end up seeing are the process side of frameworks in action – not people.  The frameworks are designed to bring the values and principles to life.  Frameworks need people to bring THE FRAMEWORK to life.  So, really, you need people to bring the values and principles to life and the environment, generally, just isn’t conducive.

Occasionally, there will be a micro-climate where, somehow, a team is flourishing.  I’ve heard these teams referred to as “magic teams”.  The magic of them is they created their own environment or micro-climate and bucked the odds – kind of like the Spring of 2005 in death valley.  Which, goes to show you, it’s not actually magic…it’s the environment.  Creating the environment is the key to unlocking the potential of people to bring the framework and the values and principles to life which will then bring the amazing results we’re all searching and striving for.  Oddly enough, those micro-climates are noticed by others as well.  The magic team is sought after and asked about their secret and the magic team will gladly, willingly give it away and, then, those seekers will tell you all the reasons why replicating it just aren’t possible elsewhere.

Maybe we just take for granted the environment will be there or it will evolve to meet the changes in process and approach.  Or, perhaps we don’t even want to think about the environment because changing or creating environments is difficult, hard work.  Also, there’s nothing telling you that a framework NEEDS any certain type of environment.  All of that said, I can’t think of a single organization who isn’t fully capable  and up to the challenge of creating an environment to enable success.  Especially if, at the end of all that work, the results would be nothing short of spectacular.  I would go so far to argue that the environment of every organization is dormant….quietly inactive.  I may even take it a step further and say the “environmentalists”, or those with the ability to be, are complacent.  Meanwhile, there’s all this potential just there, waiting for the right environment or a very persuasive environmental activist to get the ball rolling.




Monkey in the Middle

One of the keys in Agile is an empowered team.  Empowered to make decisions, self-mange and self-organize.  In order for a team to be empowered, they also need to be trusted.  Trusted by their teammates, their managers and their stakeholders.  I bet if you were to ask HR what kind of attributes they looked for in employees, they would tell you they want intelligence, creative thinking, a team player, a self-starter, one who has and takes initiative…..all attributes which, really, should make it very easy to trust that associate.  If you ask managers about the attributes their direct reports have their list would likely look a whole lot like the one from HR.  So, when it comes to empowering teams, why is it so difficult to relinquish control?  And, if managers aren’t willing to relinquish control, what happens?  I’m getting ready to make some guesses and assumptions here and would LOVE to hear your thoughts.  I don’t believe I have the whole picture myself, I’m just starting to dig in to this challenge more deeply.


1.  Fear.  Managers are afraid if they empower their teams, they won’t be as necessary.  If teams are identifying, designing and implementing their own solutions and they work…..why, then, do they need a manager?  What happens if the solution an empowered team implements doesn’t work?  Will the manager be blamed?

2.  Communication or lack thereof.  I see managers who don’t feel comfortable communicating the whole picture to their associates.  They operate in a mind-set of “need to know”.  When associates don’t have the complete picture, they can’t possibly design a complete solution.  They only have a fraction of the information.  A manager is needed to review and expand on the solution using the remaining information.

3.  Job Description.  Managers are held accountable to the performance of their associates.  Also, they are expected to manage work, find ways to improve the work and make the company overall, better.  Is the same true for those who aren’t managers?

4.  Trust.  Managers don’t trust their associates enough to empower them.  Managers also don’t trust those above them enough to realize the value and benefit of empowering their associates.  They may be worried it will look as though they’re not contributing themselves.

5.  Lack of Safety.  The environment isn’t one where it’s safe to trust those beside, below OR above the manager.  The “system”/environment is so fraught with booby traps, inefficient processes and fragility that it’s not safe to do anything without understanding the safety procedures and having a buddy or entourage.


1.  Disengaged associates.  If they aren’t trusted, don’t have the whole picture, aren’t expected to really live up to the HR job description and can’t implement any solution that isn’t fraught with risk there’s no reason for them to engage.  Their contributions aren’t valued, recognized or rewarded.

2.  Angry associates.  You ask people to give Agile a go.  You train them and emphasize empowerment, self-managing and self-organizing then, they’re not allowed to walk the walk.  It’s all just talk EXCEPT there’s an expectation of more, better and faster.

3.  Frustrated associates.  Tired of feeling they’re not valued and angry at the bait and switch move, they struggle to do as asked and told and don’t see any progress.

Now, the funny thing is, most managers were once regular associates and, I’m pretty certain, it would not have been acceptable to them if any of the above possible reasons were truths for them.  Managers grew into their position because they exhibited those attributes most companies seek and seem to value.  It is probably also due to….THEIR MANAGER.  Great managers exploit the positive of their associates.  They develop their strengths and find opportunities for them to shine.  They seek the input of their associates and teams because they know it’s not possible for them to have all the answers themselves.  They know the better their teams does and the more they grow can only reflect well on them and, ultimately, contribute more value to the company.  They know that being a barrier to their associates success serves no practical or valuable purpose.  They aren’t afraid of one of their associates surpassing them organizationally.

So, now I’m stuck.  What do you do to help overcome this challenge?  Ask provocative questions – there are so many!  Reveal the picture to them through questions.  They may be able to see it but, may also still be resistant.  It’s easy to help people who are aware and open…how do you help people reach awareness and openness?

I chose the title “Monkey in the Middle” because it’s one of the MOST frustrating games I can think of.  In the situation I have begun to lay out here, there are several possible monkeys.  The associates who are just waiting for an opportunity to grab the ball.  The manager who wants to be secure enough to empower their associates but doesn’t feel empowered themselves.  Then there are the people passing the ball, trying desperately to make sure the monkey in the middle never gets it.  Dropping the ball would mean giving someone else an opportunity to play and that would be????