Prepare the Ground, Then Integrate: an integration pattern for aligning humans

Jason Yip
Jason Yip
Feb 23 · 3 min read

TL;DR

Working things out in a group addresses alignment but tends to be slow and ignores social dynamics (aka politics) that are not easily resolved in large groups.

Working things out in 1:1s addresses politics but tends to create both misalignment and a lack of transparency.

Instead, use 1:1s and small groups to “prepare the ground” before integrating in larger groups.

Work it out in a group

The problem is getting everyone aligned on a direction/strategy/plan.

We want everyone involved to ensure all perspectives are considered and create sense of inclusion and transparency.

Therefore

Get everyone together into one session and get aligned that way.

Align by getting everyone into one large session

However

Practically, what seems to happen is that in large groups, people tend to withhold information and feedback due to social pressure OR due to not wanting to extend the time of the session.

People tend to withhold feedback in large groups due to social pressure and time cost

If this does work, it tends to require a long duration session, which are typically difficult to coordinate.

Overall assessment

General risk of people withholding feedback; can work with skilled facilitation but is inefficient and difficult to coordinate.

Chain of 1:1s

The problem is getting everyone aligned on a direction/strategy/plan.

We want to ensure all perspectives are considered but we also recognise the need to address political issues in more private settings.

Therefore

Align everyone by having 1:1s with everyone and incorporating their feedback.

Align with multiple 1:1s and incorporating feedback

1:1s are much easier for people to feel comfortable sharing info and feedback.

However

This approach will take more calendar time than a large group session but that’s not the main problem with it. The main problem is versioning.

Version drift after each 1:1

A has the first 1:1 with B. A and B end with alignment version 1.

A has the second 1:1 with C. A and C end with alignment version 2. B still has alignment version 1.

A has the third 1:1 with D. A and D end with alignment version 3. C still has alignment version 2. B still has alignment version 1.

A notices the misalignment so does a follow-up 1:1 with B. A and B end with alignment version 4. D still has alignment version 3. C still has alignment version 2.

And so on.

Overall assessment

1:1s get higher quality feedback; doesn’t actually create alignment.

“Prepare the ground”, then integrate in a group

The problem is getting everyone aligned on a direction/strategy/plan.

We want to ensure all perspectives are considered and we also recognise the need to address in-depth and political issues in smaller group or 1:1 settings.

Therefore

An initial smaller group gets together and/or you use multiple 1:1s and/or small group sessions to come up with a draft position. You then get everyone together into one session to confirm alignment.

Small group sessions and/or 1:1s before formal alignment in larger group

Preferably there is also some kind of ongoing shared artifact, aka boundary object, that allows us all to validate our shared understanding.

“Preparing the ground” is known as “nemawashi” in Lean circles.

Overall assessment

Best approach.

See also

Jason Yip

Written by

Jason Yip

Senior Agile Coach at Spotify, ex-ThoughtWorks, ex-CruiseControl

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