Goodbye lesson learned, welcome LOI!
Every year I see lots of companies attempting to reorganise themselves, mostly trying to include a lean approach into their services. In mondora there is no hierarchy (we’re a flat company) and we believe that it is our duty to learn from our every mistake. We have been working with Agile and Scrum for many years, and we run the company by organising it around small teams and having retrospective meetings at every iteration.
In time, we have been able to bring agility into the corporate organisation and we have started to work with company wide Gatherings, which happen once or twice a year and in which we learn something from each other. Learning is a key aspect of mondora, but we found that just declaring a lesson learned is not enough, as it is more of a celebration of an accomplishment, rather than an actual learning experience. However — and here comes the good part — we are also learning how to learn and improving our ability to run and facilitate retrospectives. During our last Gathering we worked with a completely different approach and implemented the art of “presencing” from Theory U.
Our last team retrospective consisted of two main phases:
- The downloading phase in which each colleague talked about his or her struggles and wishes in relation to the project;
- The presencing phase in which each colleague tried to understand what was coming from the future
- The third phase (didn’t I say two?) which is COMMITMENT!
During the meeting, I gave each colleague a piece of paper to jot down thoughts, drawings and whatever came to mind whilst someone else was downloading. The aim of this exercise was to feel and accept what was coming from each person, and contextualise it in the present moment. Everyone in turn downloaded from the past to the present, whilst a visual facilitator drew everyone’s concerns on the whiteboard. By drawing on the whiteboard and making everyone’s concerns visual, the I of each person merged into a We: this was clearly visible in the finished drawing.
After a 10 minute break we moved on to the “presencing” or suggestion phase, using the whiteboard drawing as a reference for everyone. This is when the magic happened! Some colleagues spontaneously made a declaration about how they would help a specific teammate on the topic he or she was struggling with one teammate, for example, received help in learning to speak better in public during demos and meetings. Another received help in mastering a new technical skill that he required to perform tasks.. Meanwhile, the visual facilitator was drawing the connection between people and their statements on a second whiteboard. What was happening? The We was moving back to the I and individuals were picking a team problem and taking ownership of it. The action of learning encapsulates the lesson learned in this sentence template:
Dear teammate, as your peer I acknowledge you are struggling with ____ and I commit to helping you by _____ so that the Stakeholder ____ can gain benefit from this ______ and I can improve on _________. In this way we are interdependent because I improve as far as you improve.
This sentence is somehow similar to a User Story but with a real person’s problems and an amazing commitment to helping the organisation in being self organised.
The lesson learned is not expressly declared, but it is owned inside the sentence above. This is when the third phase happens: why not truly commit with a real letter (email is fine) in which each peer states his or her commitment towards one or more colleagues? Welcome LOI: Letter of Interdependence! Thanks to the LOI a colleague can send a message to a peer using a known format similar to a user story and declare in which way the two parties are interdependent. As it is initiated with a letter or email, a LOI can also be terminated by replying to this message and giving the reasons for termination (for example when the issue one is struggling with has been overcome).
We first tested the LOI on a single team inside mondora and the practice is now growing to the whole company. This is the way in which we are becoming adults inside the company and how we commit to helping our peers on our joint learning journey. I can vouch that the act of sending a message with such a statement enables peers to feel their problems are understood and that help is on the way. Once the problem is solved, the LOI can be terminated.
Welcome LOI, long life to learning!
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