Las Vegas 2020

Making Change Painfully with Conversational Dojos

Is your company adopting the structures of successful organisations, but not seeing results?

"High velocity organizations differ from low-velocity organizations both structurally and dynamically” says Dr. Stephen J. Spear in High Velocity Edge, and you are probably ignoring the dynamics, the conversations that let you deal effectively with the complexity of organizational behavior and get input from many different perspectives.

The good news is there are proven methods for improving your conversational skills. The bad news is that improving your conversational skills requires difficult emotional work.

To make this difficult emotional work easier, don’t go it alone - follow our step-by-step approach to learning with a conversational dojo, a group who practise and learn together to improve their conversations.


Jeffrey Fredrick

Co-Author, Agile Conversations


Douglas Squirrel

Co-Author, Agile Conversations



Well, hi Squirrel. Uh,


Hi there, Jeffrey.


Welcome to, uh, our DevOps Enterprise Summit, uh, presentation. Uh, looking forward to that. Uh, for the audience, uh, I'm Jeff Frederick. I am the managing director of a FinTech company in London, and also a consultant and executive coach.


And I'm Squirrel, and that is actually my name. And I live in England, where I'm a consulting CTO. And I've worked with something like 90 organizations in the last, uh, five years on all kinds of transformations and improvements, which is the sort of thing we're gonna talk about with you today. And of course, together we wrote a book.


Yep. Uh, published by people, uh, you may have heard of with, uh, IT Revolution.


Yeah, I've heard of them.


<laugh>. So we launched that earlier this year. And, uh, very, uh, happy with the response and, uh, being part of the IT revolution family. Um,


Although we'll say a bit later about why we're not quite as happy with the response. There's, there's something missing, which is what we're gonna talk about today. Yeah,


That's true. That's a really good point. And, um, this is something that we've picked up since launch. So we've had, um, some really good feedback from people and people will happy with the book, but it's something about the, uh, dynamics, um, aren't quite right. And, um, structure and dynamics was something as a, a bit of vocabulary that I personally picked up, uh, from this DevOps Enterprise Summit community, uh, for me back in, um, the London, uh, DevOps, uh, uh, enterprise Summit Virtual, yeah. London <laugh>, uh, the virtual event early on this year. Uh, and what was really key for me was, um, Dr. Steven Spear. Uh, he was a keynote, uh, in, uh, London early this year as well. And he shared some excerpts from his book, uh, high Velocity Edge, which were just really fantastic. And I went and, uh, bought it and read it.


And it has become one of my top now recommendations to executives who are looking to understand the kind of, um, organization that they want to have, if they want to be what I would've in the past called like a learning organization, uh, now, high velocity organization, uh, really just, uh, uh, operational excellence. And the term here is structured dynamics, I think are very interesting. And I'm sure there's a lot of other conversations about that, um, in the it revolution community, both here at DevOps Enterprise Summit. And also, if you listen to Gene Kim's ideal cast, uh, this is something that's come up many times and I'm gonna just sort of narrow it down, uh, to, um, structures are the things we put in place. So the things that we do and dynamics are what result.


So, so like structure would be having a standup Exactly. That, that's what you need. You need a standup and you need, um, uh, lean methods. Methods, and you need DevOps methods. As long as you have those, you're, you're fine. Right?


Well, well, yes and no. Uh, but mostly, no, this is the, this is the challenge, and this is what makes having a really high performing organization so challenging is that we can't just copy the cookbook from somewhere else. We can't look around to somewhere else to find the best practices and put them in place and get the same results.


So Kubernetes and retrospectives, those are, those are not gonna do it for me. They're,


They're not enough. They're not sufficient. So it's not that there isn't valuable information in other people's experiences. We can learn a lot from the structures in other places, but we always have to keep in mind about the dynamics. Are we getting the dynamics, the results that we want? And this, this interplay between structures and dynamics it for you. In my school, often the gap between these when we work with people and they're having trouble when they're trying the right structures or interesting structures or changing their structures, but they're not getting the dynamics.


Aha. I know if I get the Spotify model, that'll be enough. Yeah.


<laugh>, that, that there's some really important elements that come down to conversations. And, uh, that is where our, our point is now, this idea of structure and dynamics, for me, that's a very close tie to the Conne model. And, and people who are coming across this for the first time, they'll see this sin thin. Like, you have a but you have a good like tip for how to pronounce it correctly. Right? It,


It, it's easy to do. Although if you, uh, here's a tip. Here's another tip. If you wanna make sure people remember your framework, don't, uh, use Welsh to name it <laugh>. Um, 'cause this is the only word of Welsh I know. Um, you say the word Kevin and you say nah in the middle. So it's K that's how you pronounce this, this goofy word. Um, but the helpful idea that that comes from this theory, it that we wanna focus on here is just a little piece of the, the whole picture. The whole thing is really valuable as a way of understanding how systems work, especially their dynamics. How are they changing over time and how are the, uh, the elements, uh, evolving? The one we wanna focus on is the complex domain, which is the one where you do know that there's a connection between what you're doing and what the effects are.


There is some connection. Nobody seems to know what it is. <laugh>. So unlike some of these other domains and, and these things have changed their names and so on. This itself is a dynamic framework. But the, the idea is that, um, uh, when you move into the complex domain, and that's usually the domain of humans and startups and, um, rapidly evolving situations, exactly what, uh, high velocity edge is all about. Uh, the, the situation that you're in there is one in which it's most helpful to do something and then see what happens. So they call that probe sense, respond. I might call it ready, fire, aim, <laugh>. So you, you, you start trying something, you figure out whether it worked, and then you respond by adjusting. And that's exactly the sort of thing that agile software development and DevOps and all of these wonderful things are supposed to give us. The problem is that we keep using structures that don't involve any probing and certainly not any responding, uh, in the way we're implementing them. And then we're kind of surprised by the fact that, uh, like our, our system didn't adapt. We, we didn't get, get better.


Yeah. That, that's, that's a great way to put it. And I think that's the, that's the challenge, is that when people, uh, don't take the system view that don't understand that there's an emergent property, and that's what these dynamics are. They're the emergent property of the organization from the structures we put in place. They're only focused on the structures and not sensing that, uh, emergent dynamic property. Now, now that's, uh, that's I think where, where people fall down is that, is that they're, this, they're not understanding how to move back and forth from sensing the, uh, the dynamics that are occurring, trying experiments with the structure and seeing the new dynamics and back and forth. Now, there's one other thing that, uh, that I found interesting when I went back to this paper. This is the, the 2003 version of bin. And I'm sure people here have looked at more recent versions.


If you go to Wikipedia or something, you'll find different labels as scroll mentioned for the domains. But the idea is still the same. And one thing I found very fascinating about this complex domain, and I've highlighted here, is that when we're dealing with this place where it's, it's not something where it's just, uh, uh, best practices where it's not a question of expertise and be able to just know ahead of time what's gonna happen, it's very valuable to increase the number of perspectives available to decision maker. And that's true whether your decision maker is a single person or whether it's committee, it like decision making rule isn't important. But what we know, what we want is we want as much information as possible, as many different perspectives as possible. And, and actually I think that people kind of already understand that. So let's, let's try a test. We'll try a test with our audience here and see whether your intuition matches this framework.


Sounds great. Okay. So, and this usually gives me a chance to test my telepathy. Yeah. So I'm, I'm, I'm telepathically going to, to predict what you guys are gonna respond. So we're, we're now gonna give you something to do Yeah. Interactive talk, even though we're recording it a month ahead of time,


<laugh>. That's right. So hands on the keyboard. Yeah. This is a chance for all of you to, to, to type and test squirrels, telepathy. And because here's the scenario, we're gonna make an important decision. And it really doesn't matter what important decision we had to make. Let's just pretend like that. What we're gonna do is we're gonna ask you and the audience as individuals, each of you individually have the assignment and put your answer into Slack. Here's the question, where should we have next year's DevOps enterprise Summit conference? Where would you choose?


Now, don't answer that, that question 'cause that's not what we want you to type. Yeah. Although, like Antarctica with the penguins would be great. Yeah. I'm looking forward to it.


But as a, as a group, we need to make the decision, but you individually are gonna decide how we go about it. What's the, what's the protocol we're gonna follow to make the decision? How would you recommend we go about making this decision?


You're the chair of the committee, how are you going to decide? Yeah, exactly. So go ahead and write that in Slack, and I predict that I'm gonna be able to know what you're gonna say. I'm a month ahead of time. Yeah. It's only September.


All of your, all of your answers would've had these properties. You would've said, uh, you would've said that you want to get input from everyone who's, who's here. You wanna know what everyone thinks and why they think that, and you would share it yourself.


That's what people always say. And that's what we, uh, seen over and over and over again because people advocate the probe sense, respond high diversity approach that we all know is gonna work.


Yeah. And what they're gonna say is, uh, if you look back, you would've put in structures. You would've, you would've said, uh, I'm gonna ask everyone to say their ideas and I'm gonna share mine. But why? What are the, what's the, what's the reasoning behind it is because you can see the value of, of that, the, the diverse viewpoints that inform your decision. But there's a paradox here, right? Scroll, you and I have asked this question of lots of people. We've asked it of, of multiple DevOps, enterprise summit groups, uh, both in person, uh, last year in Vegas, we asked it virtually. Uh, in London, we've asked many small groups. Uh, we always get the same kind of responses. And yet when we go deal with people, when, when we deal with actual decisions they're trying to make, we see something different. What's, what's going on? What's different when we, when people are dealing with their actual decisions?


Well, you see it, it's, it's just like when I've been trying to lose weight. You know, I, I, I don't eat cake except on these special occasions when I do eat cake, <laugh>, and the special occasions turn out to be just when there's cake, right? And that isn't a good way to lose weight <laugh>. And it's not a very good way to change your organization either. Because what happens is people say, well, yes, that's the right way to do it for something that's kind of not so vital, but this important thing, well, everybody knows we have to convince everyone to, to adopt this practice. I mean, everyone knows a retrospective would be very helpful. So we just have to convince them that we have to hold that practice, and that's what we'll do. And then this special situation differences would be a threat. Like, why would I want somebody to have a different opinion listening to them would, uh, uh, derail our process of adopting the, the new practices that we're trying to bring in. So just this one special case, which is actually most of the cases we're going to do it differently, <laugh>.


And that's exactly why people get caught. And this is why the, uh, agile conversations has been hard for people to implement. Uh, it's been hard for them to adopt some of the ideas that we're gonna, uh, describe here. And, uh, we're also gonna tell you what a way out is. So how to get, uh, past that and how to get the results that you want, which are those good decisions, probing, sensing and responding. Um, being a high velocity organization, what can you do about that? Well, there's some, uh, specific mechanical things that you can do that would help you,


Right? And the, the, the good news is that there are concrete steps you can do. And the general conversational transformation has a, has a, a playbook that you can follow. And this is something that's based on not just our experience, but we went and looked back at the literature. This is really something that we, you and I learned from looking back at the work of Chris Arris. And the idea is that we can use our conversations to become self-aware. We can study them to start, find the gaps between what we believe about ourselves, what we believe about our, our behavior, and our actual behavior and practice. Because that's the thing, is that we have this idea of how we would make decisions. We have how we behave in practice, and we're unaware of the difference now. Uh, and as we said, you already know what the results look like.


You know, when you have, if they're successful, you have the dynamics, uh, that you are looking for. You're having good interplay between people, you're having, uh, uh, the diversity of opinions and you're getting the value. But what you're necessarily seen is when your behavior doesn't contribute to that. And there's a fairly simple set of steps that we put forward. And we're not gonna spend a lot of time on this. We've, we've talked about this, uh, in the past. You can find the past videos here, read about in our book. And it's the a step called we call the four Rs, which are, uh, number one, uh, record your conversations. You're gonna reflect on them, you're gonna revise them, you'll do role play, of course. You'll repeat them until you get them right. And you'll, uh, do role reversal. Okay? There's six, the, the six four Rs, uh, uh, as you like to say, scroll.


This is, it is not, it was a book on conversations, not a math, so, exactly. Um, just a quick overview of what each of these steps are. Um, the record conversation in involves, uh, some very, uh, um, simple steps and very simple materials. All you need is paper. You fold it in half and you're gonna, uh, record it on the right hand. You put side of the paper and right hand column, you put down the transcript of what the dialogue was in the left hand, what you were thinking and feeling. This is gonna start making your conversation visible to you in a way that hasn't been in the past. From there, we reflect. What does it mean to reflect scroll?


Uh, so you, uh, take a look at what was going on in the conversation and how you could improve it. And, uh, we're illustrating here one of the very basic techniques, but there are actually lots of different things that you can record and, and, and understand about your conversation and score so that you can look to see how to improve it. We won't go into the details here. Um, there's lots more in the book.


Yep. And the is that with reflect you, the reflection step will change based on what tool you're using from that reflection, you're then gonna revise your conversation. And the idea is we're gonna have, have altered the conversation we wish we had had based on the tool we're using, based on the reflection that we did. We found mistakes. And now we're gonna say, well, what would it be if we were more skillful? This is where we start developing the skills of generating a, a better conversational dialogue. Notice this is a chance to, to practice.


You notice this guy Norbert, um, uh, in his previous, we were paying close attention. He gave himself zero for questions. And now Norbert's asking more and better questions in this revised dialogue


That that's right. And finally, once we've developed that skill of generating, uh, the kind of, uh, words that we think we might use, then we're actually gonna role play. Because the question is <laugh>. Sometimes things look, look very good on the page, but realize that actually this is not the way that I talk. Or, or maybe when I hear it, I think that's not the way I like someone to talk to me. So this is why the, the role play step is part of this. This is, we're kind of building the skills here. We're learning to see, we're learning to, uh, uh, criticize our own language. We're looking to build the skills to generate better dialogue. And then how does it sound to actually say those words to get practice saying them? The outcome of all of this is we begin to have true collaboration, the dynamic of true collaboration, where we are bringing in different viewpoints. We're having productive conflict from those different ideas and generating better outputs that people all understand this is what they want. But we find very common traps, uh, when we talk actually with our clients. Can you tell us a couple of those? Squirrel?


Well, so, uh, we've illustrated them here in red. So one is that, um, you, you wind up having a conflict that is an unproductive conflict. So instead of, um, finding out, oh, Jeffrey, you have an interesting idea there. Let's involve, let's, uh, uh, probe it, let's try doing something else that's diverse. And it's helpful. I say, oh, there's that Jeffrey again. He just hates us. He doesn't want to do it our way. Yeah. He we're gonna have to find a way around him or, or to force him to agree. That's an unproductive conflict. I'm sure many of you are in that situation. And then the even more common, more insidious one is, uh, where Jeffrey doesn't even speak up. Yeah. 'cause um, he says, well, those folks over there in qa, they never listen. You know, they just have to do it their way. Couldn't possibly automate any of their tools. No way we could do automated tests here. Okay. I guess that's the end of, uh, improvement, uh, here in our company. And that's, um, a very dangerous position to take. Whereas if you can take these, um, conversational techniques, uh, as far as you can, you wind up having a different conversation and might result in a very different solution, which is the true collaboration and, uh, quadrant.


Yep. And again, this, these quadrants we're putting here, these are dynamics. These aren't structural, this isn't the question of how you, um, whether you had a standup or not, how you organize your teams, uh, what kind of meetings you have. Now, those things can all help. They, they would change the dynamics for sure, but really the testers are you having the right dynamics because you can put everything that's seemingly right in place in the structures, something that everything is in all the books, the best practices, but not be getting the dynamics that you want.


And that's what we see over and over again.


And that's what we see. So what we do is we work with people to begin having these. And the the new thing is, there's a problem here. We, we, and this is this, we come back about what's been missing with the book. We, we've talked to people. They say, you loved your book. Uh, I hope I, I bought copies for my whole team. Um, you know, we've all, uh, read it. It's just great. And then scroll, you always ask them a very simple question.


Did how many pieces of paper did you fold in half? And how many times did you write? Oh, I didn't quite get to that. Oh, yeah. You know, I didn't feel like I needed, that didn't work for me. Uh, I don't really need it. Those other people over there, they need to do that. I'm gonna give it to them so they can do it.


Yeah. So the challenge is people like this, they, they, they go, oh, this makes sense. Yes, I want the true collaboration. But what they don't do is the work, they, they don't do the conversational analysis. And so we've laid out this simple model and it has very good results if you do the work. Now


Why is that? But it's just like, if, if, if you, if you wrote a diet book, a diet and exercise book, and it said what you should do is jog five miles every morning, and then you gave it to lots of people and they said, yes, I should definitely jog five miles every morning. If you followed up with a lot of them, I bet a lot of them would not be jogging five miles every morning.


That's right. And I, and I think there's some human reasons about this, and one of the big challenges of doing this work, especially doing it consistently, is that it's painful. And, and that's why, uh, we have the title of this talk We do, which is about making change painfully, is because in our experience, doing this work is a bit painful. And, and why is that? Is because we don't like, uh, uh, you know, that, that feeling that we get, we ask people this and, and we got this question directly from Karen Schultz. And, uh, I first heard it in her Ted Talk, um, many years ago. And I've, I've asked many groups since then. I've asked, well, what is it? What is it? Like, what does it feel like when you're wrong? And, and the, the quotes here are ones that, that she had in her, in that talk people said it was, is dreadful thumbs down. Someone actually said, great, you know, I actually, this one's from one of mine. Great. I, I love the feeling of being wrong because I love to learn and get better.


All of them are wrong. All of them are incorrect responses.


That that's right. Because actually these feelings, whether they're positive or negative, are not what is like being wrong.


They're what happens when you find out you were wrong. Exactly. Being wrong feels just like being right.


Yeah, exactly. Being, being wrong feels awesome because it, you're not aware that you're wrong. But so, and, and that moment of learning is, is often very difficult. And that's why I love Mark Coleman's quote, and he had a, a talk where he was describing cultural change, and he was saying, look, this is gonna require difficult emotional work, because why is that? And I've, I've had people really challenge me on this. Uh, uh, I, I have this hashtag that has come up and it's learning that's horrible. And some people really hate that. My wife included, she hates this. And, and other people love learning. They say, you're probably here actually at this conference because you love learning. And I'm telling you, this kind of learning is a bit different. And why is that? I think it's because we're learning about ourselves. We're learning that we aren't the people we thought we were.


And, and that's really the struggle. I think this is what makes this kind of work about understanding our conversations and how to make them better, is that, uh, it, it kind of shows that we don't behave the way we think we do, in a sense that we're not the people we thought we were. And, and that I think is why we wanna talk about a different structure today and send you a away with a solution to this, which is to, is you, you should do this work, but maybe you have more success if you don't do it alone. And we're advocating here something called conversational dojos. And, and really conversational dojos are something that we've, uh, done in groups. We've put them in place in different, in, in multiple companies. And that's


How we learn these techniques ourselves.


Exactly. This is something that we've lived And why is that? So we, we, we understand that skill development requires deliberate practice. So again, we, we talked about this is like going to the gym or doing your jogs every day. If if you're, if you're doing the work, you'll get the benefit. The challenge is that people often have difficulty doing it themselves, but when they have a group they do it with, they find it both more effective and more fun, that that group holds you accountable. And, and actually in this kind of work, because the, the challenge we're dealing with our, something about views of ourselves, our view of ourself can interfere with our practice. The <laugh>, your, your colleagues don't have that problem. They, they can see when your words and your and your spouse behavior don't quite line up and they can help you see problems.


Uh, so e even as you're learning together, having other people really does help, uh, in, in finding problems. And also it helps you to see the mistakes that other people are making. So every part of the practice is helpful. Now, if I wanna do a, a, a conversational dojo, if you're like, this sounds good to me. Um, the good news is we've put together a kit about how to do it. And, uh, this is something that you can, uh, download and we lay out the steps for how to run a conversational dojo. And it has three parts. We have an introduction for what, what the form is, uh, a runbook for how to do it, and then handouts to help, uh, support you. And uh, as we mentioned that there's, uh, uh, the dojos can be different, uh, based on the kind of reflection that you're doing, the different tools you're using. And in this case, the, our book, uh, is a very good compliment because in the book actual conversations, we lay out five types of conversations, each of which gives you a different tool, which is effectively a different workout.


You can think of these as the katas you're going to do in the dojo, the things you're going to practice and get better at. And that's what a Dojo is good for in a way that the book has, um, kind of fallen short on. It's if you just read the book and you, you don't try to practice, you don't get the full benefits. And we've seen that over and over again, which is why we're doing this new initiative to encourage people to, to try reading the book in groups, using the techniques, practicing, practicing things that aren't in the book that work for them. Uh, then we're seeing much better results from that.


That's right. And now what's the outcome? As we said, if you do this practice, you will gain the skills and then you can test, are you getting the dynamics you're looking for? Are you getting improved relationships? Are you seeing improved trust? Do you feel like you're making better decisions? Is there better leadership? And so now we have a request for you try this, download the kit and let us know if it works for you. And if, or if it doesn't, we'd be very keen to find out, uh, where do you get it? You can get it from it. Revolution <laugh>, uh, uh, we did a webinar with them, uh, uh, to describe how to use the kit. Uh,


And the video of the webinar is available on the same website, so you can see much more detail than we've been able to go into in this short talk. That's right. How to, how to use it, it and what the benefits are.


And uh, of course this is a, a good compliment with agile conversations. Although to be clear, you can use the, the Dojo kit without it. You might start with that. Get the basic practice down. And then when you're ready, go ahead and, and add in, uh, agile conversations to take it further. Um, we would love to hear any questions, uh, of course in Slack right now, uh,


We're also on Twitter and email and um, uh, Instagram and anything else you can find that, where you can find us <laugh>.


That's right. And so we'd love to hear from you, hear about your experiences, and of course, any questions anytime you can join our Slack community. And, uh, and basically, uh, thank you for coming and uh, and


We're, we're right here in Slack, ready to answer you. I'm not sure where Slack is on the screen. <laugh>, click, click that and come and talk to us about this topic. We're very interested.


That's right. And, uh, thank you.