@johncutlefish's blog

Check out Iterate.fm, my podcast with friend and coworker Tareq

Do This Now!

Published: December 20, 2018

I don’t write many prescriptive posts. This one will be different.

Do this…

Form a cross-functional, cross-team, hierarchy-spanning learning group in your company to focus, specifically, on continuous improvement and change agency. Meet regularly. Read papers/books. Invite speakers. Discuss the pressing challenges in your organization. Make it your mission to avoid buzz-phrases, silver bullets, cargo-cults, rebranded tools/frameworks/approaches, and reductionist thinking. Think — always — first principles. Don’t force this on anyone. Make your intention public, and see who shows up and sticks around. See Liberating Structures for some facilitation ideas if the group gets large.

Note: I will gladly do a talk/AMA/activity with your group — ideally after a couple successful meetings. Hit me up on Twitter or here. I also recently crowd sourced this awesome change agent book list:

70 Books (and Other Resources) for Internal Change Agents
The response to this Tweet was amazing.hackernoon.com
A current favorite is Helping: How to Offer, Give, and Receive Help by Edgar Schein. It was extremely humbling and pointed out many flaws in my approach to helping.

Assuming you keep things purely theoretical (and don’t make waves), you’ll probably get away with this anywhere. To reiterate, don’t threaten any institutions, policies, people, roles, titles, processes, or philosophies (yet). If someone gives you shit, then I suggest leaving the company. Something is wrong. If there is a policy against people meeting to self-improve how they work, or if this is viewed as a “waste of time”, then leave.

If more than a couple people show up, and you keep at it, you are likely going to attract attention. Learning, curiosity, camaraderie, and talking about challenges throws off energy, and energy/heat attracts attention. One group that will show immediate interest will be management. Why? Well, depending on the culture, many managers see this type of thinking as their job. They’ll get itchy. Even people talking about ideas is threatening, or at the very least represents something they need to keep an eye on, and potentially try to control/temper/guide.

What do you do when the managers — not the original group members, but the fast-followers — start to show up? Smile! Invite them in! They’ll likely just poke their head in long enough to see you as a non-threat (remember, they are super busy, and you’re making an effort not to threaten institutions), or they’ll stick around and perhaps become a powerful ally. If you want to filter out potential nagging threats…just make the reading/participation requirements super intense.

Is that it? Isn’t this a waste of time? If no change is happening, how can this be worth it?

First, by reaching across boundaries you will almost certainly see a cross pollination of ideas. That knowledge exchange alone can be worth it. You will start to inspire attendees to advocate for improvement experiments in their respective areas/bounded systems. Here I suggest adopting some sort of commitment as a group to conduct “safe to fail” experiments locally, and share back what you learn to the group. Don’t impose change. Invite people to give things a shot in your local experiments. Let the continuous improvement group members hold each other to accountable to make these experiments safe.

If you can keep things non-threatening, you’ll get a longer and longer leash (for lack of a better word). Actually, I suggest reading these two posts:

The Patient Change Agent
Don’t become part of the problem (and quit while you’re ahead)hackernoon.com
Look Before Leaping
Being a smarter change agent / change gardenermedium.com
That’s it. Do this! Set it up.

Medium says…

Include a high-quality image in your story to make it more inviting to readers.So here’s a doodle my dad did the other day:

1 4QMssKbRq2cO vNeAOeriw