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Breaking the Kata cycle with Curiosity

Recently I came across Hakan Forss’s blog post on What is a Kata?

The following is an exert from this post:

“You learn and evolve a Kata through the three stages of the learning cycle Shu (learn), Ha (break) and Ri (create). In the first stage Shu, you learn by following the teacher. You imitate the teacher’s practices, values and thinking. You will only move on to the next stage when you have made the teacher’s Kata your own. In the Ha stage, you break from the teacher’s practices and make modifications based on your own creativity. In the Ri stage, you leave the teacher and you start creating your own unique Kata. As you expand your knowledge into new areas, you will loop back to the Shu stage for those areas in an ever-growing spiral of knowledge.”

The interesting part for me is “You will only move on to the next stage when you have made the teacher’s Kata your own”.
I recently came across a situation where eager engineers followed the frameworks set out by Scrum by the letter, sometimes using these guidelines as a stick to beat others over the head with when they were not followed. But like all frameworks and rules, there are always exceptions and they should never be blindly followed.

Although this shows great learning and knowledge of the process and makes you appear to serve the greater good of the customer, it does comes with pitfalls if you don’t have the curiosity. You may come across conflicts between those that want to follow the process because they are told it has value but don’t understand why and those who don’t follow the process because they don’t understand why they should.

It is often the latter that comes out as the agitator or the bad guy but this is not always the case. This behavior maybe demonstrating something you do want in your staff and illustrates an ability to progress through the 3 stages of learning.

Whenever you follow any process the curiosity inside you should always be asking “Why?”, leading to a true understanding. It is this step that should lead you to “break from the teacher’s practices and make modifications based on your own creativity”.

“Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.” – Dalai Lama XIV

If you observe your team exhibiting this behavior, don’t always assume they are out to be obstructive. Ensure all your team understand why we perform the practices that we hold important.

One to Ones – Another Feedback Loop

Over the last couple of weeks I have been committing one of the worst sins as a manager. Not keeping up with my one to ones. This makes me feel really bad. Although I offer an “open door” policy, or in my specific case a no door policy (I don’t have an office) and I always try to encourage my directs to approach me whenever they have a problem or need advice, I still feel I have let them down by not having the metronomic opportunity to have my undivided attention and talk.

It still surprises me how few people have experiences of regular 1-1′s so I thought I would share my thoughts on my experiences.

What are One to Ones?

One to ones (1-1) are a regular and frequent meeting to give and receive feedback to your direct reports; those people that you manage. In the same way that we approach releases we approach one to ones, early and often, tightening one of the many feedback loops in Agile teams. It’s a time to allow direct feedback and build relationships with your staff. Giving feedback isn’t just about negative feedback nor telling someone how badly they are doing, it’s a time to offer encouragement and coaching. There any many techniques on providing feedback such as reflective questions or non threatening language but I wont go into that here.

The Anti-pattern

Annual reviews are a common practice in the business environment but the frequency extends the feedback loop between yourself and your directs to months. This allows little time for course correction until its too late and the behaviors that either you, your directs, or worse both, reach a point of no return and its time for personal improvement programs or other last resort corrective techniques that too often come as a surprise. How many times have you sat down with your directs to provide feedback at an annual review and you receive a look of shock and horror, as they were unaware of the impacts of their behavior or the fact that they were even doing it?

The cost of not doing them?

  • Your directs don’t know where they’re going wrong or what they’re doing well.
  • Morale depletes due to lack of encouragement or effecting other teams members with the unchanged bad behaviors.
  • As a manager you don’t get to find out what’s really happening on the ground and how people feel about it.
  • You don’t build up solid relationships with your directs.
  • You don’t allow yourself the opportunity to discover those gems of information about your directs that can help you understand where they are coming from and empathize.
  • You don’t allow a constant and open channel for communication.

What do they look like?

I generally make the 1-1 sessions 30 mins long, but this will depend on your availability and how many directs you have reporting to you. The session is split into 3; 19 mins for their feedback, 10 mins for my feedback and then 10 mins for any other business. My 1-1′s very rarely stick to this schedule but that’s OK. The important part is that the first part of the meeting is focused on what they want to say, reinforcing the fact that this meeting is for them and not a status update and that all parties have an allotted time to provide feedback.

Schedules can be tricky and the frequency is a balance. Too often and they can be time consuming for your direct with little to discuss at each. Too infrequent and you loose the opportunity for course correction and you slip too close to the anti-pattern.

I hope to share more of the specific challenges that I have faced in 1-1′s in the future, but hopefully, if your not doing them yet, this is enough to get you started.

There’s some useful pod-casts on 1-1′s and feedback in general from the people at Manager Tools. If you can get past the jovial conversational format there’s some good content.