AYE 2009: People, process and tools, in that order

Look around you. Things don’t have to be this way. – Jerry Weinberg, session leader at AYE

Relaxing. Welcoming. Insightful. Practical. Intimate. Grounded. Those were a few of the words uttered last night by some first-time participants at the AYE conference. One person remarked, “[At the end of the conference] I woke up late for my taxi ride to the airport, and was in danger of missing my flight. Normally that would have upset me, but strangely I remained calm.”

AYE is an interactive, small conference focused on people skills and human dynamics (my words). To learn more, I decided to interview myself on the trip home. Here is the (mock) transcript:

Q. Why did you decide to attend AYE Gerry?

I attended the pre-conference session, where I had to answer that question with a drawing, so here it is. Before the conference, I chose a Frisbee to represent who I wanted to be at the conference: active, engaged, giving and taking, being open to wherever I’m directed, having fun. My hope was to be changed personally, to grow in people skills, and in turn impact myself, family, teams and the world. I’m at the point in my Agile coach journey where I realize practices only get teams and individuals so far. Hyper productivity comes not through better processes and tools, but through changed minds and hearts. My logic-driven, analytical mind needs a counterpart to work effectively with people.

Q. What resonated most with you?

Systems thinking

Esther Derby’s systems thinking simulation. This helped me gain a better understanding of the environment teams work in, and what might be impediments / opportunities to bring about desired change. Through a simple scenario of a company making pinwheels, we uncovered many levers for change. Levers come in 3 flavours: containers, differences and exchanges. Borrowing from the HSD Institute definitions

  • A container holds a system together as its parts interact to form system-wide patterns. Containers can be physical (team room, office), organizational (departments), or pyschological.
  • The significant differences within the container focus the resources of the system and establish the emerging patterns. Some differences matter, some do not. Hair colour probably not that important. Focus on the ones that matter. Look at
  • Exchanges among the agents within the container allow for individual and system-wide evolution of new learnings and patterns. Translation: look at the flow of things: resources, language (written/verbal), energy, knowledge, ideas, authority, responsibility, within and between containers.

Building rapport: structuring your conversations

On Tuesday night I had felt some disappointment that I hadn’t had more in-depth conversations with people at the conference. This is partly my own personality weaknesses, so I resolved to work on that for the remainder of the conference. Wouldn’t you know it, the next morning I wandered into Johanna’s structured conversations session, heard her 3 minute what-you’ll-learn pitch and it was as if she was talking directly to me.

I learned the value of building rapport, of connecting on a personal level with someone. Without rapport, you’ll struggle to get to more substantive discussion. My tendency is to want to dive in right away.

People come in many flavours, 16 actually

Underpinning the conference sessions are the work of Virginia Satir, and the Myers-Briggs personality types. Types describe people’s preferences in

  • where they get their energy from (extrovert / introvert)
  • how they gather information (sensing / intuiting)
  • how they evaluate information (thinking / feeling)
  • and how they act (judging / perceiving)

My wife will benefit more than anyone from my greater appreciation and respect for people whose preferences are different than mine. I’d like to think I will be more accepting of those differences now. Time will tell.

Meeting Jerry

Two months ago I didn’t know who Jerry Weinberg was. Since then, people have shared how much his writings and workshops have influenced their lives. I valued Jerry Weinberg’s words of wisdom, his challenging questions and quick wit humour. His sessions were shaped more like counseling sessions between himself and a willing participant, with the rest of us listening in, like a reality TV therapy episode. Perhaps the lack of full group engagement was due to his weakening health.

Q. What surprised you?

Most of the participants came from Europe, or so it seemed. Majority of people were there to experience Jerry Weinberg, someone I didn’t know about two months ago. I’m glad I had the chance to be touched by his presence and wise words.

No one except big hotels and fancy homes have green grass. Yards consist of dirt, rocks and cacti.

You can see dry desert, canyons, mountains, forest and snow within 2 hours’ drive of Phoenix.

Q. Was it all good or were some parts meh?

Some simulations felt too abstract to teach me anything. The Satir congruence model didn’t resonate, nor did the session on the Satir change model, which turned into a mini rumble. Felt too meta. Saddened fancy hotels don’t know what vegetarian means, no different than every other non-vegetarian place. When I organize my first conference lentils, beans and tofu shall rule.

Q. Gerry, is there anything else you would like the world to know?

Thank-you to Esther, Steve, Don, Jerry and Johanna (wherever you are standing) for having the courage to be the change you wanted to see 10 years ago by creating AYE. This will not be my last AYE experience.

Everyone at the conference who expressed interest in couch surfing should go there RIGHT NOW and sign up. No excuses. I had a great time staying with Joel and his family, including taking a tour of the country side.