Mad Scientist Inclusion

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Mad Scientist Inclusion

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In my last post, I talked about the importance of diversity when building agile teams. But diversity in and of itself, won’t get the job done. In fact, in many ways, inclusion is the activation counterpart of diversity. So, I wanted to explore inclusion a bit more in our agile contexts.

As many of you know, I’m in the middle of a coaching certification program called ORSC (Organization Relationship Systems Coaching). In ORSC they teach about Meta-Skills, which are essentially an aspect of your mindset in how you enter systems (organizations, groups, and teams). 

One of the meta-skills is something called Deep Democracy. In simple terms, it means that all voices matter and all voices need to / deserve to be heard. And as an ORSC coach, one of my prime directives is to facilitate discussion so that all of the voices come out of and are heard within the system.

And you might think this only relates to people who are present. But it doesn’t. 

For example, if we’re having a team meeting about making a decision regarding the behavior of a critical feature, and Sue is out sick, we might want to ask the team, what do you think Sue’s reaction to this would be? We might also ask the team, what do you think the customer’s reaction to this feature will be? In this example, we’re going so far as to try and be inclusive of the “missing voices” in the system.

Another meta-skill that would be useful to hold is respect. And on multiple levels. We want to respect all the ideas and thoughts that come up. We want to consider them as if they are our own.

Another aspect of this, at least from my perspective, is assuming positive intent. Far too often we assume the intent or the context for an individual based on our own biases and baggage. We project that onto the person as a starting point for our understanding.

An important part of respect is meeting people where they are (empathy) and assuming positive intent. I believe that’s a much more respectful starting point for dialogue and understanding.

Deep listening is another aspect of inclusion. I start here with that quote of – seeking first to understand before seeking to be understood.

This includes listening to “all channels” of communication; to what’s said, inflection or tone, the emotional field, and body language. I’d also add another component to deep listening, that is, listening to what’s not said as well.

Finally, has the culture established protocols to allow for everyone to have their say while others listen without interrupting or stepping over each other? Deeper listening can often benefit by openly established these sorts of guardrails and then firmly enforcing them.

I often use the martial arts (Bruce Lee) metaphor of emptying your cup in order to learn and grow. If we don’t do that, then our baggage—

  • Biases

  • Stereotypes

  • Experiences

  • Knowledge

  • Patterns of behavior

Can easily get in our way and impact our inclusiveness.

I’m not saying that knowledge and experience are inherently bad. They’re not and it makes us who we are. But that being said, they can also get in our way regarding the acceptance of new ideas and new approaches.

You can put on a meta-skill of open-mindedness in how you approach a system. I often do this as I enter a new client system. I’ll pause at the physical (or virtual) door before the meeting and close my eyes. I’ll imagine packing up my assumptions and biases in suitcases. I have two suitcases because I have a lot of baggage ;-). Then I’ll drop my baggage before I enter the system. This mental action and shift really help me to enter the client with a truly open mind.

Perhaps you could try something similar before entering your next meeting?

I could probably make a strong argument that I’ve left the most important inclusion factor to last. The foundation if you will or the keystone. 

Safety sets the table for everything else.

  • It needs to be safe for a person of color to be able to share their ideas, be heard, be appreciated, and included.

  • It needs to be safe for a woman to be able to share their ideas, be heard, be appreciated, and included.

  • It needs to be safe for all cultures to be able to share their ideas, be heard, be appreciated, and included.

  • It needs to be safe for ALL roles and ALL experience levels on an agile team to share their ideas, be heard, be appreciated, and included.

  • It needs to be safe for anyone, to be able to challenge the status quo, be heard, be appreciated, and be included.

But all of that being said, it’s incredibly hard to “test” the safety of an organization to get a true feel for how safe things really are. Here’s an example of how you might go about it.

I wanted to write this as a diversity follow-up. Because you can go through all of the effort to build a more diverse team, across—

But if you haven’t created the space for inclusion, then you are only halfway there. And, you haven’t successfully activated the power, creativity, and innovation of diversity.

Stay agile, diverse, and inclusive my friends,

Bob.

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