I have done zen about 15 years, not monastic nor full-time, but rather serious lay practice. This is how i translate zen to the working life.
In principle there are two ways to do zen-meditation:
Intensive concentration is essential in breath practices and shikantaza (pure sitting). Just come back to the here and now, whenever your attention is lost. Gradually you are able keep your attention in the one thing you choose. Every now and then you enter samadhi, a state of pure concentration. The practice deepens, you learn, the samadhi happens more often. The quality of life improves.
The Great Question, Koan, is the second kind. Along the practice, or already earlier, a burning question arises. What is this, really? Who am I? What is real? What I do, really? You go on questioning, day and night. In meditation more intensively, otherwise as situation allows. Continuous “I don’t know.” Gradually you get insight to the question, even radical.
Facing fear, anxiety and loss – suffering
When you have strengthened the mind during good times, facing difficulties is easier.
The meditation returns the balance of the mind. A trained mind is more stable. Seeing the true nature of things helps to accept whatever happens. You make better choices.
The zen tradition supports in other ways too. The rituals, habits and mental images create safety for the subconscious. Likewise do the community, the meditation room and the presence of other practitioners. Sense making and the teacher’s advice is helpful.
Zen at work
If a donkey is not willing to drag the cart, you pull it’s tail. It will resist the pulling and start dragging the cart.
The suggestive question “Why retrospectives”, might create pressure to conform, or to give the right answer. I have used the controversial question successfully a few times. Asking the opposite:
- Is actually the important question: “What is blocking you?”
- Everyone is working for the same goal 🙂
- Is often fun and creative
- Breaks the expected or established roles and games. Makes people change their position or perspective, even for a moment.
Feel free to use for any topic.
At Scan Agile we got the following list of reasons why not. Some advice between the lines.
- The value of retros is not perceived
- No experience of the benefit
- Actions are not done
- Experience of superficial retros
- Assumption that retros are “feeling stuff”, with no “real” benefit. People are not used to it
- Teams are (feel) unempowered
- Too many meetings even without retros
- Culture of conflict avoidance
- Fear of blaming
- Misunderstanding retrospectives
- Cost of delay is a good argument for actions
- Scrum does not resource retros explicitly
Some advice to use 2% to formal retros. 1% (hour/2 weeks) for iterations, 1% (1 day/quarter) to full product.
- lack of facilitation skill, person (with identity), role
- some people just don’t like to talk
- people have not learned to recognize their own feelings
- we don’t have the time
- boring, boring, boring (defense mechanism…)
- feelings are disconnected from the work context and identity
Technocrats may turn surprisingly talented in emotions. Just give them a thinking tool, a rational systems model, with which they can connect feelings with work. I have had success with Nonviolent Communication. Is frustration or anger a feeling? Significant? Is disappointment significant at work? Or joy of success?
The conclusion is, that we have not tried retrospectives, because we don’t have a positive experience. Kind of logical…
The advice would be to give it a try with good enough sponsoring and facilitation.
I use this opportunity to publish another list with the same theme… very similar findings.
Understanding why NOT retrospectives at the International Retrospective Facilitator Gathering UK 2007
Post-it’s by Ari (host), Eshter, Sandra, Sal, Gabby, Linda
- Poor facilitation
- Bad facilitator
- Only the strong get their thoughts come through
- Time zones / distributed team
- Chaotic retrospective
- We blame or action people not in the room
- No or poor facilitator
- Facilitator has favorites
- Everything is going well !
- Threatens illusions that reduce anxiety
- “they” are not doing their part (mgmnt team)
- no honesty
- too positive. Hard to be honest and burst bubble
- no-one tells what really happened
- everyone lies
- problmes are too big
- if we admit there’s a problem, we may have to d osomething about it
- not seeing your own part in the problem
- Im minority, so my contribution isn’t worth anything
- Team does not take it seriously
- (Fear of) losing control
- We just bring up the same old things
- Actions agreed upon does not come through
- Ae can’t do anything about it
- Uncover managemtn’s powerlessness
- Our action plans will be over-ruled by management anyway
- Culturally inappropriate (taiwan vs china)
- Too touchy feely
- It”s whacky stuff
- bringing personal issues to the job isn’t proefssional
- short term ebefit culture – ony this project matters
- you can’t express the benefit in hard numbers
- gap between management and team; no real knowledge nor/or understanding of significance
- power is elsewhere command & control
- no meeting rooms available
- developers can’t possibly understand what we (mgmnt) have to face
- it has not worked earlier
- sipmplistic retros that don’t uncover anything significant
- cultural differences (no common language?)
- I am leaving so I don’t care
- people feel powerless
- I’m not creative
- I have nothing to contribute
- I am ADD
- I have asberger syndrome
- I already have another forum (“Honest talk time at japan)
- Managers mistake system problems with individual problems
- retrospectives may discover unconventional solutions, which can’t be supported by management without their safety net. “What others did”
- 80% of problems are management problems… and they don’t want to deal with them…
- We’ll do it later
- Doing my real work is more important thatn going to meetings
- something more urgent came up
- we don’t have time!
- Takes too much time
- takes time away from real work
- Don’t want to look bad in front of..
- It disempowers me as a manager
- retrospectives may uncover bad (management) decisions
- fear of being blamed
- “what is my role” if they do decisions on their own.
- fear of criticism
- fear of conflict
- fear of admitting problems
- Im not comfortable expressing my feelings in a group
- we have to change. That’s scary.
Suddenly bumped to an old lover… reading Liker’s “Toyota Way”. On page 299 he quotes Edgar Schein’s definition of the organizational culture. This is heavy, please meditate carefully.
Organizational culture is the pattern of basic assumptions that a given group has invented, discovered or developed in learning to cope with its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, and that have worked well enough to be considered valid, and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems.
Originally in Edgar Schein, “Coming to a New Awareness of Organizational Culture” in Sloan Management Review 26 (winter 1984): 3-16. and in the book “Organizational Culture”.
I have lately been interested in power, and remembered a very interesting point of view. I am sorry that I cannot give references, this is based on a memory of an article, written years ago by a researcher in a Finnish magazine “Aseman Lapset”.
Just knowing this pattern and being able to recognize it may reveal nonfunctional organizational (sub)cultures and bad leadership.
There are many organizations, whith two distinct classes of power users and targets:
- hospitals: staff and patients
- schools: teachers and students
- prisons: guards and prisoners
- army: leaders and soldiers
The phenomenon has been recognized first in the extreme settings, but is easily seen in normal companies when you know the pattern:
- companies: work supervisors/bosses and workers
- product development companies: business (decides) and designers (deliver promises)
One characteristic of these organizations is that the powerful class is causing pain to the targets. It may be forcing to work, physical pain, restricting fulfilment of different needs. This is painful for both parties, and people need mechanisms to relieve the pain.
One facet of the cultural solution may be a sadomasochistic interpreatation of pain and dominance as pleasant.
- heavy use of humor, even harsh
- pigs and chicken in Scrum?
- seeing “us” better than “them”. Assuming the other class does not know or understand, is stupid or stubborn.
- For example prisoners regard guards inferior to them.
- communicating across the class boundary in a way that prevents emotional connection.
- using alienating language
What is relevant in organizational setting is that this kind of situation constrains heavily the Organizational Conversation (Term as used in Complexity Theory in Organizations). It also reinforces the status quo, class boundaries and limited dialogue. This causes:
- loss of talent, creativity and learning
- loss of relevant feedback
- not recognizing weak signals
- loss of work satisfaction and commitment to work
Some cure, if you wish to move to more self-organizing, self-motivating direction. Please remember, that changing habits and culture is very hard!
- open discussion and recognition of the specific situation
- in bad cases competent facilitation needed
- conflict resolution, debriefing and reconciliation
- changing power settings
- start to improve the concrete pain points
At the SOL conference some time ago I attended the workshop by the brain researcher Kiti Muller and happened to mention how harmful measuring and rewarding individuals is.
It rose huge interest, so here you have the reference – Robert D Austin: “Measuring and Managing Performance in Organizations, Dorset House, 1996.
Just to brief some points of the book:
Measuring and rewarding individual performance, especially a knowledge worker, is always distorting the performance, and is potentially dysfunctional.
Dr Austin acknowledges, that measuring organization is essential, and gives advice for constructive measurement too. Unfortunately it is difficult.
Here a brief of one critical flaw in rewarding based on individual performance:
To create value the knowledge worker does A, B and C. His/her knowledge of the detail enables balancing these.
The manager is able to:
- know and measure A
- know B
- don’t even know C
C is truly significant. There are a zillion small real decisions, that gradually make reality.
With all good intentions the manager measures only A. He might understand that this is only an indicator. Result:
- People game. Even some that don’t game in the beginning, gradually will. A will get done in excess, even to dysfunctional extent. There are zillions of cases, even extreme. Like measuring volume of sales instead of profit. Just imagine the result.
- The working relation narrows from co-operation to trading, degrading commitment.
- This kind of power setting suggests, that the manager knows better, and the knowledge worker should NOT use judgement. Subtle, but very powerful and harmful, reinforcing the command and control culture.
Measuring is necessary, complex and dangerous. In principle, rewarding teams and organizations based on throughput time, customer loyalty and business is healthier. Mary Poppendieck has some advice in her books and webpage.