Interlude: Pithy thoughts on Appreciative Progress for Agile Teams

Several Ideas on a String

I twittered some of these things and got a request to bundle them up into a blogpost; I usually use twitter- for my half-formed ideas, but I’ll still give this a go. The amount of background I need for the “roadmap” for Agile team proficiency has grown larger than I expected, so I have had fun working through all the details. Some ideas that seem pretty feasible to me:

Idea #1:  When an Agile team improves proficiency, they must refactor their role to the rest of their company. As in code, so in Life.

Breakdown: Once we have a roadmap of proficiency, I believe we can better work on the implications of improved proficiency. At Novice level, an Agile team will need a certain relationship with the rest of their organization. They need a certain kind of support, and they have certain products they can easily deliver. At Intermediate this changes; their improved skills mean something tangible, that their relationship with the rest of the organization has changed. This continues on as they move through the levels of proficiency.

Idea #2: Agile teams that move through fluency levels, while refactoring their relationship to the organization, will inevitably transform the organization.

Breakdown: This essentially refers to the fractal nature of change; you can see this within a single team. One team member that improves their feedback skills, will begin to shift the work processes of the team. One team member that improves their ability to run Stand-up meetings, will accelerate the learning of the whole team in this manner. I believe that in a WAYK-style fluency paradigm, where skill equals ability to mentor that same skill, this deepens the viral effect of an already observable phenomenon. So extrapolate this to the whole organization; at some inevitable point, a highly proficient team begins to intentionally mentor the organization on how to relate to them. This mentoring will begin to virally change the rest of the organization, not just where it links up with the team. The culture itself will shift.

Idea #3:  No more “forming, storming, norming, performing” (or its ilk); now just try “performing”: “Novice performing, Intermediate performing, Advanced performing, Superior performing…”

Breakdown:  Rather than looking at the lifecycle of the team, or looking at a team as going through a series of development stages (like a fetus) before emerging as a “real team”, think of the team instead as always operating at a particular level of effortless proficiency. What does the team do fluently, right now? This will always speak to what the team needs to work on next to grow, but it will also make clear the nature of what the team can provide. When I explain the roadmap of “Where Are Your Keys?”(keeping in mind that the WAYK language fluency game represents one application of the larger Fluency game paradigm – this thinking applies to all skills and knowledge sets), and say “Novice means Barney conversations, Intermediate means Sesame Street, Advanced means Larry King Live, Superior means Charlie Rose”, each of those proficiency levels contains active, vital, fun, and productive conversations (well…I don’t really consider myself a fan of Barney the dinosaur, but pick your favorite children’s show of that fluency level, and you’ll get my point). The conversations have life, color, and effortless competence at the level of activity appropriate to their proficiency level.

Idea #4: What do children do really well? They play. What do teens do really well? They take risks. What do Adults do really well? They produce. What do Elders do really well? They remind us. All performing, at different fluency levels.

Breakdown: Now looking at “performance level”, rather than “development stage”, we automatically look through the lens of appreciative inquiry. At every stage of human life, we excel at what we do, if given room to do so. Think of Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, and Superior in this way. Each stage produces a markedly different product, really, really well. In a sense, each stage simply has a different role to contribute to the community. So you never have a malformed, vestigial, or incompletely developed team, if you look at them in terms of their fluencies: what they do effortlessly well.

Idea #5: You can’t remind if you haven’t played, risked, and produced. You can’t produce if you haven’t played and risked. You can’t risk if you haven’t played. Each stage builds on the other.

Breakdown: So now we see the “nested hierarchy” I keep referring to, in action. More foundational fluencies set the stage for the emergence of more finely-grained fluencies. All humans must know how to play;  not all humans need to have the life experience with which to remind us of what has worked in the past. We have Elders for that! The rest of us need to focus on improving our play, risk, and producing.


Can we see teams, family, community, in terms of their fluencies? Can we see everyone as performing at their particular level of fluency? Their level of “performing” tells us more about where to take them next than their ignorance; after all, people know far less than all that they don’t know, correct? We have a much smaller amount of knowledge, than we do have ignorance (probably an infinite commodity). If we keep looking for what a team can’t do or doesn’t know, we could essentially fill in the calendar of the rest of our working lives.

Knowing what someone doesn’t know, doesn’t help me. Knowing the edge of their fluency tells me exactly what to do, pedagogically. We have to ask questions to find that edge, not to find out what they don’t know. We’ll drown in the ocean of what they don’t know, directionless; if we can find the island of what they do know, and walk to its edge, then we can start fishing, make little trips out from shore in our canoe, free-dive for some deep-water adventures; we have a foundation to work from!

Written by Willem