Awesome Coach of the Week: Michael Sahota

I first met Michael Sahota at the XPDays Benelux 2010. I had heard his name before, but not much about him… A funny connection was our first topic of conversation: A colleague of mine from Berlin had moved to Toronto in the Summer, and had been looking for a job as a ScrumMaster there. Tuesday before the XPDays we chatted on Skype, and she told me she had just signed a contract: “And do you know what’s really funny? You’ll meet my boss in two days!” That was not Michael, but a friend of him in Toronto, and she’d participated in a Kanban course Michael did… So, travelling to Holland, I met two guys from Toronto, one of which had just trained a friend of mine, and the other had just hired her. Small world indeed.

StrategicPlay® Community Building

At the XPDays, I did a session with Yves Hanoulle, another awesome coach, on Building an Agile Community with Lego (Michael’s blog about the session). Michael participated in that session, took a lot of photographs and made a video of the result. Here, you can see him explaining his own contribution to it:

You might remember from my earlier post how StrategicPlay® uses Lego to create shared models of complex systems. Or, to be more specific, how a group can use Lego to model a shared view of a system, especially a future system… A shared Vision.

We used that technique at the XP2011 in Madrid to create a shared vision for the ALE network, integrating the ideas of people from more than 20 countries. Michael was instrumental in the creation of that event, but more on that later…

Blunt AND Nice

I’m recently thinking a lot about Balance. In coaching, one of the dimensions I need to keep my balance in is that of Being Blunt vs. Being Nice. I often quote Granny Weatherwax from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, who says in I Shall Wear Midnight, “I do Good, I don’t do Nice.”
And I try to work by that motto. I’m an external agile coach, I’m paid for affecting change, not for making sure people like me. That occasionally demands being very honest, which might appear blunt to some people…

Michael takes a different approach. He is VERY blunt. All the time. He interrupts you, he forces you to focus, he lets you bottom line, and he tells you in no uncertain terms when you deviate from the topic. But… although I feel offended in some way, I am not irritated—because he is so nice at the same time! Michael’s smile can easily encompass a whole room. He’s going at you with this wide smile and wide-open arms, and he cares. You always feel he genuinely cares about you and your topic. On me, that worked wonderfully.
One occasion where I enjoyed his way of facilitation was when Jurgen Appelo started to tell me about his ALE network idea at the Play4Agile unconference. Facilitated by Michael, we created the plan to gather agile and lean practitioners and idea farmers at the XP2011 conference in Madrid to create a vision together. Funny that Michael helped us create that plan, and then that vision was created the same way as the Agile Community Vision we had created in Holland together…

Company Culture

Michael writes one of the (to me) most valuable blogs in the Agile/Lean space. I have three reasons for this valuation:

  • He writes a lot about Agile Games, a passion we both share,
  • He thinks about the Why? and How Might We? questions that interest me most,
  • He has an amazing way of visualising complex information in colourful images.

The topic that inspired me most for my own work was company cultures, how they differ, how they influence what works and what doesn’t… and how you can change them or not.

If that interests you as well, you might want to start with his Culture Series Reading Guide.

Awesome Coach of the Week

This is why we think Michael Sahota is an Awesome Coach. If you can add an awesome experience with Michael, please do so in the comments. We honour one Coach a week. Suggestions welcome!