In this new installment of our “Meet the Coach” series we talked with Johannesburg-based coach Regina Martins about change, the Agile world and “the smell of the place”.
Can you summarise for us your career path and how you came to be an Agile coach.
Before I fell in love with Agile I had been a Project Manager delivering projects rather successfully using waterfall methods for 10 years. I was introduced to Scrum by my manager and he suggested that it would be a good thing to try it on the projects I was managing at the time. Little did I know that that conversation was going to change my life in such a dramatic way. I resisted this idea for 3 months and when the “team-magic” started happening, despite my confused feelings about letting go and not trying to control everything all of the time, I became an instant adherent. Other teams in the organisation saw the great results of my team and wanted to know how they could adopt agile methods to their way of working. It was then that I began to work outside of my team. At this time I was appointed Agile Practice Lead and I got involved in other areas of the organisation.
It was an interesting journey to go from a command and control type of working style to a collaborative servant leadership style and this did not happen without some dramatic personal growth and development. Over the years I had done various leadership development and coaching programmes and the one that set me on the coaching path was Neuro Linguistic Programming. When working with team maturation I leverage off Gregory Bateson’s work on the logical levels of learning and change.
The catalyst for change in my career came during the 6-months I spent on the Insights Leadership Programme. Based on the Nexus Leadership programme Facilitated by Gordon Institute of Business Science, it focused on leadership beyond boundaries in complex systems and challenged me to find solutions around obstacles that were holding me and other people back.
It took 20 years of searching for a professional passion, something to challenge my beliefs around things like recognition and reward for this realisation to set in, but hey, I am a late bloomer.
What is an “Agile Transition” for a large organisation? Is it possible to change mentality and the company culture?
There is no straight-forward answer to this question. An Agile transition is a decision an organisation needs to make consciously because it is going to challenge the status quo in a way that initially is not going to be comfortable. It is not an on-off switch, it is not an event – nor is it something that you can put an end date on. It is a journey of continuous improvement and creating a culture of learning in the organisation.
For any transition to be lasting means that change needs to happen at the values and beliefs level. Nothing lasting is going to happen by implementing Scrum or Kanban in some teams in IT and hope that the organisation changes as a result. It requires understanding what problem the organisation wants to solve, reflecting on how this is going to impact people and then taking people on the journey.
The Agile world is growing and evolving, do you see a clear direction for future years?
I see Agile being adopted in non-IT environments more and more. Things like making work visible, daily stand-up meetings and inspecting and adapting at regular intervals can be applied in any context.
What have you seen/read lately that is interesting and new?
This is interesting and not new but oh, so relevant still! I saw a great video of Prof. Sumantra Ghoshal speaking at the World Economic Forum some years ago about The Smell of the Place. When he was alive he did a lot of research and work with various large and well-known organisations on culture and organisational energy.
This is relevant in the work that we do as Agile coaches because we work within the context that organisations have created around their people that encourage certain types of behaviour. He talks about going home to Calcutta in the summer when it is at its hottest, most humid and smelly, making him feel tired, so that he ended up spending his summer holidays indoors. He contrasted this with Fontainebleau forest in France in spring, where the crisp smells of the air and trees energised and made him want to jump and run.
He used the metaphor of “The Smell of the Place” to describe organisational contexts or cultures – does it make people tired or does it make people want to run and jump with energy, metaphorically speaking? He believed that it is possible for a determined leadership to convert to and protect “Fontainebleau forest” in their organisation. You can see a short 8-minute video here.