Tag Archives: Human Factors

High-Performing Teams: Built from the Basic Skills of Human Interaction

I’ve struggled my whole life to connect the dots. I’m the smartest dumb person I know, and I at times amaze even myself with the brilliance of my own insights, which generally occur simultaneously alongside my forgetting to turn off the stove, or turn on the dishwasher (which I’ve just finished loading).

I recall quite vividly sitting in Instrument Ground School, well along my way to becoming an F-14 Tomcat Radar Intercept Officer (RIO), and learning about Crew Resource Management (CRM) for the first time. My overwhelming thought at the time was, “why do they insist on teaching us things we already know?”

Of course, they weren’t. Instead, once again, I was both intelligent enough to recognize the value of CRM for what it meant to my situation immediately, but not smart enough to appreciate, in any sense whatsoever, the importance of its formation and history, nor its incredible potential to help people everywhere to work together, in any environment or on any problem; from operating rooms to oil rigs, from ocean floors to outer space.

High-Performance Teaming™, one of Crew Resource Management’s successors, leverages those same skills which have been proven to help teams perform and succeed in High-Reliability Organizations across cultures and industries to include NASA, surgical teams, nuclear power stations, civil and military aviation, and special forces units, to name just a few.

The simple reason that these tools work across such diverse types of teams is not because they are based in the newest or most proven processes, or the latest in business operating frameworks or methodologies. Rather, these tools work because they focus on building the skills which enable dynamic, positive, and powerful human interaction.

By leveraging our shared human abilities to learn and improve, and targeting the skills specifically connected to the human capability to effectively function as part of a team, we can develop high-performing teams regardless of functional level or the domain of work.

Take, for example, rock climbing.

I know – “whaaaat?” Stick with me. I was recently asking one of the teams I work with what they would like to do to celebrate our successful (and early) completion of a software feature. Typically I would expect the standard answers: go to a team lunch, after-work drinks, trip to the pinball museum, Friday-night pool – the usual things teams choose to do. Yet, as is becoming standard, the team surprised me.

“The weather Thursday is supposed to be beautiful. How about if we do a team rock climbing day?”

Now I’m a climber and so are a couple of other people on the team, and going climbing together is something we’d half-joked about plenty of times, but this was a real suggestion. So I asked around, gave it some thought, and realized we could use the experience to not only have fun and bond further as a team, but to actually train with the skills we’d been talking about at the office in an entirely different context. My hypothesis was that a team of individuals climbing together is still a team, and the same skills which drive human interactions within teams in an office environment, an operating room, or in a cockpit, should be congruent.

So we went rock climbing, and discussed the litmus test. Here’s how I set up the day and the High-Performance Teaming skills we discussed in the context of our day on the rock.

Communication. As it was actually quite windy at the climb site and we were a few hundred feet up the side of a hill beside a busy interstate, the conditions for clear and easy communication were not good. Yet communication is critical to good team performance. Personal tendencies, culture, speech, choice of words and a standard vocabulary, not to mention overcoming environmental challenges (wind, noise, etc.) were all critical to our performance.

Assertiveness. Given the challenges already acknowledged to our communication, combined with the fact that we had a few new climbers who hadn’t done this sort of thing before, we recognized the need for everyone to assume an assertive role in helping the team ensure that we achieved our goals. We needed everyone to speak up when something didn’t look right or make sense, or when they did not understand anything about what they were being asked to do.

Goal (or Mission) Analysis. I asked the team at the parking lot to state what they believed was our goal for the day. “Go climbing,” “have fun,” “enjoy the outdoors,” “bond as a team” were a few of the responses. All noble and understandable goals, to be sure, but I offered another: “come back safely.” Understanding what your primary goal or goals are isn’t always intuitive, obvious, or easy, but getting it wrong can create a cascade of mistakes due to your team being misaligned on the very fundamental issues around why they’re doing what they’re doing.

Situational Awareness. Understanding that we’re going to have to make decisions about which routes to climb, who will be climbing belaying, whether we need to clean routes behind us, and a host of other potential situations (what happens if someone is injured?) requires us all to constantly re-assess and evaluate where we are in our day, what we are doing, and what we are trying to do. We need to ensure that we are fully aware of what is going on around us, and what is supposed to be going on around us.

Decision-Making. Early in the day our ability to decide on which routes to climb and which partners would climb/belay in what order was affected by stress, but as the day wore on and the stress of working together in a new team diminished, fatigue and the potential for complacency set in. Our ability to make the right decisions in important situations such as who climbs next, when to clean the route and move, who leads, where and when to relocate, when to take a break, and when to stop for the day, hinged on our ability to communicate well, maintain our situational awareness, and maintain focus on our primary goal – a safe return.

Agility. Many people talk about being Adaptable, however I prefer the term Agility. Agility, I’ve heard said, is Adaptability in a timebox. We had no sooner hiked around the corner to our climbing site to begin execution of our plan to climb the first two pitches (which were not challenging by design), then we had to adjust our plan due to the fact that both routes were already being worked by the local fire department, also out for a day of cliff rescue training in some gorgeous weather. So we quickly re-planned and moved to an alternate site.

Leadership. In a team of peers, leadership is often a revolving position. In a team with three experienced climbers and three beginners, we needed to rotate leadership responsibilities at different times based on the situation. Yet what most people get totally wrong is what the leader actually does. The leader isn’t there to make decisions and pass out orders, rather to pull the team together, ensure everyone understands what is occurring and what the plan is, solicit feedback and invite constructive dissent, to support assertiveness, and to leverage the collective wisdom of the team in analyzing goals and making collective decisions. Leadership is not about being right, it is about what is right. As each of us moved through moments of assuming leadership, our interactions were all similar: does everyone understand and agree with the plan? Does everyone understand what is being asked of them? Are you ready to move forward? Are we all ready for the next step?

Empathy. The ability to recognize and respond appropriately to the emotional state of others is a fundamentally human skill which powers every other social interaction skill. Looking at my climbing partner who is about to start on the route, I ask “ready?” The novice climber looks back tentatively and responds “ready.” However I see in his stance, face, and eyes that he is struggling with fear, doubt, and uncertainty. I encourage him to begin the route by pulling the rope tight and responding “on belay – I’ve got you.” This gives him some confidence. I don’t want to take his fear and uncertainty away – I want him to work through it on his own, which I know he can. This is empathy in action.

The skills required to enable and power high-performance teamwork are grounded in our fundamental ability to interact with other humans. This statement will continue to be true until the day arrives when we need to team with robots or aliens, at which point it is conceivable that other skills might be required. However for the entirety of human existence, people have needed to work together and have, unsurprisingly, evolved to do just that. The amazing thing in our growing technological age is that some of those natural, instinctual, basic social skills are incredibly difficult to recall and apply. Yet train, learn, and apply them we can, and in doing so we can actually help build and become the incredibly high-performing teams we’ve always envisioned.

 

Chris Alexander is a former F-14D Flight Officer, the co-founder of AGLX Consulting, High-Performance Teaming™ coach, Agile coach, and Scrum Master, and has a passion for working with high-performing teams. Learn more at https://www.aglx.consulting.

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OODA: The Mindset of Scrum

Recently, a trusted source reported that the Oracle of Scrum, Jeff Sutherland, has proclaimed that OODA is the Mindset of Scrum.  A few weeks ago I tried my best to explain this “Mindset” when I co-coached with Joe Justice during his Scrum in Hardware – Train the Trainer course. It was a daunting task considering I was surrounded by some of the world’s finest Scrum Trainers and Agile Coaches and was asked to deliver the “Origins of Scrum” using Scrum, Inc.’s slide deck. Not easy.

Knowing that much has been written about the connection between Scrum and OODA including Steve Adolph’s 2006 paper, What Lessons Can the Agile Community Learn from A Maverick Fighter Pilot, I decided to spend my limited presentation time focused on two lesser known features of OODA: empathy and fast transients. Before rolling-in on these two features, here is a quick-and-dirty introduction to OODA and Scrum.

OODA and Scrum

Over the skies of Korea, years before Jeff Sutherland and his RF-4C’s Weapons System Operator’s (WSO) flight plans were constantly disrupted by North Vietnamese gunfire, SAMs, and fighters, John “40-Second” Boyd was trying to understand how a seemingly inferior aircraft, the American built F-86 Sabre, had a kill ratio of 10:1 over the nimbler, more agile MiG-15. As an F-86 pilot who regularly engaged with MiG-15s, Boyd realized that it was the F-86’s bubble canopy that provided American pilots better situational awareness (the ability to better observe and therefore process reality) over MiG-15 pilots. It was from fighter combat, a 1 v 1 dogfight (a socio-technical system vs. a socio-technical system) that the Observe-Orient-Decide-Act (OODA) Loop was born.

According to Jeff Sutherland, Scrum’s origins are in OODA and hardware manufacturing, not software. In fact, for those of you who are Lean Startup practitioners you may want to adopt OODA as your mindset as well considering the Lean Startup is based on OODA. Similarly, Cyber Security borrows from Boyd’s OODA Loop as do several product design approaches.  Back to Scrum.

Scrum is widely practiced by software development teams but is applicable across the routine-complexity-innovation continuum. For example, in the past two weeks, I coached Scrum to a world-class surgical center, an aerospace giant’s flight test team, and a geographical combatant command (GCC). Best place to learn about scrum is the 16-page Scrum Guide. If you happen to fly fighter or commercial jets, then it should not surprise you that CRM is applicable to coaching Scrum…but that’s another story.

OODA: The Mindset…

As I had limited time during my “Origins of Scrum” presentation, I decided to focus on empathy and fast transients, two lessor known characteristics of OODA.

Empathy: Get inside the mind of your customer

A 1 v 1 dogfight is an exercise in empathy, according to the award-winning thinker, author, broadcaster, and speaker on today’s most significant trends in business, Geoff Colvin. In his 2015 book, Humans Are Underrated: What High Achievers Know that Brilliant Machines Never Will, Geoff proposes that “Even a fighter jet dogfight, in which neither pilot would ever speak to or even see the other, was above all a human interaction. Few people would call it an exercise in empathy, but that’s what it was—discerning what was in the mind of someone else and responding appropriately. Winning required getting really good at it.” (Page 96) In his 1995 briefing, The Essence of Winning and Losing, John R. Boyd points out that analysis and synthesis are dependent on implicit cross-referencing across different domains including empathy.

Fast Transients: The organization that can handle the quickest rate of change survives

The ability for your organization to transition from one state to another faster than your competition will ensure your organizations survival. Moreover, “Fast Transients” will bring confusion and disorder to your competition as they under or over react to your activities.

Orientation is Schwerpunkt (focal point)

Orientation is the “genetic code” of an organism and cognitive diversity is key to creating innovative solutions to complex problems.

Focus on Feedback Loops

One feature of complex adaptive systems are feedback loops. Learn how to provide feedback. Effective retrospectives are a great start.

Leverage Uncertainty

We live in a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) world.

Agility is Adaptation with a Time Scale

Adaptability is a cognitive skill found in High-Performance Teaming™ and Crew Resource Management. Agility is adaptability with a time scale and that time scale is rapidly shrinking.

Non-Linear Systems Have Inherently Identical Structures

When looking for solutions to problems, look outside your industry. The future already exists.

I look forward to your feedback and comments.

Brian “Ponch” Rivera is a recovering naval aviator, co-founder of AGLX Consulting, LLC, and co-creator of High-Performance Teaming™, an evidence-based approach to rapidly build and develop high-performing teams.

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Why Your Next Agile Coach Should be a Fighter Pilot

As technological adoption and innovation accelerate through Mach 3, more business leaders will turn to fighter pilots to help their businesses survive and thrive in today’s VUCA world. For example, the cognitive and social skills naval aviators developed in the cockpit are in high demand in industries where teamwork is essential and team failures costly (e.g. healthcare, oil and gas, mining, energy, and commercial aviation). As more companies adopt a team-based approach to product delivery, and product and companies’ lifecycles shorten, the demand for proven team performance training and coaching will accelerate.

The cognitive and social skills (nontechnical skills) fighter pilots learn are rooted in what is considered to be one of the success stories of modern psychology and cognitive engineering: Crew Resource Management (CRM). CRM training, affectionately known as “Charm School,” covers crucial aspects of resilience including the topics of situational awareness, mission planning, team dynamics, workload management, effective communication, and leadership. CRM was developed in response to the realization that the kinds of errors that cause plane crashes are invariably errors of teamwork and communication (nontechnical skills).

A 50,000 foot view of CRM

  • CRM is the foundation of a human-systems approach, Threat and Error Management (TEM), designed by Human Factors engineers to help us understand and direct human performance within complex operating systems.
  • Human Factors is the applied science of how humans relate effectively and productively with one another in highly technological settings.
  • Crew Resource Management (CRM) is defined as the use of all available resources—information, equipment, and people—to achieve safe and efficient flight operations.

Fighter Pilots as Agile Coaches?

In the 1950s, John Boyd, a fighter pilot and military strategists, developed a decision cycle that changed the “The Art of War.” The decision cycle Boyd developed is known as the OODA Loop and refers to Observe-Orient-Decide-Act. In business, the speed at which the OODA Loop is executed allows the company to get “inside the decision cycle” of its competitors or valued customers. The OODA Loop is an exercise in empathy.

Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup and entrepreneur, attributes the idea of the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop to John Boyd’s OODA Loop. At the core of Steve Blank’s Customer Development model and Pivot found in his book, The Four Steps to the Epiphany, is once again OODA. In his new book, Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time, Dr. Jeff Sutherland, a former fighter pilot and the co-creator of Scrum, mentions that the origins of Scrum are Boyd’s OODA and the Toyota Production System.

Scrum is based on my experience flying F-4 Phantoms over North Vietnam… Fighter pilots have John Boyd’s OODA Loop burned into muscle memory. They know what Agility means and can teach it uncompromisingly to others.

-Jeff Sutherland, co-creator of Scrum

What’s missing from today’s Agile Coaching toolkit is the proven human-interaction skills (nontechnical) developed for technical teams who operate in complex environments, CRM. The Agile community is making the same assumptions fighter and commercial pilots made pre-CRM: That effective teams can be built without any formal guidance or instruction. “Leaving it up to the team” is a recipe for failure.

Fighter pilots, unlike some agilists, are horrible marketers. Crew Resource Management is not your DaD’s Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) nor does it tell you how to do more with LeSS; CRM is a proven approach to building agile at scale. CRM does not replace Scrum but provides the tools an enterprise needs to transition command-and-control managers into servant leaders and build effective and efficient teams. CRM is the “Science of Teamwork.”

9 Cognitive and Social Skills Fighter Pilots Bring to the Agile Fight

1. Adaptability. The ability to alter a course of action based on new information, maintain constructive behavior under pressure and adapt to internal and external environmental changes. The success of a mission depends upon the team’s ability to alter behavior and dynamically manage team resources to meet situational demands.

2. Empathy. Empathy? Fighter pilots and empathy? Yes. John Boyd’s OODA is really about empathy. According to Geoff Colvin, empathy is “discerning what some other person is thinking and feeling, and responding in some appropriate way [1].” OODA is an exercise in empathy. Moreover, according to Geoff Colvin, empathy is the foundation of all other abilities that increasingly make people valuable as technology advances [1].”

3. Assertiveness. One’s willingness to actively participate, state and maintain a position, until convinced by the facts that other options are better.

4. Decision Making. The ability to choose a course of action using logical and sound judgment based on available information.

5. Leadership. The ability to direct and coordinate the activities of other team members or wingman and to encourage the team to work together.

6. Mission Analysis. The ability to develop short-term, long-term and contingency plans and to coordinate, allocate and monitor team resources. Effective planning leads to execution that removes uncertainty and increases mission effectiveness.

7. Situational Awareness. The degree of accuracy by which one’s perception of the current environment mirrors reality. Maintaining a high level of situational awareness will better prepare teams to respond to unexpected situations.

8. Communication. The ability to clearly and accurately send and acknowledge information, instructions, or commands and provide useful feedback. Effective communication is vital to ensuring that all team members understand mission status.

9. Workload Management. The implementation of a strategy to balance the amount of work with the appropriate time and resources available. It includes making sure those people are alert and vigilant (preventing fatigue); figuring out who does what delegation; teaching people how to manage interruptions (and limit interruptions at critical moments; prioritizing tasks and avoiding task oversaturation; and avoiding pitfalls such as continuing a project, flight, or activity even when it’s becoming clearer and clearer that it is dangerous to do so. Workload management in high-reliability industries also means doing all of the above under stress.

While putting this list together I came up with more than 50 examples of why a fighter pilot should be your next Agile Coach. Please feel free to add more or comment on my choices for this article.

Brian “Ponch” Rivera is a recovering naval aviator and co-founder of AGLX, LLC, a Seattle-based Agile consultancy that melds the proven principles of High Reliability Organizations with today’s Agile practices.

[1] Geoff Colvin. Humans are Underrated: What high achievers know that brilliant machines never will. (Portfolio/Penguin, 2015).

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