Agile Leadership with Zuzi Sochova

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Keeping Agile Non-Denominational, Episode 18

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Alex Kudinov   Hello everyone. Welcome to Tandem Coaching Academy's Keeping Agile Coaching Non-Denominational podcast. We are your host today, Cherie Silas and I, Alex Kudinov, and today we have a special guest, Zuzana Sochova. She is an Agile coach, Scrum trainer, author and she serves on the board of Scrum Alliance. Today we're talking about Agile leadership, Agile leaders, and everything in between. So Zuzana, what did I miss? What else should our listeners know about you?

Zuzi Sochova   So maybe I can start by the book. I finished my second English book, which is called The Agile Leader: Leveraging the Power of Influence and that was second one. The first one was The Great Scrum Master and The Great Scrum Master was easy to do, sort of going by itself and then I thought I'll read another one on some topic which is even more important. It became even more important to me because I thought, you know, if we want to be successful as this whole Agility and it'll tell those people. Sometimes the Scrum Masters know, right, they are Agilists by heart. They need that first book to become greater Scrum Masters and more successful Scrum masters but maybe we need to attract the other people around them in the organization, and share with them more stories about how Agile organization really works and how it can be successful.

Alex Kudinov   Yeah, and first of all, as we chatted before these recording, I'm really a fan of The Great Scrum Master, really fascinating book, and I would recommend everybody who is on their track of becoming a Scrum Master or growing their skills to dig into that, and in addition to lots of great information, you've got lots of interesting pictures, you got style; you got your own style.

Zuzi Sochova   Yeah, it started many years ago. I was speaking at a conference and I didn't like those PowerPoint slides. So I actually developed a style where I have a photo and one title on the top and then I realize it's super difficult to find the photos which are free or do them yourself. So I started realizing I was sitting in one conference and there was a speaker with those simple... I don't want to say ugly, they were in a way cute but nothing like really like perfect art; simple drawings. I thought, 'I can do this.' So I actually started and I have over two slides of drawing  next presentation. At the next one people love it. They say, 'Oh, we love your small people. They are so cute." I was like, "Ahhh".  "Did you draw them yourself?" I was like, "Yes." "Oh, you're such good at drawing!" I was like, "They are so ugly" but they have been telling me, "You're such good at drawing." So I start drawing more and I ended up with my presentations at the conferences completely hand drawn; not by hand but by iPad. So people ask me which application I use. So I'm using Paper.  When I started drawing, it was one of the only ones. Now there are plenty of those, I guess but I started with this and I started drawing, and then when I wrote my The Great Scrum Master book, I actually start again with pictures. That's the same for both of those books, right? I always start with a picture in my head and when I'm able to draw it and it's sort of summarizing it all, I'm ready to start writing. The Agile Leader was harder because there was this...I think biggest question I had in my head was not what I want to say, I knew what I want to say. It was, Is it a good message for the audience and who is the audience? Because you can speak to the very traditional managers but they might not be ready for that message.

Alex Kudinov   Yeah

Zuzi Sochova   Or you can speak to those who already have experience with Agile and they might not necessarily be managers, they might be the leaders. So there comes a title right and I'm using the leader as a state of mind. Leadership is state of your mind. Everyone here is a leader, you are a leader. Maybe some of you might be sleeping , you know, not realizing it yet.

Alex Kudinov   Well, listen, leaders have to sleep.

Zuzi Sochova   They need to wake up! Wake up guys!

Alex Kudinov   I can tell you that for sure and yeah, definitely cannot hide talent in many areas, right, so Agile Coach, and really, really nice illustrations. So when you think about leadership, and when you think about Agile leader, what picture are you drawing in your mind?

Zuzi Sochova   I have this picture business thought, right? It's a small kind of person like a star - looks like this. there's the two legs and small head in the middle - and that's what I have. Then on the title of that book, I have that person with like, longer hands, long legs, and they're going around that network organization. So there is this network organization where we have the self-organizing teams, sort of in a collaborative network of social connectedness, etc. and they all sort of candid.

Cherie Silas   Wow.

Zuzi Sochova   Maybe we need to post that image. I don't know.

Cherie Silas   Yeah, I'm trying to picture it in my mind. Yeah, that's really cool and I love that you're able to visualize things before you write them. That's really interesting because I would think it would be the other way around; you write and then you illustrate. So really interesting  there.

Zuzi Sochova   Actually, it's both. The key hour before that I do most of the text and then I see here is a picture missing, here is a picture missing, etc.

Cherie Silas   Interesting. So what first got you involved and interested in Agile leadership?

Zuzi Sochova   I started to teach those Certified Agile Leadership classes and that brought a different audience. So it's a mixture of Agile coaches who are ready to change the organizations speaking about culture or structure, etc. and it's also a mix of executives and entrepreneurs. So I'm based in the Czech Republic, right? So sometimes I'm getting like more mid size smaller organizations. But it's really interesting, because you might have in this class people like the founders of organization, maybe not a huge one, but still somebody who created an organization and grow it and those people will start to be interested about, 'How shall I change the organization?' I found it super inspirational. Actually, the mixture of Agilists, some people there, from the very top, and some people from like, being anywhere. Think like, "I have one team and I still would like to change it because I like what we do as a team and how they organize and how can we apply those principles to higher level?" So that was really interesting to me.

Cherie Silas   I find that managers in Agile organizations kind of get a bad rap, right? People often go in and they're like, "You don't have a job here anymore. Let's push you over to the side." and you seem to have a very different viewpoint. So I'm wondering, how did you really, I guess, get connected and help, especially that mid-tier manager, really understand that we still have a place here and we're valuable in an organization?

Zuzi Sochova   That's tough. When I started as a developer, right, it was difficult shift to become a cross functional team from that, you know, I'm a C++ developer, which was my job and some of my colleagues were testers, right. We really need to shift the way we work and collaborate and operate on daily basis and the same thing needs to happen in every level. Many years ago, 10, 11, 12; might even be more, I stopped counting. So a long time ago, actually I used to be a Scrum Master. Then one day, I was promoted to be a Director of Engineering, which was a new group consisting of developers, testers, and hardware guys; like three departments coming to one big one. I took over the HR department as well at the same time. If you think about that, you can technically change the entire organization like this because of that nice coincidence. The overall goal of that whole shift was we need to be a little bit more flexible, more collaborative, fast learning, coming up with creative, innovative ideas, those type of usual things you will see nowadays. That was a longer time ago and the only thing I knew better than the others was how to build self organizing teams because as a Scrum Master that the only thing you really know well, right, that is the ultimate goal.  So I thought, "Hey, I now have this department. What should I do? Let's run it based on self organizing teams, no managers." So I actually find that idea and I got it accepted by the organization and our board at the time. We built a very fluid structure with Scrum Masters, teams, Product Owners. It was really fun. So I think, part of all I do at Agile leadership classes, and what I did in that book, was actually share that experience and one of the things I wanted to be in the book was, I thought, "If Zuzi is the only one who is speaking those things, who's talking about little things? Well, then they often say, "Yeah, she's crazy. We don't believe her." Right? I know it even from Scrum Master classes but when there are two or three other people in the class who are saying, "Oh we actually do that and it was really great." They do even something different than I did although the other people go, "Oh, is it really real? Like, really?" and then I say, "Yes, it is!" and they believe in it more. So what I did in that book, I actually invited some Agilists from my network and ask them to write a short story about something they experienced from that organization. So it's not just about, you know, those pictures and some texts around it but it's also a lot of stories from different people, different Agilists, different Agile organizations. So hopefully, my dream was here, it's become more... people will believe it more, let's put it this way.

Alex Kudinov   So definitely Agile Leadership is not BS and by reading your first book, I definitely know that you know what makes a Scrum Master a great one. So what does make an Agile leader, maybe a good Agile leader, or even a great Agile leader?

Zuzi Sochova   Well, I have this map. So I tried to cover a couple of those things but vision first. You need to have a vision because without a vision, there is no direction, no change happening. So when I took over the department and HR, I told the organization, I have a vision of a collaborative environment where people are motivated, and they really are enthusiastic, and I want to be a role model in a way for the other organizations around us. So the vision is the key. If you have a good, appealing vision, people will follow. That's a starting point, then you're able to do--

Alex Kudinov   So, Zuzi, let me interrupt you there a little bit. So, vision and we talked to the leadership kind of percolating organization from top to bottom and if I am a Scrum Master, who, we say, is a servant leader. Or I'm a developer on a Scrum team, right, and we say, "Yeah, you're still a leader." So how does vision apply to them? What kind of recommendation maybe you give them

Zuzi Sochova   You either take that you are just here to follow; you feel you're not a leader, you're a follower, and then you don't need any vision. Or you just say, "Hey, okay. There are some people around me. Some of them has a title, some of them don't but I never, myself, I never really cared that much about titles anyway. So if there is somebody who has a great idea, well, then I might even follow his ideas, right? I don't have to come up with my own. But then there are times where I have my own ideas and I believe they're useful for the environment and for the organization so I go for them. If I go for them this way or that way, well, that doesn't really matter because you need to inspect and adapt. So I didn't really know how exactly am I going to do that but I knew where I am heading to; towards more collaborative, more team oriented culture in a simple way,  digested way, and it wasn't simple. Some people didn't like it, some people weren't ready for it but even as a Scrum Master, I did a lot of things. I was actually-- that's really funny, I never have a title of Scrum Master. I was always a Senior Developer or something. People often ask me like, "I can't do that as a Scrum Master. They don't allow me to..." whatever.  I've got a title, job position: Senior Developer. I've got KPIs saying to me, "You need to improve in C++ or whatever was it, I don't even remember; I was acting as Scrum Master because I thought it's better for the results. By the way, no one really questioned it because it was better for the result.

Alex Kudinov   So if you think about you as Scrum Master then, what was your vision?

Zuzi Sochova   At the beginning, I didn't have any but for some time I've got, I want to have this team to be working well really together. Have a good environment, people happy have good relationships but also that same relationship should be not only with employees but also with customers. So we were really building, as one of the key values, customer partnership. Full transparency, we take them as part of our team. It was like no different. So I was trying to build this collaborative environment where actually, if we are together, you know, one plus one is more than two, eventually. That was that vision of, of this creative collaborative space.

Alex Kudinov   Yeah and that is so good--

Zuzi Sochova   And I want to go back to one of the things you said, because I don't use a leader as a hierarchical thing. Managers should be leaders but they don't have to be a manager to be a leader. They're two different things kind of.

Alex Kudinov   It's so beautiful about the vision and how you are able to articulate that. So what it tells me that vision doesn't have to be this big, huge thing, like, "I'm going to change the world", "I'm going to cure cancer", "I'm going to make everything beautiful". It can be something small. It can be something that you impact the world and you can be proud of. That's really fascinating. That's really impactful. So back to original question, so great leader has a vision, what else?

Zuzi Sochova   Then be able to motivate people, that's-- part of it is the vision, right? If you have a good vision, they will sort of be motivated by that already but there might be some other things. It's more about intrinsic than extrinsic motivation, etc, right. But the purpose would be part of it, quite significantly. Then feedback is another one of those and here people often say, "It's about giving feedback" to your peers, or to the employees if you're a manager, or to others in general, right?  I don't think so. Well, of course it is but it's much more important to receive that feedback. So what I often ask people is, like, "How many times did you learn based on the feedback you received? How many times you changed your behavior, based on the feedback from your teams, or your peers, or from people around you? How many times you just said, 'Hey, um, you know, they don't understand it, I know better.'"  So that is part of thing. Then like, when we do this, they're right on the top section out of those three, on our side sections you have coaching facilitation as soft skills, right, quite important. That's one of the things which people are missing in organizations very often. There are some corporations who have their internal coaching program and have some coaches there and their organization with support, some facilitation techniques, etc. that many people never hear about this. I was one of them. When I started, I didn't even believe in it. When I hear about coaching and facilitation, I felt like yeah, too fluffy. You know, I was having a technical background. It was really weird.

Alex Kudinov   Nothing can compare to the power of C++.

Zuzi Sochova   Yeah, exactly! How can I help somebody without telling him what to do, right? Like, how can it even work? What actually changed me was one of those events where I got myself coaching and actually realized, wow, I was stuck for a long time, like for a couple years, and that coaching call helped me to open a brand new world. So there must be something magical in it. So I actually went to the bookstore and bought two books, one in coaching one in facilitation, and start reading, and practicing. You know, I'm good enough coach to certain extent, at least I know what it is, and that, I'll never be, you know, perfect, but maybe that's not even the point. The point is, are you at least good enough? Can you use it? Why do you feel it's needed?

Cherie Silas   When you feel it's needed? How do you decipher when coaching is needed, when facilitation is needed, when consulting is needed?

Zuzi Sochova   It's always about your habits, right? So I do it more and more. I used to be telling people advices much more. I learned that they often are not a interested in them. They believe they know better anyway or they are not ready to hear it. So the more I'm around different organizations, different people, the more I believe that coaching and facilitation is key. So going back to that star, right, on the other side, you sometimes need to be able to do some storytelling, maybe some stories. Stories are important. You really need to be able to tell a story about a success, how they land, right? Because that's what really scales and that's what's really sticky. People want to be successful so they grow together with all the others and that's cool. Then, finally, on the bottom section, you have a change. So there are three segments, the first one will be speaking about changing through changing yourself and then one of the hardest ones, at least for me, you know, you need to change your own behavior. So when I have that vision of having a flat organization with no managers, I actually, that was simple in my head, but then I have to act accordingly. It was also simple in regular day to day situation but then there was some sort of a stress, or surprise, or something and you, without realizing, are back at your habits. Then of course, the environment where you have a quite radical transparency, literally they always told me like, "Didn't you say this and do something else?" That will that feedback, right, I got immediately. I was like, "Yeah, I'm sorry, I did that." So that was the, again, transparency back and the ability to say, 'Okay, I'm aware of it, and I'm on that journey with you' was actually helping a lot to the environment; I guess that they get this...they can trust me.

Cherie Silas   And you're talking about transparency? Oh, sorry.

Zuzi Sochova   There was a two other segments. So the other one is like changing some sort of practices, maybe, or working with people, right, the environment. The last one is changing the entire system. So that's this organizational view, looking at organization as a system, and be able to work at that level and introducing a change there. You want to ask something.

Cherie Silas   Yeah. I wanted to kind of pull on some of the things you said you were talking about transparency and several times you mentioned feedback and responding to feedback. I'm really interested in knowing what your viewpoint is on anonymous feedback and the impact that it has?

Zuzi Sochova   It depends on morale. I mean, like, they're just tools like Office Vibe, right? Which can send your organization, one question per week, for example, and then everybody replies, and you see the result, "Are people motivated? Do they feel that they have a good environment, which helps them?" Right? You see the results, usually trends. So that's a good Litmus feedback and that works.  Now, we were able to grow our employees of our teams, we were able to start a peer feedback, which was quite open-- retrospective is one of those right? There, you just say it. Sometimes you write it in a post it note but it's not completely anonymous anyway because people know. Even if you write it somewhere, people know, they know each other. Right? So it depends on the safety in that space. I like to have it open, transparent, and on the other hand, there might be some places where you don't want to say that. So we have a box where everybody can put anything if they feel that way. I don't remember anybody been using it. Like glad that I'm coming with this idea so should I put it to the box or can I just tell you, right? They can just tell me about but I mean both would work, whatever you feel comfortable, right? So it's about the safety if you have a good safety, it inspires people to trust each other and they are willing to speak up. Of course, through my career, one of those things I often do for organizations I work with dysfunctional teams. Now maybe it's not the best idea to start with open feedback  because they start fighting but sometimes you just need to take it out anyway. All those skeletons from a closet, right?

Cherie Silas   That's fascinating. So you work with dysfunctional teams and so what are some of the things you do to bring them from dysfunctional to healthy functioning.

Zuzi Sochova   One of the things I learned, I'm usually using this Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni, his book, and with some environments, we've been also using their assessment. So they actually ask you 25-ish questions, all the team members, and plus some others around the environment, and then they create record for you that the same parameters you have in the book was a green light, yellow light, and red light, sort of showing each level, the healthiness, and some other details around this. Most of the teams where we already started working on this, they have a trust issue anyway. So they start somewhere and no matter where I try, they start somewhere, "We sometimes don't fully commit," or "We might not have one goal but then once we talk about it, it doesn't take long even if you don't do the assessment, right, we end up like we don't trust each other. Trust is not a binary like trust or don't trust, right, it's a linear sort of progression. So of course, they often trust each other, like, no one is going to do anything like really bad to you like, ugly. Then do I trust you make your job? Do I trust that you will not use something to your advantage?" Something else, right, and it's fascinating how-- it goes fast and slow. At the beginning, it always feels like slow, it will never change, they are so stuck in there. Sometimes even interpersonal conflicts, etc. then eventually, it goes really fast. So I really like those type of things.

Alex Kudinov   So I'm wondering, in your work with dysfunctional team, what your observations are around leadership in those teams and those organizations, and how's the level of leadership that you observe correlate, or maybe it doesn't correlate, with the dysfunctions in the teams that you work with?

Zuzi Sochova   The first teams I got, there was a huge bang. One of those managers realized that I'm not only expert on Scrum, as he called it, but also, you know, can fix those teams. So he starts sending me to non-Agile environments, which didn't even have intention to run in Agile, he said "Yeah they are quite dysfunctional." and he asked about his leadership, right but it was a reflection of that manager. That manager, neither of those two, where I was in that company, were like bad people, they were trying, they just didn't know how to organize a group of people in that environment. There might be even great managers in some other environment and they didn't know what to do. It was interesting because I ran to the workshops with a team and it approved. Then the entire Agile got stopped with that I got stopped as well as Agile is and we didn't really do it long enough, so it didn't stick. Interestingly, I met one of those guys later on and he said that environmental went slowly by slowly down again, so they all left but he said that they are still good friends, and they sometimes meet, and they still remember that experience of being on a good team. So there was something fascinating. They didn't manage to make it stick or be that way but it may at least manage to remember how it is. I actually went to a place where it was more easy to be that way. So those type of things are super motivational because you see if it make a difference even if it looks like a failure on the first look alright, it's actually ended up being pretty good thing.

Alex Kudinov   So and I remember, as you were describing the star, the last one was I don't remember the exact words like system, approach

Zuzi Sochova   Change the system; change the way we are working with a system, yeah

Alex Kudinov   Right so and it kind of became clear in the last several years that Agile coaches are not only focusing on teams and individual and it behooves us all to look at what we're working with, as a system and as kind of the the system of interconnected stocks and, and flows and all of that, right, and how the system reacts to what we bring in. So how do you use these kind of systems thinking system approach in your work as an Agile coach? How does it help you?

Zuzi Sochova   So one of the things I did when I started to be interested in coaching, I started going for different classes. Eventually, when I finished all of the Lyssa Adkins classes, I asked her like, 'What's next? I have been at all of your classes. Where should I go next?' and she said, "I don't know but we are now doing the ORSC, the Organizational System Relationship Coaching, and we like it."  I was thinking about it for a year or two, maybe and I think whether I should I go or not, and they have his website, which doesn't really speak to me that much. I was not sure if it's not two weird to me. So I was thinking should I should I not? Then I came to, I'm thinking, "Lyssa likes it right? So I might like it as well." So I eventually actually said, "Okay, well, I don't know, anyway, I can't know otherwise, unless I try." So I sign up for all five, they have a series of those coaching classes, it's usually three days, and I actually did three and three in a row, we've got a one day in between in Toronto. Because of that coupling those classes, we actually have that day in between and spend more time together. So we became quite good friends as well. Interestingly, some of those modules are great. I like them. Some of those modules. I remember one, I didn't like it. I thought it's crazy or weird or felt like what the hell are they doing, I will never use it in my work. Overall, I saw it was really a good class or program. Then I recommend it to one of my friends and he said, "Okay, I'm going but you join me as one of those classes, once you finish the class, you can always sign up to be a facilitator of that class to help visit tryouts or something like this." So I signed up for his London class, the last one, the integration piece, and I still remember my experience going through the integration, it was a year ago. I was lost, I felt confused, I didn't know which tool I should take out of my hand, and that experience, the second time, it was like, "I know, it's like this, it's like that." and surprisingly, I did a reflection then because it was "Oh, I'm really using it without even like, you know, it became natural." and surprisingly, the things I'm using the most are those, which I thought I will never use. So that was fascinating, because I wasn't even aware of it and literally, I would say speaking about leadership, and doing this leadership class, I have a seven month leadership development program as well, where we work with different leaders in organizations on how to change culture, organizational structure, etc. Right. So I base it on risk and it actually allows me to see things from a different perspective. It's like open up the new world, where you can finally see things which you sort of know are there, but I didn't know where to go or how to.

Cherie Silas   Yeah, so I can definitely understand how that helps you to see things and to work with the client better and so I'm hearing the impact on you as a coach and what I'd love to hear a little bit more about is the impact on your clients when you shifted to start using some of these things you learned in coaching.

Zuzi Sochova   I felt I'm finally able to do what I need to and they've been asking me something or wait for the meeting right and I try to do my best and they say, "Interesting, but you'll see from their face didn't help them. Now when I shifted, it's actually I see from their face  they are interested and we actually, with some of them become friends, and we still you know time to time see each other or talk to each other etc. It was because I changed the way I approach them in the more coaching way and more also system way. There is one of those rules which I really like on this looking at all organization as a system and the system perspective. You know who knows what is right and what is not. There is no right or wrong exists in a complex system. Whatever looks good from this perspective, might be looking as completely dead from that perspective. In the short term, it looks like a disaster but actually, in the long term, it's one of the best decisions you could ever make. Whatever you do, if you start looking at things through those lenses, okay, well we inspect and adapt, right? Didn't work as we intended; not well, not bad, who knows, right but it might be good, to some extent somewhere else. So that will actually give me maybe the self confidence because one of those things I dislike on traditional way of working is this big plan, which is supposed to follow. So you're supposed to be the most smartest person in the world to figure out what needs to be done.  I was always sort of even, maybe not failing in reality, but failing mentally. I was always having those questions in my head. What if that is not the right amount and what if there is a better way? So I really love Agile because you don't have to do that. You have your go. Yeah. How to get there? Well, I don't know. We'll see. Let's do this and see what happens.

Alex Kudinov   So when we know that there are quite a few ways, quite a few wrong ways of doing leadership, or being a leader and of course, there are many right ways that will get you to become that great leader. So for those who are just stepping on this road of/to great Agile leadership, what would be one step, what would be one suggestion that you give them?

Zuzi Sochova   Trust yourself, you are a leader, you don't need anybody else to tell you what to do. Of course, be open for feedback and not saying be blind and just do it your way but don't hold back. You can make a difference, no matter which is your position.

Alex Kudinov   Fantastic. Well, congratulations on your second book. Is there a third in the plans?  What's in your nearest future?

Zuzi Sochova   So in my nearest future, right. So, some sort of a book tour, I still plan to do some rounds of interviews, and I tried to start speaking at virtual conferences now a lot, again, to promote the book; to speak about it. I'm really enjoying running the Scrum Master and Product Owner classes, specifically those Advanced Scrum Master, Advanced Product Owner, etc. but speaking about it book, I'm looking forward for our next Certified Agile Leadership class, I'm now running two cohorts of the second phase of them, which is a seven month development program. That's super cool. You know, now I have like European/US cohort, and Australian cohort, and Asia cohort. That's so interesting,  having those people across the world, being able to go to the one program together and share their insights. That's what I'm super passionate about and I think the last thing I should mention is, if you're curious about some great speakers, well, we organize the Agile 100 conference. That's a monthly event. Currently, it's free. So it doesn't cost you anything. If you like it, just recommend us to some other friends and colleagues.

Alex Kudinov   And those of our listeners who are interested in your book, or joining one of those leadership cohorts, how can they contact you?

Zuzi Sochova   So I have a website, which is www.sochova.com. So my second name -- last name -- and dot com. So that should be simple to find and you can see there there is an email, phone number maybe but email is the best way how to contact me and easily to be Googled, so you should find me.

Alex Kudinov   All right. Well, Zuzi, thank you so much for spending your time with us today. It was a fascinating conversation and we wish you a lot of luck with your training with your book tour. I'm sure it will be great. This has been another episode of Tandem Coaching Academy's Keeping Agile Coaching Non-Denominational and we're your hosts, Cherie Silas and I, Alex Kudinov. Bye now.

Zuzi Sochova   Thank you very much.

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