Seeking Meaning

Ward and I had a great reflection interview with April today. April manages an agile team at New Relic and was one of the participants in the pilot for the Agile Partnership Program.

In our reflection interviews, we ask the participants to tell the story of their experience. We then ask them to identify three insights. Next, we take each one of those insights and dig deeper, three times, exploring the underlying "why". At the end of the interview, we share our notes with the interviewee and highlight key phrases or words that, when knitted together, create a meta-reflection. We call this process a 3x3 Reflection.

One of April's insights was about her role as a coach. There were two aspects of this role, one was that of being an active listener. She estimated that, on average, about 70%-80% of her time was spent listening the Jenny, the Dayton teacher who was her partner. Listening to her aspirations and her challenges. She listened deeply for the fears, and then fashioned her suggestions around practices the might help her walk through them.

In this process, April needed to talk about Agile in a deeper way. Not about the practice, but about the underlying meaning. On the fly, one day, she used a simple metaphor that proved extremely helpful for Jenny: the three legged stool of the Learning Cycle. By this, she meant a three legged stool for continuous improvement, continuous learning: the plan, the trying, the reflection. That is, come up with an idea, go and do it, then reflect on what you learn from it.

For Jenny, the key insight was about the third leg, the critical importance of reflection. Becoming intentional about reflection was transformational.

Not just reflections with April, but, more importantly, reflections with her students.

She began to listen to them more intentionally, as individuals or in small groups. Perhaps for ten minutes each, but for those precious minutes, she was entirely focused on them and listened deeply.

This listening, through retrospectives at the end of projects, were incredibly empowering for her students and unleashed potential in each of them, as learners, that she had been not previously recognized.

The three legged stool of Agile. Such a simple distillation. That's a keeper.

Further thoughts on why Listening Matters