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  • Writer's pictureMarina Alex

What if... On Agile in the family

All changes start from within. That's how I start my presentations when I talk about Agile transformations in business. This is not just a beautiful slogan: it denotes a prerequisite for success for every manager. Otherwise, nothing will work. Let's talk about Agile in the family. When I work as a personal coach to top managers to help them adapt to a new business culture Agile, I always notice that the culture in their families changes as well.

Let me draw two parallels: business and private life.

Agile in business is about a new set of values and principles. It is a culture of openness, trust, and courage to try new things. It is about teamwork and speed of testing hypotheses. It is about abandoning hierarchy of job titles in favor of roles and personal responsibilities. Dozens of my clients, while living through the Agile transformation of their companies, automatically bring new ideas to families. Here are some examples:

Agile is a culture of openness and trust:

  • when a husband and a wife give feedback to each other, openly telling why they are not as happy as they used to be 10 years ago;

  • when trust and communication is built between partners as they constantly communicate in order to find the areas of growth and development in the relationship.

A couple of quick questions: how often do you discuss with your partner how happy you are in the family, on a scale from 1 to 10? Or do you rate your sex life from 1 to 10 and brainstorm improvements to make it an absolute 10?

In response, partners may sigh and say, "Marina, we've been living together for 25 years, we've got nothing to improve" or “What if I learn that my spouse is unhappy? What if they think our life together is no more than a 5?"

Imagine that a family is a classic company, where over the years, many processes have become obsolete, and communication channels has broken down. What if it's just as scary to talk openly about mistakes in the family as it is in business? What if there is no trust and courage to conduct retrospectives, resolve issues, and come up with solutions? Finally, what if there is neither wish nor energy left to deal with any of that?

And what if the family in its conventional meaning has become outdated as a structure? After all, for example, just 100 years ago, sparing the rod meant spoiling the child. Corporal punishment was an integral part of upbringing and education in many countries - the child got whipped and raised with a high hand out of love. Yet, what was believed to be the norm then is considered barbaric now.

Specific roles and zones of responsibility.

What if the husband and the wife assign the roles to each other? What if the family is a team? There, adults are not bosses who know everything. There, "to listen" does not mean "to obey". Family is the absence of hierarchy. What if you start seeing the family as a team, use iterations, learn from mistakes, continuously improve interaction processes, inspire trust, and openness, conduct weekly retrospectives, and talk openly about your feelings? What if Agile in family is that new system which will make millions of families happy?

Back to the future, or a Retrospective.

In 90% of the companies where I worked as an Agile Coach, there were problems with communication and trust between employees. What about family? How often do we share our feelings with each other and talk about what we need to improve in order to be happy in the family?

Since all changes start from within, I often serve a personal Agile coach for managers, and help them adapt to the changes in business as well as in family. One of the main tools that has helped many of my clients is a retrospective.

How does this happen and what does it lead to? Let me share one true story with you.

... They have been living together for 27 years. They thought they knew everything about each other. He is a successful and well-known businessman, and she is a great mother and wife. The family has two teenage children - a 14 year old son and an 18 year old daughter. The man is always preoccupied with doing business and making money, so everyone knows not to bother him. One evening something strange happened. That's how the daughter describes the occurrence:

Once my father came home from work and asked us to put away our gadgets and have a heart-to-heart conversation. This is the first unusual thing he did that evening. He said that his company started an Agile transformation. He went on to describe the importance of communication in this process. None of us knew what an Agile transformation was. Then began the interrogation. Dad kept asking questions that he (or anyone!) had never asked before. He inquired us about our day. Then he wanted to know about the most valuable thing that happened to us today. At first, it was uncomfortable and weird. But an hour later we managed to warm up to the topic and even had a good laugh.

The second strange moment of the evening was my father's suggestion to hold weekly retrospectives. "We need to analyze what is good in our family and what we should improve,” he said. Then he told how that miracle event affected the entire company in the most profound way. Something was obviously going on with Dad, and it scared us.

Several days later we were having dinner when Dad asked us a question that almost made us choke over the food, "On a scale from 1 to 10, rate how happy you are in our family?" Mom stared at him as if he were an alien. We all went silent. Suddenly, my brother said "4!" , and a moment later he burst out, "We have no family, it's all just facade! Each of us is by ourselves, living in our own worlds!" Now it was the turn of Mom and Dad to stare back, their jaws dropped.

Then mom said, "6" and explained that for many years she had been taking care of us - cooking, cleaning, working around the house, but no one seemed to be caring about her or helping her out, or showing any interest in her feelings, dreams, and wishes.

I rated us a 5 because I agree with my brother. In fact, our family is an anti-model of what a happy family should be. After all, a family is not about just living together and sharing a household. It is about love and attention, it's about sharing interests and dreams. My mother is always in the kitchen, my father is at work, my brother and I are on our own.

Dad gave us a 7. In his opinion, we all thought that business was a continuous buzz, business trips to different countries, staying at expensive hotels, and holding endless meetings. But in fact, he slaves at work so that the family was not in need, so that my brother and I could get a good education. With no words of care and support, we just reproach him for disappearing in his office.

...Then there was silence. It was the first time we realized how unhappy each of us truly was. I was crying, my mother was trying to hide her years, and my brother was staring out the window. My dad was frowning - he clearly did not expect to get such feedback from us, his closest people. Suddenly, he smiled and then burst into laughter. He didn't seem to be in his right mind!

Then he told us about his first experience with retrospective with his team of managers. The reaction then was much worse! In the end, dad said how important it was for him to make sure our family was happy for 10 out of 10, but we could only achieve that result working together. He called us a team, and it gave us warm feelings. We started suggesting improvements and writing down our ideas.

That was our first retrospective which commenced a big change in our family. Now it is our weekly tradition.

"This is a story with a happy ending," you may say. Not at all! Building relationships is an endless process. Our heroes will have to work hard to achieve their 10s.

But have they chosen a right approach though? Should we need to apply flexible management methods at home? Is there a future for Agile in family? And how often do you measure happiness in your family or conduct retrospectives? What would happen to your family life, if you did?


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