A conversation with Tricia Ratliff, Product Owner of SAIC’s Innovation Factory Dojo and Author of Innovation As A Collaborative Game.

“At the time, I didn’t even think of myself as working in an innovation lab, even though there were multiple innovation labs and all the teams worked in them. The way I perceived it back then is that we had a lot of freedom and that you were given a principle or a value, a problem to solve, and that it was the teams or your individual responsibility to really sincerely think about that problem and challenge yourself to solve it in creative ways, to reach out to people, to not be defensive. So, some of those things will always be true with innovation that it takes multiple people. It takes someone to care and go deep, and be curious, and they need some level of creative freedom to explore, experiment, to put out something that’s imperfect and keep trying to get feedback as they go.” –Tricia Ratliff

In this episode of Control the Room, I had the pleasure of speaking with Tricia Ratliff about her years of enterprise experience leading innovation initiatives, nuances of facilitation, and commonalities of successful shifts in the way people work together. She also shares how the pandemic shifted the objective of her work. We then discuss how to virtualize a program, accidental innovations, and the importance of norms, values, and ground rules. Listen in to hear why it’s important to listen to objectors of transformation efforts.  

Show Highlights

[2:15] How Tricia Got Her Start Facilitating Enterprise Innovation

[14:10] How Misunderstanding Can Lead To Accidental Innovation[24:00] Showing Respect During Group Challenges

[30:30] Why To Prioritize Shared Understanding Of Methods Instead Of Jargon

Tricia on LinkedIn

Innovation As A Collaborative Game

About the Guest

Tricia Ratliff has a passion for fostering innovation and entrepreneurship to solve meaningful problems. As a computer scientist, artist, entrepreneur, and intrapreneur, she has worked in software innovation labs, as an agile coach, product owner, and incubator mentor to other lean startup founders. Today, she leads a team of talented facilitators and coaches in SAIC’s Innovation Factory Dojo. Together they employ mindsets and practices mentioned in her book “Innovation as a Collaborative Game,” and compare insights with others to learn new ways to meet the evolving needs of people.

About Voltage Control

Voltage Control is a change agency that helps enterprises sustain innovation and teams work better together with custom-designed meetings and workshops, both in-person and virtual. Our master facilitators offer trusted guidance and custom coaching to companies who want to transform ineffective meetings, reignite stalled projects, and cut through assumptions. Based in Austin, Voltage Control designs and leads public and private workshops that range from small meetings to large conference-style gatherings.

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Full Transcript

Douglas:  Welcome to the Control The Room podcast, the series devoted to the exploration of meeting culture and uncovering cures for the common meaning. Some meetings have tight control, and others are loose. To control the room means achieving outcomes while striking a balance between posing and removing structure, asserting and distributing power, leaning in and leaning out, all in the service of having a truly magical meeting. Thanks for listening. If you’d like to join us live for a session sometime, you can join our weekly Control The Room facilitation lab. It’s a free event to meet fellow facilitators and explore new techniques, so you can apply the things you learn in the podcast in realtime with other facilitators.

Sign up today at voltagecontrol.com/facilitation-lab. If you’d like to learn more about my new book, Magical Meetings, you can download the Magical Meetings quick start guide, a free PDF reference with some of the most important certain pieces of advice from the book. Download a copy today at voltagecontrol.com/magical-meetings-quick-guide. Today, I’m with Tricia Ratliff at SAIC, where she’s the product owner of the dojo and their innovation factory. She’s also the author of the book Innovation as a Collaborative Game. Welcome to the show, Trisha.

Trisha:  Hi Doug. Thanks for having me.

Douglas:  Ah, it’s so good to have you here. So let’s get started with a question that I always start with, which is how did you get your start in this work? How does one become the product owner of a dojo in the innovation factory?

Trisha:  You know, it’s one of those jobs that I would normally say it sounds better than it is, but it’s actually a great job. So in some ways, I lucked into it, or I see it as a confluence of different things that have happened over my career and naturally came together. I do believe you end up where you … if you let it happen, you end up where you really need to be. So just as kind of a quick history, I started my first business when I was starting college in order to pay for college. So I had a naturally entrepreneurial way of working. Starting a dojo inside of SAIC, or restarting it, I should say, is very much an intrapreneurial entrepreneurial activity.

Another thing is that we have evolved into an innovation dojo, which is more of a facilitated offering. We have to be agnostic about our approach and really focus on using whatever modern methods it takes to deliver and solve problems and help teams become the very best that they can be. So a lot of those skills or those mindsets I’ve picked up over my entire career. So in a way, I found myself here as a result of working in an innovation lab when I was in college and then going out to Silicon Valley where we helped startups launch.

Then later, as an Agile coach, we launched a learning institute in which one of the classes that we taught was facilitator excellence. So now, years later, coming to the dojo, when we needed to virtualize the dojo because of the pandemic, those facilitation skills were necessary. We leveraged them to reinvent the work that we do. So I guess that’s how you end up as the product owner of a dojo if you just have a lot of different experiences. As we were listening to our customers, we had to adjust and change and leverage what we had. That just happened to be what was in the toolbox.

Douglas:  Yeah. Amazing. So maybe a more recent question, and then I want to drill back a little bit deeper, but specifically you mentioned the shift around the pandemic. Was the pandemic the thing that started the transition from more of a Dev Ops type of dojo to the innovation dojo, or were those things just happening kind of regardless of each other? I’m just kind of curious if you think it was the impetus or maybe accelerated it.

Trisha:  It’s more like it gave us a different place to land. Maybe that’s a more accurate way to put it, that there were a lot of different factors in place. So the original SAIC C dojo was envisioned like a lot of dojos today as an Agile dojo or a Dev Ops dojo. And there’s literally a textbook for Joel and his friend, the other author. His name has slipped my mind at the moment, but there’s an actual textbook. We leveraged that and the experience of other dojos that the prior team before my arrival visited, and the challenge there was that that particular format, which works well at many companies, wasn’t what the teams at SAIC needed. The format wasn’t what they were looking for.

So once we recognized that they weren’t responding to that, we basically had a quiet period where we were just working effectively. That was around the beginning of the year. Then we had run a couple dojos during the pandemic. Maybe there were three of them, if I’m counting right. I’m trying to figure out how to answer this question without giving you unnecessary detail. So I joined the dojo after the pandemic had started. So I can only tell you about it from the perspective of when I came in.

Douglas:  So was the transition already starting to morph from the classic Agile DevOps dojo at that point? Or do you think your arrival kind of started to spur some of those changes?

Trisha:  Rather than trying to dissect that, I would say it’s probably more productive to share. I’ll share some things and we’ll kind of see where it goes. So, prior to coming to SAIC, one of the reasons that the team reached out to me is that I was an Agile coach and was running some virtual coaching sessions in the winter of 2019. So when the pandemic happened, a friend of mine knew that I was scratching my head, figuring out how to virtualize something that for 20 years we’ve insisted has to be done in person. It felt like the dojo already had the same challenge because the dojo was designed as a place that people go to.

So I came in mid to late summer, and around that winter, we finally had tools available where we could truly virtualize some of the work that we were doing. So that turning point happened right around January, February, which is a natural time for companies to rethink, what are we investing in? Right around that time, we had just leaned into virtual facilitation using a tool that was Fed ramp approved because we’re a federal integrator. So we were using this tool and we were really starting to virtually facilitate the types of sessions that we ran in the dojo, and we were getting good at those.

That’s when people started asking, “Hey, if we can’t use this whole six-week immersive program, that’s all about agile and DevOps, but we can use this one session that you’ve run, where you bring all the stakeholders together, and you have challenging conversations, or you create psychological safety or the sessions in which you have a major decision making with the group or you get feedback from a user or customers. Can we just take that part?”

Well, we knew from experience that, if you just start to do one thing, all roads tend to lead back to using all these different practices that work in modern product delivery, which include methods from Agile, Dev Ops, design thinking, lean startup. So because of that, we just sort of trusted. We said, yeah, let’s start doing that. Let’s start doing the thing that our users and customers are requesting. I’ll say that, as I was emerging at that point as the product owner, it was possibly because of that entrepreneurial background that I had as a kid. I tried to start a business as a window washer and got my first two window washing gigs. It turned out that people didn’t really need me, because I wasn’t a very good window washer. They didn’t really need me to do that. So I asked, “Well, what do you need that I can do?”

So in a way, many years later, that’s what entrepreneurs do is they say, okay, if there’s a block with this thing that we have been offering, or maybe the format of it isn’t working in this modern situation with the pandemic and everybody’s virtual, let’s look at what people are asking for and what does work, and we’re going to lean into that and we’re going to discover. So that’s a much clearer answer. Is that helpful?

Douglas:  Yeah, it is. It’s fascinating to think about the confluence of a few different things. Kind of reevaluating the value that the group’s been for providing as well as how the pandemic’s been impacting the organization. So the types of a request that are coming in, as well as maybe curiosity that’s developing from within the team, as far as where the team and the group can go.

Trisha:  Right. It’s hard to say if that would’ve … like you said, was that accelerant? Possibly.

Douglas:  Yeah.

Trisha:  Or maybe it was a totally different opportunity. Maybe both should be happening. So I’m just trusting that, in the end, the right solutions will emerge because we’re approaching this in the right way. What I believe is truly the right way.

Douglas:  So rolling the clock way back, it sounds like you got started early on in an innovation lab doing innovation lab work. So just curious, when you reflect back to that time, how have things changed? What do you think about the way that things were done back then versus now? There’s the obvious virtual stuff, but fundamentally what are some of the shifts that you’ve seen as far as the way people are showing up or doing anything?

Trisha:  Some things are the same, but a lot has changed. So, at the time, I didn’t even think of myself as working in an innovation lab, even though there were multiple innovation labs and all the teams worked in them. The way I perceived it back then is that we had a lot of freedom and that you were given a principle or a value, a problem to solve, and that it was the teams or your individual responsibility to really sincerely think about that problem and challenge yourself to solve it in creative ways, to reach out to people, to not be defensive. So, some of those things will always be true with innovation that it takes multiple people. It takes someone to care and go deep, and be curious, and they need some level of creative freedom to explore, experiment, to put out something that’s imperfect and keep trying to get feedback as they go.

All those things were true even back then. The difference today, in my opinion, is that we have a lot of help now from writers and thinkers. There’s a stronger flow, I think, of fluid information about how to approach innovation or creative teams cooperation, or collaboration, innovation itself. There’s entrepreneurship, even. So now that some of that is sort of being codified, we have a shared language, and that shared language I think helps us read into how to be more productive as innovators a lot faster than it used to.

So I’m talking a lot. I’m used to listening to responses to kind of see what you think, but that’s where I would say that there are a lot of things that are still going to be true. I do believe that innovation or creation, whether it’s innovation or not, whether you can quantify it or quality fight is innovation, cool new things are the results of unique mixes of prior art. So somebody has to care about a problem and look at that prior art and bring together the creators who are familiar with how to create that prior art or that technology, and even maybe create new things and bring together those new things. So, that’s where the collaborative piece comes in.

So I believe that’s been true since the first potter, through his first pot on a wheel. They were using prior art and learning, and changing and responding to what somebody really needs versus that idea that I might have, and we’re sort of in that continuous flow of conversation about that, that feedback loop. So I believe that’s always been true. What’s different today is when people like Eric Reese wrote the book, Lean Startup, or Steve Blank even provided that mentoring about how to really lean into customer discovery, or the Agile manifesto was signed. We started thinking, maybe as a result of Steven Covey, we lead with values. Now we have a language that supports what’s always been true. So I believe we can do it better and faster now. Thankfully, because the world is moving faster, we need to be able to do it faster and better.

Douglas:  Mm. It’s interesting, this notion of true collaboration and coordination and sharing, because I feel like that’s where true advancements really happen. You mentioned the potter. When someone develops a technique and they show it to someone else, and they try it, and they say, “Oh, what if you tried this?” Then you build on … just that back and forth.

Trisha:  Right, or they misunderstand. One of the things I learned at the innovation lab was one of my bosses said to me, “I love misunderstandings. They breed incredibly new opportunities.”

Douglas:  I love it. You’re even hitting on something that’s a powerful concept in the world of innovation, which is this notion of acceptance. When we take something that was intended for one purpose and we use it for another.

Trisha:  Yeah.

Douglas:  It’s like some of the best inventions. The microwave oven was one that I think was one of the best, where the radio tower technician was working on a tower and he had a chocolate bar in his pocket and the microwaves melted it.

Trisha:  Oh yeah, I have heard of that. Wow. I completely forgot that story.

Douglas:  There’s so many. If you Google accidental innovation, there’s so many good stories.

Trisha:  Yeah. Yeah.

Douglas:  So I want to come back to another thing you mentioned, which was the facilitation excellence class, and I’m really fascinated to hear what were some of the learning objectives for that class or what are some of the things that you were like, if they only walked away with one thing, what’s that thing?

Trisha:  Okay. So first, that class is significantly different than it would be today. One of my colleagues just took the voltage control facilitation design class that you all teach and came back so excited. He’s going to teach us all and talk to us, and maybe even redesign our approach to facilitation. So I’m really proud to say that we are learning from you, which is great.

Douglas: Nice.

Trisha:  But that’s very much a virtual facilitation. So back then, the big message was neutrality. When I was leading that learning institute, personally, I had just come off of an experience where I had earned a certification in mediation. So that idea of being neutral and creating a space for others to not only resolve conflict, but take it even further to succeed together. My heart just leaps, even talking about it. It means so much. So maybe I connected with it personally for that reason, but that was a big message in the class, which we didn’t design.

I can’t think of her name now, but after the podcast, I’ll send you the name of the person who designed the class. We just customized it, maybe 10%, but that message upfront, that your role is really here to create a space for others, that you want to be neutral, but where you wouldn’t be neutral is on that design. You want to take that time upfront to think through, what does the group need? What do they need in terms of the physical space? Because it was all back when it was flip charts and markers and whiteboards. What do they need as physical space? What do they need as mental space? Who do they need to be for each other? What types of tools apply to this situation? How should you customize those tools? How do you remove your own kind of emotional challenges from the situation so that you’re really creating that space for them? What do they need to learn live? What do they need to prepare and advance?

So there was all of this design stuff that was taught. But I would say, if there was that one takeaway that everything will fall apart … If you value design, but you don’t value that role of the neutral facilitator, a great design can fall apart.

Douglas:  Mm. Yeah. It’s really fascinating this topic around neutrality, because often I’ll get this question. It especially comes from the design sprint world, because when people are learning the design sprint, quite often they are designers or maybe product people. They are going to be directly responsible for building the product that’s going to benefit from said design sprint. The first question that will come out of them is, is it okay to facilitate and participate at the same time?

Trisha:  Classic question. Yeah. Yeah. Should we just leave that out there because it’s a lifelong argument or …

Douglas:  Yeah. Maybe we just let people just have their opinions on where they stand there.

Trisha:  Yeah.

Douglas:  You did mention neutrality, so I’ll just say that. Let people ponder neutrality versus balancing two opposing roles.

Trisha:  Yeah. As a facilitator, I have to say, and as a product owner, because a product owner is responsible for the result, I love being facilitated. So my natural go-to position is I shouldn’t be doing that. So regardless … and someone once said to me, “You don’t get to use your gifts on yourself.” So great, that’s an even better reason to bring somebody in or hire somebody to do it. Then of course, we’ll all learn.

Douglas:  It’s like facilitation feels like a gift and it’s fun to anticipate any time when I’m invited to do it. But when I’m doing it for my team, I just stress so much more. It’s like, I don’t know. It’s just funny. Maybe just because it doesn’t feel right. It’s like someone else should be doing this.

Trisha:  Yeah. I don’t know if you experience what I do, but I often catch myself halfway through a little monologue where I think uh-oh, my voice is different than the team members. If there’s an implied hierarchy or kind of a power dynamic or something, am I shutting something down by speaking right now? So adding on to that, trying to be a neutral facilitator, it’s just too much. So, when I show up, at least in my role with my own team, I’m asking myself, am I in a product owner mindset right now? Am I in the role of somebody who has prior experience and wants to share it? If can not be in the facilitator role, then obviously then I can be in one of those roles much better. Is that what you feel sometimes?

Douglas:  Yeah. I think that’s the issue. If you’re in the facilitation mindset, then you really don’t want to be pushing an agenda or making decisions. You’re just kind of supporting the team.

Trisha:  Right.

Douglas:  If I have a desired outcome, then I’m pushing … because I’m a member and I’m impacted by these decisions, I’m probably not going to be a very great facilitator. It’s going to be really hard to balance that.

Trisha:  Yeah.

Douglas:  The trick is, if it’s an everyday meeting, we often have to. It’s just something that we have to think about balancing anytime where there’s budget or opportunity. One of the things I’ll coach folks that attend our training and are curious about this work is to locate someone else in your organization that might also be curious or might be on this journey and can you support each other? Maybe you facilitate their session, they facilitate yours, and it’s just inviting another person you’re meeting with profound results.

Trisha:  Yes. Yeah. Because the way I think of it is, you can either own the design or you can own the content, but it’s really hard to own both. So yes, if you can find … and that’s certainly been true in our case. If we can find somebody else to guide. Even if it’s a team member. I’m really proud of these team members. They’re good at holding that space and letting go, and just trusting that the rest of the team, the rest of the organization, other people have enough content that it will work out.

Douglas:  I think another thing that can work too is establishing working norms and operating agreements, and just being clear about those and having some intention before starting any session. So those behaviors, those, I would say, norms that we want to be, are spoken, acknowledged, and encouraged. So that way, even if things are getting off track, maybe other members of the team will step up and say, “Hey, wait a second. This isn’t what we said we were going to do.”

Trisha:  Yeah. We can come back to those. I love when a facilitator puts those out and then asks the group. They put a few out to get started and then they ask the group what should be here. Then during the session, you realize, wait a minute, I misunderstood what the first one was, or maybe one’s missing. Then you get the sense that the group is really owning them and that the facilitator is good at doing a good job creating a space where the participants are really owning their approach, whether it’s norms or values. It could be norms, values, ground rules, all those things.

Douglas:  Absolutely. I want to bring us back to the dojo really quickly. I was thinking about how you were explaining in the pre-show, there’s this six-week immersion that was a high commitment that people had to make, and they were kind of more curious about, is there a way to get a taste for this work to understand it?

Trisha:  Yeah.

Douglas:  Is there a way to just walk away with a little piece of it. I think you were even saying that all roads lead back to all the work.

Trisha:  Yeah.

Douglas:  So however they find it, it’s a good thing. They don’t have to necessarily get it all at once.

Trisha:  It’s more like respect, I should say. People intuitively know where they need to begin or what their biggest problem is. So it’s not that we’re trying to take them to these other solutions. It’s more that we respect and trust that they say their biggest problem is maybe communication between some major stakeholders. Well, of course, you start having communications between major stakeholders and then you bring in a few users or people who are receiving value from whatever you’re delivering, naturally, a lot of new opportunities are going to emerge that need to be facilitated.

Really our job is to show up with a full toolkit so that we are not only available to do that, do it quickly, do it soon, but even help other people or train other people to do it themselves. So that’s one of the reasons we show up in this facilitator stance versus a coaching and training stance. I think it’s out of respect for the people who are making the request, that they know more about their situation and they know more about their immediate problem than we do. So if we trust that and we respect that, then instead of us seeing everything as a nail and bringing a hammer, we’re more like, “Hey, let’s start with what your request is and then the other opportunities emerge.” Which is why we need to be so diverse and we need to constantly be training each other, because it’s just impossible for somebody to come into the team with everything covered. We are just on this continuous learning journey and even learning from our customers when they make new requests.

Douglas:  Yeah. It kind of comes back to that point you made around the importance of being agnostic. So I was kind of curious to get more thoughts on that.

Trisha:  So on the one hand, there are certain things that are popular right now. So we do have teams and organizations, leaders, executives, who come and they say, “We have a digital transformation going on. Can you teach us Agile?” Something that I learned as an Agile coach, I’ve been an Agile coach since the early 2000s, is there were times when we succeeded with Agile shifts, and other times when those Agile shifts weren’t successful. So around 2014, I think it was, I looked back over my experiences and I asked myself in a brutally honest, almost painful way. When were those shifts successful and when were they not? I often joke that what emerged for me was I noticed this pattern of, there were certain cases where we got what I called triple happy face agile, where there were the user, the investor, the team. They’re all happy.

Then you have a product owner who’s happy. So I asked what was common in those cases. In those cases, there was a common thread that there was an agreement upfront between those key players to operate in a particular way, and that we would remove barriers for each other, and that there was a whole set of things that we would agree to try upfront. We wouldn’t just kind of do baby steps, but we would just go ahead and make that leap and be brave, to try a lot. When we got that agreement upfront, we were more likely to, … actually, I should say that was 100% of the success cases was we got that engagement, I should say, upfront and really went for it. When we didn’t get that, I reflected back on myself, and it was a little bit of a painful realization.

When we didn’t go for that, it was because somebody like me, myself, I hadn’t tried. I was afraid. I was afraid to ask or push. I was maybe intimidated or somebody told me not to. So I didn’t want to violate something there. So then, between today and back in that 2014, 2016 timeframe, when I really was paying attention to this pattern, I personally realized it wasn’t so much triple happy face Agile. It was triple happy face.

Douglas:  Mm.

Trisha:  Multiple people are getting results. When I looked at the agreements that people made, they weren’t necessarily just Agile agreements. They were agreements around what each of those people groups or those key player groups needed. That is how we’ve come to this place where we need to be agnostic, that it wasn’t necessarily about our Agile agreements. It was about, we were going to use approaches that we agreed to, and they were well worn, well established, proven approaches. But before we could agree to them, whatever approach we were going to use that seemed reasonable, well we were all just really agreeing to try them. So there was an openness to, “Hey, if this doesn’t work, then we’re going to shift. We’re going to try something else.”

So that means that whoever is bringing that approach to the group needs to be agnostic and open, truly open. Is that kind of helpful to understand why we found ourselves in this place where we need to be agnostic? Because some people ask for Agile, and then we show up and say, “Well, tell us what the problem is that you’re trying to solve.” And others will ask for more of a design thinking and customer discovery or voice of the customer, or maybe ideation session. Regardless of what they ask for, we take a step back and we say, “Well, tell us about the problems. Tell us about the context. Tell us who’s involved. Tell us what they care about, why they care about it.” When we have that discussion, sometimes the thing that we need to do is something we haven’t done yet. That’s us being truly agnostic.

Douglas:  I think there’s a lot of humility in that too. What you speak to is this idea of being at a point where all the stakeholders from the beginning have a lot of alignment. There’s a shared understanding. That’s really hard to be certain of if we’re just using jargon.

Trisha:  Right.

Douglas:  If I say we need an Agile transformation and Susan goes, “Yeah, Agile transformation, that’s exactly what we need.” Then Brenda says, “Oh yeah, Agile transformation all the way.” And then Barbara says, “Yes, let’s do it.”

Trisha:  What did we just agree to?

Douglas:  Yeah. It’s like, do we even know what we’re talking about? Probably not.

Trisha:  Right. Yeah. I find that when you really get people talking about their hopes and their fears, if you can create the psychological safety for that, you quickly get down to really practical things. I was given a five million dollar budget for this, but if I can’t prove that something’s working by the time we’ve spent $500,000, then I might not get that whole four or five million dollar budget. So here’s what I’m thinking initially. So just letting a product owner be vulnerable or that investor be vulnerable and putting that problem out there for the people who are a creator team to own it. That I find gets really practical fast.

Then if you do have somebody who knows a method like, this seems like we should use a design sprint, or we’re going to use design thinking, and we’re going to do some paper prototypes, or whatever approach you’re going to use, if it seems to apply, you’re going to now apply it, knowing what’s most important to people. You can already start to assess where that approach may fail for those needs, or it might succeed for those needs. So, yeah, I agree. It comes from a place of humility and a little bit of that daredevil, you have to be willing to try anyway and be the one … It gives people a lot of confidence when I, or somebody else says, you know what, let’s try it for X weeks or X iterations or whatever you’re asking for agreement for. If it doesn’t work out, then I’ll be the one that says, Hey, it was my idea. Let’s try something else. Or this approach didn’t work. We’ll use a different approach. We’ll customize. Maybe we’ll make a small adjustment. Maybe we’ll make a big adjustment.

Douglas:  Often, I’ve found if everyone’s really aligned on the purpose of what we’re trying to do, the method, the approach, all that kind of doesn’t matter.

Trisha:  Yep.

Douglas:  If they’re bought in and they’re really feeling ownership around where this needs to go, the approach can morph on the fly and no one’s offended by the selection of the approach, because all the problems that typically come out of this stuff is typically because we’re not aligned.

Trisha:  It’s funny you say that, because we run a stakeholder alignment session, and I would say it’s our most popular session.

Douglas:  100%.

Trisha:  Surprise, surprise.

Douglas:  I had a note. I wanted to bring up pushback with you. I think this is a great way to frame it. Because I was thinking about when you’re telling that story about realizing this three smiles outcome, that’s right.

Trisha:  That triple happy face. Yeah.

Douglas:  I feel like there’s a scenario, a version of not getting there, that’s caused by someone pushing back or not being completely in alignment or agreement with this mindset or this way of thinking. But somehow just going along with it, and they’re like, okay, if that’s what you think. They basically got sold. And this is where this word buy-in comes up a lot. We got to get them bought in. So they got sold on this idea and they’re like, “All right, well I’ll give you six months to prove that it works.” This is the classic CEO being like, “I don’t buy this design thinking stuff, but if you can do it in six months.” I feel like that’s destined for failure out of the gate because we didn’t spend the time getting alignment and understanding. Instead, we’re up against this naysayer who’s like out to disprove it the whole way.

Trisha:  Yeah. So two mentors told me early in my career to listen to the active objectors because they’re thinking and they’re saying what the active resistors, or passive resistors. That’s right. What the passive resistors are thinking, and the people who just go along because they’re good sports and what do I have to lose? Well, they could accidentally go along with the wrong thing if you’re not listening to those active objectors. So those active objectors, if they have a valid concern or a valid point, we should be able to address that.

So I guess I’m kind of going into solutioning, but that was some great advice that I got early on was to really listen to those objections. As a matter of fact, I often encourage servant leaders. If you’re going through some type of what you call a transformation, a digital transformation, Agile transformation or some type of cultural movement, that they really listen to the impediments and actually create a lot of transparency around them. Maybe admit, I’m not doing anything about this right now, but I will.

The reason for that is that impediments are usually connected to objections. If you really listen to them and you dig in to remove them, you’ll either find out that … hopefully this wasn’t true, but is true sometimes, that some of those objections are just phantom objections or phantom impediments because somebody was uncomfortable. But at least you took them seriously. You treated people with respect. But on the other hand, plenty of times you discover, wow, that really was a real per problem. The reason that people were upset and the reason that they were saying it’s not going to work, and the reason they were doubtful is that they knew something and they just weren’t able to articulate it yet.

Douglas:  Mm.

Trisha:  So I’m reinforcing your point that, if you really create that opportunity for people to bring up, this is what I’m concerned about or afraid of, or sometimes they don’t use the words concerned about or afraid because those are emotional words. They’ll say “this won’t work because,” but what they’re really saying is, “I’m afraid that you’re ignoring this blocker and that when it fails, it’s going to cause a lot of pain for me and you, et cetera.” So for what it’s worth, that’s some advice that I’ve found fruitful year over year.

Douglas:  Those emotions tend to pop up in all sorts of ways. It can manifest in those very tricky to deal with moments and a facilitation that kind of comes out of nowhere. It’s like, why is this person giving me so much or making my life so hard as a facilitator? It’s like, oh, let me step back and go, well, what are they struggling with?

Trisha:  Yeah.

Douglas:  This is just a manifestation of something else.

Trisha:  Yeah. Ben Atkinson, who we have been talking to, he’s a really bright guy. We connected on LinkedIn. He recently taught the dojo to kind of learn about … I think it’s called a KIA arc where people fall. There are people who really fall on that creative end, where they are really open to change and trying things and they just want to be heard. Then there are other people who want to be heard for a different reason. They have all this practical skill and knowledge and they’re really concerned about the details, and they can see things before everybody else. So I would add that apparently there’s some really good research on those people who are objecting and are pushing back, that there’s a solid reason to listen to them.

Douglas:  100%. Often novice facilitators look at that as, how do I shut this down, rather than invite it.

Trisha:  Right.

Douglas:  We’re kind of running out of time and I want to hear a little bit about what’s next for the dojo. Where are things headed?

Trisha:  Well, okay. So first of all, we are naturally expanding. One thing we haven’t talked about, that I would love to chat with people about, is team building around this type of work, because it is creative work. It’s really important to have a diverse set of perspectives and skill sets and people who are really willing to collaborate and teach each other. So that’s where we are right now. Where I perceive that we’re going is I think we are really going to stretch and explore and prove out … I hope we prove out how well it can work with a creative team when you focus on hiring people, not only for their existing skill, but also for this value system of they naturally like to collaborate and help others succeed. They’re okay with taking feedback, they invite it.

They have that continuous growth mindset that they really are here in service to the goals and that they’re willing to put goals in front of maybe their own immediate concerns, and that they are able to communicate and articulate what they need in order to succeed. So there’s kind of this value system that we’ve been using to hire people, that they’re really passionate about the work and the mission, but moreover, are they able to really collaborate and do they want other team members and our clients to succeed more than they want to, say, look good or be perfect, or whatever, that they’re willing to experiment and take those risks.

So what’s next for us is I’d love to be able to share what happens with that with other people, and also hear from maybe other people who are ahead of me and already succeeding in that area so that we can continue to grow, because we’re growing based on this virtual manual facilitation, but we’re also looking for ways to automate what we do, because you can’t scale five people at a time. So some human element will always be necessary, but in 2022 and 2023, I see us challenging how much we can automate just like you have. You had to create your own tool in order to automate the repetition of the end of your facilitation to get your roses and thorns feedback.

Douglas:  Yeah, lots more to it as well.

Trisha:  That’s true.

Douglas:  There’s lots of things that you start to notice about, man, why am I doing this so much?

Trisha:  Right, right, right.

Douglas:  You just lean in and try to make it better.

Trisha:  Yeah. So I guess what’s next for us is those experiments around, I guess I should say, learning from those experiments about how we’re building our team and the way we’re working together, combined with what are we going to automate? How can we automate, and will it really help us multiply the results that we feel so good about?

Douglas:  Awesome. Well, I’d like to end by asking you to leave our listeners with the final thought.

Trisha:  Yeah. So if I could end with a final thought, I’d really prefer to end with an invitation. If there are other people out here who hear the podcast today, and they’re passionate about fostering innovation and they really believe that creating a collaborative space and facilitating that collaborative space for other people to run experiments and bringing together the expertise and the capabilities of the people around them is what they’re passionate about, or they believe that they can get better results in the world and make a difference in the world, then I’d love to talk to them. I invite them to reach out, because I’d like to hear what you’re currently doing that’s working. I’d like to hear what’s not working, and I’m happy to share the same from our perspective, if that learning is useful to other people.

Douglas:  So fantastic. I love the learning mindset and I love the focus on values. So important. Well, thank you so much for joining me today, Trisha. I really appreciate it and always enjoy our conversations. Just thanks so much for joining.

Trisha:  Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a pleasure.

Douglas:  Thanks for joining me for another episode of Control The Room. Don’t forget to subscribe, to receive updates when new episodes are released. If you want more, head over to our blog, where I post weekly articles and resources about working better together. Voltagecontrol.com.