Problem Solving Leadership – one month & still learning

It has been a month since I have attended the Problem Solving Leadership course (19th-24th June 2016 – Albuquerque, New Mexico), with Gerald Weinberg and Esther Derby, and while taking the time to reflect, I thought of turning my journal entry into an article.

What motivated me to attend the problem solving leadership course?

My roles is in software development as Scrum Master and company coach on agile practices. I have to act in different ways depending on the situation and facilitate others’ meetings when requested.

Previously, I had a chance to see Esther’s facilitation at work and became really interested in something else that she was facilitating on problem solving leadership.

I wanted to learn more about facilitation, about problem solving, about leadership and about myself.

How to get there?

Well, there is a long queue and the course gets full in a week, so be prepared to be quick.

Also, it is quite far. Jerry does not travel much anymore, that means that we had to travel there.

The place is the very hot Albuquerque (any Breaking Bad fans around?).

Starting a course on a Sunday morning in the summer, in the middle of a desert does not sound very comfortable, but the people were still there.

Finding the Americans in a strong minority was another good sign: people were coming from all around the world and willing to spend even 24h travelling to get there.

It is definitely a place where you find commitment amongst participants.

Who was at the problem solving leadership course?

Oddly for me, out of 20+ people, I was the only one who was not referred by somebody else. It was not so odd for the organisers. Actually, Jerry was almost surprised to see that I was not a referral 🙂

That was definitely a good start.

I was among Scrum Masters, Agile Coaches, Managers, Team Leaders. Each one of them with incredibly good stories to share.

You will never see a powerpoint slide over the 6 days of the course

Everything will be learned in an ‘experiential’ environment.

We started the first day with some skepticism:

  • many unknown people,
  • unknown exercises in front of us,
  • an incredibly low volume and deep voice to follow (that’s Jerry).

We got to know each other by working in teams. And we played as teams for the whole time. We took responsibilities as teams and we collaborated with other teams.

What did we do?

We ran simulations with problems to solve. Some of us observed the simulations and reported on them.

We learnt about how much damage we can do by interpreting what we see in the wrong way.

And we experienced how damaging it is in making assumptions.

We learnt how to describe a newly created problem to others, the pitfalls in our assumptions as the creators and how novel solutions can come to life; solutions that none of the problem creators could think of.

We collaborated for problem solving, and we facilitated problem solving for others.

I learnt that facilitating a team of facilitators is one difficult task! It is so easy to get caught discussing the content and so easy for the rest to suggest different ways of handling the process.

I learned that I made too many assumptions. This is a key learning and in just 6 days my way of approaching problems has changed for the better.

I observed how having a deep customer relationship is key to success, even in a simulation.

In addition to this, I observed how individuals and entire teams get isolated from others, so naturally that they don’t even notice until asked.

I had a chance to learn from other people’s stories and to know brilliant minds who solve difficult problems every day in their companies.

I reinforced the habit of reflecting. We never went from one exercise to the next without a reflecting session, where all the learning consolidated.

Continuous learning

The learning never really ends.

I had a chance to talk with some of the people that I met at the course and they are also still learning from it. I noticed what I could not notice, and it made my work life much more entertaining.

The stories about people learning years after seem to be true 🙂

I wonder how will I be a year from now.

In conclusion, this was an extraordinary chance that I had, and even though some of the concepts are gradually being included in other material, it is still worth participating.

It is still a powerful experience now, and I wonder how much of a difference this would have made in 1974, the first year it ran.

Not even a photo?

No, sorry. You don’t have to go there because it looks nice. I went there because I trusted who is running the course, others attended because they got the feedback from somebody who went there in the past.

My feedback is not about the artefacts we created, or the content; my feedback is about awareness and the different ways of approaching problems and collaboration that resulted from it. That is why I will not add any pictures about it.

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