The 5 psychological barriers to agile transformation


I recently listened to an excellent “You are not so smart” podcast where Per Espen Stoknes talked about the psychological barriers to climate change action.

The messages within the podcast are very similar to the barriers i’ve faced helping individuals and teams be more agile


I’ve taken Per Espen Stoknes 5D’s model and applied it to my context:

  1. Distance –  “Agile is just for software development teams” Many see agile as a distant approach which doesn’t apply to them. This is particularly amplified when teams such as operations, HR and Legal are physically distant from development. Another example is that teams often feel an agile future is too far into the future. If as coaches we say that agile will be a “long journey” temporal discounting kicks in and teams think we’ll just wait for the trend to pass.
  2. Doom“70% of fortune 1000 companies have vanished in the last 10 years”. This is a common quote used to stir up urgency for change. Whilst this statement is factually true, we are psychologically wired to ignore these messages, known as Normalcy bias. Messages such as “The end is nigh” are sent straight to the trash bin in our brains.
  3. Dissonance – If what we know conflicts with what we do then cognitive dissonance kicks in. A great example is when managers know that teams work best when they are self-organised but continue to adopt a command-and-control management style. A manager may explain this away by saying “This team are just not mature enough to be self-organising.”
  4. Denial – Ask most teams and they are quick to say “We are already agile”. Teams often deny that they need to improve. Upon further discussion this is often because the change triggers fear and guilt. Many teams i’ve worked with fear that they will be found out as an underperforming team and thus punished. It’s not surprise that in these cases self-defence mechanisms often trigger.
  5. iDentiy – Agile is a value based approach and requires people to examine their personal values. This triggers a deep identity crisis within many. For example a manager who is asked to give up their management role and become a development team member can trigger a serious identity crisis. It is also important to be aware that people are more likely to to listen to those who share their values. Therefore who delivers the change message can just as important than what is says.

Here are some coaching questions which might help you think of ways to overcome these barriers in your organisation:

  1. How could you create a bridge to connect separate teams so that the feeling of distance is reduced? (Distance)
  2. What would be a more positive way to phrase this? (Doom)
  3. What success stories could i share? (Doom)
  4. What systems can i put in place that allows people to behave in ways aligned to what they know? (Dissonance)
  5. How can i be a mirror to reflect back the dissonance to people within the organisation when it occurs? (Dissonance)
  6. How can i make teams feel safe when they work with me? (Denial)
  7. Who could support me in sharing the message with the organisation? (iDentiy)

The biases mentioned in this blog are listed here:

I strongly recommend listening to the podcast here:




Is your coaching Transactional or Transformational?


On my journey to become a coach I’ve learnt that it is as much about my own personal growth as it is of the people I serve. To build transformational coaching relationships, I must first grow myself.

Transactional coaching is focused on actions. It is focused on achieving a certain set of steps to move towards some outcome. For example, public speaking. Transactional coaching would focus on the actions to be more comfortable with public speaking. For example, breathing techniques, adopting a power pose before the talk or improving the presentation slides. A transactional coach may ask questions like “What could you do before the talk to calm your nerves?”, “What could you do if you get nervous on stage?” The focus is often on the presenting symptoms rather than the underlying cause.

Transformational coaching is focused on the whole person. It helps a person create an awareness of the factors contributing to the achievement of their challenge or goal. Often these contributing factors stem from our limiting beliefs, assumptions and values formed from our past experiences. Using the example of public speaking, a Transformational coach will ask questions to explore the underlying causes. “What is important about becoming a public speaker?”, “What has contributed to nerves or tension before a talk?”, “What are the beliefs associated to your public speaking ability?”, “What are your needs?” The results from transformational coaching often lead to long term success.

As a coach, how do I provide transformational coaching? Although transactional coaching does have a place and can often lead to success, there are times after a  coaching session that i think the relationship could of gone deeper.

So, what is preventing a transformational coaching relationship from forming?


Often it is my own fear and inability to be vulnerable that prevents coaching relationships going to that to that place of Transformation. Carl Rogers highlights that to create transformational moments, as coaches we need to show empathy, unconditional positive regard and be congruent. To be empathetic, I need to enter the shoes of another but often I’m scared to do that. To show unconditional positive regard, I need to suspend judgement but often I judge. To be congruent I need to show vulnerability but often I hide my emotions.

These points are a great example of why coaches need coaching and supervision. If coaches are to create transformational relationships we too must grow and develop.

What coaching do you provide?

What beliefs, values and assumptions are you holding that could be preventing those transformational relationships?

How to supercharge a workshop with Learning Maps


I’m sure we have all been to many workshops and the first thing a facilitator presents is the agenda for the day. If you are lucky this might be on a flip chart or even worse its powerpoint slide 1 of 100. Your initial thoughts, this is going to be a long day.

Introducing Learning Maps

Learning Maps are an interactive and metaphorical way to present your agenda. People learn best through experience so a learning map creates an instant connection to the workshop topics.

Here is a Learning Map I used at a Coaching workshop:

file-1 (1)

This Learning Map consists of the following elements:

  1. A metaphor, in this case an island, which allows learners to connect to the topic in a simple way. The agenda is represented by the different places on the island (Coaching Caves, Lagoon…..)
  2. A mixture of words and images which engage different parts of the learners brain.
  3. Blank space for the learner to record their thoughts before and after the workshop which is good for reflective practice. Also enough blank space for the learner to make the map their own.

My inspiration for Learning Maps comes from Sharon Bowman, author of Training from the Back of the Room. In the book she explains that through Learning Maps learners will:

  • Create visual images of important concepts
  • Engage in a variety of ways to learn: visual/spatial, linguistic, logical/mathematical, and kinaesthetic.
  • Use both hemispheres of their neocortex or thinking brain
  • Lengthen long-term retention of important information
  • Remain involved and engaged throughout the entire direct instruction
  • Leave the training with a visually interesting reminder of what they learned.

So next time you are facilitating a workshop why not try out using a Learning Map. They are a really simple but super powerful tool to help boost your learners experience!


Powerful Coaching Questions at Tate Modern Gallery


Asking Powerful Questions is one of the foundations of Coaching.  Asking questions that go beyond what is obvious enables the Coachee to think more deeply about a Goal or Challenge.

The Tate Modern Start Display has some great Powerful Questions inviting the visitor to go beyond the obvious and think more deeply about the art on display. This certainly provoked my own deeper thoughts.

Here are some examples:




Tate Modern + Babel + Mental Models + Dialogue + Agile Transformation


This weekend I took a trip to Tate Modern, London. One of the exhibitions that caught my eye was Cildo Meireles ‘Babel’ (2001)


Babel 2001 is a large-scale sculptural installation that takes the form of a circular tower made from hundreds of second-hand analogue radios that the artist has stacked in layers. The radios are tuned to a multitude of different stations and are adjusted to the minimum volume at which they are audible. Nevertheless, they compete with each other and create a cacophony of low, continuous sound, resulting in inaccessible information, voices or music.

In describing this work, Meireles refers to a ‘tower of incomprehension’ (quoted in Tate Modern 2008, p.168). The installation manifests, quite literally, a Tower of Babel, relating it to the biblical story of a tower tall enough to reach the heavens, which, offending God, caused him to make the builders speak in different tongues. Their inability to communicate with one another caused them to become divided and scatter across the earth and, moreover, became the source of all of mankind’s conflicts.

Agile Transformation and the ‘tower of incomprehension’

Immersed in the installation it dawned upon me that this is a perfect representation of Agile Transformation. The ‘tower of incomprehension’ represented the many different people involved across an organisation and their language of transformation. It was almost like the radios in Cildo Meireles’ installation were the voices of the organisation.

How can we avoid the ‘tower of incomprehension’?

This becomes incredibly difficult in any large scale change journey. A core transformation team might build a strong understanding of the vision, goals and language of the transformation but how does this spread through the organisation. Building a shared vision and mental models as the transformation spreads through the organisation is one strategy that can help. Shared Mental Models is one of the disciplines that Peter Senge highlights in a Learning Organisation. To help build shared mental models Senge talks about David Bohm’s Dialogue:

Dialogue is a way of observing, collectively, how hidden values and intentions can control our behavior, and how unnoticed cultural differences can clash without our realizing what is occurring. It can therefore be seen as an arena in which collective learning takes place and out of which a sense of increased harmony, fellowship and creativity can arise.


Bohm highlights that three conditions are required to enter Dialogue:

  1. All participants must “suspend” their assumptions, literally to hold them “as if suspended before us”;

  2. All participants must regard one another as colleagues;

  3. There must be a ‘facilitator’ who ‘holds the context’ of dialogue. (Senge, p. 243)

Is your organisation creating a ‘tower of incomprehension’?

If so, try experimenting with shared mental models through dialogue which in turn might help to build a tower of transformation.



Do you have an inclusive Kanban board?



Most Agile teams use a Kanban board to visualise their work no matter what Agile Framework they are following. These Kanban boards come in the form of either physical or digital boards.

Recently i’ve been helping teams adopt physical Kanban boards and it was during this we came across an interesting challenge. One afternoon i was helping the team experiment with some colour coding on their board. This was so they could highlight important information, in this specific case, how long an item had been in each column. The team decided to colour code each column and a matching coloured dot would be placed on the Post-It note for each day it was in that column. This would then allow the team to calculate cycle time. It was during this experiment we encountered an interesting challenge. One of the team members was colour blind.

We discovered that the colour coding that we’d chosen between the columns wasn’t going to work. Over the next few minutes we talked about some different approaches and found some colour differences that were notable enough for the team member to see clearly. We’d solved the problem and the team learned much more about colour blindness! You can learn about colour blindness here too here

It was through this situation i reflected; How inclusive are our Kanban boards?

My attention was grabbed even more when i attended an excellent talk from Dr. Sally Freudenberg on Inclusive Collaboration & Neuro-Diversity. In the talk Sal highlighted how to take a more inclusive approach to collaboration by embracing the different needs of people in diverse teams. In particular, she highlighted how Visual Timetables, such as Kanban boards, can provide a highly inclusive approach. Sal explores Visual Timetables more in her book: The Inclusive Collaboration Experiments.

Does your team have an Inclusive Kanban board?

Try this 5 minute test:

1. Can everyone read text on the Kanban Board?

It was through asking this question that a team member revealed “Honestly, i have never been able to read anything on the board during Stand Up. I always have to double check later on.”

2. Is the position of the board distracting for anyone sat near the board?

In Sal’s talk she highlighted that these big bright colourful boards can actually be really distracting. We spoke to people in the visible area of the Kanban board to ask if it was distracting, thankfully not. We also placed a notice on the board welcoming feedback at anytime.

3. Is the use of colour inclusive? Can everyone see the differences? For example Blocker or Bug stickies

We used the different colours as described but you could also experiment with different shapes or symbols.

4. Is the use of the board consistent? Is the flow through the board obvious? Are there written policies?

I also learned from Sals talk that routines can play an important part in the life of someone with autism. Having clear policies on your Kanban can be good for someone with autism and also the rest of the team. I’ve known teams to move stuff around the board without any real consistency of shared understanding across the team of why. Clear policies can help avoid this.

5. Is there a way to add a touch and feel effect to the board?

You can read about the Neuroscience of touch here. Some team members will respond to touch and feel differently. You can add another dimension to your boards by using simple household objects such as lego, pasta (seriously!), pipe cleaners and pom poms. These are particularly useful for Touchable avatars.

I’d love to see some examples of your Inclusive Kanban boards.

For further ideas of how to make your Kanban boards inclusive take a look at the W3C Web Accessibility Guidelines. Many of those are relevant for physical or digital Kanban boards.

 – Toby Sinclair @TobySinclair_

Blog image taken from where you can find more examples of Kanban boards.

5 Brilliant Coaching Models


Barefoot Business and Personal Coaching Course
Module 1
27th – 30th January 2017

Here are 5 Brilliant Coaching Topics i learnt on Module 1 of Barefoot Business and Personal Coaching Course:

#1 – Human Given Needs


Human givens approach is grounded in an evolutionary understanding of human nature. It proposes that evolution has endowed all members of our species, regardless of race or culture, with a common set of innate physical and emotional needs along with a set of innate physical, emotional and psychological resources. [1]

#2 – ABC Model


The ABC Model is one of the most famous cognitive behavioural therapy techniques for analysing your thoughts, behaviour and emotions. [2]

#3 – Locus of Control


Within psychology, Locus of Control is considered to be an important aspect of personality.  The concept was developed originally Julian Rotter in the 1950s.

Locus of Control refers to an individual’s perception about the underlying main causes of events in his/her life.  Or, more simply:

Do you believe that your destiny is controlled by yourself or by external forces (such as fate, god, or powerful others)? [3]

#4 – Self Determination Theory


Self-Determination Theory (SDT) is a theory of motivation. It is concerned with supporting our natural or intrinsic tendencies to behave in effective and healthy ways. [4]

#5  – Iceberg Model


The Iceberg Coaching Model addresses how a person represents themselves in the world (exposed part of the iceberg) and what their motivations are (unseen, submerged part of the iceberg). [5]

You can find more about Barefoot Coaching Business and Personal Coaching course here