Books, Change

Elephant, rider and path

Book review for “Switch: How to change things when change is hard” from Chip & Dan Heath (Random House Business, 2011, 320 pages)

“Switch” addresses the question of why we experience change as hard, in person and in business. The book is entertaining, easy to read and educational.

The authors Dan and Chip Heath describe in “Switch” what has to be considered in order to enable change: Each of us has an emotional elephant within us as well as a rational rider. Both must be reached to enable the change. At the same time, the path must be shaped for the elephant and rider to move easily forward. The idea of ​​the emotional elephant and the rational rider has its origin in the psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s book “The Happiness Hypothesis”.

The challenge of change is often due to the fact that the rider and the elephant do not agree: we are rationally aware that something has to change. However, if the emotional elephant does not feel addressed or disagrees, we will not move a bit. (Even if the rider sits on the elephant with reins and shouts out loud.) However, if we manage to address the elephant successfully, the elephant’s strengths are also evident: e.g. perseverance, loyalty, real instinct.

To enable change, according to to the book, three things have to be taken into consideration: direct the rider, motivate the elephant and shape the path.
Each of these aspects is discussed in more detail in the book.

For steering the rider, we should e.g. look at what works already and try to scale that. (In contrast to a lengthy analysis of the problems without advancement.) To motivate the elephant, we should e.g. find an emotion that is related to the change and / or that deals with the change in small, sequential steps or intermediate goals. (Big changes trigger greater resistance and corresponding demotivation.) To shape the path, it helps e.g. to optimize or adjust the environment, conditions or situation of those involved.

In numerous examples, the authors describe how this can be realized: A company manages to reduce expenses considerably by optimizing the number and purchase of different working gloves. This is not done by a rational statement of costs in a presentation. No, the responsible person stacks the 424 (!) different pairs of working gloves with price tags on the conference table of the decision makers and thus achieves not only the rational rider but also the emotional elephant: “So many different gloves. That’s crazy.”

Other success stories: Two health researchers manage to increase the market share of low-fat milk by making advertising messages very clear. A program to help malnourished children in Vietnam reaches 2.2 million people in 265 villages in just a short time, resulting in 65% of children being fed sustainably better. The program takes existing structures that already work successfully and scales them.

Although the book is written in a typical American entertaining style, the book is for anyone who has to do with change. Since reading the book, I better understand why changes in companies do not go easy – Mostly because only the rider is addressed.

Get “Switch: How to change things when change is hard” from your favorite book store >>

Books, Good Question!, Meeting Facilitation

Activity for Team-Building event: The one thing…

The other week the team I’m working with as a Scrum Master had their first team event. We tried an activity that I found quite useful: The one thing I didn’t know about you before this meeting.

Some of the team members know each other already from working together in former teams, others just joined the team or our company and are not very familiar with the others. Our team event was planned for only half a day, the activity was an ongoing activity until the team stand-up the next morning.

At the beginning of the event I presented The one thing I didn’t know about you before this meeting simply on a flip-chart with a QR code and explained the rules:
team building activity

“During the event find out one thing about every team member that you didn’t know before the event. Remember it and post it via the Google Drive Form that is linked to the QR code.”

The Result

The result the next morning was a long list of things we discovered about our team members that we didn’t know about before the event. So with 10 team members we gathered over 90 things. Of course, everyone got access to the list and could read what the others found out about others and about oneself.

Not all of mentioned things can be taken seriously, but we definitely learnt new stuff about the others. When we start to share other aspects of our lives than work with our colleagues, we also start to speak openly with them about other things. Here is again a connection to Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. (Read related post “Job or Joy” here)

the one thingWhy I liked the activity?

  • It is an on-going activity during the team event.
  • It is easy to generate via Google Drive From.
  • It has a straight-forward list as a result.
  • It has a “Nerd” flavour. (Uuuh! QR code! Uuuh! Type in stuff with my mobile phone! Uuuh! So cool. :))
  • It influenced the “quality” of small-talk during the team event as you needed(wanted to gather data…

If you try this activity, please let me know your experiences.

Books, Conference et al., Meeting Facilitation

Gamestroming Retreat

We need to collaborate more within our teams, with our managers and with our customers. Books like Gamestorming (David Gray) and Innovation Games (Luke Hohmann) or websites like and foster fresh practices for facilitating innovations when gathering in meetings or workshops with others. Last week-end I took part in a Gamestorming Retreat at The Hub Vienna.

Like a Code Retreat the Gamestorming Retreat is a day-long, intensive event focusing on enhancing your skills as a facilitator using the practices mentioned above. It is not about getting to know those practices, but rather to intensify on how to use and practice those while getting lots of feedback from the other participants.

The event in Vienna was facilitated by Michael Lausegger (@michael_lausser ) and Clemens Böge (@Beraterei_Boege), the about 12 participants came from different areas. The common theme for this Retreat was Team Development.

After the warm-up, Clemens and Michael shortly described the theory on one flip chart only:

Gamestorming on one flipchart

What followed was practicing this theory in three rounds with three practices:

I used and played all of the practices already before in workshops and retrospectives; still it was awesome to watch how others were facilitating and how different improvisations of the practice lead to different results or problems.

The Gamestorming Retreat Vienna was a great experience: It is helpful for everyone who wants to train her facilitation skills in Gamestorming and who wants to share her experiences with other facilitators.

If I was not living in Munich, I would definitely visit the next Retreat. Actually I’m thinking about organizing a Gamestroming Retreat in Munich. If you are interested, please contact me.

BTW: My team won the Marshmellow Challenge! 🙂

Books, Good Question!, Meeting Facilitation, Scrum, Scrumban

Check-In Activity for Agile Retrospectives

Fortunately retrospectives are already a standard at our company now. Not only our developers teams, but also our sales team, our team assistents and as of late also our management (surprisingly, the last.. :)) have regular retrospectives. Because it has become standard to have retrospectives there is also the chance of falling into a dull routine, both for the team members and the facilitator (mostly myself). To counteract this dull routine we try to do different activities. I tried the following Check-In activity in the last weeks:

Esther Derby and Diana Larsen suggest in their book “Agile Retrospectives” as a Check-In activity to ask every participant “In one or two words: What are your hopes or wishes for this retrospective”. No post-its, no explanation, just one or two words. This always works great.

This question inspired me to ask participants an even more general question as a Check-In excercise: “Why are we doing retrospectives anyway?” I do this as a kind of fast brainstorming and jot everything down on a flipchart. It is surprising what the participants are coming up with. I heard everything from “I don’t know.” (Oops!) and “Because you told us to.” (Ooooooops!) to “Kaizen. Continuous Improvement.” (Thx.) and “We don’t want to do mistakes a second time.” (!!!)

It is also a good excercise to remind the participants of the principles of the agile manifest, one of them is: “At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.” (Dare to ask if everyone knows and understands the Agile Manifesto… and maybe be surprised.)

And, of course, it is a good excercise to jolt the participants from their retrospective routine.

BTW: I recognized only days ago that Esther Derby and Diana Larsen book “Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great” is legally available also as eBook! Buy it!

Books, Meeting Facilitation

Job or Joy & The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Some weeks ago I was asked to facilitate the warm-up for our management offsite. It was the first offsite for this group of people as there had been some changes in the management lately. I thought it would be a good idea to start with “Job or Joy” and then raise the participant’s awareness of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team from Patrick Lencioni.

I found “Job or Joy” on It “helps you discover what you and your colleagues like best and least about your jobs” and it also helps you to get to know your colleagues better in general.

You need to prepare a (big) chart with four quadrants and name those joy, hobbies, chores and job. Explain to the participants what the exercise is about and then give them about 5 minutes to write as many post-its about themselves for each quadrant as they like. After that each participant introduces her-/himself to the group while sticking the post-its in the corresponding quadrant.


Here are two observations that will most probably happen with any group:

  1. Every participant will learn something “new” about another participant, no matter how long they have known each other or have worked together: “I didn’t know that you like/hate…”
  2. There are more post-its on the upper half (Likes) than on the lower half (Dislikes). Actually there are the most post-its in the “hobbies” quadrant.

Here are some non-scientific explanations? 🙂
We think we already know colleagues we’ve been working together for a long time. Often we reduce them to a person of our working life and forget about the fact that there’s more to life than work. With “Job or Joy” you learn more about your colleagues and recognize (again) more the person than her/his job activities. (“It’s the person John and not the developer John.”)

It seems very natural, that we prefer to talk about what we like than to talk about what we don’t like. That explains why there are more post-its in the upper half of the chart.
But wouldn’t it be great to have at least the same amount of post-its (likes) on the right and left quadrant of the upper half? Like writing a project report is the same joyful activity as playing soccer. Any suggestions here? 🙂

The connection to Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team:
When we start to share other aspects of our lives than work with our colleagues, we also start to speak openly with them about other things. Additionally we start to lower our protection shields. And all this starts to build trust which would be a starting point for overcoming the first dysfunction of a team.

five-dysfunctions-of-a-teamIn functional teams, team members feel comfortable with being exposed to the others and to honestly admit: “I made a mistake.” or “I need help.” or “I’m sorry.” or “You can do this much better than me.” Furthermore it is also a great sign of trust within a team, when you can openly address that you don’t like what is/has happened.

Not all members of the management read the book already. But I think they at least got a little curious, especially after I mentioned that the story of the book is actually about a management team at an offsite… 😉

As Lencioni describes in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team it is, of course, not that easy to establish trust with only one excercise. Nevertheless “Job or Joy” seems to be a great exercise to start overcoming the first dysfunction of a team: “Trust”.