BEWARE THE HiPPO
Hippos are dangerous creatures, killing approximately 500 people per year (according to the google search I just did). Almost 3 tonnes of muscle and teeth with a aggressive territorial attitude. Which is far from what the cartoons tell us growing up.
But these are not the Hippos I actually want to talk about today.
I want to talk about the kind you find in an office!
You have probably seen this happen if you have attended a meeting or two:
A decision has to be made > Options are suggested > There is some discussion about the options > Then the most executive voice in the room has an opinion on an option and suddenly the discussion stops being about which option is best! From that point on the centre of discussion is around how to make the executive choice happen.
While it may seem like it is useful to shortcut to a decisive focus. That in no way means that the choice was the best one! To be blunt, this is awful for solutioning and breeds a culture which stifles creativity and open collaboration. All in all it is a pretty miserable experience for the majority of people involved.
Now, I am not having a go at the people who are in those positions. This seems to be a pretty standard symptom of operating under the popular waterfall like processes which dominate many office spaces today.
Well that could be many things but I think we are safe to say that fear plays a big part.
The fear to challenge a "superior" who could react badly to being questioned.
The fear of being made to look stupid by a more confident speaker.
The fear of being responsible if your point of view is chosen over the executive's.
This is just naming a few off the top of my head. Full disclosure, these are fears I have felt in these situations and I have a sneaking suspicion that I am not alone.
In short people don't feel safe to speak. Which kills communication. As we all know by now the key to success is open communication!
What can we do about this in an agile setting? Well I am still trying to figure that out myself. In many ways I feel lucky that at my company we have an engaged executive management team who are taking the time to be involved with the process. However I am always on the look out for this kind of interaction.
We are trying to foster a culture of being "safe to fail" in which failure is not seen as a negative and is taken as a step in learning and growth. This is helping people feel that they can share new ideas and try out new methods. Empowering people to be more confident in these situations.
As a Scrum Master, sometimes I take it upon myself to be the one to open the discussion back up by challenging the HiPPO. Not necessarily directly but in a way which steers the conversation back to looking at the benefits of other options.
I am hopeful that we can change peoples mentalities when approaching these situations. It is a journey with a long road!
We want to empower people to bring their insight and expertise to the table without fear. Another part of this is we also want executives to take on the role of enabling that empowerment, perhaps through servant leadership.
I am in no way saying that executives should be excluded. Quite the contrary! Let us acknowledge that they have the power to influence a room; wouldn't it incredibly effective if that power was used to bring the best out the people employed for their various talents! Just think about that for a moment.
And with that I will wrap this up with a quote from Lao Tzu:
A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.
Be seeing you!