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Linda Rising: How to Listen to Understand and How to Share to Gain

Richard Kasperowski interviews Linda Rising. Linda is an independent consultant and speaker with vast experience in telecommunications, avionics, and other industries. She is an author or a co-author of four books, including the Fearless Change: Patterns for Introducing New Ideas. Linda takes me on a tour of her eventful career and shares with me the lessons she learned along the way. When you finish listening to the episode, connect with Linda on Twitter  and make sure to visit her website at www.lindarising.com.

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TRANSCRIPT

Richard: (00:11) Hi friends. Welcome back to With Great People, the podcast for high performance teams. I’m Richard Kasperowski. In this episode I talked with Linda Rising, an independent consultant and speaker. Linda is the author of four books and countless journal articles on agile, retrospectives, patterns, and organizational change. She shares some of the lessons she’s learned from her vast experience as an academic and practitioner in telecommunications, avionics, and other industries. It all boils down to one simple piece of advice. Learn to listen. I invite you to listen and I hope you enjoy it. To support this podcast, visit my website, kasperowski.com. So, our special guest today is Linda Rising. Hi, Linda, it’s great to have you here.

Linda: (01:04)
Hey, it’s great to be here, Richard. Thanks for inviting me.

Richard: (01:07)
Oh, it’s my pleasure and it really is a pleasure. It’s one of the rewards of producing a podcast. I get to talk to really cool people who I admire and love, and [crosstalk 00:01:17] with me here today. Thanks.

Linda: (01:19)
Awesome. Thank you. Thank you.

Richard: (01:22)
Could you introduce yourself to our listeners?

Linda: (01:24)
Sure. I’m an independent consultant. I have been one of those for a little over 20 years. Before that, I worked in industry and in academia. I live right near Nashville, Tennessee. I think I’m unusual because I’m incredibly old and I’m still working. So, this year, I celebrated my 77th birthday.

Richard: (01:50)
Congratulations.

Linda: (01:50)
Yeah, I think it’s mostly luck.

Richard: (01:54)
Mostly luck. Yeah, I think about this for myself. I’m heading towards 50 and I’m wondering what my next 30 years are going to be like.

Linda: (02:06)
Well, there are no guarantees.

Richard: (02:08)
Yeah.

Linda: (02:09)
But if you have been doing a good job so far, just keep it up.

Richard: (02:15)
That maybe the best advice that we get out of this podcast.

Linda: (02:19)
Maybe, right there.

Richard: (02:20)
That’s probably the best advice for me right now, keep it up. I think I’ve been doing a good job.

Linda: (02:26)
Yeah.

Richard: (02:27)
All right. So, this podcast is about teams and great teams, and what I’d like to do is ask people about the best team of their entire life, and we try to make that superlative, like the single best. If that’s possible. Can you think of a team that you would call your best?

Linda: (02:45)
No, I cannot. Again, this is just luck because I talked to a lot of people who have had an experience on a great team and I always tell them to savor that. Because there are many people who have never ever in their careers, they don’t even know what we’re talking about. So, that’s unfortunate and I don’t always jump in and say it, but I have been on many great teams, and even though I don’t do software development anymore, and I am never really part of a team, I am still part of a lot of good teams in my retirement community. We have started a lot of musical groups and they are also teams, an orchestra is a team, a quartet is a team.

Linda: (03:36)
And so, I still get to have that experience, so I’m not going to call out any particular team, but you know I’m interested in patterns and what I notice is there are patterns that I have seen in all of those great teams.

Richard: (03:54)
All right, I want to dig deeper into these patterns and exactly on points about music groups. When I say team, I mean any group of two of our people with a common goal.

Linda: (04:03)
Yeah.

Richard: (04:03)
Music group, any groups that have a common goal together. Yeah.

Linda: (04:11)
A family.

Richard: (04:11)
Exactly.

Linda: (04:11)
Family could be a team and in fact sometimes if we expand that definition, then that allows people to realize, yes they have had that experience. It doesn’t have to be something where you are working in paid and in organization to be part of a group. It can really be any group. I am a big fan of Habitat for Humanity. It’s a group of people that gets together one time to build a house, and you can still have that awesome team experience because you are all there for a common purpose and you believe in it. It’s something that involves you, everything you have to give to that experience, and that’s certainly part of what makes a great team.

Richard: (04:51)
So, looking back at your many, many great teams that you’ve been part of, what sorts of words do you use to describe them? What sensations come to mind? What sensations do you feel in your heart that you can put a word on for what it feels like to be in one of those great teams?

Linda: (05:10)
I think the first one that comes to mind is really not a word. It’s a couple of words that go together, and that’s mutual respect. I’ve even joined a team kind of late in development. I’m thinking in particular of one team I worked on at Honeywell that was building software for the triple seven airplane, and this was a team that had already been in existence for a long time. They were now increasing the pressure to deliver the software, and they were adding people, which was not a good thing to do to disrupt that team that was working well together, but it worked well for me and it worked well for the team.

Linda: (05:54)
I think that’s because soon as I joined I could feel that everyone on the team had this feeling, and I’m going to call it mutual respect. They didn’t all have the same background. The reason I was brought on was because I knew a lot about the programming language, which was Ada.

Richard: (06:13)
Oh, wow.

Linda: (06:13)
So, I was going to be the Ada guru, and so I had immediate credibility as soon as I joined the team and I felt that, and there is nothing like that feeling that everybody else on the team respects what you are bringing and is willing to let you have that. You’re going to be the Ada guru. You don’t know anything about avionics, we’re okay with that, and you are willing to admit that you don’t know everything. So, it fosters mutual dependency, which is also a part of great teams. I know what I know. I know what I don’t know. I’m willing to say what I don’t know, because I trust that you are going to respect me for what I do know.

Linda: (06:54)
When you have that, it’s also called collaboration, that we are all now all hooked together. Our team can’t really succeed unless I bring what I know, you bring what you know, and we’re going to do our best to make those deadlines because we have this. Sometimes it can happen instantly. This bond that is set up by that feeling of … that’s what I’m going to call it, is mutual respect,

Richard: (07:22)
Mutual respect, and I love these stories. When I talked to people, there’s often some shared career thread. Like, I used to build software tools that they used at places like Boeing. So, I always feel connected when I talk to anybody about the work they’ve done in the past, too.

Linda: (07:37)
Yeah, I think I was so privileged to be part of that triple seven project. Building a new airplane is like nothing else. When you finally get to see it, when they do the test flight and you are all lined up in the parking lot, watching that first plane, plane number one, it comes down in front of you, makes a big swoop through the parking lot. There are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people all lined up. And I thought everyone would start to yell, and scream, and be so happy, but everyone was quiet. Nobody said a word. And as I looked around, you could see people were crying. It was so moving to finally see the plane and that everybody there was thinking, “Ah, there’s a little bit of me on that plane.

Linda: (08:41)
There is a little bit of what I wrote. A little piece of software, a little piece of hardware, some contribution that I make is on that plane.” It was awesome.

Richard: (08:54)
What a beautiful sensation. There’s a little piece of me in that plane, or whatever thing we built together, there’s a little piece of me in that.

Linda: (09:02)
Yes, exactly, and it was so different from what I had expected because we normally weren’t all together. It was usually just, I spent time with my team. It was everybody, everybody on the Honeywell parking lot, you have hundreds and hundreds of people, and when you saw them all standing there, it really gave you that sense of, “We did this.”

Richard: (09:28)
Yeah, we did this.

Linda: (09:28)
“We did this.” Unbelievable.

Richard: (09:30)
How beautiful.

Linda: (09:31)
That plane certified early is still flying, except for the Malaysian disappearance. I hate to say this, it has had no serious issues and that’s the best thing you could say about a plane, it’s perfectly safe. Had lots of miles on it now. I’m very proud of that.

Richard: (09:51)
What other, this team, you’re talking about this team, it’s a great example, or some other team, what are some other subjective sense that you can have about a team that this is one of the best teams of your life, or really subjective, or objective? Just ways of noticing and being able to say, “Right now, I’m on a great team.” Or, “This team in the past, it was a great team because,” and some subjective things or objective observations.

Linda: (10:19)
I think it’s really important when you have a team that gets together. This was long before anyone was doing agile development. So, you can’t bring in any of those practices, but we were in the habit of getting together first thing in the morning. It wasn’t a daily standup exactly. It was more just, how are you, how are things going? We know that most of the agile practices were not new. Agile just put them all together, and then stand up, once there, to get everybody to talk to each other in a team. That doesn’t happen very often, but on the teams that I can think of, we did that anyway.

Linda: (11:05)
Sort of had an intuitive sense of, we have to sort of check in with each other. We have to make sure that we are still on the same page. We’d like to know if you got stuck yesterday, so we didn’t ask the questions. We just all would gather informally, kind of when we could sense that everybody was there, and we would check in and say, “Well, how’s it going? You said yesterday you’re going to try and tackle that database problem. Did it all work out?” It wasn’t with the idea of checking up on anybody. We weren’t any of these managers. There was no team lead who was checking off things.

Linda: (11:46)
It was just, “Well, how are you? How are things? Do you need help with? What can I do?” If you happen to need something that I know that you don’t know, and you didn’t wait to be asked, you volunteer that. So, we already did that and that was something that I think when we began to do agile in the early nineties, in that company, and I said, “Well, we’re going to do this daily standup.” And they said, “Well, we already do that.” Yeah, that would be true for a lot of the agile practices anyway, great teams, we already do that in some way.

Richard: (12:28)
Sometimes I make a joke about it. It’s like, it turns out we get better results if we’d talk to each other at least once a day.

Linda: (12:34)
Who would have thought?

Richard: (12:34)
Yeah, who would have thought?

Linda: (12:36)
Who would have thought? And really, it is a good practice, and if you weren’t doing it, it is a good thing and a good recommendation for teams to talk to each other. You don’t have to do it first thing in the morning. That’s usually how it was done, but sometimes we’d even do it twice. Do it at the very beginning of the day and kind of closing out the day with, “Well, how was that? Things were going okay?” Then it wasn’t like anybody calls a meeting. We just sort of gather. You’re all sitting close to each other anyway, we were in cubicles, but we all knew and we’d sort of just gather, and before we headed home, check in, “How was it? Things were okay?” “Yeah.” Sometimes even twice a day.

Richard: (13:18)
Sometimes even twice a day, and I dig at it again, because it’s like, “Oh, once a day.” For some people it’s like, “Oh, we have to talk to each other once a day. I don’t know about that.” And you’re doing it twice a day. Oh, my gosh. It’s like, well, it turns out there’s no rule against talking to each other more than once. How about that?

Linda: (13:35)
This were still mostly very introverted guys. I will have to say, men in one team in particular, this was not triple seven, but it was another group. It was a great team and I loved them all, but we tried to start celebrating birthdays. Why don’t we all go out to lunch when somebody has a birthday? Most of them did not want to go. So, that was too much. Everybody’s birthday. Oh, no, no. Too much. Okay, that’s okay.

Richard: (14:11)
What are some of the other practices that you notice on some of the best teams you’ve worked with? We’ve got the daily get together, the daily standup, the daily scrum, whatever you want to call it. What are some of the other practices?

Linda: (14:25)
I don’t know whether you’d call this a practice or not, but it was sharing success. So, we had one guy, especially on the triple seven team who was in charge of the simulator, kind of the interface thing. We didn’t really get to use real hardware, but that was his job. Every now and then he would get so excited because some little piece of something, we were working on some of that interface software, and he would just kind of run up and down the aisle and we would all go in his cubicle he would say, “Look at this.” I can remember in particular, one time when he did that, I had been working on a really difficult part of that interface.

Linda: (15:13)
And since you can’t test it, I have no way of knowing, really no clue. You can follow the requirements, you can talk to the people who are designing that, you can do the best you can, but you don’t know. You have no idea. And when he ran the simulator using the little piece that I had written, I can remember standing there just suddenly weeping, crying, thinking, “It works.” After weeks not knowing, not having a clue. And I think he knew that, and so whenever he had some little module that was working, he didn’t just single out the person who had written it, he’d kind of run up and down the aisle, “Hey, guys, I got this going.”

Linda: (16:04)
Then, we’d all run down there, and then we’d know who it was, who had written that, and we go, “Hey, good job. You’ve got this piece going.” Because we all felt like that. In agile, we act like, “Okay, you write little tests, you know it fails. You write some code.” That doesn’t really work on an airplane or a lot of really complicated … I have worked on systems that were too big to compile. We haven’t had a team of people who compiled it. So, it sounded like you can just immediately test some thing that you’ve written. You might have to wait sometimes a long time, and now, you have a certain level of anxiety and everybody has that.

Linda: (16:47)
So, here’s somebody on your team who knows that and he’s trying to do what he can to make your life better. Share that little success. I don’t know what to call that, but it’s a concern, or caring for how other people are feeling, even though it’s a technical thing, the caring and to say, “I can make things better for the people on my team if I just show them, ‘Hey, I got this working.'” Now, Woody Zuill talks about mob programming. I think you get a little bit of that in the group to say, “Let me try this.” And everybody can see that and we go, “Oh, yay. Hey, it’s all working.”Â

Linda: (17:32)
Then, on really complicated systems like telecom and avionics, you don’t really get that, team members that can, I don’t know, just gives everybody a boost.

Richard: (17:45)
Yeah, for sure. It’s a very human thing. Like you’re connecting with each other.

Linda: (17:50)
Yeah, and he didn’t have to do that. His job was really separate from ours. We were producing the software. He was trying to make the interface work. He had his own issues. It wasn’t until years later that I realized how powerful that was, that he was really thinking of the team in sharing just even a little tiny thing, “Hey, I got this working.” Especially if it was yours, and you got to see that.

Richard: (18:18)
Groups celebrating success together.

Linda: (18:21)
Yeah, and that something that if it hadn’t happened, you think how different that team would have been. You wouldn’t ever know. You wouldn’t ever know till they had rounded up all the software from our [inaudible 00:18:35] and tested that, and then by that time you would’ve been onto something else and you would never have had that feeling that, “Wow, it works. Look at that. Messages are going back and forth. Yeah.” I can still cry. [inaudible 00:18:53]. It was awesome. Yeah.Â

Richard: (18:56)
I’m feeling it as we talk about it, it’s like we’re reliving this team. It’s such a good feeling.

Linda: (19:02)
Yeah, it was. Humanity at its best.

Richard: (19:07)
That’s what a great team is, humanity at its best.

Linda: (19:09)
Yes, absolutely.

Richard: (19:11)
So, for listeners, what would you recommend that they do to get this kind of team for themselves? What are some concrete practices that other people can try out?

Linda: (19:21)
I think, and it’s really hard to do, is one thing that might become a practice that would cause some of these other things to happen is to get used to listening. Most of the time on a team where I felt that I wasn’t as happy as I want it to be, it was because I felt that I wasn’t being heard. That I might be saying some things that I felt I wanted to say, but that nobody was paying any attention. It’s not because what I had to say was vital, but everybody is telling you a lot of things when they say anything. They’re telling you the message, the content of what it was they wanted to say, but they’re also telling you a lot about themselves.

Linda: (20:12)
They’re telling you a lot about the team. They’re even telling you something about the organization. There are organizations where people don’t feel free to speak up. So, if nobody says anything, you might think, “Oh, we’re all in agreement here. We’re all on the same page.” But it could mean that the organization doesn’t really encourage disagreement, doesn’t encourage different points of view, isn’t willing to listen to anything that you might have to say. So, that’s a habit really. Stephen Covey, I’m sure you know, wrote a great book called The 7 Habits, and one of them was listen with intent to understand.

Linda: (20:58)
Not just try to have some space there so that you can get your argument or your response ready, but do it so that you can try to understand what that other person is saying. I don’t know if you know who Dan Pink is. He wrote a book called Drive. He has a newsletter and he just sent out a little survey that he took of all his listeners to ask them for the names of the books that most influenced them. And it was surprising that most of the books on the list are old books, and number two on the list right after the Bible, I guess there are lots of people who are reading the Bible, Number two was The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Linda: (21:45)
And so, when I talk about it, I always say, “Well, if you read it, you should read it again. Then if you haven’t read it, you should definitely take the time to read it. Steve Covey is not around anymore, and so he’s not going to be writing any more books. So, that’s a good one to start with, The 7 Habits, and that’s one of the habits, is listen with intent to understand. You can feel that when you walk into a team, and you have something you say and you feel like you have the attention of the whole team and that they are really listening with intent to understand. They’re not going to use what you said to prepare an argument against you. They care about it.

Linda: (22:27)
So, I don’t know how you do that. I think leaders or people who are respected people lead by example, and if you show that you listen, others will follow that.

Richard: (22:40)
Yeah, you’re right. Listen with intent to understand the example in that skill.Â

Linda: (22:47)
Yeah. We know the United States right now is going through some interesting-

Richard: (22:55)
Interesting times, yes.

Linda: (22:57)
The Chinese curse isn’t it? We live in interesting times, and I’m part of an organization called Better Angels, and I joined it right after the 2016 election. It facilitates workshops between equal numbers of reds and blues, and it gets people together to listen, not to change anybody’s idea or to convince them that they were wrong in taking whatever their political stance was. In running these workshops, what we find is that people don’t know how to do that.

Richard: (23:36)
Yeah, listening is a skill.

Linda: (23:39)
It is. It’s a skill to listen, and you’d think that most people believe that that really means don’t talk. But it’s so much more than that, because in the exercises that we do, we take turns, and after you’ve listened, then you have to say, “Well, what did the other side have to say? When you were listening, what did you hear?” And to realize that the information that comes out of the people that were listening doesn’t really always match up with what the people who were talking were saying. There’s a huge disconnect just there.Â

Linda: (24:18)
No wonder we can’t have a discussion, because we can’t even get past the first stage, which is, “I have to listen to what you have to say in order to make an intelligent response to it.” That’s the big stumbling block right there.

Richard: (24:34)
Yeah, for sure. And the way you’re talking about it, it’s helping me. I’ve been on a rant lately about listening-

Linda: (24:43)
Really?

Richard: (24:43)
… versus listening so intently that you can parrot it back to people, but the way you’re saying it, if I can say it back to you, then there’s at least some evidence that I was listening.

Linda: (24:55)
In fact, the goal should be to the person who was speaking, when you tell them what you thought they were saying, they say, “You say it better than I could’ve said it myself.” So, you really understand where I’m coming from. It’s not like you just mimic and say … a lot of people can do that. They can just say, “Oh, well, you said, and I can parrot it back to.” That’s okay, but it’s not as good as if, “Now, are you saying that, and here’s what I believe you meant.” And to get at the heart of what the other person was saying, then you really feel they heard you, you really feel they understand you.

Linda: (25:46)
And that’s the first step to having any kind of intelligent discussion about an issue. If we can’t get past that first stumbling block, then, what hope is there for talking about a politicized issue? We’ll never get anywhere. We’ll just wind up, “So, what you said, and how can you possibly, and no, no, no, no.” So, being part of this organization has given me two things. One, an understanding of how difficult it is, but also, a sense of hope. Because once people do learn, and they do have some elementary idea of what listening is about, they get better. Then they say, “Ah, I see. I see now a little bit of where you’re coming and why you might believe that.

Linda: (26:46)
I may not agree with you. I may not say, ‘Oh, now, you’ve convinced me that guns are wonderful. We should all be armed to the teeth with AK-47s.’ But I can see where you are coming from and why you have all of those guns, and you’re careful, and you have them all locked. I can see that. I can see that.” So, we got to have that, but somehow it disappeared. I don’t know whether it got lost four years ago, or eight years ago, or 12 years ago. I don’t know. But we need it not just on teams.

Richard: (27:21)
Anywhere that it’s important for people to be connected, which is anywhere and everywhere.

Linda: (27:27)
Yes. So, listen with intent to understand, but listen with intent to learn. I need to learn. Why do you feel so different? Why is it? So, curiosity, and agile, we know, is all about learning. How can you possibly learn based on feedback if you can’t hear the feedback, if you’ve already filtered it, if you’ve already made up your mind about whatever it is? Not just politics. This is everything. Everything hangs on this.

Richard: (28:00)
All right, well I’m going to look up Better Angels.

Linda: (28:04)
Better Angels, yes.

Richard: (28:05)
This sounds really cool.

Linda: (28:06)
Yeah, it is really cool and it’s nationwide. I think every State has a coordinator. So, Tennessee has a coordinator, and everybody, they’re always working in pairs, reds and blues. How agile?

Richard: (28:21)
I’ve heard of this. Yes.

Linda: (28:23)
I have heard of pairing, yeah. The organization was started by a red and a blue who got together who said, “Look at this country. This is not a good thing. You and I can talk to each other. What can we do?”

Richard: (28:37)
Yeah, how can we facilitate this happening everywhere?

Linda: (28:40)
Yes.

Richard: (28:41)
All right, is there anything else that you’d like to add for listeners? Anything about Better Angels, anything about the work you’re doing, anything at all?

Linda: (28:54)
I was thinking while we were talking about mutual respect that I just had heard yesterday about my good friend Norman Kerth. I don’t know if you know who he is. He wrote the book on Project Retrospectives, and had a serious automobile accident some years ago. He’s not doing very well. He wrote something called the Prime Directive, and it should be part of the ritual, if we wanted to call it that, the ritual of all retrospectives. It should be how retrospectives begin. It’s online, and so that way people don’t have to remember it, but the Prime Directive says, no matter what we learn in this retrospective, we truly believe that everyone on this team was doing the best job he or she could, given of course what they knew at the time, their skills, and abilities.

Linda: (29:53)
We know we’re better now, of course, but given what we knew at the time, everybody was doing the best job he or she could, and that institutes a culture of mutual respect. I believe you’re doing the best job you could. Does that mean you didn’t make any mistakes? No. Does that mean that you didn’t stumble along the way because you were learning how to use this particular tool that we just assigned to you? No. Does that mean that you didn’t get better over time and that now we might not have to deal with some of those things? Of course, not, but we believe you were doing the best job you could. People push back on that and they say, “Well, I know I’m not always doing my best. I have bad days.”

Linda: (30:38)
Of course, we all do. That’s not what is this about? It’s about believing, and once you have a culture of believing, that’s what you get. We know that expectations create realities, especially if you have any power, if you’re a manager. Now, believing that, that brings that out, and every team member feels that. My team believes I’m doing the best I can. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to have bad days. I’m doing the best I can.

Richard: (31:11)
Yeah, and even on those bad days, I’m doing the best I can,

Linda: (31:13)
I’m doing the best I can. Maybe I’m sick. Maybe I had a disaster in my purse. Who knows? We all have that, of course, but if I know that my team believes that I’m doing the best I can, then I will. I will be my best.

Richard: (31:30)
I feel like there’s so much more I want to talk about. I want to hear about the music you’re doing. I feel like we could do this every afternoon together, and I would never get tired of it.

Linda: (31:41)
Christmas is coming, so I get lots and lots of rehearsals, or, busy, busy [crosstalk 00:31:48].

Richard: (31:48)
So, if listeners want to contact you, is there a way they can do that?

Linda: (31:52)
I have a brand new awesome website at Linda Rising, all one word, lindarising.org, and it has a little mail button, which I love because now, you just click on that and you can send me a message and I can send you stuff back. It’s great. Now, just go to lindarising, and it’s org, dot O-R-G, lindarising.org.

Richard: (32:14)
Thank you so much for spending this afternoon with me. I really love this conversation, thanks.

Linda: (32:19)
Richard, it has been an absolute pleasure. Thank you so much.

Richard: (32:26)
Hi, friends. Thanks for listening, and remember, to support this podcast, sign up for my newsletter at kasperowski.com.

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