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Lyssa Adkins: How strong team relationships increase the value of products?

In this episode, Richard Interviews Lyssa Adkins. Lyssa is a co-founder of the Agile Coaching Institute, an independent agile and leadership coach, and the author of the Coaching Agile Teams. Lyssa tells us about the importance of interpersonal relationships within a team, how to keep these relationships honest and real, and how to resolve interpersonal tensions when they inevitably occur. When you finish listening to the episode, make sure to visit Lyssa’s website and connect with her on LinkedIn.

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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 Paderewski. If you understand that interpersonal relationships are the currency of your work, you’ll invest a lot of time into keeping these relationships stable and healthy. In this episode, I talk with Lyssa Adkins co-founder of the Agile Coaching Institute, as well as an independent Agile and leadership coach. Lyssa tells us how to keep your relationships within a team real, how not to shy away from problems that inevitably appear and how to resolve these problems before they inflate and cause relationship devaluation to support this podcast, visit my website kasperowski.com. Hi Lyssa, welcome to the podcast.

Lyssa:
Thanks so much. I’m so glad that we got it together.

Richard:
Me too. It’s great to see you. Great to have you here. Will you introduce yourself to our listeners?

Lyssa:
Sure. I am Lyssa Adkins and I am the co-founder of Agile Coaching Institute, which was my passion for 10 years in the establishment of the profession of Agile Coaching. And now I am a solopreneur, independent Agile, and a leadership coach.

Richard:
All right, what else can you tell us about solopreneur or this Agile and leadership coach-

Lyssa:
It’s a huge shift from co-founding and operating company and being so galvanized by a singular mission that other people were also involved in so many other people were involved in. And so now I get to ask the question, where is my greatest use in the world and try to aim myself at that. And so it’s a big shift, Richard. That’s all I can tell you. I’m still in the middle of it.

Richard:
All right. This is the podcast about great tips.

Lyssa:
That’s right.

Richard:
I talk about teams as any group of two people align with a common goal. You’ve been on teams in your life. What’s the best team that you’ve ever been a part of in your life?

Lyssa:
The team that came to mind first is one that I’m excited to talk about. And all night, last night I kept racking my brain. Isn’t there another team, but when we talk about a great team, this is honestly the only great team I think I’ve ever been on. I’ve been a part of, there are others I’ve coached and been in and out of but this is the only one I’ve actually been a part of. And it is the, what we call ACI Agile Coaching Institute, incarnation one.

Richard:
Okay. I was wondering if that was going to be your best team.

Lyssa:
Yeah. I mean, the way we operated that company, the way we worked together, I don’t want to paint a picture that it was perfect, it certainly was not, but it was real. And we accomplished a tremendous load of good in the world.

Richard:
All right. What else about this team? What are some characteristics of the team? How many people? What was the working-

Lyssa:
Well, I mean just like the logistics of it, it’s weird, completely distributed. We would get together to create new courses for our Agile Coaching Curriculum, for example, but usually just to start that in the most a creation would be done distributed. We got together to teach courses and we get together for summer camp.

Richard:
Summer camp.

Lyssa:
Bring everyone together for a few days. So we were distributed and it would fluctuated between five and seven people. But really the core was no more than five at any given time.

Richard:
I love this idea of a summer camp. There’s a team that I’m part of. They used to do this summer Off-site meeting, to me Off-site meetings sounds really boring and I keep avoiding doing it. Summer camp that sounds like fun.

Lyssa:
The first time we had a summer camp, I mean like a big banner with crayons and everything. Welcome to summer camp. Yeah. It was glorious, actually. It all be together.

Richard:
All right. So this was about in a of range of five to 10 years ago?

Lyssa:
No. This would have been from let’s see, we started Agile Coaching Institute unofficially in 2010 and was incorporated in March of 2011 and then sold to Solutions IQ Accenture in October, 2017.

Richard:
All right. If we traveled back in time to this team, maybe you were doing this a little bit last night, as you were thinking about it, going back to that group of people, your five to seven people, the work you were doing together, if you re-experienced it, if you really took yourself back there. Yeah. I’d love, you’re closing your eyes. Sometimes I say you might want to do that. What does it feel like to go back with that group of people and to do the work you are doing together when you re-experience it? And could you summarize that sensation in one word, what would your one word be?

Lyssa:
Gritty. It would be gritty.

Richard:
Gritty?

Lyssa:
And the two words that came to mind were real and gritty. And he asked me to, you’ve asked me to pick one word. So that’s the one that came to the top.

Richard:
What about gritty? What is gritty mean here?

Lyssa:
We were doing something that hadn’t been done before, specifically creating pathway for Agile Coaching Development, and then having a curriculum that would live into that. And we were so galvanized by our mission to help equip you Agile coaches, who we were thinking of is like, Hey, these are the change agents that will help Agile be sustainable in organizations.

Lyssa:
We have all these metaphors of like they’re secret agents, we’re equipping the secret agents with the skills they need. And then over time we got really mundane like, Oh, these are just 21st century leadership skills that everyone needs. Like, but it was gritty because we were using all of our intelligences to make decisions in the business and to stay open to what was wanted from us and see if what we could provide, created an intersection between what we had and what was wanted, that’s the thing we need to go for. And it wasn’t necessarily the logical easy thing.

Lyssa:
And we kept our human relationships super real. I mean, many of us have backgrounds in coaching and several of us backgrounds in organization and relationships systems coaching. So I guess it’s like a bonus and maybe like the worst nightmare ever to have a bunch of coaches running an organization together.

Richard:
And especially if you’re using all of your intelligences. Right?

Lyssa:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Richard:
So you’re getting maybe the maximum of all of that. What do you mean when you say that using all of your intelligences?

Lyssa:
Well, so I’ll give you a symbol, for instance, one of the premises of Organization and Relationship Systems Coaching, which several of us are skilled in is the idea, as you said, any two or more people as a team an ORSC Organization and Relationship Systems Coaching, you would say that any two or more people creates a third entity.

Lyssa:
And this is very much in our common language, like when we say the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, it’s referring to that third entity or the marriage is a thing unto itself. When you get married, that’s referring to the third entity, the third entity could be just a conceptual notion, or you could imagine it as a real thing.

Lyssa:
And so we would often ask the question like Casablanca of all the gin joints in all the towns, we wind up here together, like so why did we wind up here together as a leaders of Agile coaching Institute in this mission of developing a professional Agile coaching?

Lyssa:
Why us, of all the people who have all the gin joints, why us? And so we would just believe that there is some force at work and have the ability to actually ask the question of the third entity. What do you need? What do you want? What’s your advice for us? So that’s what we call wisdom beyond rationality. And that’s one of those earmarks of development, like the Holy Grail from many Agile list is to work in a teal environment. Well, if you did, you’d be doing stuff like that. And I’m not here to say that we’re teal, or the company was I’m who knows. But that was one example of how we use our wisdom beyond rationality and very common like.

Richard:
All right.You also said something about keeping our relationships super real. What was that like?

Lyssa:
Hard work. It’s a lot of hard work. And so many of us had been through the coaches training Institute, leadership program. And so we had the same bucket of skills for that, and really good metaphors and all that stuff. So one of the metaphors is keeping the air clean and air means authenticity, intimacy, and responsibility. So at any moment, if you notice that you cannot be fully authentic with this person, there’s just something dirty in the air between you and them, or that somehow your intimate connection with them is interrupted.

Lyssa:
You don’t feel that connection anymore. Or you’re not able responsibility means being able to fully respond to what’s happening without a whole lot of pullbacks. If any of those are compromised, it’s time to clear the air. And sometimes I wouldn’t even know what it was about. I would just go to someone and say, so I’m just noticing that I’m not being fully authentic around you. And here’s here are the places where I’m compromising myself. I don’t know what it’s about. Do you? Sometimes they would, sometimes they wouldn’t, but we’d work it out. And then sometimes it was a much more direct thing. Okay. You’re stepping on this value of mine. We need to talk about it.

Richard:
Yeah. Okay. This team, your ACI team, it was a great team. Subjectively, how do you know it was a great team? What were some of the qualities or objectively how could somebody outside of the team, what was some evidence that existed that it was a great team?

Lyssa:
Well, let’s go objectively first, since that’s what most of the world thinks about first. So objectively, you could say things like in seven years, we taught 8,000 students. You could say, in seven years we created a profitable company that had value in it that another company wanted to buy. You could look at the leaders of Agile Coaching Institute and say, Michael spade, Lisa Adkins, Michael Hammond are all thought leaders in the Agile world. So those might portend some `success. Right?

Richard:
Sure.

Lyssa:
None of those were the point, but are some measurements in a certain way, right?

Richard:
Yeah.

Lyssa:
I mean, the point was something we could never measure, which is, does our work equipping Agile coaches to be change agents equal more healthy, more sustainable Agile.

Richard:
Right.

Lyssa:
Jury’s still out on that One.

Richard:
Is that measurable? Is that something subjective?

Lyssa:
I don’t know if it’s measurable. I just imagine there would be this tsunami of impact that it would be evident and the work is still ongoing. I mean, it’s stupid to think that tsunami of impact would have happened in just seven years. It’s still going on. And in fact, as I look around, I see the next generation of people carrying the banner and Agile coaching and doing a beautiful job of it and many people. And so I think one of the analogies is we’d like to carry the ball down the field as far as we need it to.

Richard:
Right.

Lyssa:
Time for the people to play.

Richard:
Nice. All right. On this team, what were some of the concrete behaviors that you engaged in together that went into it’s success?

Lyssa:
Incredible transparency, including when we’re choosing not to be transparent with each other and why? And a concrete example of that is how we work money. We would sit down with the open profit and loss statement with the typically about five people who were operating the company. We had other collaborators in on various things, but about five people where the core of operating company at any given time, and just look this quarter compared to last quarter, compared to last year or this quarter, and just see what was going on.

Lyssa:
We would usually twice a year split profits and do it in a very open process. And we got really good at it. We got to the point where we could split let’s say $120,000, like not insignificant amount of money among five people.

Lyssa:
We could do that in about 40 minutes. And everyone felt like they were honored and none felt like they were being cheated. So, I mean, we got really good at those sorts of processes that allowed us to find the right constellation of percentages, just split profit, for example.

Lyssa:
So those are some of the things. I’ve mentioned keeping the relationships clean that was on every level throughout the entire group. You asked earlier what it was like subjectively. The five of us who were involved in it and plus or minus two are all saying, I want to reinvent that, we keep talking to each other like, gosh, I said to myself damn, do I have to make another company just to work with you people again, you don’t necessarily want to go that far, but maybe someone else will, that would be great. I’ll work on someone else’s company.

Richard:
That’s an objective thing. If people are saying, I want to do that again.

Lyssa:
Oh my gosh.

Richard:
I want to recreate that.

Lyssa:
Absolutely. Yeah. Specifically not because it was superficial. Because it was really, it was real and gritty, as I said, and authentic, and we all grew so much, what did I ever grow? So some of the subjective things that I knew it was a great team is that we all love each other. I mean, like we really like, even in the midst of a difficult conversation, I never once had a doubt that I was not valued and accepted. And that the topic is a topic. The topics are going to flow in. They’re going to play out. They’re going to be different over time. The conversation was not only about the topic was also about our relationship. And that piece was always, has at least as equal to the topic.

Richard:
Okay.Now that’s fascinating. That’s different from the way many people talk about their work team or their organization. Okay. First of all, most people don’t talk about love. That’s a little unusual.

Lyssa:
I know when David Chilcot said to me, ages and ages, ages ago, long before you and worked together, he said, I don’t want to work with anyone I don’t love. I said to myself, well, that’s stupid. Like, of course you’re not going to love her when you work with, and now I think I would say the same thing. I don’t want to work with, I mean, at least I don’t want to create something new and important in the world with people who I don’t love.

Richard:
And then another part of that is many people at work are trying to separate emotion and connection from the tasks. Right?

Lyssa:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Richard:
And you said you could talk about a topic with each other and you were talking about the relationship at the same time.

Lyssa:
Right. Yeah. Cause topics are going to come and go. At the end of the day, we’re still going to be together if we choose to and if we keep that healthy. So the relationship is really more of the recurrency comes to mind, that’s where the relationship is more of like the currency of the work than it is the specific topics related to the work.

Richard:
I like that phrase, the relationship is the currency of the work.

Lyssa:
Yeah. And like even companies come and go for a lot of people, but over time, probably most people could look back and say, well, I keep ending up working with the same person. I know people who follow each other around from company to company, there’s something more important than a given product or whatever. I think that we just are creative beings and we want to create with people who stretch us and who we can believe in. And we have that.

Richard:
Yeah. That’s beautiful. And I have the advantage and pleasure of seeing your face as we talk, I can see in your face and you are-

Lyssa:
Oh God, I miss him so much. Yeah. Absolutely.

Richard:
It’s very real. It’s very authentic.

Lyssa:
Yeah. Now lest I paint like this glorious picture. I mean, there, there was a moment where the organization started, like the incarnation that we had created started to die and we started to recognize it and it was incredibly painful and things did get, the air did not stay clean all the time. So everything has a life cycle.

Richard:
Yeah. I just had that phrase in my head, a lifecycle or a lifespan. Do you think there’s a natural life cycle or a natural time, a natural term for a team?

Lyssa:
No, I don’t know. But they say like even spouse relationships and they talk about the seven year itch. We have that colloquial idea, but the therapist will say, and I’ve heard a couple of different therapists say this, that there’s something that shifts in relationships about every seven years and either you re up or you’re out, but there’s a substantive change in most relationships in about seven years and it’s not lost on me 2010 to 2017 was seven years.

Richard:
Yeah.Interesting. And seven years is a long time actually.

Lyssa:
Yeah.For us to say that. I mean, I can honestly say that all bit about that last year was absolutely joyful. That’s pretty amazing.

Richard:
Yeah.Now how about advice for listeners? What are some of the things you think listers can do to achieve the same success that this team had?

Lyssa:
There’s one piece of advice coming up that is so sort of commonplace, but I don’t think it’s commonly done. And it’s something we practice rigorously. You’re asking about our practices earlier. We would get on a work session typically on zoom. And we typically have a number of Google documents open, maybe work out a bunch of stuff simultaneously. And at the very beginning we would do something to create connection. And sometimes it was a quick check-in, but sometimes it was like even if we did a check-in, we would always do this next thing, which is the piece of advice, which is to state your intention for why you are at this meeting. And it sounds stupid in a certain way. Like, well, I wouldn’t show up unless I needed to be at this main, but that’s not the question.

Lyssa:
The question is not why did you bring your body or your mind to this meeting, the question is what is your intention in this meeting? And so I can’t tell you how many times we shared intentions and we’re like, Whoa, glad we talked about this now because we would be having three different meetings and not knowing it. I think that’s one of the biggest pieces of advice and it’s coming up a lot for me in the teams I’m interacting with right now and in the one-on-one transformation leaders that I’m coaching in a one-on-one way I say to them, well, have you revealed your intention about that?

Lyssa:
And they say, I have to do that. Well, just try it. Especially as leaders. So like these are transformation leaders of several hundred to several thousand people they’re doing leading some Agile transformation. Well, just try it, just try stating your intention. Like you could say like, here’s my hope for this meeting or here’s what I’m imagining is going to happen in this meeting or just straight out here’s my intention. They are reporting, and I see this with every group that uses it. They’re reporting tremendous improvement in alignment, duh. But we just don’t think to be that transparent. We are so used to getting in a meeting, hedging our bets, what’s this one about, should I say this? Is it okay. Like all of that, and that’s all what Robert King calls the second job, you have your job, which is your job, job. And then you have the job of looking good.

Richard:
Right.

Lyssa:
Right. Which is a tremendous amount of energy that if you could just liberate, could be used for more creative endeavors. So revealing attention to at the beginning of the meeting is a pro tip.

Richard:
All right. Thank you for that protip.

Lyssa:
To the extent that I’m a pro I mean, who knows? Right.

Richard:
Yeah. It’s funny that one, tips like that quote duh.

Lyssa:
Duh.

Richard:
And yeah, it’s not so obvious.

Lyssa:
Yeah.Oh, it’s not. And we’ve so much time. I’m on a big quest now to just improve the quality of conversation everywhere I go.

Richard:
All right. I want to hear more about this. What would that be like? Or what are the things you’re doing?

Lyssa:
Well, one of the things I’ve done is asking myself the question, okay, as a solo printer, independent Agile and leadership coach, where am I best used? Where can I have the greatest impact? I mean, for whatever reason, I got all the right teachers at all the right times, all the right mentors. I got a book deal. I didn’t even ask for. I got everything’s lined up. And when that happens, I say to myself, okay, all of those are like me having to write a big I you back to the world, right? So where’s my greatest impact.

Lyssa:
And logically it’s with leadership teams and boards of directors. And I am starting to get some of that work now, and it’s Agile coaching, but it’s more, it’s more straight up facilitation. What I would consider basic facilitation skills that are not being done in these meetings where these people get together and discuss very weighty topics and relationship systems, coaching like the who we’re being together while we’re doing the work.

Lyssa:
And what I noticed is that the quality of conversation really, really sucks. And so no wonder decisions aren’t being made or being made poorly and all of that flows down hill in an organization as pain. And I would really love to do my part to alleviate that pain. So I mean just like simple things like stating your intention, simple things like in a board meeting or a top leadership offsite or something like every single thing we do directly relate to the North Star purpose that we are there for so that everyone knows how to engage and why it’s important we were doing this particular thing at this particular time.

Lyssa:
So we have all the minds and hearts and bodies online. Otherwise people sit around and I was watching a meeting the other day and people are knocking themselves out to give information. Now people are on their phones, one guy was nodding off, I’m like, boy, wow, what a waste of time we are in.

Richard:
And I didn’t have this crazy alternate division, if a really great team is this sense of love for each other, as well as the work we’re doing can imagine sitting with another person or a group of people and being like, I love you. And they’re like nodding off, or I love you while they’re engaged in email or some other people.

Lyssa:
Well, I know I’m not here to say that that love is the requirement. It’s just my requirement for my own work. On a typical board or top leadership team or something. No, I’m not holding that bar. I mean, I think that’s a really, really, really high bar to hold for where we are right now. I would settle for them being clear about why they’re engaging with each other.

Richard:
Yeah. Or at least I value you enough to listen to what you’re saying.

Lyssa:
Yeah. Like what are we up to right now? So one of my favorite questions these days is when someone starts launching into something and I can like feel it in the room, the rest of the people are going, like why are we listening to them? What? So hang on just a second. What specifically do you want other people to listen for as you’re talking, team give him a hit, what are they here to help you do?

Richard:
Right.

Lyssa:
But typically most people are so wrapped up in their own things. Like they’re nervous about talking in front of a group at all, or any number of things that are going on. And that’s why coaches are really useful because coaches are the person that’s paying attention at the pattern level to what’s happening, which is where the real leverage is.

Lyssa:
Once you break through some of those stuck patterns or inefficient patterns, boom, the group goes and they start moving with coherence. And and so here’s another thing that the jury will be out on for a long time. Once I talked to me in seven years after I’ve been doing this work for seven years and I then we’ll see if decisions are made better, clearer with more creativity and more, triple, quadruple P these days, profit planet people and purpose, and if the pain is alleviated at least a little bit, I guess that’s what I’ll be looking for in seven years.

Richard:
All right. I look forward to that. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Lyssa:
I’d like to say the names of the people involved in ACI incarnation one.

Richard:
Right. Who are they?

Lyssa:
I’m really nervous I’m going to forget someone, but if so then if so Lyssa Adkins, Michael Spade, Michael Hamman, Leslie Riley, Erica Smith, David Chilcott ,Clive Prout, Meg Bogart. And I may have missed one or two so, Oh my gosh, please forgive me, whoever you are.

Richard:
Well done.

Lyssa:
Yeah. Those are my collaboration partners.

Richard:
Beautiful. If any of our listeners would like to get in touch with you, is there a way they can do that?

Lyssa:
Oh sure. lyssaadkins.com and my name is spelled the funky way. L-Y-S-S-A-A-D-K-I-N-S.com. And my Twitter handle is at Lisa Adkins. You can also find me on LinkedIn.

Richard:
All right, Lyssa, thanks so much for joining me today. Really enjoyed this conversation.

Lyssa:
Oh my gosh. What a trip down memory lane you have provided for me today. Thank you. I really appreciate looking at this from a different perspective. Yeah. Thanks for the chance.

Richard:
My pleasure.Hi friends. Thanks again for listening. And remember to support this podcast, visit my website. kasperowski.com.

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