Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Ready to listen?

From Catherine Louis:

I'm getting ready for a 4 day training session in Mt. Hood Oregon, teaching new handlers how to work with their K9's towards becoming an operational Search and Rescue team.

One of the "ahaaa!" moments in training is teaching the handlers how not to ignore the K9's innate behavior. One very small example of this what I will call the K9 "shake off". Everyone has seen a wet or dirty dog do the crazy "shake off" and peel around the house at Mach III. Here's a video from Discovery as one example. Or this one of a bulldog, also quite entertaining with all the extra skin.

Doesn't that look amazing? Like it feels great? It is as if they walk through an imaginary wall from one state of mind to the next, twisting their way through the wall.

We don't have a distinct human equivalent of the shake-off, it's much harder to see in humans (stretching by the coffee machine tends to be the common one I see.) A Hapkido kick in the hall is another one that I've seen.

There is an important reason to look for the "shake-off" equivalent in your Agile teams.

Dogs don't only perform this shake because their fur is unkempt. In searching, most dogs, upon making a "find", will do a shake-off. There are a lot of theories why it happens. My take on this: there's a lot of tension and stress in searching. Upon making the "find", the dog can come down off of any adrenaline, and "shake off" all tension and stress. It indicates the dog is has shifted gears, and is in a different emotional state. If I'm training a new dog, I make it happen: ruffle the fur in the opposite direction, the dog will shake the fur back in place, with the side effect of the dog being relaxed and responsive and ready to learn something new.

Search dogs wear a bell while searching. Searching at night you may not see the K9, but if you tune your ears to the bell, you'll hear the constant and regular bell chimes while the dog is searching, then a silent bell when the dog makes the "find", and a loud RINGGADINGGADINGGADINGGA when the dog performs the shake-off. Many new handlers working night problems don't have their ears trained for this and miss out on learning that their dog had actually found the lost subject. The dog post-shake-off, then immediately moves into a thinking and responding state, may appear very calm and approach the handler as if to say "well that's over, what's next?"

The corollary to this is one we've all experienced: when you hear someone say "she's not ready to listen", or "she's listening, but he's not hearing", the person needs room for a shake-off before having the conversation.

It's a huge clue in K9 searching, and if you can notice the "shake offs" in human form, it's also a huge clue to how the team is really doing. As a leader, if you're able to communicate with the teams in "post shake-off" state, you've got yourself an unbelievable opportunity to hear their challenges, and to communicate your business challenges, as humans will have moved into a relaxed, thinking and responding state.

The first challenge you have is to look for what the shake-off is in your team. If you don't have it, make it happen. It can be as simple as hanging out by the coffee machine and do some stretches, make spaghetti arms twisting your spine. Tell folks you're shaking off and from what. After you're done, check your mood and theirs. They may think you're crazy the first couple of times, then after a couple of days you'll have them all doing spaghetti arm stretches.

And because we might be a bit more complex than dogs, you have to ask the team members what their shake-off equivalent is. Perhaps plan your shake-offs outside the office, and remember to enjoy the shake-off with them, and if you think about it, share back the results.

---by Catherine Louis


Joe Little said...

I find that playing music once or twice a day leads to a kind of "shake-off", where they shake off the concerns of doing our difficult work, and it allows the team to get creative and have a bit of fun.

Raj Mudhar said...

The shake-off is a wonderful example of how we often fail to deliver the messages we need to deliver in a meaningful way because the recipient is not in the right frame of mind. He or she has not "shaken off" and we are busily trying to deliver a message. I experience this often, when my colleagues are trying to deliver a message and I am not ready to hear them. I haven't shaken-off. You know what I mean, right? I'm "heads down" on a problem and even the most lucid, succinct, and powerful message is met with, "Mmm Hmm", as I type away at something, or while my brain is engaged in a problem.

My shake-off is music. I can listen to just the right piece at the right time and it's like hitting a big reset button on my forehead that centers my mind and body and renders me in a state ready for reception. That along with a good stretch or a walk with my iPOD is Nirvana. The shake off is really about getting out of your locomotion and standing still, with your senses alert and ready to take in new information.

If you have never had a "muscal shake-off" I invite you to listen to and watch Benjamin Zander. This will give you an idea of what I mean.

By the way, watch this talk not only in the context of "shake-off", but also in the context of Agile as a whole. There are several amazing lessons here for us all.