I was shouting “do not give out the solution”! The worst part was that I shouted right at the beginning of the meeting. I felt like I was derailing the meeting even before it even started and I wasn’t very happy about it. Before getting into what happened consequently to make me do this, let me tell you the whole story.
In a meeting that I was part of, the facilitator was asking participants to make a fan. It wasn’t a norm for people to make fans while in meetings at an IT firm1. Most people looked confused, they were just looking at each other and no single sign of creating fans was on the horizon. At that moment, one of the participants took the initiative and started to guide the others on how to make a fan. Let’s call him Strive. Strive was telling people in detail what they need to do; That they are going to pick their favorite color paper, any color that they want, fold the papers, glue them together and then glue a piece of stick to them; and the result would be a fan.
Don’t we all like being told what to do? And in detail? This was when I felt the urge to say something. I raised my voice to stop Strive on providing one of the possible solutions. Then I brought out my cell phone and loudly said to myself: “I don’t know how to make a fan… but I am going to search how to make one.” This was followed by one of the participants asking if they are allowed to use their phones. The answer was yes. The crowd then became busy, everyone with his/her own style of coming up with a fan. Fifteen minutes later, everyone made a fan. I think it’s important to mention that not even two of them were the same. One person used staples instead of glue to make fans2. Another one didn’t fold the papers at all. One person decorated her fan with drawings, another one used a prototype on a plain paper to test his skills and the outcome before committing to creating the fan.
The followings are some of the fans created by the individuals.
Let’s think what would have happened if Strive continued leading the participants on. People in the room probably would have followed his instructions or most of them at least. I predict that most of the fans would have looked similar to each other as a result of following same steps. What about taking ownership and being proud of what you’ve created? Would you think that they could have been proud of what they have built? Proud of the thought and craftsmanship they put in? Would you ponder if there is any pride following the instructions blindly?
What has happened in the room was magical3. Everyone have been given the freedom to explore, try and come up with what they think a fan is and to create one. Every person came up with a solution, which to them was the ideal one. No one was feeling confused on what to do or how to follow the instructions. You could have seen people asking questions from each other and bouncing back ideas. At the end, everyone presented their fan with a happy face and took a group photo with their fans running!
Have you ever found yourself in a situation that you have asked the team to create a fan with detailed instructions instead of telling them why you need the fan? What do you think you are losing in that process? What are the drawbacks of telling them the detailed instructions of what to build versus telling them why you need something and let them come up with a solution?
Have you ever considered what the collective brain power of a team can accomplish? The participants demonstrated that they could all create fans in different shapes and forms individually. If put together, with good facilitation techniques to harmonize and to help them brainstorm in order to build on top of each other’s ideas, they could have created a fan they could all be proud of. That’s the power that which comes from and relies upon the team; I am calling it team thinking.
People that we are working with are all intellectuals, thinkers, capable of making judgments, criticizing and innovating. What makes us great is the power of relying on, trusting and understanding each other’s needs. And it’s only then that we can use our greater collective team thinking to make something exceptional.
This article is a great life example of why Product Owners are being asked NOT to provide HOW in writing user stories (i.e. product backlog items). The HOW was the detailed instructions provided by Strive. Let the team know WHY and WHAT you are looking for and they will creatively provide you with the HOW. WHY could be that you are hot and WHAT could be that you need a hand-held device4.