Discovering core qualities and developing soft skills

As a Scrum Master I of course facilitate the Team first, and I also have certain responsibilities towards the PO and stakeholders. But another important role for me is to coach the Team. Coaching can take many different forms. I can focus on the group process, which is important when starting up a Team or when Team members are being shuffled for example. I can also focus on coaching Scrum values, leading by example on how to increase Agility at work. This week I found myself coaching the individual soft skills of a group of senior IT developers.

Soft skills in IT Scrum teams

Most IT developers I’ve worked with love what they do and are eager to improve their technical skills. In IT it’s all about having the right and/or latest certifications so training is part of the job. I also know a lot of guys (and girls of course!) that love what they do so much that they tinkle around with programming even in their spare time or, for example, attend meet-ups after work to expand their knowledge. I have a great love for IT folk. It’s a proud bunch. They love solving a puzzle and can enjoy picking in details, feeling a strong sense of accomplishment when knowledge and skill is put to good use.

It’s not me, it’s you

All that focus on result can sometimes forsake the process. And, if IT folk lack anything, in my experience, it might be that they have 0 natural inclination of improve their soft skills. I am who I am; stubborn, bossy, impatient, critical, unorganized, passive, blunt and everyone around me will just have to deal. As a Scrum Master of an IT Team you therefor might see certain patterns in the group dynamics or work relationships repeating themselves.

For example, I once had this developer in one of my Teams that kept bringing up issues about a colleague from another Team which often had to deliver something he was dependent on. At first he just brought up the inefficient way of working of said colleague. Then it even got a little personal when there were complaints about specific behavior. The discussion was mostly about process and end result and they always parted ways with; let’s agree to disagree.

The Feedback Game

When we moved the discussion to the questions; what makes you so allergic to this colleague that we created insights that really helped out the relationship. In honor of that step forward I dedicated a Retrospective to ‘The Feedback Game’. In Dutch we know this as Kwaliteitenspel of Kernkwadrantspel. You can play this game with any group in different ways. It’s a set of cards with personal qualities on them which you can use to give feedback to a colleague or help yourself discover what your qualities are, how others might see you or which qualities you want develop. Also, with those qualities you can create a quadrant to determine what your challenges are, or why you are allergic to some people. It’s great fun to do and I guarantee an ‘aha’moment.

Discovering your core qualities

The theory behind it is that everyone has certain qualities, if we take that into extreme (do or show to much of that good quality) it can become a weakness. Your challenge is what will overcome that weakness and the person, or quality, you are allergic to is often the opposite of the quality you started out with. For example if my quality is that I have high standards my weakness could be that I am too critical. My challenge could therefore be to be more open minded and my allergy might be people without an opinion. If my quality really dedicated my weakness could be that I can become stubborn. My challenge then could be that I have to listen more and my allergy are those who do not throw themselves to a task. And so on.

It’s important to understand that there are no set quadrants, nor are there right and wrong qualities. It’s about what rings as true to you. If you are having a hard time getting started I advice to start by doing The Feedback Game within your Team first. It will give you time to think about what qualities you see for yourself, what others see in you and what you feel are important qualities. Again, there are no absolute truths but if you are open to it, it is great fun and ensured revelations to talk with colleagues about each other’s soft skills. If this is a bridge too far try asking a close friend or your spouse for qualities that they feel best describe you and start from there.

Try before your die

So always I’m here to help, coach or train at your request. If you’d like to get started yourself today I recommend the following:

  • Google personal traits/ qualities. Just browse through words until you come across one that speaks to you. Or, if you are brave enough, ask someone really close to you what they see as your qualities.
  • If you have your ‘good’ qualities try thinking about what happens, or what behavior you display when you do too much of that. What happens if you are too caring, or honest, optimistic, or flexible? Write whatever word rings true to you down as your weakness or pitfall next to that ‘good quality’.
  • Next, think about what quality should come forward to overcome your pitfall. Often this is again a ‘good’ quality. This is an important step because here you are naming those qualities you could work on developing to improve yourself or relationships in your life. Your challenge is often the direct opposite of your weakness.
  • Lastly try and think of the opposite quality of the good quality you started out with, this is often a quality that annoys you. Listing those will help create insight on why some people are more difficult to deal with for you than others.

Good luck and let me know how what your ‘aha’ moment was!

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