YVES HANOULLE is a creative collaboration agent at PairCoaching.net in Gent, Belgium, and the author of Who Is Agile? A Book of Personal Reflections on the Journeys of People Who Stumbled on Agile. He built a home “walking office”: an electronic sit-stand desk combined with a treadmill so that he can walk while working. It helps him focus.
His tips for working remotely:
- Keep moving. Use different setups to change how you move.
- Use multiple devices to change your movements.
- Meet face-to-face to build strong connections. Visit each other’s offices.
- Give people space to step up and take responsibility.
- Be clear about what your goals and constraints are.
Podcast production by Podcast Monster
Graphic design by Alfred Boland
Lisette: Great. Here we go. So welcome everybody. It’s not a Hangout on Air, but it is a remote interview. And I’m here today with Yves. Yves, I don’t know how to say your last name. I meant to ask you before we start. Why don’t we start with that?
Yves: My last name is Hanoulle. I actually have a small, 10-second video on YouTube because I get asked that question a lot. Every time I speak somewhere, the people ask me, how do you pronounce it? So I just say, let’s create a very small recording to show people or to remember. And it’s funny because a lot of people don’t know how to pronounce it and most people don’t even know how to write it. I even have friends who tell me, oh, they wrote your name wrong again when it’s actually written correctly.
Lisette: Oh funny.
Yves: I’m used to this kind of thing.
Lisette: Okay, so I felt like a typical American asking, of course, because all of the foreign names I tend to have issues with. But welcome. It’s exciting to be here and finally to meet you. And I understand that you’re an Agile coach and you work with distributed teams. But actually, you said you call yourself a creative collaboration agent, a facilitator of innovation.
Yves: A little correction: at this point I’m not even working with a lot of remote teams, but I’ve been doing that. I started my first remote team in 2004-2005, something like that. And to go back to the real question, creative collaboration agent, for me, what it really means is working with teams is about making sure that they collaborate and they work together. And sometimes we have to use creative IDs to make sure that people actually do work together. And I don’t remember what time. I think a year or two ago, I thought, well, everybody starts to call an Agile coach. So I said I need to have some differentiator and see, okay, what is it about me. And like you said just before, I’m doing a lot of collaboration online with a lot of people in the community. So I said, okay, collaboration is definitely something I like. I thought about creative collaboration coach, but that’s CCC which has a different naming in Belgium which is a terrorist organization from 10 years back or something like that. The abbreviation CCA is probably a little bit better.
Lisette: Right. There are weird things that people don’t think about or know about even.
Yves: Yeah. I didn’t even think about it when I first used the name. And people said, you know how it’s abbreviated? And I said, yes, CCC and that’s, oh, okay, I understand why you said that.
Lisette: So you said you’re located in Belgium. Is that right?
Yves: That’s correct, yes. At this moment, I’m located in Belgium. I moved with my family in 2010 for a year to Bordeaux to help a team over there, but we moved back in September. At the moment, one of my kids had to start learning to read and write, and we prefer that he could do that in his mother tongue.
Lisette: Okay. And tell me about your anywhere office. I think people watching this video are going to be noticing that you’re walking while we’re talking.
Yves: Yes. So I have been very interested in walking and walking desk for a very long time. Actually in 2011, I was thinking about that. And we were actually thinking about…actually this year we’re going to build a house or reconstruct and do a lot of things. I was thinking and talking to the architect. Let’s create a walking office, a walking desk in my office. And then I realized, oh, actually this is very big design upfront because we’re designing everything and have never had a walking desk. I read about it. I learned about it. I was designing a full office to have that without having it. So the moment I realized that, I said to my wife, I’m just going to buy it. Let’s invest in this, which was the very first time I actually invested in something in my office. I invest in a lot of hardware, but I’ve never actually invested a lot in furniture. Typically IKEA furniture or second-hand furniture I have lying around. So this time, it was very expensive. I invested, I don’t know the exact amount. I think it was about 3000 euros with a movable desk. Let me show you. I can just lower my desk electronically and then move it back up, which is good because there are ways you can do that mechanically, but then you always have to find the right thing. And sometimes there are moments that it’s just a little bit higher, a little bit lower. It’s just better. Now it’s at max height. Below there is a normal treadmill that I bought. I bought in a store where they didn’t understand anything I was trying to explain to them. So basically, what I wanted to do is buy a normal treadmill and not put on the original parts, so from a normal treadmill, before you had some bars or whatever. So I didn’t want to put that on. I just wanted to put the table in front of it. Basically what I have to do is when it arrived, I didn’t have to mount these things, which was good because I didn’t have to dismantle. And I just had to change a little bit of wirings so that I didn’t have these bars lying around here which would make it a little bit dangerous.
Lisette: I’ve been interested in a standing desk or a walking desk for years, and I just haven’t gotten around to buying it. But I know that a lot of remote workers overwork because we’re at home. It’s really easy. You can really get into the flow. You can be sitting all day long. I know that a lot of remote workers would like a walking desk. Tell us about the differences that you’re finding.
Yves: One of the things I’m finding is that, for example, something that typically happened a lot to me, if I’m working somewhere else and then in the evening, I go to my office just quickly to check something on my computer, what typically happens I check something quickly on my computer. And then three hours later, I’m still at my desk because that quickly turns out to be a long time. So what I’m doing now is when I go quickly to my computer for just doing something, I don’t turn on my walking desk. And I think in less than 10 minutes, I realize that something is wrong because it doesn’t feel well. So just standing doesn’t work for me. I know that people said I start with a standing desk and when that works, I might invest more. But it doesn’t work for me. I realized that it just doesn’t. 10 minutes, 15 minutes, that’s the maximum. So I will notice with my body that something is wrong. I don’t like it. The idea was that with this desk, because I can lower the desk, I can just put a piece of wood on the treadmill and sit down on it with a chair. I’ve noticed that I think I did it three times since December 2012. So basically, I’m not doing that.
Lisette: So you’re really walking all the time while you’re working.
Yves: At some point, I might be turning it off a little bit but very quickly turn it off. What I mostly play with is speed. And this is why for me, a normal treadmill works so well because you can buy a walking desk, but they have preset speeds. So you have a few speeds and that’s it. With a normal treadmill, you can set your own speed at anything you want. So if I look now, I’m at 4 kilometers an hour which is quite fast. I started with 1.8 or something like that which is what they would advise. Very quickly, I noticed that it doesn’t work. So in the first week, I moved very quickly to 2.6 or something like that. And over the years, I have moved a lot faster. There were moments that I could do it at 5 or 6, but it’s for doing things like we’re doing now: just talking, browsing a little bit. But typing doesn’t work at 5 or 6 kilometers an hour. When I’m really tired – like last night, I worked until 1:00 or 2:00, something like that, working with a colleague remotely on a Google Doc – I’ve noticed that at some point, I just set it back to 2 kilometers an hour, which was for me very slow, but for a lot of other people, it’s still fast. And like I said, in the introduction, I did 4000 steps just last night. That is in one or two hours because that was after midnight.
Lisette: Right. And clearly, all the evidence is in that this is a much healthier way. Sitting all day is really unhealthy for the body.
Yves: Yes. What I’ve noticed is that I don’t lose weight or anything like that. I’m not tracking it. My mother sometimes says, yeah, you’re losing weight, but I don’t think so. I think I’m still at the same weight. But for me, it’s feeling much more healthy. What I do notice is that because I’m on my desk, I might drink a lot more water because I have everything… Actually, I was about to say everything available. And now I just have a cup of coffee and that’s about it. But normally, I have about a few liters of water around me so that I can drink something. The normal breaks would be breaks when I go to a toilet, something like that, but that’s about it. For example, something I’ve noticed is that I have my own company, so I do a lot of my own accountancy. And I don’t like to do it, so typically what happens is I start doing it and after half an hour, I get bored. So I read some emails. I get distracted. On my walking desk, I can do it for two or three hours and just keep doing it. I think it’s about blood being pumped to my brain and to my heart or whatever so that I can keep concentrating a lot more. For some people who might know, in 2007, we started creating a new year’s vigil. So one of the things I’m doing in November and December in the evenings is I’m creating and preparing a new year’s vigil and that’s based on all the pictures we took in the full year with our family, and putting it together on some piece of music. So the last two years, I did that also while walking. So it’s not really editing. It’s just moving a little bit pictures around. So it doesn’t demand so much detail, but still it shows a lot that you can do that on a walking desk. I’m not sure if it’s really that important, I have something that’s called a HandShoe Mouse which is a really strange mouse. I can really put my hand on top of it and I can move it around like this. Right now I’m holding it, but typically you don’t hold it. You just put your hand on top of it and you move it. So that’s one of the things that I’ve done. That one I had I think already two or three years before I was having my walking desk because at some point, I had some problems with my hand, typical RSI kind of thing. And when I talked to my doctor, ask them what’s the best mouse to buy, and he said there is nothing best. What you need is multiple devices. So next to it, I also have… I don’t think it’s stylish now, but I have something that’s called the vertical mouse. So that one, you just grab like this and you move like that. The difference is that your wrist is not turned when you click it. So these are two different devices that both tell it’s the best one for your wrists. But for me, the good part is just changing it.
Lisette: I think that’s very smart advice. Weirdly enough, I haven’t thought of that before, but that makes perfect sense, of course.
Yves: And when my doctor said it, I was like, of course, yes, that’s what you would advise to a lot of people. And I had the same reaction as you: why didn’t I think about that before?
Lisette: [laughs] It seems so simple.
Yves: So both of these mice I’ve just shown you are rather expensive, I think about 100 euros or something like that. But if I have to go once to the doctor or stay one day at home, it will probably cost me a lot more.
Lisette: RSI is far more expensive than a mouse.
Yves: Exactly, that was the reason why. Actually for my current client, I mostly use a wireless trackball, which is interesting as well because I learned that from a product owner which I worked. The wireless trackball allows you to keep it in your hand, so you can even use it doing presentations. So I use it as a clicker on steroids. I can have actually a mouse pointer when I’m walking around. I haven’t tried it on a presentation when I’m on stage because I’m still happy with my current clicker, but I do use it sometimes when I show something. I only bought it recently, so I’m still experimenting with it. But I saw that product owner doing it and doing really cool stuff with it. He can just, in a presentation, just move a mouse pointer where he could do it. But he didn’t have to sit at a computer. He could just walk around and show it, so very interesting.
Lisette: I love it. I don’t often get to talk to people about the ergonomics of the home office, but I think it’s a subject that I’d like to dive into more and more because I think it’s more important than people realize.
Yves: Yes. By thinking a lot about walking desk, I gradually thought about all these different things. And it’s our body. I’m a little over 40, 43, so that means that you start to feel your body a little more, or at least I start to feel my body a little more. I’m not a really good sportsman. Actually, the first year that I had the walking desk, because I was moving so much more, I was able to run. And somehow, after the holidays, that dropped. So I still need to pick it up again. But I do feel a lot healthier because I move a lot more. That started, basically, by Jim Benson’s book Personal Kanban where he talks about a step counter. So we share the same step counter, a Fitbit One. And the Fitbit One is really what is needed for a walking desk because you have normal new Fitbits that are on your wrist, but that wouldn’t work with a walking desk because my hands are on my desk. So Fitbit One is inside my trousers and it’s moving.
Lisette: I didn’t think of that. I don’t really like things around my wrist, which is why I like the Fitbit One. It’s good to know that actually.
Yves: Yeah. A lot more are now around the wrists, which is, okay, I’m worried that if mine breaks, I will have a problem. But so far, it’s working. What I’ve noticed is that since I’ve had the walking desk, I think a lot more about walking. For example, my current clients, I mostly go by train. So typically, what I do when I go by train is I go to train station. I don’t like to be there or didn’t like to be there too much early because then you have to wait and everybody is like, it’s boring. The train is late, blah, blah, blah. What I started doing when I had my walking desk, I realized that, hey, I could walk there. So what I’m doing these days is I’m actually walking little circles in the train station, which got some weird looks the first two weeks, I think. But I guess now everybody is used to me walking. The cool thing is I don’t worry anymore if my train is five minutes late because it means I can walk, I don’t know, a thousand steps more or something like that. So it’s healthier. I’m in a better mood because when my train is late, for me it means yahoo, I can move more. So it makes me happier.
Lisette: I love the silver lining. It’s brilliant. So let’s talk about your working with distributed teams and Agile. I really like to hear that because I know there’s a big debate in the Agile world over can Agile teams be distributed. And of course they can because they have to be in a lot of cases.
Yves: Let me say how it started. In 2005, it’s actually my very first complete Agile team I was coaching. We were working with a tool that was from Russia. And we invited these people over. And they were so smart. I’m sorry for everybody else I know, but these were the smartest people that I ever worked. So my client at the time, my boss, said let’s see if we can work with them because we need more brains. We need smarter people. And they know their tools very well, and they might be able to help us. So before I knew it, I think two months after I started working there, I was not coaching one local Belgian team, but I was coaching a Belgian team and people from Russia at the same time. And I do remember that it works really pretty easy. I have a personal coach. I have coaches. I talked to my own coach and said, what am I doing wrong? We’re working Agile distributed and it works. So that person made me repeat multiple times what I said until I realized that the goal was not Agile. The goal was to help people and to make it work. What I think was due at that time, we’re talking about 2005. Skype was out, I think, a year or two, something like that, or it started becoming popular. So that was all new. When Agile was started, when they created the manifesto, we didn’t have these tools. The Internet was already there, but we had email and stuff like that. We didn’t all have these distribution tools. So that made a huge difference. We were still having troubles with that because at one time, I still remember in 2005 or beginning 2006, Skype was out for two days and we realized we didn’t have any other contacts. We did have email but that was pretty slow. So contacting them, I don’t think we even had their phone numbers. So it was hard to contact each other at that time. So we realized then that we should look for MSN and ways to chat in different ways so that we’re not depending just on Skype. But it really helped a lot. We still brought these people into Belgium, I think, once every two months. And not everybody, but we were having one or two people from Russia coming over for two weeks or a week or two, something like that – sometimes just a week. So we had a lot more connection there.
Lisette: I have a question about that, which is do you think it was necessary to meet in person?
Yves: Yes. I remember at one point, it was the end of June. And for whatever reason, they couldn’t come in June. And July, typically, a lot of people are on holiday in Belgium. And I think in August, a lot of them were out. So we said, let’s not meet in June. So for whatever reason, it was then at the end of September, a lot later than normal. And by the end of September, we really had two teams. They were all about, oh, these Russians, these Belgians – basically, almost fighting. And I don’t say it was gone the day they came back. But in less than a week, everything was pretty much back to normal. And I think it’s how is it called? Jutta Eckstein who said about that you’ll pay for travel if you do it or not. So if you don’t do the travel, you will pay it because you will be less productive, and we’ve learned that the hard way. We had some similar things. If I would do it back again now with these people, I would’ve gone multiple times over there because now they always came to Belgium and we didn’t get to Russia. It was planned at some time. But then one of the people, I would say the lead architect or lead developer in Belgium, his wife was about to give birth. So we shifted it around a little bit. And in the end, it didn’t happen. Or just later, the boss went over there. But none of the technical team, none of the developers went over. And we learned a lot, when the boss went over there, some really stupid things about that they had to pay more for internet bits that were coming from Europe and for local internet bits. Things like that really surprised us, some stupid things about electricity that could turn off. I don’t know the details anymore, but we learned a lot just by going there.
Lisette: That’s a really good point. It didn’t occur to me. Of course, if somebody is always coming to one place, it’s important that you also go to their culture – especially when it’s a different culture because there are things that you never think of with other cultures.
Yves: The normal things that people recognize like you have the holidays that are different. You have the whole cultures that are different. So we had a four-hour difference that worked pretty well for us. So what we typically did was we sent a lot of questions, a lot of remarks to them in the evening. And then in the morning, they came in four hours early so that they could work on some stuff. And by the time we came in, they already had half day of work, so we could test some of the stuff. We are ahead. And sometimes when I knew some things were tricky, I would get up a little earlier. I would Skype them just like I do with you now, very, very early, only after 15 or 10 minutes when I know, okay, it seems that they have some answers. I would only then take a shower, and then talk a little more if it was needed. And only then later, an hour later as normal, I would go to the office. But by then I would’ve helped them already and they would have a two-hour head start. Even if I only had invested half an hour or an hour to that, we would’ve won some time. That was not needed most of the time because the teams were pretty independent. The stories or the work they worked on that time was pretty independent, which is something, I think, is really important when you work distributed. I’ve been reading a lot the last two years about open source and how they deal with stuff. The most well-known book right now is Work Without Your Pants book from WordPress and also a lot of others. But what I’ve seen is that if you can have your work completely independent, which is typically what happens a lot in the open source. Everybody works on their little piece, independent of others. And then it’s a lot easier to work from different time zones, from different table, because you don’t need to talk too much. Most of these are then also working, I would say, almost without meetings, if I’m hearing correctly. GitHub and WordPress, they don’t meet or they hardly have meetings. So they also meet once or twice a year with a full team, and then they typically meet someplace else where it’s nobody’s office. But it’s a lot about bonding and getting to know each other. It’s less about doing work. They still do work together. But from what I understand for most of these companies, at that moment, less important than making sure that they have a connection.
Lisette: Right. So the work needs to be independent. Or it doesn’t need to be, but it’s easier.
Yves: So if I look at almost all the collaborations that I set up… You talked about retroflection. So I have the Agile conference calendar. There are a few other things. We have the Who is Agile book. All of that. I think, at least in some cases, like for the calendar we have I think 60 or maybe 70 people who are helping out. But that work is not organized. It’s really like people see something, oh, this is something we can add to the calendar. And they do it and they have all the right. So there’s not even a need for communication even there because people can just do a part what they think needs to be done. And if they need help, there is a mailing list where people can ask questions. And I need to think, 2012, 2011, I did a talk at ALE, Agile Lean Europe, about some of these projects. And in preparing for that, I realized that for all of these projects, I never ever had a single meeting with the full team or with everybody who was there, which was interesting because in Agile, I don’t like meetings, but we still have some regular meetings. We have standups. We have plannings and all this. And for all of this project, I didn’t even have that. What I did have – and that surprised me even more – is that for a lot of these projects, I have a spreadsheet that sets somehow some statistics and shows me some of the things that have been done. I typically don’t like the spreadsheets in an Agile team. I would like to have a wall with stickers because people can use them and see stuff. But of course, that doesn’t work with a distributed team. So I saw that. I used a lot of other tools for distributed communities without even thinking about it. You use what is working. And what I find important for all these communities is that I give people all the rights that they can do everything. I’m not there for administrative things. I’m just making sure, for example, the calendars, that Google is really good at it. I can share that calendar with everybody who wants to help out. And I just give everybody full admin rights. That means they can add people to it. They can add events to it. They can even move. They can change events. They can delete them, which is sometimes a problem. But it works a lot better or easier. One thing that is important with that is I can still configure Google Calendar to send me an email every time something is added to such a calendar. So I get a lot of emails when people edit and typically I don’t even look at them. When things are added or when more information is added to it, I don’t look at it. What I do look a lot at it is when things are deleted because what I’ve seen over the years is we have, like I said, at least 60 people who have that calendar somewhere in their local Google Calendar, and sometimes they see an event popping up and they think it’s in their local calendar and say, no, I’m not going to that event, and they just delete it. So that is important because in the beginning, I didn’t receive these emails and we had things like, hey, but that thing was added. How has it moved? How is it deleted? So now I know. But again, I won’t put it back. I will just send an email to the person who deleted it and say, did you do that on purpose? Does that conference or event exist anymore? What’s happening? And in 80 percent of the cases, oh, I thought it was just locally, sorry. You can just put it back and say, no, no, no, that’s not how it works. You just put it back. And what I’ve noticed since I started doing that, these people do it once or twice, but then they don’t do it anymore. I give them full responsibility also. There are a few of them who just said, well, apparently, I’m not good at that. Just remove my rights. I’m not going to do that. It’s too risky. That’s fine for me as well. But at least they…
Lisette: They made this decision.
Yves: Exactly. They made this decision, do I want to have this or not.
Lisette: Do you get any abuse with this kind of a system?
Yves: I don’t think so. The Google Calendar for Agile conference is really about the conferences; it’s not about trainings. So people who are new might add a training to it. That’s typically when I add people. The first things that they add, I might look a little bit at it. And then we have some discussions. Actually on the mailing list about that we now have a discussion because I’m talking about one calendar when in reality there are three. There’s one for the conferences, there’s one for small events, and there’s one for submission so people have a calendar where you can see when you can submit sessions to events and conferences so that you know if I want to submit this session for Agile 2015, it’s still open and I can do it. And the last two are lesser known. The one for events, it’s really unclear at this point what we want to put in. Almost nothing is in there. So we have a discussion right now in the mailing lists, will we allow trainings and what kind of trainings. What we’re really afraid of is that we’ll have some abuse and a lot of people will start using. So for me, we haven’t decided yet on how we will use that. But again, it’s a mailing list. Everybody who has access to the calendar is invited to the mailing list. I’m not sure if they all accepted it because it’s a Google mailing list. Typically, what I ask people is introduce yourself there. Ask some of the questions. And I try to withhold myself for not being the first to answer these questions because if I’m the first, it’s still all about me and that’s not the idea.
Lisette: Right. So the transparency and a group participation and individual responsibility. And you are facilitating because there’s somebody that’s making sure that that thing is going too far out. But really, you’re trying to keep it as minimal as possible. That’s what I’m hearing anyway.
Yves: Yes, exactly. This calendar just started out of personal use. I’m interested in knowing all the conferences where I could talk to or where I could visit. I think that was in 2005 or 2006. But when I created that for my own, I said, well, there might be other people who are interested. So I started sharing them. And when I had to share them, I was like, okay, should I give them access rights, just visibility? And very quickly, I decided, okay, let’s just all give them rights because then people started to ask me, could you add this to it? And I said, well, instead of just adding it, I can add you to the calendar. It will take about the same amount of time. And now you can edit yourself and you can add. And typically, what happens is that people don’t add one. They add two or three, which is improving for everyone. And with 60 people, that means that if everyone adds one or two, we have one or two events for every week.
Lisette: That’s a lot of events.
Yves: Exactly. Of course, it’s a lot of group. So there are weeks that you have five events and you have weeks that there is nothing. Typically, between Christmas and New Year, I don’t think there’s anything that’s on the event calendar. But that’s just normal because that’s how the season works, how the conferences work. The result is that at this point, I’m not adding anything anymore. If I hear about a new event, I’m asking the people, oh, are you interested to have it put on? And I just give them the rights. So personally, my contribution to the calendar is just by adding people to it, and that’s it. So I’m using it to see what’s happening but I’m not adding anything anymore to it. I’m just adding people who could add something to it, which is how it should work for me because I don’t want to be the bottleneck. I try to avoid it. This is something I’m doing as a coach as well. I’m trying to step out as quickly as possible. It’s not always possible. Sometimes you have people that need some more guidance that you will help a little more. But what I’ve seen is, of course, the first people I added to were people I trusted 100 percent. Because of that, the trust was there right from the start in this group of people. And it’s my interpretation, of course, but I think because of that, everybody trusts each other in this group for this kind of thing.
Lisette: I really want to talk about this because I read your blog post about building trust where I think you called it how the teams build trust. And trust comes up in every single interview that I do, especially on remote teams because it seems to be the number one reason that remote teams don’t work. There’s a lack of trust somewhere in the team. So I wanted to pick your brain about what you feel about trust in remote teams. How do teams build trust?
Yves: For me, trust is given. It’s not earned. That is a key part of it. I should give trust to people and they might show that they’re just trustful. But I trust them by default because if they have to prove it – I’m not sure what’s the right word – but then it’s not trust. It’s more a fact if they can show that they’re trustworthy. I think it’s Jurgen Appelo who pointed me to it. Would you trust these people to operate your brain? Of course not. So that’s a different kind of level of trust. This is what you do with children as well. You let them do something in a safe environment where you think they might do it. So you’re giving them trust to let them do stuff. And typically, what I’m trying to do is I’m giving them a little more option to do something than I think my kids are capable to do. Every time I’m surprised by what my children can do. I have one idea in mind that when my eldest son, who’s now 12, was five or six, I got a phone call from our neighbors and she said, well, your son is here. I was like, no, I’m in the train. I’m going to pick him up at school. And she was, no. So what happened was that he goes on bicycle to school. And normally, when he goes on bicycle, when he leaves school, we’re there waiting for him, and we bicycle back. That day we were not. So for whatever reason, he went to school on bicycle and we told him that you have to wait. I’ll pick you up an hour later. And we’ll just go by bike home. But he forgot about it, which is normal at five or six. You don’t think about these things. So he comes out of school, he drives his bike, and he doesn’t see us. But he knows the safe way to go home. And he says, well, okay, I start cycling home. While he was halfway, he realized that that will not help him because they’re not home. But he was too scared to drive back to school because he’s not supposed to leave school. So he just goes home, starts playing in the garden – which is open, so he has that possibility. After 5 to 10 minutes, he realizes that maybe I should go to the neighbor and ask for help or do something – which was funny because the doorbell was too high, so he couldn’t reach it. So he had to jump up and down to reach it until he made a sound that she heard him. So she answered him. Do you want something to eat? A little milk, a sandwich or something? He said, no, I have to do my homework. He was six and was like, okay. I can assure you that homework is totally different these days. For us parents, it was like, okay, he actually knew very well how to handle that situation. He took a lot of problems that were there and he solved them in his particular way with his capabilities. So that showed me already that he can do that. And this is going back to trust again. Did we trust him from the next day that he can go home at that time? We said no, although we knew from the school that some kids could it at that age. For us, we’re not sure yet. He had proven that he was capable. So we removed some of that trust in that sense and we said, no, we don’t want to. The understanding or the way we explained it to us is that it was not so much about him; it’s more about the environment. But I’m not sure if that’s fully true. It’s really about, okay, we didn’t let him do this.
Lisette: It sounds to me that you’ve given your son the autonomy in that situation. And the people that you’re adding to the calendar, they also have the autonomy in their situation to behave in the proper way. And it’s interesting because it sounds like by giving people autonomy in this way that we build trust. Oddly enough, when we let go, somehow, the trust strengthens – which is a weird thing.
Yves: I’m not sure if I said it this week or last week, but I remember saying not so long ago that if you treat children like adults or like grown-ups, they behave a lot like grown-ups. And if you treat grown-ups like children, they start behaving like children. And this is what I see a lot in teams. And it doesn’t matter if they’re local teams or distributed teams. Actually, with distributed teams, you don’t have much choice. It’s not that I can walk over or take a plane to go back to these Russians and sit behind their desks to see what they’re typing. I cannot do that. So have to give them trust. And what I see a lot of people doing with working distributed is you have to send it and you have to give all your hours. But the less trust I give them, the more they feel distrusted. And for me, it creates chaos most of the time.
Lisette: So what would your advice be to a manager who is trying to behave in a more trustful way for their team? How would somebody as a manager or maybe even as a team member, how would you start building trust on their team? How did you start?
Yves: When I worked with these people in Russia, I talked a lot on Skype. So I joke that at some point that I was talking more with these people in Russia than I was talking to my wife. It was five to six hours that I was talking or chatting with them, which was not the same amount of time I was spending with my wife – just full-time talking. We could be together for four hours but we didn’t talk for four hours. I don’t think I knew Scrum at the time. I think I only followed Scrum training in 2006. In 2005, I was behaving a lot as a coach in the local team. And I had somebody who was much more a technical lead, so another coach. I created a lot of connection with that person and a lot of trust. And I trusted him on some of these things. We still have our discussion. It doesn’t mean that I’m not verifying or not asking questions. I want to understand a lot more. But still, you offer people the possibility. You let them do some of the stuff. And I’m personally never interested in hours. What I’ve seen in a lot of companies, just local companies, there is a lot of focus on how many hours you do. For me, that’s a lot of focus on cost and not on value. I prefer to focus on value. What do you want to get out? And with distributed teams, that will be the number one advice. Make sure that you tell them what you want, which is basically normal Scrum. You give a story and you give some example. You describe the functionality that you expect, you describe some acceptance criteria, and then you let go. And they can come back if they have questions. I can see that in multiple directions. The more you’re clear about what your goals are, the better off you are.
Lisette: Right. And the focus on results instead of time, which makes perfect sense. So it sounds to me like your method of trust is really over-communication and really building that relationship with that person by communicating with them a lot. And on Skype, if you can’t be in person, it sounds like Skype for you really worked. It’s a great alternative.
Yves: I know teams where they even have Skype open full-time so that there is connections in both directions. Something else that we did in other teams is that…for example I worked in a situation where we had teams. They were more or less the same size on both sides. So in this case, what you would call local and distributed team more or less the same size. At that time, there were no electronic tools that what I would say were close to decent. I’m not sure who had a tool at that time. So they might disagree with me. But at least we didn’t find tools that were reasonable that could do it. So we had some problem there. What we created is we created a local whiteboard just with the stickers like you would always do with local team or you do a lot with local teams. And we created the same one on the other side. We experimented a lot with having a joint stand-up at both sides. That never really worked. It was really hard to do that. I don’t think I invented it. I think it was someone from the team who just said, why can’t we just have two stand-ups? So what we started doing is they synchronized. One person from this country talked to one person here. They just start before the stand-up. And then they had their local stand-ups. So everybody talked locally. So they synced over Skype or over whatever tool they wanted to use. And then they had the local stand-ups. Once or twice every week, we took a picture from the whiteboard and we sent them over and we checked if they were in sync, which was very interesting because what we learned, we found…every week, we found out one or two things that were not in sync. But these were the really important things to discuss because that meant that people forgot to talk about that, which is things that you will not see with a distributed tool because it will just be updated. And they have the status. But if they didn’t talk about it, they might not realize it.
Lisette: Wow! That is interesting. I was just about to ask why not use a distributed sticky board, an online sticky note board. And this would be a very good reason for not doing that.
Yves: Like I said, at that time, that didn’t exist, so we could not. But it turned out for us to work really well. Of course, these are two teams, more or less the same size. So you could have a buddy on the other side. And what we added, it was a rotating buddy system. So today, I might talk to you. The next sprint, I talk to someone else and you talk to someone else on my side, which gave the extra thing. You talked about over-communication. Basically, everybody had someone who he talked to at least for one sprint, so there was a lot of personal connection there. Typically, how that goes is that in a distributed stand-up is that we might talk a little bit personal but not too much. We just might do that until everybody is there and then we start and we’d be very productive and let’s not talk personal anymore.
Lisette: Right. Get in and get out.
Yves: Exactly. We’re there with 10 or 20 people, so we want to be as focused as possible. So we might start to talk and joke a little bit while not everybody is there. But from the moment everybody is there, we behave professionally – which is normal because we’re 10-15 people and we want to use the time as best as possible. But if you do that one-on-one, it’s less disturbing. You can just have a talk a little bit like, well, today I had a bad day. I don’t feel well. My wife is ill. My family has some problem. So we might share just a little bit. But if you do that for two weeks, it creates a little bond. That creates a little more. So after two weeks, we rotate. Because we have a new sprint, we do a small rotation. I create a local connection with everybody on the other side, which helps a lot.
Lisette: I like the idea of having the rotating buddy so that you’re not just with this one person all the time. You’re actually creating a strong bond throughout the team that way. That’s an interesting technique.
Yves: I think having a buddy and rotating it, for me it only works or at least I have the feeling it only works when you have more or less the same size. Otherwise, I have to have two buddies and once we start, again, one-on-one connections or much stronger, multiple connections.
Lisette: I like that. I think this is really good advice. I said I was going to try to keep it to 30 minutes, but there was no way I could talk to you for just 30 minutes. I could continue talking to you for the next few hours. I think this is great. But I know we’re nearing the end of the hour. Is there anything that we didn’t touch on that you’re dying to tell?
Yves: There were at least two topics that I thought I should tell and I didn’t write them down, so I forgot about it, so at this point, no. I think we said the most important things. I maybe want to stress out about the distributed part. This is something, except on my walking desk blog part, this is the most sought blog post because a lot of people always say, yeah, but you need electronic tools because you have a distributed team. I know it’s not true. I’m not saying distributed tools or electronic tools are bad. I’m just saying you should know why to use them. Normal tools or the whiteboard tools can still work with the distributed team. It might be a good way to figure out why we need them. And then, once we have figured out how that works, we can say how an electronic tool could work with us. That’s the same thing with a normal local team or distributed team. That said, that is only if you really need that stand-up. Like I said, if the work is really separated, there might be less need for stand-ups and all of these things. I think the Agile community can learn a lot from what the open-source community is doing. Basically, there you have teams with hundreds of thousands of people, and they work and everybody just focuses on what they like to do.
Lisette: And there are no managers.
Yves: If you talk about Drupal or Linux, there are probably some people who have some kind of role that could be compared to managers. But it’s much more on self-organizing and a lot more on trust. But there are clear rules and everybody has to play by these rules. That’s how these things happen. And it’s not that all open-source projects worked. There are a lot of them that don’t work at all. And of course, we only know about the big projects that work. I’m not sure if it’s that worse in real life and corporate world because I know a lot of projects that don’t work either. And you have people trying to control it, giving the impression that it’s working better, but it’s not always the case.
Lisette: At least in the open-source world, it seems like it’s a lot more transparent, and we’re talking about the failure more than maybe in the corporate world. That’s my feeling.
Yves: They’re out in the open. But I think there are a lot of them that are very, very small open-source projects that just don’t get any traction. What I’ve learned about the open-source from the little collaborations that I’m doing is that it’s a lot about the communication about looking forward and making sure that you focus. This is why I’m focusing on communication for the Agile calendars. This is making it work because I’m focusing on that. Because of that, I can let go of the calendar. But it works in both directions. Because I let go, people can step up and do step up.
Lisette: Because you communicated the needs and you’re approaching people personally when something happens like, hey, did you mean to delete that event? Then you’re sort of educating and talking at the same time.
Yves: It’s interesting that you say personal. For example, I’m not sure if I have one for deletion, but for people adding to the calendar, that’s a template that I can just copy/paste. But I will still write the name and I will add something personal to it. But the largest part is just template because it helps to send the same message to everyone. But I definitely will write a personal introduction to it. And I’m pretty sure that if I just forget to add the name, that person will work less for it because they don’t feel personally connected to these things.
Lisette: Right. And I can imagine that the standard information stays the same. So there’s no reason that it shouldn’t be a template. You need to convey this information. This is the rule and that stays the same for everybody. When I was building private social networks, one of the main rules that we always told community managers was be sure to welcome people when they come into your community, and welcome them in a personal way. Send them a link to a book that they might like. Just take a glance at their LinkedIn profile. There’s always something that you can send them.
Yves: What I’ve asked all these people always is introduce yourself on the mailing list. And once you introduce yourself into the mailing list, they will always say something where I can say something about it. It might be that it completely surprises me and I’m like, oh, I didn’t know that. But in a lot of cases they have some kind of thing that brought them to this thing or they know me or they know someone else I do know, and there is some connection. That always brings up something. What I’m now trying, and this is the hardest part, is that for some of these communities, I’m trying to step back and hoping that other people will welcome them. But that’s really it’s in line, because if I don’t go fast enough welcoming them, they don’t feel welcomed. But if I go too quickly, others won’t do it. So I have to play a little bit around with that. It’s really important. I think this is again creative collaboration agent. It means working on collaboration. When you talk about what you just described for the community, for me it’s community management and all these kinds of things. And maybe I’m more a community manager on Agile projects than I am a coach. I don’t think so because I still bring other stuff. But community part is really important to that. I want the teams to behave as a community.
Lisette: So we have to build them like communities. And if you were going to have a party, somebody would come into your house and you would say, welcome to my house and have a seat and let me get you a drink. It would be the same on a distributed team. Welcome to the team. Let me show you around. This is how this works.
Yves: I’m working as a consultant, so I visit a lot of companies. It’s incredible how they don’t have that. They don’t have a welcome pack. I’ve been to companies where I don’t have a computer for two months. Luckily that’s more than four years or five years ago since that happened. But I still see it happening. They don’t think about that. With the teams I’m working with, I’m asking them to create a blog post or whatever – some kind of document that says how we will welcome them. And I let the people who last came to the team edit it and say this worked and this doesn’t work so that at least we can improve this because it’s one of the ways how we improve it. That is really important. People should feel welcomed. You hire them because you thought they were really good. They were the best to come to your team because that’s why you hired person X and you didn’t hire the other person. And then we treat them like idiots or we don’t tell them anything. People are not aware. I’ve seen companies where people just show up and nobody knows, hey, there was going to be a new person on our team. Oh yeah, there’s his chair. We have to look what we’ll tell you because we don’t have time and we didn’t prepare for that. Or nobody told me.
Lisette: And it must feel horrible as an employee going into a situation like that. I started working at a company once and I was so excited. It was a great project and a great place. There’s something new for me. And on the first day, they basically just sat me down at a desk and nobody talked to me. They all just kept working as normal and I don’t even know what to do. I was asking around. My stomach sank on that first day.
Yves: I have the opposite story I can tell. That might be a good one to end our talk. We talked about trust. In 2013, I had a client who was interested in Spotify model. They read Henrik Kniberg’s articles and they were, hey, we want to do the same thing. And I was like I don’t think you’re ready. But somehow, I thought instead of just reading and talking to all these coaches, I would really like to learn a lot more about how Spotify works. So I just wrote an email to Henrik and asked whether it would be possible for me to work one week at Spotify. I know I learn mostly by doing, so I thought let’s just work there one week. To cut the long story short, I was able to do that. And on the first day, on Monday, I did a leadership game, something I created in 2004. So I brought all my stuff. It was a large suitcase full of Lego. We played that in the evening. At 7:00 or at 9:00, it started. It’s a three-hour game. So I think about that then we stopped. While we stopped, people were cleaning up. I just had to put everything, the latest Lego into my suitcase. And I looked up and I was alone in that room. I’m not sure if I was the only one at Spotify. But when I walked out, I didn’t meet anyone. So I was there in a building. That was my very first day. They made me sign an NDA. They made me sign some other stuff. But I was alone. Nobody escorted me in or out. And I was like this is a company that works fully on trust. They said right from the start that we’re asking you to sign an NDA, so we trust you behave as an adult and you’re not going to publish and say anything about some of the stuff that we’re just secretly not going to talk. But I could see everything. The most important example for me was that evening because it was the very first day. And at 10 o’clock in the evening, I didn’t see anyone anymore. I assume there were still some people working, but I didn’t walk out. I didn’t look is there anyone. I just normally went out through the door and I didn’t meet anyone. This is really trust.
Lisette: Yeah. That’s a good example.
Yves: That’s much better as your example where you just sit down and you have to figure out who could I talk to. Who is even on my team? Why am I even here?
Lisette: Right. I felt very unwelcome, and it just went downhill from there.
Yves: That’s exactly that. The company is making all these effort to hire someone because they think you’re the best for whatever reason. And then they treat you like shit. Even if they would have wanted to pick that up, it would cost a lot of energy from both you and from that company. So it’s a shame. If they would’ve just invested half an hour the day before, you would’ve felt so much more welcome if they would’ve just introduced you, walked you around, things like that, it would’ve been so much easier.
Lisette: Yeah. And I think that with online and distributed teams, it becomes extra important because of the isolation. The isolation is the norm. At least in an office, you’re there with people.
Yves: Well, you need to find ways to deal with that. I have distributed teams where we just printed off the pictures from everyone who was online so that we can at least look at them. So when we talked to them, even if it’s just voice, I have the pictures on the wall, so I know how they look. My Skype allows me to change a picture, whatever. But just having them on the wall might be interesting. The Russians, for example, they had a few people who had the exact same name. They were all called Alexei. And then it’s a lot harder to know which Alexei I’m talking to.
Lisette: That’s true.
Yves: So just things like that. I didn’t do that trick with the printing with the people from Russia, but it definitely would’ve helped. And just small things like that, you still have to remember. I’m trying to take pictures from everyone I’m meeting online because when I receive an email, I want picture of that person attached to my email. When they call me, I want to see the picture. Why? Because I’m really bad with names and the pictures tell me something. So it’s small little things that can help create trust in all directions.
Lisette: It humanizes it also because it’s so technical. So one final question for you: if people want to get in touch with you, what’s the best way to do that? Where can they find you?
Yves: Probably, the best is on Twitter, @YvesHanoulle. It’s actually the same thing on Skype. And it’s email@example.com on email. That’s already a few ways to get in touch. What I do prefer is that they do have a little introduction. What I hate in LinkedIn is that you can get about five requests every week, which is people are there and they want to connect, but just the normal LinkedIn connection. And sometimes, it’s people I’ve met. But like I said, I’m really bad with names. So if you don’t tell me why you met me, it’s really hard for me to figure out why you want to get in touch with me.
Lisette: So personalize it. Send a generous welcome.
Yves: Exactly. I think that’s the general message. So maybe just as a wrap up, we talked about the walking desk. We were at 17,000 when we started, in the introduction. So I’m at 24,000 steps right now. So I did 7000 steps since we started working.
Lisette: Wow! That’s impressive because people might not know, but you’re supposed to do about 10,000 steps a day. That’s considered the healthy amount of steps. You’re now at 24,000 steps.
Yves: I do feel it now. It’s not really sweating but I don’t need to do more to start sweating. If I would not have been in a video, 10 minutes ago, I would’ve turned it a little bit lower. I was thinking at some point is it slow. It still works. So it was not like it didn’t work at all. But I felt it. Like you see, it still is possible. I feel very sorry for the people who have to look at this video because it’s probably a lot shaky by moving.
Lisette: Actually, you know what? I totally got used to it. It didn’t distract me at all after a while.
Yves: So that’s one thing that people can do to get in touch with me to tell me if that distracted them. Yes or no. And if they tell me, I will know they watched till the end.
Lisette: So do the walking desk as a distraction. I’ll put that in the show notes also. Thank you so much. It’s been really great talking with you. And for all of those who are watching, until next time, be powerful.