The Tandem Effect – A Supporting Factor for Overcoming Resistance in Role Transformations

Overcoming Resistances

While transforming our role as Agile Coaches, we are confronted with both internal and external resistances. By internal resistances I mean everything that holds us back personally, e.g. uncertainty about how to act in the new role. External resistances are those that are brought in by others, e.g. colleagues that criticize the changes that come with our new role. It is crucial to address these resistances in order to successfully transform our role. Let’s have a look at the five types of resistance Frieda and I identified, and how being a tandem helped us to not get stuck.

Resistance I – Uncertainty

While our principle guideline clearly states that our job will be different in the future, it remains unclear about the concrete consequences. Questions arise. Agile Coaches started to ask themselves: “If I don’t facilitate retrospectives anymore, what will I do instead?” When you have uncertainty as a breeding ground, anxiety is just around the corner. As long as uncertainty remains, you will be tempted to go on as usual, avoiding the change.

Luckily Frieda and I are both motivated by the transformation of our role. We are convinced that this is the right way forward And yet, we got stuck in the beginning of the process. Assigning ourselves individually to teams prevented collaboration between the two of us, and deterred us from starting the change.

After a while we noticed that we were not making noteworthy progress. We decided to take time for a kickoff , a whole day out of the office. This is when we really started the transformation process. We opened up space for our visions, needs, wishes and perspectives. In the end we determined first changes in our daily work, most importantly getting rid of the mutual responsibility for teams and becoming a real coaching tandem. Uncertainty gave way to our shared understanding.

Before the kickoff, we did spend time reflecting on our new role individually. But it didn’t happen with such focus and energy. Having a tandem partner in the same situation justified the time needed for the kickoff. (How would it feel to tell your colleagues that you are going for an eight hour kickoff on your own?). Also our different perspectives on the future and our discussions helped us to create a vision and an understanding that we can easily rely on. It is much stronger and more motivating than a version that exists only on an individual level.

Our kickoff has been a real success. In fact, it has been so valuable that we immediately created two regular appointments for exclusive tandem work:

  • Agile Weekly – Collaboration-Space (once a week, up to three hours)
    In our Agile Weekly we are discussing the current situation in the Product Area, sharing observation, planning interventions and preparing upcoming activities such as workshops or trainings.
  • Agile Offsite – Strategic Alignment (once a quarter, up to one day)
    The quarterly offsite gives us the opportunity to reflect on the role transformation process, discussing the status quo and designing goals and next steps on our way.

Resistance II – Need of Feeling Valuable

The results from our offsite also help us to overcome an internal resistance that I noticed when talking to other Agile Coaches at idealo: the need of feeling valuable. Stopping to do things that you’ve been doing for quite a while, years maybe, easily gives the impression that former activities have been useless. Doubts about your own value are surfacing. On a purely logical level, it is clear that the transformation of the role is necessary, due to changing requirements of the organization. Still, it is hard to accept this emotionally. Other Agile Coaches ask me: “Isn’t facilitation of retrospectives what our job is about? Do you think colleagues are capable of taking over from us? Without all the experience that we have? Isn’t my current work valuable?” Changing our role leads to these questions and feels like a personal devaluation, creating an internal resistance that hinders the actual change process.

Having a shared vision about our new role and agreements on how to change our work gives us emotional stability in our tandem. The same time it serves as a contract between the two of us. We rely on each other and expect ourselves to act accordingly. It is building up social pressure. This helps to get things started.

Also observing each other in the daily work and giving consequent feedback helps to overcome the emotional barrier. Being critical if your partner falls back into old habits and being appreciative when change becomes visible turned out to be very helpful.

You could say that we are forcing each other into the change. Although being forced doesn’t sound nice, it is very helpful.

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