Global Scrum Gathering London 2018 Recap Pt. 2

Global Scrum Gathering London 2018 Recap Part 2 – Leadership, Culture and Scaling

More than the Scrum Gatherings before, this conference focused much on culture and values. Why that? My guess: The ScrumAlliance has realized that focusing on practices and individual behaviors does indeed help spread the use of Scrum in countless teams across the globe. But it doesn’t (reliably!) transform companies. To do that we have to focus on culture and values and on the leadership shaping those. This second part of the Global Scrum Gathering recap is about leadership, about scaling agile and about company culture. I’ve summarized the 6 sessions about these topics I’ve visited at the conference and provide some background and links to further sources for those who became curious.

Keynote: The Psychology of Creating a High Performing Culture – Damian Hughes

Creating better ScrumMasters

What a Keynote! I’m still under the spell. I was so busy thinking, that I couldn’t spend much time memorizing. Damian Hughes talk was both engaging, with a lot of activities involving the audience, and inspiring, with interesting concepts being conveyed and showcased. One of the activities was above riddle – have you figured it out yet?

SGLON18 sketch notes - Psychology of High Performance Culture
Sketch notes / live art by

The five STEPS to create a high performing culture are SimpleTripwire, Emotion, Practical and Storytelling. Here’s what I noted about at steps 3 to 5:

Emotions are not created by abstract terms. That’s why most company value statements are so unrelatable: When asked to think of the Eiffel Tower you know how it looks. When asked to think of an apple you know how it looks and tastes. When I write “famous Beatles songs”, you immediately remember the tune of one. That’s how emotions are triggered. When I mention “our company values justice” – you will agree, but you can’t quite relate.

Asking “How clever are you?” is not a very practical question. Nobody will answer “not very much”. A much more practical question, and this is the spirit which should be the benchmark for all questions, is “How are you clever?”. Here you will get different and much more valuable answers: Somebody might be really freaking good with numbers, other people are incredible good with people. Both are clever in their ways.

Then he told us about Pixars “secret” to storytelling: It’s six simple stages: Once upon a time… Every day… One day… Because of that… Because of this… Until finally… For example:

Once upon a time there was an agile blog author who struggled with fellowship of his blog. Every day he thought about great ideas for content, but couldn’t quite put it into a nice, compelling format. One day he visited the Scrum Gathering London 2018 where he saw an amazing key note. Because of that his story telling improved. Because of this his blog posts became much more exciting. Until finally people started following his blog.

(Hint: Start following my blog on the top right of this page 😉 )

Here’s a playlist I curated containing the 5 STEPS explanations by Damian Hughes:

I don’t want to advertise a book I haven’t read yet, but since the title matches, I guess, the talk was the essence of The Barcelona Way (added to the To-Do section of my reading list). Further recommendation: Follow Damian Hughes on Twitter.

Delivering a High-Performance Agile Organization – Michael Sahota

Creating better Leaders

“The only thing of real importance that leaders do is to create and manage culture” — Edgar Schein

This session was packed with content, even though some of it might be common knowledge. My sketch notes reflect that: Due to my inability to quickly come up with images supporting the messages, I mainly noted the essential 10 headlines:

SGLON18 sketch notes - High Performance Agile Organization

Here they come (together with what I can recall):

  1. Focus on organizational goals to create alignment

    Basically: Whatever you do, it needs to be aimed at making the company successful and drive value. Otherwise you won’t create momentum to change culture.

  2. Drop Agile

    Don’t build on your “Agile Transition”, “Agile Initiative” etc. Those are buzzwords disguising what really needs to change:
  3. Focus on Culture

    This is it. Behavioral patterns need to change. The sum of behavioral patterns in the company shape company culture.
  4. We need Doing and Being
  5. Focus on creating a healthy organizational environment and culture first
  6. Use Sahota Culture Model to grow consciousness
  7. Don’t fall into the trap of focusing on structures

    Structures can only support the change, but structures alone don’t drive the change. Only behavioral patterns that shape culture drive the change.
  8. Create a culture bubble (and play the long game)

    E.g. one great team that engages and excites the people around it:
  9. Build adapters to stay healthy

    Sooner or later these people around your great team (adapters) will learn and apply some behavioral patterns themselves. This is when your team’s culture starts spreading.
  10. Shift leadership behavior to shift culture

    If the change is being implemented (not just “supported”) both top-down and bottom-up, chances for success increase.

Agile Culture: The Number One Leadership Challenge – Sabine Canditt, Rickard Jones

Creating better Leaders

The best part of this talk was chatting with Andrew Williams (hope that’s the right one…) about “physical retrospectives”. You might know this from ice-breakers for meetings or similar: Ask people for example how smooth they’d evaluate your release process with one corner of the room being “amazing continuous deployment including 100% autotest coverage” and the other corner being “truckloads of manual pain in the neck with no automation whatsoever and crudely documented scripts”. People then line up according to what they think about the topic.

We talked about using the space of a room as a scale to express thoughts and feelings about team setups and collaboration and agreed on this being a nice way to go from group awareness to self awareness.

Conclusion of this session to me:

  1. When hosting workshops – meticulously prepare everything
  2. When co-hosting with someone else – agree explicitly on who says what and when, especially when giving tasks to the participants

Unfortunately this was the lowest rated session of the ones I had visited. Sabine and Rickard had picked an interesting topic and had attracted quite a crowd: The room was packed. The learning objectives as stated in the agenda (points 1-4 below) in the end didn’t quite match with what was achieved (comments under each respective point):

  1. Explain Agile Culture by characteristics […]
    The smooth introduction part, interesting for starters
  2. Examine your own organization culture by comparing unwritten rules, habits, processes and structures with the values and principles
    This is where each table’s task was to note one’s organization’s values. We did so and some selected few were called out and noted on stage.
  3. Explore your role as a leader in a transition towards a more Agile culture
    This is when first we didn’t even realize there was a task for our tables. Then, still lacking clarity on the concrete task at hand (!) our table and the tables around us basically continued having nice conversations about our challenges, picking up where we left at task #2.
  4. Discover ways how to involve the entire organization in sustainable [ways] by learning about and practicing system oriented tools, especially from ORSC™ (Organization and Relationship Systems Coaching).
    I’m reading about this for the first time, whilst writing this blog post, which is most likely my own fault, as towards the end, I had checked out.

ING’s leaders, what were they willing to give up? – Leonoor Koomen

Creating better Leaders

This has been a really encouraging case study of ING’s cultural transformation. Most memorable for sure was the fact that they tore down walls to bring people together and even ceilings between floors to enable more faster movement, so people can communicate face to face.

No sketch notes of this session, but I took 2 pictures of the presentation (with my high contrast app, because lighting was subpar and the angle was, too, from where I was sitting):

The concept of Obeya Rooms is intriguing. Surprising how few companies sacrifice 1 room of their precious space for this incredibly high level of alignment. You’ve got everything in 1 place:

  1. Change Wall – for all the big picture stuff you need to align on. The place to discuss vision, strategy and (stretch-) goals (High Level)
  2. Run Wall – for Work-in-Progress (Mid Level)

  3. Performance Wall – for keeping track of Key Performance Indicators (Low Level)

  4. Improvement Wall – for company wide continuous improvement

Check out this helpful article:

Teal, is it time to reinvent organizations? – Tobias Mayer, Antoinette Coetzee, Simon Powers


An in my opinion rather less engaging discussion round on a very interesting topic. I guess it’s the fact that most people were in agreement with one another that made the discussion disappointing. The agreement was about organizations (who want to prevail) having to focus on becoming “Teal Organizations“, which is an emerging paradigm based on Spiral Dynamics (which I’ve written about a year ago).

Teal Organization
© Frederic Laloux, 2014

Scaling Scrum – Jeff Sutherland, John McFadyen, …

Fishbowl (read more on the discussion method)

Yes. That’s me. In the fishbowl. This discussion round was with representatives of various scaling approaches to Scrum:

  • SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework)
  • LeSS (Large Scale Scrum)
  • Scrum@Scale

Having my own thoughts on scaling frameworks, I was convinced this should be an interesting discussion and I wasn’t disappointed: The fishbowl was talking about how certain frameworks handle certain aspects of scaling, like (multi-) team alignment, releasing and more. At one point with Jeff Sutherland in the fishbowl one question from the audience was “Which framework has most followers?” (or similar). The conversation immediately lost value, with people focusing on answering how many companies (aka “clients of SAFe, LeSS, Scrum@Scale consultancies”) use the respective frameworks. The only value of this could possibly have been to determine how big the respective communities are in which to get support.

Swallowing my anger about how one can waste so many people’s time, I thought about what I have to say about the topic of scaling. Then I took my courage in both hands and entered the fishbowl. Not to ask a question, but to steer the discussion away from the size comparison and towards essentials:

  • Scrum works, because its atomic building blocks are based on psychological facts.
  • If you scale: Base your approach on the same psychological principles, scale the building blocks and you’ll be successful.
  • Else, if you just blindly apply a framework, without setting the cultural foundation, you’ll fail.

This was greeted with lots of appreciation and agreement and finally we continued talking about the building blocks of Scrum.

Mission accomplished.

SGLON18 ExCel Convention Center from LCY

After a long, exhausting, but motivating and inspiring four days of conferencing (3 days SGLON18 and 1 day CSP Coaching Retreat), I returned home. The ExCeL London still visible from the starting plane made for a super nice goodbye.


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