The Top 5 Reasons Learning another Language can Improve your Communication Skills

Being an effective communicator is a strong skillset to have in life. Communication can be hard and the complexities of it grow ever more difficult in a fully remote environment. The 6th Agile Principle focuses on communication and states,

“The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.”

I have been living in France for the past two months. For context, my husband is French and that has inspired me to learn how to speak French fluently. My journey to becoming bilingual is not over. It has helped me realize how learning another language is a great way to directly increase one’s communication skills.

Here are the Top 5 reasons why you should pursue learning a new language and visiting a foreign country if communication is something you struggle with.

  1. You Learn Whether You are an Introverted or Extroverted person.

How bad do you want to talk? How important is it to you? I am extroverted. I love to talk. Communication is especially important to me. Not having the words to express how I feel makes me feel stunted, like a person attempting to walk without legs. Being extroverted, I am naturally inspired to engage in conversation. I get energized through it. I feel satisfied and proud when I can have a conversation with someone who does not speak English fluently. You will quickly discover where you land on the spectrum when communication is hard. You will learn what your baseline is and how to utilize it to your advantage.

  • You Learn to Be a Better Observer, through Nonverbal Communication.  (Turn your camera on)

When my French in-laws stayed with me for the first time, I invited a friend over for lunch to meet them. My husband was working so I did not have my normal translator. Before she left she said, “Are you sure you do not speak French? I think you communicated very well with them”. I was able to communicate with them and others before I had the vocabulary to do so. Context, body language and hand gestures can keep a conversation flowing. It is possible to observe all these things and communicate moderately well or at the very least, glean context on the situation. It is also amazing how well you can get to know someone without understanding a word they say. For example, my father in-law has been yelling at cars on the road for years, I understood the sentiment before the words. He does not appreciate bad drivers and does not have the most patience. However now, I also understand half of the remarks he says as well. Not understanding someone fully, forces you to pay more attention. If you struggle reading people, I challenge you to get out of your comfort zone and try to assimilate somewhere foreign. I promise you will grow!

  • You Learn What Kind of Communicator You Are.

What vocabulary words do you use most often? How rich in descriptions are your sentences? Do you use extreme words or are you more subtle in your approach? Do you want to be 100% correct when you speak, or do you just go for it? I love to tell an entertaining story. I enjoy making fun of myself and others. I enjoy gossiping. This forces me to learn an abundance of adjectives and transitional words. They are meaningful for me. I use words like beaucoup (a lot) even when I say thank you.  I am not detail oriented, and I just go for it. My communication style is part jokester, part exaggerator and is rarely grammatically correct. These are all things that I am forced to think about when speaking another language. It helps me understand how my own brain works, what traits I like about myself, and where I can improve.   

  • You Learn how to Listen.

Communication is a two-way street. Talking is pointless if you cannot understand what the listeners says in response. Likewise, when you exit the wrong train station in a foreign country and need to understand just how bad of a mistake you made, listening becomes crucial. Most friends and family have noticed how well my Mother-in-Law understands my poor pronunciation. Everyone finds it very enduring. I feel like a toddler needing my mommy’s help, but I am grateful for her. The fact that she can help me does not surprise me. She is an excellent listener. She is the quiet, introverted type, and is always listening in the background. I on the other hand, need improvement. I get overly excited. I takeover conversations. Learning a new language has helped me understand this is a big area of improvement for me.

  • You Learn How to Communicate What is Important to You.

Living in a foreign country and speaking another language helps you understand what is important to you. This trip I have added several words to my vocabulary that revolve around playing tennis, hiking, watching soccer, playing cards, and playing volleyball. These are all activities I enjoy doing. Learning the vocabulary has helped me understand how important being active is to my happiness. I know the word for goat cheese after accidently ordering it 5 times and hating my meal each time. I am starting to get good at French time (military time) after several mistakes, assuming activities were at night, when they were in the morning.  I could go on and on. These words are me. They are my unique personality, comprised of my likes and dislikes. They help me understand who I am from sheer observation. Think about the words you use, how they can help you understand yourself better, and how you could more directly convey them if you were speaking a foreign language.

Demand to Know Your Customer

I have been a part of many teams that had no idea who they were building for. They understood what their organization did and what the technical requirements were, but they did not understand who would be using the service. This gets even more convoluted for back-end teams and teams structured as a service.  

I used to lead a team that automated file transfers across the organization. Most of the time, requests came in very technical.

Pick up from “X”, parse for “Y” and move to “Z”.

When we asked who the customer was, we never got a straight answer. These requesters were not trying to be difficult. They often did not know.

I found that asking the question, “Who will care if we break this?” led to who the customer was quicker than asking who the customer was.

The first Agile Principle states:

“Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.”

Therefore, if we do not know our customer, we run the risk of making these top mistakes.

  • Building the wrong thing
  • Not abiding by compliance regulations
  • Destroying our reputation
  • Destroying our brand

As a coach, I do not care how we get to “who” the customer is. I just care that we get there. Do not settle for not knowing. Push back when things are unclear. I promise you, it is not a dumb question.

Understand that if you build the wrong thing, you will build it again and nothing is worse than rework, coupled with the perception that your team is incompetent.

Demand to know your customer!

Sustainable Development for Successful Agile Transformations

Sustainable development is a key factor to any successful organization and must be considered when undertaking an Agile transformation. Sustainable development promotes steady and consistent feature delivery, happier employees, better quality products and more satisfied customers. For these reasons, and more it is the 8th Agile Principle in the Agile Manifesto.

“Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely”

In this article we will discuss how having the right roles established, as well as alignment at the most senior level for those roles, will foster sustainable development. This is critical, when implementing an Agile framework at scale and will be the difference between your Agile transformation being a success or failure.

Whether your organization is adopting Scrum, Kanban, a mix of the two, or something else the roles for most Agile teams remain the same.

Product Owner (Product)

Scrum Master/Agile Coach(Process)

Scrum Team/ Delivery Team (Technology)

Each of these roles is unique and carries a certain set of responsibilities. This article assumes you are aware of those responsibilities and will not focus on them.

When Agile teams are constructed properly these roles create a shield of protection for the organization. Together they spend time working on what is most important. They identify risks and dependencies. They ensure work is flowing, impediments are addressed, and execution is as predictable as it can be.

But what happens when Technology, Product and Process are not aligned? What happens when these roles are not filled with the right skill sets or when each role has different expectation of what their area is responsible for?

The same thing that happens to the human body when it is not balanced. Fatigue sets in, illness becomes more prevalent and if not taken care of, disease spreads. We all know what corporate disease looks like. People do not work well together. Employees complain often and are not happy. Turn over is high. Delivery is poor and burn out is inevitable.

At a recent client, the Product and Technology leaders did not align at the executive level and thus the teams beneath them suffered. With more organizations driving towards digital transformations, Technology and Product organizations carry a lot of power. Their alignment or lack there of, can be the difference between your organization overcoming the digital era or succumbing to it.

This organization was not aligned when it came to hiring or creating new teams, leading to teams missing critical roles and expanding in very unbalanced ways. There was no alignment around skill sets each role should possess, leading to incompetent individuals filling key roles. There was a lack of alignment around team tools, leading to the inability to measure delivery consistently. There was also a mass divide on what it meant to be successful causing tension and arguments to flare daily. Lastly, there was no safe escalation path for these problems to be addressed so they went unsolved.

These issues created an absurd amount of rework and impeded delivery. They caused some roles to be over utilized and others to be underutilized.  This created a stress induced culture, where critical issues went under the radar and turn over was high.

Ultimately, these teams were not abiding by the 8th Agile Principle and lacked sustainability.

A Pulmonologist once told me he liked smokers, as they kept him employed. Well as an Agile Transformation Coach, these are the stories that keep me employed but as a human these stories are defeating and all to common.

Agile Transformations can only progress so far without sustainability and to be sustainable alignment around Technology, Product and Process is critical. Successful Organizations understand this and work together when it comes to anything impacting their teams.

Facilitating at the Highest Levels

Facilitating at the Highest Levels by Megan Hicks

It is hard not to recognize and respect an amazing facilitator when you see one in action. At some point in your career you may have to facilitate a meeting. If you are in any sort of leadership position, you probably facilitate meetings on a regular basis. This blog discusses the top 5 techniques MegAgility recommends every facilitator use. It draws examples between these facilitation techniques and the ones utilized by Kristen Walker in the final Presidential 2020 debate.

See this link to view the debate: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m53kMTYeOak

Good Facilitators understand PURPOSE and the importance of communicating it. They begin each meeting by acknowledging the participants who are attending the meeting. They state the purpose of the meeting using clear and concise language. They leave little room for interpretation. They state the OUTCOME they are looking to achieve and any guidelines that may help the participants get to that outcome efficiently.

Kristen Walker put PURPOSE and expected OUTCOME into action by doing the following:

  1. She began by introducing herself and acknowledging the families of the debate participants.
  2. She politely asked the audience to remain respectful and quiet during the debate. By doing this she acknowledged another type of participant involved in debate and communicated guidelines.
  3. She introduced the debate candidates and reviewed the debate format with them.
  4. She stated the expected outcome of debate and left no room for interpretation.

Good Facilitators have great OBSERVATION skills. They notice facial expressions, body language, and temperament changes. They are aware of who is dominating the conversation and who has not spoken at all. The listen and encourage equal participation amongst their participants.

Kristen Walker did this several times throughout the debate by doing the following:

  1. She did her best to ensure both candidates got equal time to respond to one another and spoke up when she felt this was not balanced.
  2. She noticed body language and facial expressions and adjusted her approach with each candidate accordingly.

Lastly, good facilitators remain NEUTRAL and keep the conversation FOCUSED. They recognize that expressing too much passion about a particular solution or opinion could interfere with participant collaboration. They ensure that the meetings they facilitate feel safe and stay focused.

Kristen Walker displayed NEUTRALITY and FOCUS by doing the following:

  1. At no point did she express her opinion throughout the debate.
  2. When the candidates wanted to focus on a different topic, she reminded them what the topic was and steered the conversation back.
  3. When the candidates did not answer the question that was asked, she politely reminded them what the question was and gave them time to respond.

Next time you are facilitating a meeting remember the top 5 techniques, implement them, and tell us how they helped!

  1. State the purpose
  2. State the expected outcome
  3. Be an expert observer
  4. Remain neutral
  5. Keep the meeting focused