Challenge of the Week (CHOW # 204) – Climbing the ladder of inference

Raju Kulkarni, Scrum Master, sat in his Pune office fuming about the attitude of his onsite Product Owner, Nigella White located in Seattle. Nigella had many teams like Raju’s in Dublin in addition to Pune. She had just joined the organization and had relocated from London, U.K. She had very good credentials, knowledge of Scrum, role of PO etc. Raju thought she was coming up to speed quite nicely – except one irritant. And that was about her available time slots. She insisted that Scrum events and other phone calls be scheduled to suit her West Coast time zone. So, the India teams were usually pushed to take calls etc. very late into the evening. The team was getting annoyed especially given the Work From Home pressures. Raju had tried earlier to discuss this with Nigella (like raising team norms in retrospectives etc.) but Nigella would not budge. Typical Brits, Raju thought – still living in the colonial era and expecting Indians to always bend backwards to suit memsahib. How can a single woman like Nigella be so strict about her work timings – may be a new boyfriend? Raju felt it was time to escalate to Nigella’s manager but consulted his coach (you) for advice.

Suggested Solution:

Some of you may feel the CHOW situation is bit of an exaggeration – yes, deliberately so for the sole purpose of illustrating the application of the principles of the “ladder of influence”.

As a coach, your challenge in the situation is that Raju Kulkarni (SM) is unlikely to share his innermost beliefs which are influencing his observations, his deriving meaning from them and drawing conclusions– his beliefs on the reasons for Nigella’s behavior such as her possible colonial mindset, her preoccupation with social life etc. These are too personal for Raju to share with a coach. You may at best get a hint of them when you ask him some open-ended questions.

Given the above, one possible coaching approach is to start from the bottom of the ladder of influence and try to shift the coaching conversation slowly (but carefully!) up the ladder to Raju’s assumptions and his conclusions. Going up to beliefs would make Raju feel very unsafe.

The above approach should lead to Raju introspecting on his selection from the pool of observable data. As a coach, ask him about data that he may not be considering (or choosing not to consider!). Examples are data about how other Pune and Dublin teams are coping with the Nigella issue and whether insights can be gleaned about Nigella’s work and personal challenges. At work, maybe her business stakeholders are themselves around the globe making her slog from morning till night. On the personal side, although single, she may be a single mother and/or have an aged parent living with her etc.

So, the general coaching guideline is to make Raju aware of other data possibilities and expand/question his current assumptions and conclusions. Hopefully, his current idea of escalation to Nigella’s manager being the next step may change. A tricky coaching conversation!


Photo credits in order of appearance by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash, Photo by Jonathan Francisca on Unsplash

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