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What I learnt at Agile on the Beach 2022

Date: 20 Jul
Chloe - a white woman in her 30s - rather manically gathers an armful of coloured balloons and is transporting them across the room supported by four team mates

Last week I was lucky enough to attend Agile on the Beach, a conference devoted to helping businesses and individuals at all stages of their digital transformation and Agile journey to thrive, grow and develop. The conference attracts attendees and speakers from all over the globe and includes two full days of talks, learning, workshops, networking and social events.

It is NOT your average conference. For a start you get waffles and bacon for breakfast in the sun, and there’s a beach party. But more importantly, I learn more in those two days than in the rest of the year. Here are six of my takeaways from 2022.

1. The future of organisational culture is upskilling

I asked Vimla Appadoo, who gave the brilliant keynote on culture on day two, what’s next after this current revolution in hybrid working and other cultural shifts. She said that along with true flexibility and pay equality, she predicts a move towards upskilling people within organisations and creating career progression paths for your own people.

2. Diversity is non-negotiable for business agility

In her brilliant talk, Claudia Peligrino demonstrated the link between solid Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) practice and readiness for Agile working.  Ensuring you have a diverse workforce, and then implementing a culture of curiosity through job shadowing and rewarding experimentation, creates an open door to trying to work in different ways. Her other tips included to make sure Agile coaches are trained in EDI, and to embed people who are champions for EDI (perhaps from HR) in other teams.

3. Consent is better than consensus

Maryse and Edwin from Agile Bossa Nova held a great workshop about designing effective business experiments, and talked about how to focus on action rather than lengthy discussion. When considering a new experiment, you should ask everyone in the team if they have a (real) objection to what you want to do. If there’s no real reason NOT to do it, then give it a try. Don’t endlessly discuss the possible negative outcomes. The watchwords are “safe enough to try” and “good enough for now”.

4. In difficult conversations, start with the why

Ceri Newton-Sargunar’s talk about effective feedback taught me a lot about how to reframe tricky conversations and hold psychological safety. She suggested asking yourself the following questions before going in the meeting:

  • Why are you going in to the conversation?
  • What do you want out of it?
  • How is it going to help the team?
  • Why is it valuable?
  • What we need and how that benefits the organisation as a whole

She told us to visualise the outcome of the conversation rather than the context, and think about how you want it to go, and what you need to be like in order for that to happen. I’ve already used this at home…

5. You can learn a lot about goal setting from bats (and balloons)

In possibly the highest energy workshop I’ve ever been to, Nienke Alma and Jasper Lamersv had us testing and vaccinating bats (pinging balloons into boxes and marking them with sharpies) and trying to keep them flying. If it sounds bonkers, it was. But it also had a really brilliant central point. If you don’t involve all your stakeholders in a truly collective goal setting exercise, objectives and key results are rendered meaningless.

6. Agile on the Beach is not just for developers

Just like in 2021, I was awed by the quality and relevance of the speakers and workshops. It doesn’t matter a bit that I am not in a tech role; I’m not even in a tech organisation. I learnt so much about how great, forward-thinking teams work and how I can make improvements in my own work, my organisation, and the people I work with. It was inspiring to talk to people from all over Europe about what they do, and to be with hundreds of other people who are so committed to making work better for everyone. We are so lucky to have such an internationally-renowned conference in Cornwall, and I can’t wait for next year.