Language of the Lean-Agile mindset

Hola. Bonjour. Kon'nichiwa.

It is amazing to see that a common greeting like “Hello” has such a diverse vocabulary across languages. There are around 7000 languages in the world, each with its own unique structure, grammar and rules and according to the concept of Linguistic Relativity, the structure of a language has great impact on the speaker’s world view.

As Lera Boroditsky, a leading cognitive scientist, explores in her book - 7,000 Universes: How the Languages We Speak Shape the Way We Think, people who speak different languages interpret the same situation differently. For example, a river in Russian is grammatically feminine. Hence a Russian speaker is more likely to use adjectives like flowing, elegant, and magnificent to describe a river. But a Spanish speaker will associate a river with words like powerful and great because rivers are considered to be masculine in Spanish. This proves that our understanding of the world around us is shaped by the structure of the language we speak.

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Our worldview is shaped by the language we speak

This forces us to think about how important it is to communicate using simple, direct and open language so as to drive home a clear message. In the Lean-Agile mindset, language is an essential parameter for coaching, planning, collaboration and feedback. Agile Coaches need to develop a language that is free of perceptions and assumptions - Clean Language, which creates an environment in which each member is encouraged to ask questions, explore ideas and contribute to the team. When team members experience being coached in this manner, they are motivated to achieve the desired outcome. Andrea Chiou is one of the most prominent Agile Coaches who specialises in Clean Language and also offers workshops on Connections At Work Tools.  

The language of each player becomes invaluable when it comes to identifying assumptions in user stories. Ambiguous language of the business owner or developer can result in important considerations being overlooked. Genuine communication with language transparency at every stage of the PI will ensure that objectives are met and that the collaboration between teams is enriching.

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Language is imperative to building strong relationships between team members  

Another aspect where language plays a critical role is Emotional Intelligence - understanding our emotions and of those around us. Because emotions are fundamental to the cultural functioning of a team and emotional competencies like the ability to adapt to change are crucial to the survival of an organization in a disruptive market, language can create an environment where developers, product managers, business owners and others come together to collaborate as a team and work towards a common vision. Through the power of language, coaches and leaders can build grass root relationships that foster a strong working culture.    

The Lean-Agile transformation is a powerful experience that leads to a change in our social field. Any transformation in our social field results in the need to develop a language that helps us understand and articulate it. In his book, Theory U, Dr. C Otto Scharmer delves into the four patterns of conversation - downloading, debate, dialogue and presencing. Context, the change in language, enables us to progress through the stages to arrive at presencing - which he describes as, “a deeper space of presence and connection with one another.” Thus the power of language.    

While our ability to think uniquely brings thought diversity to the table, can we engage in dialogue on a common platform? To discover how language is essential for a successful Lean-Agile transformation, register with Temenos+Agility for a SAFe certification course. Our trainings are lead by a team of experienced SPCTs.

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