Charles-Louis de Maere is a Scrum Master/Agile Coach on a mission to make the world a better place one step at a time by reducing the frustration levels in the workplace.

He’s an effective communicator and a creative designer. He has an amazing toolkit and the ability to apply eclectic techniques to solve organizational problems.

Charles-Louis has been passionate about connecting with people through their own language and still, one thing puzzled him: 

How could it be that we have a vocabulary of thousands of words, yet we fail to understand each other and communicate properly? What could we do to improve the situation?

One of the possible answers to these questions was Visual Thinking, the phenomenon of thinking, and explaining things using pictures and visual processing. What better way is there to give meaning to what we say than to draw to make our thoughts explicit? When we add visual information to what we’re saying, suddenly our intention becomes much more precise, and we can begin to work on shared understanding.

This is why he loves bringing people in contact with the power of Visual Thinking, of getting back to our roots and using pen and paper to bring people closer together. He’s one of the official Bikablo-trainers, providing the Bikablo training all over Europe.

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More info on the Bikablo Website of Charles-Louis

1. What is Agile or the Agile Mindset for you?

To me it’s all about getting back to the first sentence of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development: “We are uncovering better ways of <developingsoftware> by doing it and helping others do it.”. This sentence is actually quite bold and powerful. One could argue about the <developing software> bit that could be replaced by <delighting our customers> – however that’s not the point here.

The point that sets everything in motion is “we are uncovering”… just think about it. We’re not defining or casting in stone a new way of working. We’re explorers, continuously adapting to our changing environment! It’s not because one working agreement worked six months ago that it’s still relevant today!

And getting back to this can be a challenge of course. How can we create the space that fosters the uncovering of better ways at all levels of the organization? How should I show up if I want that to happen, either when I’m in a strong hierarchical position or when I’m taking care of doing the work?

How can we ensure that everyone can contribute to this “uncovering better ways”… I find this a fascinating experiment because it’s all about focusing on what matters. If we want to be adaptive to change, if we want to delight our customers, if we want to do meaningful work… we need to have a voice in this!

2. What’s your favorite tool or method you use during your coaching?

This question always surprises me… or rather the possible answers to this question.

To me, what’s most important – no matter the mission – is that I show up as myself. To be there, and listen beyond what’s being said and unsaid. 

For that, it’s important that I am well. If I show up feeling nervous, stressed, or with my thoughts all over the place, this will have an effect on the quality of my coaching. Therefore, I get a few minutes of me-time to settle down, to meditate, to attune myself to the place. Then, I keep on exploring the following question: “What do I think they need the most at this time?”. This question is quite fundamental in starting the work… however, on its own it’s not very useful. I then confront it with the following questions: “What assumptions lead me to this conclusion?” or “What is it that I am missing?”. The following step is the most important one: “So, in the end, what is it that they truly need?”. This totally shifts the dynamic from me as a coach/teacher to the coach/mentor or supporter.

I have noticed that when I am imposing my views on a team several things happen. First of all, I am denying them the right to think and critically reflect on a better way of working. Secondly, I could be missing out on one part that I can’t see because I’m not close enough to the work being done!

I have learned this thanks to a retrospective I was facilitating when at Agilys when I heavily hinted at a solution I thought they should explore… and the team (they were all wonderful people) held the mirror in front of me, asking me why I was so keen on them exploring this. Since then I have learned to be more careful with the way I show up and create space for my colleagues to explore.

Coming back to your question, my favorite tool is myself, and the method is about asking powerful questions, confronting my own assumptions. Once I am there, I can start helping them visualize their work, so we can work on the important bits.

3. What book or website would you recommend?

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There are loads of them in the agile space. I could recommend the 50 quick ideas series since they are quite practical… however, I have recently been exploring different areas to help people make sense of their work.

There’s a quote from Einstein about solving problems that I find insightful: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”… and recently I have been exploring the use of metaphors. Metaphors can be useful when creating a visual representation of whatever’s happening because they help to separate the people from the context. It becomes less of a personal attack.

And what better source for metaphors could we find than fairy tales? I’ve been exploring the power of stories and fairy tales more and more recently, and there are loads to take back from these stories when we transport them back into our daily lives.

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The ones that inspired me the most were from Hans Christian Andersen. If I had to recommend one book, then I’d definitely go for “Hans Christian Andersen – Classic Fairy Tales” – preferably the 2015 Barnes and Noble edition with the lovely illustrations. Go and read (or re-read) the Emperor’s New Clothes, or even The Racers… and let me know how it resonates with our daily experiences ;-).

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And if you’re looking for interesting perspectives on Scrum or the role of the facilitator, I would recommend “The People’s Scrum” by Tobias Mayer

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and “Resourceful Exformation” by Francis Laleman.

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Also, if you want to dive into the realms of visual facilitation, I’d suggest you have a look at “The World of Visual Facilitation”, a huge collective of gems from the best visualizers on this planet!

4. What is essential for you during an Agile transformation?

I’d say that one essential thing for me is alignment and ownership by the people. And with that I mean everyone! When a transformation is not owned by everyone, it has the risk of becoming a YAITAT (Yet Another Ivory Tower Agile Transformation). Suddenly, it becomes the Scrum Master or the Coaches’ responsibility to ensure the transformation is successful. Loads of training sessions are organized, people get certified, and so on… and we forget it all started in order to uncover better ways of working together

If we are really serious about uncovering, experiments should be encouraged. And to be clear, when I talk about experiments, it’s more about the scientific approach (Let’s try this change in order to test that hypothesis) than about being random and lucky (Let’s try this and see what happens) which is a waste of energy in my view.

5. What is 1 Aspect of coaching Agile teams you like the most?

The aspect I like the most is what happens when people realize the change in the atmosphere when they start to rely more on one another. I am convinced that people are extremely skilled at their work. Some might not be at the best place for them, still, they are extremely capable. So when they start to realize the value they may gain – on all levels – from working together as a system, it’s magic! Suddenly the whole circle of control starts to increase because we see the value of asking for help when we’re stuck. We start to notice who we can ask for help and support, our questions are also much more precise which helps in being more efficient. We start to know and value what it is that each contributor can bring to the table.. This “helping people uncover what working together really means” is for me the best part of it. It also shifts the conversations from blame or justification games to the pragmatic “okay, we can’t rewrite the past, this is the situation… what will we do?” question.

Once this starts to show up, we can experience what it really means to have self-organizing teams.

+1. How can Bikablo and Visual Thinking help people work better together?

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To me, it all comes back to the point I raised in your third question, about the use of metaphor to have another angle at how we can improve the system.

A while ago a team wanted to tell the story of their agile journey. They wanted to convince others to let them work in an agile way and wanted to highlight the frustrations they were experiencing from the constant harassment of others. At first, they were talking about how they were on a deserted island with the other people around them circling around the island, like pirates… when we visualized this and tried telling the story, they realized that it was not about conflict with others (which became apparent with the pirate theme), but rather a misunderstanding between two different worlds. So we changed the metaphor and drew something about how the expectations from both sides working together on the same thing were not clear or understood. This then prompted a new series of changes focused on understanding each other and brought a new dynamic in place. After a few weeks, we noticed visible changes like less stress, meetings were more focused and expectations were clear and met. Creating the visual for the team helped them understand where they needed to work on (share with their stakeholders on how the agile way of working of the team impacted everyone in the organization), and change their relationship from a relationship based on conflicts to one based on partnership.