Thursday, November 28, 2013

La Russa Agile Innovation #6 of 17: Speak in Each Team Member's Language  

Agile and Lean management requires the manager to be flexible in adapting methods, systems and techniques not only for "local" conditions (meaning the specifics of your own shop and the specifics of the project) but also for evolution in those conditions. But as I explained in an earlier entry in this series, to be effective, you have to individualize management tactics for each individual talent in your team.

Former baseball manager Tony La Russa gave extra thought when he was inventing Agile management to specific tactics that were powerful, that cost a little effort and delivered high return on that effort. I call that tactic, "Speaking in the Talent's Language"

That language, at its simplest means using each person's slang or closely-held words. We all to this to some degree; when you work in a shop where people commonly use creepy connectors such as "from the get-go" or "at the end of the day" or by starting sentences with "So," it becomes very difficult for normally socialised people to avoid using that language. But, in general, most people on the team will understand you if you use this local vocabulary. And then individuals each have their own, specific words that at work are local to them. And if you can incorporate that vocabulary into your personl communications with team members, you'll tend to get better return on communication effort.

As the North America becomes more multi-lingual, speaking in the talent's language sometimes requires communicating, literally, in a "foreign" language. And if that what it takes to optimize the talent's potential, then to master the Agile management panoply, you better go that way. Here's a concrete example from La Russa himself, from his book, One Last Strike: Fifty Years in Baseball, Ten and a Half Games Back, and One Final Championship Season (pages 335 - 337). That last season La Russa managed the St. Louis Cardinals, and won the World Series, they early on rode the success of a very young pitcher, Jaime Garcia, who had carried them in the beginning of the season, but as he racked up innings and his young arm healed more slowly, and as the opposition learned to identify his skills and patterns better had had lesser and less-consistent results in the second half.

Garcia is a bilingual man who grew up in the U.S. but for whom Spanish was his first language. La Russa is going to him in a post-season game, but has been protecting him with lower and more specific appearances of late. If La Russa uses traditional, no-Agile techniques, he'll just manage to optimize the team but not "waste" ergs checking in with the team member.

In the lead-up to the game, I'd sought him out a couple of times, just to check in with him to see how he was doing. Jaime's from Reynoso, Mexico, but grew up in Texas. As we talked, we slipped into and out of Spanish and English. I'm not completely calculating when I do this, it just comes naturally to someone who's bilingual. Having these shared languages helps with personalizing -- it establishes another point of commonality with some of the players, just as anyone would look for in getting to know another person

Using, or learning, a foreign language is a maxxxximum connection-builder. If you can do this to advance your abilities in your own management environment, that's a better investment than yet another analytical model or financial system. But you don't have to go that far to succeed with speaking in the talent's language.

Just be attentive to each team member's forms and styles of communication and the vocabulary they use and mis-use and customize your communications to deliver better outomes.

No one expects you to be as good as La Russa, but he and his mentors invented Agile; you just have to strive relentlessly to be that good.

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