Humanizing Work 2018 – A Look Back

Earlier this summer, an event that has defied naming was held for the sixth consecutive year. Agile For All’s advanced training event, Humanizing Work, took place in the mountains of Colorado in Beaver Creek, with 99 people in attendance.

Humanizing Work 2018

I’ve had the privilege to be a part of this event all six of its young and mature years. A little history about this event: it was initially conceived by Bob Hartman and Richard Lawrence as an event to provide advanced knowledge to CSMs and CSPOs. The framework of the event is similar to other conferences, with sessions throughout the three days where attendees are introduced to new topics. And so Humanizing Work was initially called a “conference.”

However, that framework has been filled in with much more meaning and richness. Let me tell more about it.

First of all, the sessions are not the traditional “talking head” sessions. Agile For All has always been a leader in applying the concepts of Sharon Bowman’s “Training From the Back of the Room” methods which are more brain-friendly for learning. While no one session at many conferences is unique in using TBR, Humanizing Work (HW) is ALL TBR. This allows our attendees to take away a more memorable understanding of the concepts provided throughout the whole event.

Then the magic starts to happen. Our attendees, enabled by the TBR approach, bring their whole selves to the sessions. Without prompting, they start collaborating by sharing their individual and common experiences. This creates more value than any one-person presenting could ever provide.

The event has grown, both in attendance and approach. We still use the basic framework of a conference, but the most unique aspect of the event is the concept of creating learning teams. This has cultivated collaboration and community among the attendees beyond any one session and has spread to the whole event.

Imagine belonging to an event, versus simply attending an event.

Humanizing Work 2018

Back to this year’s event. At the beginning of the HW 2018, learning teams were formed. The attendees created cheers and flags to both build a team identity and to build the relationships on the teams. There was so much energy in the room as team members introduced each other while creating some really impressive flags and team cheers which they used throughout the event. While it creates some competition, the room of teams also cooperate, sharing materials and ideas.

Who says you need structure to scale!

Throughout its life, HW sessions have seen a change as well. Initially built primarily around Agile or Scrum skills, the event has seen growth in other topics as well. New sessions have included the needed skills of facilitation as well as leadership. As most Agilists know, there is a much-needed shift in the way we approach both the work and the people involved. It made sense that an event organized around advanced skills would ultimately include facilitation and leadership.

As examples, this year HW attendees went to sessions on skills like “Defining Value: How do I even know this is worth doing?,” “Lean Problem Solving with the Theory of Constraints,” and “Care & Feeding of Stakeholders” — to name just a few. Facilitation and leadership sessions included the topics “Facilitation for Product Owners: Collaborative product decision making” and “Every Retrospective is a Special Snowflake.”

There has been another significant shift in session topics by including more personal growth topics. For example, at HW2018 there were sessions like “Psych Yourself Up! Finding Your Inner Courage,” “Why We React the Way We Do,” and “Stop Telling. Start Experiencing.” These are typically sessions at self-help conferences or training, seldom seen in business-oriented conferences.

So perhaps HW is a self-help event? Or perhaps a broad or enhanced training event?

Additionally, the event has continued to add unique and fun activities over its six years. In 2018, on the first day of the conference, there was a party where attendees drew all over a room with blacklight markers, and decorated themselves with silly glow sticks, flashing rings and more. This kind of fun and unexpected party exists to enhance the community aspect of the event. Participating in this kind of silliness invites vulnerability amongst the attendees which builds trust and therefore safety, and certainly great food & drink helps!

In recent years, we’ve added more fun & games to the event. This year, each team decorated a radio-controlled car that was then raced in service of Agility. The designs often incorporated some aspect of Agile or Scrum. While competitive, there was good-natured fun and excitement as the cars made their way through the course, although not always in a particularly direct route!

Interesting, you can be on task and have fun!

These non-traditional activities have a purpose. We learn better when we feel safe, and we feel safe when we feel known and included. Level playing field activities like dressing up and racing cars also create an environment to learn more about each other. You can literally feel the energy and connections building throughout the event.

HW is not simply a conference…maybe an unconference?

On second thought, unconference sounds like we don’t do something, or even that we purposefully don’t do some things. Yet so much is going on! So nope, not an unconference either.

HW clearly is a celebration!

So many choices of what to call this HW event. Perhaps listening to those who attend would help define HW:

  • “I feel part of a community,”
  • “I’m heartened to hear and see others really being Agile,” and
  • “I belong”

And our favorites:

  • “The way I see the world has changed” and
  • “My life has changed”

Each of us at Agile For All has had, and revels in, the moments of “ah-ha” with a coachee. HW appears to reach so many, in so little time, and in such significant ways. It’s a blessing.

Imagine a conference that covers all aspects of a topic: mind, heart, and soul! Is HW a pilgrimage?

Certainly sounds like a journey of spiritual significance.

Let’s step back from the particulars about sessions, or framework, or activities and let’s see what we might learn. A fascinating fact emerges. At HW2018, of the 87 participants, 33 were participants in prior years. That’s 38%! Of those returning, nearly 50% of those have attended 3 or more of the 6 events to date!

These are really incredible numbers. We even have people distraught that a wedding, a long-planned vacation, or other significant life event kept them from attending a HW event!

What this tells us is that they love being with us, being with others who’ve likewise attended previous events, and the richness and variety of all the activities at HW.

Perhaps HW is a homecoming!

Homecomings are a tradition of welcoming back former members, welcoming new members, and celebrating the existence of a community; built around a set of activities that cultivates the future of the community.

We could go on, and we will; however, you can see that HW does defy naming. It simply encompasses so much, AND continues to grow!

Next year, when you too want to have this incredible experience of Humanizing Work, instead of asking your manager for the budget to attend a conference or enhanced training event (which probably is the smart move for getting the trip funded), ask them to enable you to attend an event like no other, with takeaways like no other, where you’ll grow with others!

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