A conversation with Terrance Turpin, MBA, ICE-AC, ORSCC
Not only can Terrance Turpin explain why Relationship Systems Intelligence (RSI™) adds depth and value to Agile methodologies, he backs up his reasoning with data and solid case studies.
Originally a software developer, Terrance now supports Agile organizations as they integrate RSI into their processes. It turns out that an analytical, data-based skillset meshes very well with relationship systems coaching.
In addition to being a certified ORSC coach, Terrance is an ICAgile Certified Expert In Agile Coaching (ICE-AC). He holds a Bachelor's degree in Computer Science, Economics and Mathematics, and a Master's in Business Administration.
A combination of professional coaching, facilitation, software development and management experience helps Terrance in challenging teams to examine the ways they interact, and push beyond existing practices and relationship patterns to realize their potential.
On how his interest in Agile began
As a software developer, I was always frustrated because by the time the work got to me, the decisions had already been made. In one case, I brought up a change which had the potential to cut three to six months off the program and save a few million dollars in costs. I was told that all the decisions had already been made, and that revisiting it would require too much conversation.
As a developer, I felt that decisions which would have been good for our team to make never reached us. When I became a manager, I remembered that. I started passing those decisions down to my team. It just felt natural.
I was sent off to an Agile training because the rest of the company was going Agile. Learning about Agile methodologies, I realized that this was stuff that our team was already doing.
On making the switch from management to coaching
It started when I went to the Agile Coaching Institute. What struck me wasn't so much the skills. It was the way they were able to manage the space and enable my learning. I wanted to be able to hold the space the way they could, because it really allowed the wisdom of the group to come forward. A few of those instructors suggested the Organization and Relationship Systems Coaching (ORSC™) path.
Doing the ORSC series taught me the skills, so I was cognitively aware of them. However, it was going through the certification program that developed the muscle memory. Practicing the skills.
I tell everybody even if you don't do certification, do the supervisions and get that feedback.
On working with relationship in a male-dominated industry
The emotion is there, and it shows up as tensions. You’re afraid that you can't speak up, that you have been overlooked or nobody's respecting your opinion. I think of coaching as popping the air out of the bubble, and doing that before it bursts.
Working with the emotional field in the room was very intimidating at first. It’s at the point now where I do it and don't even notice it. I love it. Now, I've got the competency and the confidence of working with that emotion.
On why relationship is key to Agile
Most companies bring in Agile coaches because they want somebody to teach their teams the right process. They want them be more efficient. Most of the time, they're looking for a consultant to show them the right way.
However, most of the challenges they actually have involve poor communication. They don't know how to work together well. Teams are used to just doing what they're told to do. How do you work together to be able to get what you need in the structure of the organization, while allowing the individuals that are closest to the work to make decisions?
On when he’s most on purpose
Many times as an Agile coach, I'm working with teams to help solve a problem that's immediately in front of them. That's not that satisfying to me.
I feel most on purpose when I'm helping teams to solve systemic challenges. When I'm helping them learn how to be with each other, so that they can solve their own problems in the future. It's a multiplier effect. When they're able to solve their own challenges, when they're able to have conversations, when they're ready to blow up at each other but are able to turn that passion into solutions - to me, that's exciting. Now they no longer depend on me, I just opened that door for them.
If I were to name a superpower, it would be seeing patterns that are occurring. Particularly the invisible patterns, the energy in the room and the energy between people. Being able to recognize that, and work with that energy in the moment.
On philosophies he uses in his work
Begin with the end in mind. I think that’s from The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. For some reason that's always stuck with me.
From ORSC, it would be the two percent truth. Even when I'm disagreeing with somebody or think they're a complete fool, I stop to wonder - if only two percent of what they are actually saying is true, what might that be? I find that really helps me to turn off my natural judgment. That's very strong, just being able to be with that curiosity with them in that moment.
On favorite ORSC tools
Paper Constellations is the one that I keep in my back pocket. I like that when working with software teams. It comes across like an architectural diagram, and feels very natural to them. They are able to model where their team is today, what those relationships look like and where they want them to be in the future.
Most of my teams end up drawing the exact same picture for the future version. They're able to discuss what they need to do to actually create this future that they are all already aligned on wanting to create. It enables the conversation to take place.
For large groups, I like Lands Work. I'm able to bring together people from different parts of the organization in different roles, to actually understand how others see things. Seeing the challenges that others are facing, they realize there’s a real reason for behaving that way. That allows them to create together how they want things to be going forward.
Taking systems coaching a step further
I’ve been thinking about and working with the concept of systemic Agile. How do you work toward agility across the whole organization, no matter what part of the system you're working with? If I'm coaching a product owner or a scrum master, how am I working with them in the moment while still thinking of the whole larger organization? How am I helping them think beyond just the problem they have at hand to work with the larger system?
On other applications for ORSC
I've used ORSC with a group of 12 to 15-year-olds. My favorite tool to use with them is working agreements. Teaching 13-year-olds how to create a working agreement with adult leaders in the room, and working with the adult leaders on how to create that working agreement with the youth. If they're going to enable youth leadership, they need to see certain things. Now they can be explicit, they can define it.
The youth say - "You know what? If we're going to be running things, we need to be able to tell you, Mister 40-Year-Old, how to back off."
How to do that in a polite way. I laugh at that one every time I watch it. The kids really enjoy being able to tell an adult - "Hey, if I just put my hand up and tell you to back off, you're going to listen to me." The kids actually pick up the skills much more quickly than the adults do. They're used to learning through failure. Learning by trying things. Adults are afraid of failure. Everything's got to be perfect.
As kids are learning these different skills, they see the dynamics at play in the relationships. In the teenage years, when everything is social, they are seeing how their friends and everybody else enters these plays with each other. They are able to pick up on some of the skills, and understand the why behind them. They are still very much in touch with the energy, the feel and the emotion of it.
On the value of RSI
As humans, we're social creatures. Having the skills to work with relationships, those invisible elements and dynamics, being able to see what's really in play there - you can use it everywhere. That's one of the things that I love about it. Whether I'm working as an Agile coach, with my kids, or within the community, I’m using the same skills. In every one of those situations, I never have to switch hats.
Unless I'm yelling at my kids. But then the RSI coach comes back and says, hmm, how could you have handled that one differently?
The biggest challenge that we still have in front of us, whether as Agile coaches or systems coaches, is to really help the organization to see the power of relationships and the informal networks that are in place. If we put as much focus on those as we do on the processes that we put in place, it will just enable much greater efficiency and effectiveness throughout our organizations.
I remember when I was walking out of the Fundamentals course, part of me was just a little baffled. Why wasn't this taught in kindergarten? How much better off we would all be if we actually knew some of these skills? Having the ability to find alignment when we're in disagreement with one another. If this was taught at a younger age, I think it would be a very different world.
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