Back in June 2013, I met Olaf Lewitz in Vienna at the XP conference. In a coffee break discussion, he was speaking very passionately about something called Temenos. That’s Greek, and translates roughly to “your room”. I grasped the concept, and immediately had a couple of clients in mind where I thought this would help a big deal for the team members to understand each other on a deeper level – mostly because personal stakes and misunderstandings over a long period of time had piled up. I never thought about applying it to the situation with my colleagues at it-agile. Some of my colleagues influenced enough from us to try this out. We did a company-wide Temenos so to speak as kick-off for 2014 just last week facilitated by Olaf Lewitz and Christine Neidhardt. Beforehand I was suspicious about the two days. Here is what I learned.
Caution: Some of this may and will sounds esoteric. I found it was helping to set the right stage for the overall two days. Some of my colleagues probably disagree with it. Over the course of the two days, everything was optional. That helped a lot.
Overall, our Temenos was a simple structure with four main phases:
- Influence Maps
- Clean slate
- Personal Vision
- Shared Vision
During the Influence Maps we created maps of our past, including stuff that happened in our lives, and shaped the persons we are today. We drew them on an A3 piece of paper, and then had two opportunities to share them. First, in a speed-dating way spending 2,5 minutes each with another one, then hearing her version. We managed to hear four to five different influence maps in this part. The next step was to share the maps more intensely in a working group of up to seven persons. Each of us had more time to describe his picture.
In order to clean our slates, we noted down how we are disappointed by others, and how we disappoint others. Then we walked back in our working groups, and shared our disappointments with each other again. Since we had gained a very deep understanding of the person’s pasts, I was able to connect to the disappointments on a totally different level than before.
This was roughly the first day. And it was very intense, and deep. I learned a lot about my colleagues – more than I ever imagined. I was able to connect with the experiences that I shared with my colleagues, or gains, our losses, what formed the person in front of me. It was deep, intense, and – helpful because it made me reduce some of the projection space that I had before down to the level of “oh, I see where you reaction is coming from”, and I could deal better with the discussions.
On the second day, we checked back in first, and then created our own personal visions. We shared these very personal visions for us in the company in the larger group together with each other.
Then we created a shared vision from all of our individual visions. We used different media and formats to create a vision. One group was doing a painting, another one wrote a text. One group created a movie, I worked with colleagues on a poem. After that we shared the products we created with each other, and laughed a lot, and reflected about the different aspects.
Overall, we managed to incorporate all the various personal visions into our different pictures. At times they were contradicting each other. That didn’t matter. All that matters more is the shared creation, and the level of connectedness that created among us.
The shared vision should not be thought of as a “company mission” in the classical sense, though. It’s more a combined vision into a positive future. On these two days, I could feel that I had become a more connected part of it-agile.
After all, I think the biggest value was in the outcome, not so much in the output of the shared visions. The path towards the results really brought the bigger value to me. Now I feel much more connected to basically all of my colleagues. When I work with colleagues now there is a lot of relief that I feel. Relief that I no longer need to be afraid about the situation in the room, and can dive into the discussions about the contents.
On another level, I noticed that I am now also sharing much deeper insights about me with people that I don’t know – in the bar, on the streets, etc. Before those two days of Temenos, I mostly was afraid to expose too much of myself. The experience – especially of the first day – lets me share personal stories much more easily, and thereby makes me full more whole as a human being.
Temenos and beyond
We are currently experimenting with a concept that one of our CEOs Henning Wolf once called “Scrumpany”. Directly after the two days of Temenos, we held a Sprint Review, and Sprint Planning for the upcoming monthly Sprint. Only there (and in the discussions I had with colleagues during dinner and beers after the days) did I realize how much more we were able to achieve after we had cleaned our slate. We were able to understand backgrounds of various colleagues on a much deeper level. That left out a whole lot of conflicts, and we were able to move forward much more quickly.
The last week has showed me a lot of things. While I was reserved in the beginning, I decided to give in for the two days – and I became overwhelmed positively. I have the impression that I can understand my colleagues on a much deeper level. With this understanding, I need to worry less than before, and I can focus myself and my energy on the content rather than the conflict. It helped me realize that I was pushing forward too soon at times, and it helped me notice when I was triggering emotional reactions in others when that clearly was not the purpose of my actions. The whole sum made me more aware of my situation, my wants, and my influence.
I think the last time I experiences insights this deep was during PSL in 2011. The whole two days never felt painful, and I am re-energized for the new frontiers up to come. Even though we didn’t manage to exchange all thoughts with everyone (I think I even was not up to do that – yet), I support the thought that we should have more of this in the future. I am also convinced that a personal session with my wife will be helpful for our relationship, and plan to convince my wife to attend such a session.
Thanks Olaf Lewitz and Christine Neidhardt for this opportunity. I think this workshop made us more human, more whole, and moved us a giant leap forward as a company.