Integral Agile Wizardry

December 22nd, 2014

December 1st, 2014, marked the beginning of the first Integral Agile Wizardry seminar by Lyssa Adkins, Michael Spayd and Michael Hamman of the Agile Coaching Institute. I’ve been back to my old world for two weeks now and I am still trying to wrap my mind around what happened at that seminar in Petaluma, California. I keep struggling to find words for the experience, but it looks like I will have to settle for the fact that, ultimately, I will fail. I’ll throw some of those words out there in the futile effort of conveying a fraction of the feeling inside of me, like trying to describe my fiancée’s endless radiance with a block of wood and a hatchet. But in the end, I simply bow to the magnificence of the experience and honor my speechless awe.

Before we dive in, let me also state that I generally despise first person accounts of seminars that are too enthusiastic and sappy. However, I simply can’t deny the fact that this particular week in December has changed aspects of my life. I will focus on giving you a first person I (Upper Left) account of what the Integral Agile Wizardry seminar was like for me. So, please accept that I won’t tell you directly about the actual content (Upper Right) but mainly about my own experience in a clumsy, somewhat disjointed way.

Let’s Begin...

Lyssa and the two Michaels invited me to be the assistant for the first Integral Agile Wizardry course as I am the “co-ariser” (a term Lyssa came up with, which I love) of the Integral Agile Framework and nobody had successfully finished that particular seminar before. I like teaching this material myself, but I was very excited to be the back-of-the-room assistant, aid the group in any way possible, and just watch the three conduct this seminar. I knew their approach would have its own flavor and although we very much agree on the basic framework itself, everybody fills in the content differently. The three have gathered an enormous amount of experience and knowledge working as coaches and coaches’ coaches. And so, I was curious to see them in action and eager to help in making this seminar a success.

One of my main tasks was to “hold the space” for the group. This is a somewhat abstract concept and I’m sure everybody interprets it differently. I see it as paying attention to and providing the boundary for the intuitively felt sensation of the we-space (Lower Left). So on the first day, I sat there contemplating what would benefit the space and the people in it. To me, it simply felt wrong pushing anything in there or influencing too much. I looked at the group and saw so many talented and wise people and I immediately felt like I could trust them to bring forth the best outcome. So I decided to sit, vibrate with trust, hold the space, and be present. Nothing more, nothing less.

The Seminar

From my observer position, it was a sheer delight watching Lyssa, Michael and Michael at work. Part of that was their intellect and ability to teach this material (right hand side). But mostly, it was about them deeply touching people, inviting them to share and to bond, and creating a fantastic we-space (left hand side). They did this by setting the example. They always went first, shared stories, opinions and experiences, and thus invited everybody else to share and connect. And while I have been part of many strong therapeutic group processes, I have never seen members of a group transform individually and collectively like this.

So many coaches and trainers teach Inspect and Adapt but are too afraid to actually live it. Often, they act like they have the right answer and their approach shouldn’t be questioned. But Lyssa, Michael, and Michael were so open about things that didn’t work out, adapted what needed to be adapted, and embraced constructive criticism every time. It really felt like a journey with competent leaders where everyone contributed. And it was a compelling push for myself to accept that part in me which is not immediately successful and not to worry too much to get things perfect, but to be honest and transparent about my own learning process.

Watching Lyssa, Michael, and Michael was fascinating, but watching the rest of the group was just as interesting. Integral is not about simply learning more stuff and horizontally extending your knowledge. There’s a shift that happens somewhere along the line when people start thinking multidimensionally. There were several opportunities to directly experience different perspectives throughout the seminar. And the increase in complexity in people’s thinking was almost palpable. I can’t remember the last time people were actually stunned during a seminar and only managed to exclaim a baffled “Wow… Wow…” And of course the language in the we-space changed as well. Through Integral we finally have the words to describe so many Agile phenomena that we witness but can’t really describe. As the seminar progressed, people increasingly started taking different perspectives and naming them adequately.

Standing My Ground

I started out with saying that this even changed aspects of my life. When I say that, I am mainly thinking about the Integral Agile Talent Show. I don’t know about you, but I was skeptical at first and many others were as well. “A talent show. Whoopdeedoo. Aren’t we a bit too old for that?” But what that talent show turned out to be was, in fact, a round of deep yet light-hearted sharing of people’s gifts. I’m talking about that moment when human beings stand there in their vulnerability and they open their hearts and beauty pours out. We are all beautiful in our essence and there’s nothing we can do to hide it. People singing their heart out, sharing poetry or telling jokes inspired me to stand up in front of the crowd and talk about a rather touchy subject. I won’t reiterate here what I said, it was a special moment and can’t be repeated. But what I felt was me being a part of a delicate system in need of a jolt. And it was amazing to feel people’s subtle resistance, like the ocean’s wave keeping me from going deeper. I was connected to that moment’s truth. And I could have given up like so many times before in my life. But I felt the long way I had come already, and there was no struggle or strain, only being connected to a purpose. And so I stood there, heart open, vulnerable. But beauty came from it. And I saw what I have learned again and again: resistance doesn’t always mean you should stop. It often means you need to be patient or more skillful. And I am thankful that I got to experience that with these people. I am proud to be part of this movement which started as an idea a few years back. Now it has become so much more. There are so many enthusiastic people involved and there is an incredible amount of power behind it.

During the Integral Agile Wizardry course, we collectively entered a much deeper state of mind and I have been inspired to increasingly seek that state with people who haven’t been part of that seminar. And to me, that is my lasting take-away. I have seen that there is a gentle but pressing way to lead people to that depth and for the most part others actually appreciate that. I have always been careful not to overwhelm people and haven’t trusted them to be able to stand this kind of energy and significance. But a lot of people can. Some actually crave it, but they don’t know how to get there. One of the most powerful ways to evoke this kind of experience is to authentically share the I-experience and simply invite others to go deeper.

During my ten hour layover at Newark airport, tired and restless, I wrote an email to Michael Hamman thanking him for his courage to develop into and acting from that depth. He wrote back "At some point I refused to be alone in my own depth and that changed everything for me." Having had this experience with this group, feeling that openness and trust, seeing that enthusiasm, I now refuse to be alone in my depth.

About the author:
Johannes Schartau is an Agile Coach from Hamburg, Germany. He is passionate about his work as a Scrum Master and Kanban Coach, Integral Theory, meditation, Kung Fu and weightlifting. You can follow him on Twitter @IntegralAgile.