Do You Need Six Geniuses to Make Agile Work?

“You are definitely not a finisher,” responded my wife over lunch after I had explained the Working Geniuses model to her. To make her point clear, she followed up by giving me a couple of examples of projects I have enthusiastically started but haven’t gotten around to finishing (yet). A completely unnecessary elaboration if you ask me, as I know she is usually right, and this time an assessment backed her up. More on my assessment results later.

During the holidays, I read The 6 Types of Working Genius by Patrick Lencioni, and I wondered how the Working Genius model relates to Agile and Scrum teams. Can we, as leaders, use the model to form better teams? Are there specific Geniuses we should look for in a Scrum Master, a Product Owner, or a Developer on a Scrum team?

The Six Working Geniuses

Before I get carried away, a definition of Working Geniuses is in order. According to Lencioni’s descriptions in the Working Genius Report, “each of us has two areas that are considered our true geniuses or gifts. These are the activities that give us joy, energy, and passion. We call these our areas of Working Genius. Two of the six types are what we call our Working Frustrations, activities that rob us of joy and energy. Most of us aren’t very skilled in these areas. The final two are what we refer to as Working Competencies, activities that neither feed nor drain us and which we can do fairly well for a limited period of time.”

The six geniuses make up the acronym WIDGET and can be visualized as interlocking gears to symbolize how they interact (see the figure below). The first two geniuses (Wonder and Invention) relate to the Ideation phase of work, where problems and opportunities are identified, and possible solutions are crafted. The two middle geniuses (Discernment and Galvanizing) relate to what Lencioni calls the activation phase. This is where initial solutions are tested and improved, and people rally to take action to help solve the problem. The final two types of work, Enablement and Tenacity, relate to the Implementation phase, where solutions are tested and potential customer value is created and delivered.

Fig. The Six Working Geniuses Model

The six geniuses are:

The Genius of Wonder (W)

The natural gift of pondering the possibility of greater potential and opportunity in a given situation. People with this genius are constantly curious and on the lookout for what could be improved.

The Genius of Invention (I)

The natural gift of creating original and novel ideas and solutions. People who have it love to generate new ideas and solutions to problems and are comfortable coming up with something out of nothing.

The Genius of Discernment (D)

The natural gift of intuitively and instinctively evaluating ideas and situations. People with this type of genius have a natural ability when it comes to evaluating or assessing a given idea or situation and providing guidance.

The Genius of Galvanizing (G)

The natural gift of rallying, inspiring and organizing others to take action. People who have it enjoy bringing energy and movement to an idea or decision.

The Genius of Enablement (E)

The natural gift of providing encouragement and assistance for an idea or project. People with this type of genius are quick to respond to the needs of others by offering their cooperation and help with a project, program or effort.

The Genius of Tenacity (T)

The natural gift of pushing projects or tasks to completion to achieve results. People who have this genius push for required standards of excellence and live to see the impact of their work.

The 6 Geniuses and Scrum Events

With the caveat that the model is too simplistic to capture the nuances and the complexity of how a Scrum team works, I have tried to outline how the different Working Geniuses can play a role during various events in Scrum.

Pre-Sprint Planning:

Product Owners should engage in continuous dialogues with stakeholders to identify new items to add to the Product Backlog. This work requires Wondering to identify the problems or opportunities to be solved and Invention to develop hypotheses to be tested.

At this stage, we should be deliberate about what geniuses we involve in the process. Involving people with i.e. strong Discernment or Enablement skills can too quickly move the discussion to ‘Solution Mode’ instead of spending adequate time exploring different options. Having only people with Wondering skills take part can, on the other hand, lead to too high-level ideas about what problems to solve.

Refinement:

Before I get lynched by the Scrum police, I know that refinement is not an official Scrum event, but it is a recommended practice, IMHO. During refinement, the Product Owner presents high-level backlog items, and the entire Scrum team collaborates to make them more concrete and valuable. This will require Invention to develop new solutions and Discernment to help validate whether a proposed solution is viable or even possible. A group will also benefit from someone with strong Galvanizing skills at this stage, as they can help build momentum for the work to be done.

As with the previous stage, we need to be aware of what skills we bring into play at this stage. I think we have all experienced a workshop or meeting where we are close to an agreement, and someone suddenly Wonders out loud whether we are solving the right problem. Interruptions like these can be a heavenly sent gift or a significant distraction requiring a lot of time and effort to get back on track.

Sprint Planning:

During Spring Planning the team decides on a Sprint Goal (the main objective of the Sprint) and what subset of the Product Backlog they commit to doing their best to complete during the Sprint. Depending on maturity and preferences, the team breaks the items into more or less detailed chunks of work. During this phase, you will want someone with strong Enablement skills to ensure everyone feels comfortable with the work the teams take on and to help everyone contribute to the best of their abilities.

Depending on how easily the team can truly commit to the Sprint Goal and Sprint Backlog, they can also benefit from someone Galvanizing the “troops” and someone with the gift of pushing the team to complete the planning (Tenacity).

During the Sprint:

During the Sprint, the team is in execution mode, focused on developing the best feasible solutions to meet the Sprint Goal. At this stage, people with the gift of Tenacity can make a difference by pushing the team to complete the planned work to the agreed-upon quality standards. You will also want someone with Enablement skills to help the team rally and align around implementing ideas or solutions.

Sprint Review:

During the Sprint Review, where the teams demonstrate the new working increment of their product and ask the stakeholders for feedback on how to improve the product in the future, you want to focus on the big picture. This calls for Wondering about new opportunities based on what has been accomplished and Invention to confirm the importance of those opportunities and generation of initial solution hypothesis.

When coaching teams, I advise them to keep the Sprint Review discussions relatively high-level. In this case, participants with Enablement or Tenacity as their primary skills should be perfectly okay to take a more passive role. Some Discernment can be fruitful to validate the ideas, but be careful not to spiral into too detailed discussions about what is possible at this time.

Sprint Retrospective:

A well-facilitated Sprint Retrospective is almost like going through an entire sprint in a heavily comprised format focused on how the team collaborates. The Sprint Retrospective, therefore, calls for all six Geniuses. During the retro, you should encourage quirky and innovative ideas about how to improve the team’s Ways of Working to surface. You will also want people to be excited about the experiments the team agrees upon after thoughtful discussions. And finally, you need to ensure that agreed experiments are likely to be tested once the new Sprint starts.

How to Use the Model in an Agile Context

Let me preempt this discussion by quoting statistician Georg Box, “All models are wrong, but some are useful.” Like the Myers- Briggs Type Indicators, DISC profiles, Hogan assessment, or even my personal favorite, the Spiral Dynamics Values assessment, I find such models and assessments useful as tools to generate insights and reflections. Still, none of them can capture the remarkable complexity of being a human being and should, therefore, not be interpreted as absolute truths. That said, I do see a couple of possible applications for the 6 Types of Geniuses model in Agile organizations, nor limited to, but including the following scenarios:

Rethinking the Career Ladder

Before someone can take part in discussions requiring the skills of Wondering and Invention, they have traditionally had to pay their dues by doing other work that involves Activation and Implementation skills. We have, in essence, been asking people to do something they are dispassionate and probably not very good at to earn the right to use the skills they are passionate about. To make matters worse, we have also promoted people who are good at stuff requiring Activation and Implementation skills to positions requiring more Ideation skills, making them less likely to succeed.

Try This as a Leader:

This traditional hierarchical career ladder flaw can, to some extent, be fixed by introducing self-organizing Agile teams. By letting teams self-organize how they work and who does what, the teams can ensure the people with the required geniuses take part in or drive specific activities. For this to work, you need to ensure that all the geniuses are represented on the team. More on this under Forming Teams and Hiring.

Secondly, you might need to help the team convince stakeholders that bringing a “junior” member to a strategy meeting is the right call because that person has strong Wondering or Invention skills. This is especially true in traditional hierarchical organizations where experience is often the ticket to participate in strategic discussions.

Forming Teams and Hiring

Patrick Lencioni argues that every team should strive to have a mix of people with all six Geniuses on the team. As a leader, you can use the model when forming teams or hiring new people to ensure all skill areas are covered. Have existing team members take the assessment and ensure all bases are covered. Part of forming successful teams is ensuring individual team members play roles where they can optimize the time they use their Working Geniuses. If someone has strong Ideation skills, they might make for a good Product Owner. If, on the other hand, someone gets their energy from Galvanizing and Enablement, they might thrive as a Scrum Master.

Try This as a Leader:

As a leader, you can use the model to facilitate a discussion with an individual about their passions and career options. Have them take the assessment and discuss how their profile fits their current role. If they are working on a self-organizing Agile team, you might also encourage them to share their profile with the team and have the team talk about how to utilize everyone’s geniuses.

Secondly, you can use the model when hiring new people for a team. One option is to have the team discuss which geniuses they are in short demand off and use that as input in the screening process. In addition, you can have a potential candidate take the assessment and discuss how their geniuses fit the role you are hiring for and the team. In some cases, HR might feel you are invading their turf by introducing a new assessment. Try to sell it as a one-off experiment and offer them to be part of the process.

Defining Ways of Working Agreements

Facilitation Ways of Working agreements can be a good way of helping a team mature and become more conscious about how they collaborate to create value. An often overlooked, undervalued, or misunderstood competency is Discernment. When someone on the team plays the role of a realist and pokes holes in a beautiful idea, it can lead to frustrations and conflicts within the team. Discernment can be extremely valuable, but timing is essential, as with many other things in life.

Try This as a Leader:

Have team members take the 10 min online assessment and have them present their Working Geniuses during a workshop where you facilitate a discussion on how the team can organize work to take advantage of everyone’s geniuses.

It can be helpful to appreciate the Discernment role and discuss when and why it can be beneficial. One option is to use my walkthrough of the Scrum events above as a starting point. If you are in a “wild new ideas” brainstorming session, you might want to be clear on when Discernment is called for.

Applying the Model to My Work

Coming back to my own assessment results, as promised at the beginning of this article, my Working Geniuses are Wonder and Invention, and my Working Competencies are Galvanizing and Discernment. Enablement and Tenacity are the two types of work that rob me of joy and energy. Once again, my wife was right, and I could have saved the $25 cost of the assessment by just asking her.

Jokes aside, I feel privileged that I have been able to design a working life that plays to my strengths. I love helping leaders Wonder, Invent and develop organizational structures fit for humans and New Ways of Working. I also enjoy Discerning ideas by playing the devil’s advocate and ensuring they are not too unrealistic. Finally, I enjoy Galvanizing people by creating momentum and enthusiasm for an idea or change.

Unfortunately, all jobs have a bit of everything, and it is tough to avoid altogether having to do the types of work you enjoy the least. Being a Company of One (another excellent read during the holidays, thanks to a recommendation by fellow Company of One, Philip Juhl), I have to do a bit of everything. The same is true for client work, but the difference is that I am usually part of a team there.

For example, I am currently working with a leadership team to define and implement a new Agile governance process and supporting structures. One of the stars on the team is a young woman who thrives on following through and making sure shit gets done (pardon my French). I have tried to involve her in Wondering and Invention, but that is not her playground. The same would be true for me if I had to spend most of my time doing what she does. That is why we make a great team.

What do You Think About the Model?

Let me know what you think about the Six Geniuses of Work Model using the comments below. What reflections does the model provoke? And where do you see it applicable in your context?

Image credit: The Table Group, Inc & Unsplash.com

One comment

  • Philip Juhl

    January 3, 2023 at 3:37 pm

    Great idea to combine “Six Geniuses of Work” model with the different events in Scrum.
    I know it doesn’t make the comparison more simple, but I would also include where the Product is in a lifecycle perspective. Is it a greenfield or brownfield project.

    Reply

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