Next event will take place online, on 20 - 22 October 2021.

/ 17. 8. 2021

Behind the scenes with Tobias Mayer


Drawing on over thirty years of experience in group facilitation, social service, technical theatre, graphic design, software development, theology, organizational restructuring, and individual counseling, Tobias now offers workshops and dialogs to awaken the dormant creative spirit. He encourages leaders and citizens alike to discover new ways to show up for work, collaborate, and find their greater, shared purpose.

When or where did you first come across “Agile,” and what was “the thing” that drew you to it?

Tobias: It was probably when the Agile Manifesto was written, but I was familiar with extreme programming back in 1997 when I first read about it.
At that time, I was working on software processes, and I remember feeling quite frustrated. But the spirit of these “agile” people I was working with was learning as you go, reflecting, getting feedback, and improving. That was the thing that drew me to it.

How would you connect agile with balance? What do you think we have to balance the most for creating organizational agility?

Tobias: Well, agile is certainly a balanced approach. The nature of top-down management indicates that there is an imbalance. A lot is happening first and less happening later. You do a lot of work ahead of time, and then you just let it kind of flow down. That’s imbalanced.
The agile approach is balanced because we are doing a little bit of everything all the time and iterating through that. A project usually involves different tasks like writing code, designing, testing, putting the work in front of customers, and getting feedback. And if we’re doing them in a fast, iterative way, we’re keeping all those little tasks in balance with one another, which helps us produce something meaningful.

Since the coronavirus outbreak, we have experienced tremendous shifts in all aspects of our existence. How did you adjust (if you did) your professional and personal life?

Tobias: When it first happened, my adjustment was to going to semi-retirement. :) I thought about taking a few months off even before it happened, just to reassess. But then the pandemic occurred, and I just thought about the idea of not working at all, mainly because the idea of working online didn’t appeal to me. The workshops that I offer are very physical, theatre-based experiences. And I couldn’t see how I could do this. So I just took some time off, waiting for things to get back to normal. But of course, that didn’t happen. So I talked to a few people I know and trust about online experiences, and I realized that I couldn’t just translate what I was doing into a zoom or on an online forum. I had to make up something completely new and completely reinvent the way I talked. And that’s what I did. I found an entirely different approach to doing the work I wanted to do, and now I’m enjoying it.
As for my personal life, I just enjoyed some quiet time with my kids, and I also managed to record an audio version of my book The People’s Scrum during that period. With the background noise of birds instead of cars. I would probably never have done it if the lockdown didn’t happen. :)

What did you miss most during the lockdowns? Or maybe still miss?

Tobias: At first, I missed the travel, I sort of still do. And the fact that everything was closed. I missed theatres. That was probably the thing I missed the most because I love theatre and all the cultural experiences. And, of course, seeing people that I love.

Have you noticed any significant changes regarding agile transformation or lean innovation because of the pandemic? 

Tobias: Perhaps the most significant change, as I see it, it forced organizations to trust their workers. There’s been a lot of "release," a lot of having to let go, reluctantly maybe. And by surprise to many, the people’s productivity hasn’t fallen; it has actually gone up. The downside to it is that people have lost their boundaries. We don’t leave our homes anymore to go to work. We just kind of roll out of bed, eat breakfast and start working.
The other change is the success of distributed teams. Before the pandemic, I couldn’t really see the value in having teams that are distributed around. People working together but not seeing each other, not working in the same space. Although with all the online tools that got remarkably better just because of the pandemic, distributed people and teams are doing a fantastic job.

If you would describe non-agile and agile companies with an animal metaphor, what would they be and why?

Tobias: For non-agile, I would say a camel with more stuff piling up on top of its back. It is like trying to add agile ideas in a traditional organization without really changing anything or removing anything, and it gets heavier and heavier. The agile organization is more of a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, the transformational idea.

What is one main change you think we are headed to in our work culture in the next ten years?

Tobias: The main change I think we are headed to is a hybrid model of working. But what I hope to change or would most like to see is the reduction in the number of hours people spend working. According to an author of an excellent book, we created jobs to keep people busy, often with an alternative motive to stop them from thinking. If they’re not busy, they have time for thinking - maybe plotting and planning a revolution :), and that’s not good, right?

If any of our participants are flirting with the idea to become agile coaches - what are three personality traits you find important for this kind of work?

Tobias: First, you have to be a good listener. There’s too much focus on all the tools and techniques coaches know and use, but it is mostly about listening, being still.
Second, humility. Removal of ego. Not removal but a taming. In balance :)
And third, you have to love people and have this state of unconditional acceptance. Which can be hard sometimes - we live in the world or “the others,” different,... So as a coach, you have to embrace diverse perspectives, different points of view.

What is your favorite (business) book and why?

Tobias: To be honest, I don’t read many business books, but the one that is probably still my favorite is the Artful Making by Robert Austin and Lee Devin.
However, I would recommend an amazing book I just read, called  Fractured, by John Yates. It is like a post-pandemic manifesto, and I described it as the most important book of this century. It is about how we cannot embrace the differences between us, and Yates comes up with some excellent potential solutions. He describes that the “people like me” syndrome is the biggest block to building a better society because all we wanna do is hang out with people “like us,” precisely what is happening right now.

Final thoughts?

Tobias: Looking forward to doing The Why of Scrum workshop at Agile Slovenia and can’t wait to meet you all.

“Balance is a lovely subject for the conference, especially after the past year and a half. Good choice.”

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"Balance not only plays an essential role for human beings throughout their lifetime. But the way we grow business models and nurture organizational culture only thrives from a balanced kind of intervention and management."
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