BONUS: Agile Coaching With a Philosophical Twist, Exploring Michel Foucault’s Work, The Panopticon, and Other Systems of Control With Michelle Pauk

In this episode, with Michelle Pauk – an Agile Coach – we explore what we can learn from philosophy, and Michel Foucault’s work on systems of power and discourse. Learn more about the systems we need to adapt to, and even transform. From the Panopticon, to the systems that drive compliance, and remove creative thought! A must listen for those interested in changing the world of work!

Michelle’s Journey into Agile Coaching

“It’s not about predicting; it’s about responding.”

Michelle’s journey into becoming an Agile coach was as unpredictable as volcanos can be, literally! Inspired initially by Michel Foucault during her studies, she found herself intrigued by the intricacies of thought and its impact on behavior. This intellectual curiosity led her to a company specializing in language learning software, where her role in project management opened her eyes to the stress and unpredictability inherent in the field. The realization that many of her challenges could be mitigated by Agile methodologies was a turning point. Agile, with its emphasis on adaptation over prediction, offered a solution to the guilt and responsibility she felt over uncontrollable factors, like a volcano disrupting her project. This journey not only transformed her approach to work but also challenged inherited industrial revolution-era notions of work processes.

Foucault’s Influence

“The panopticon and Agile: Visibility without the constraint.”

Michelle’s admiration for Michel Foucault’s work, particularly his book Discipline and Punish, provides a unique lens through which she views her role as an Agile coach. The book’s exploration of the panopticon—a system for observing without being seen—parallels the modern open office plan and contrasts with Agile’s emphasis on transparency and collaboration. Foucault’s historical analysis of justice systems and control mechanisms resonates with the systemic changes Agile coaching aims to implement in the workplace.

Systems of Control and Culture

“Pay attention to what is *NOT* being said; it speaks volumes about your team’s culture.”

One of the core aspects of Agile coaching for Michelle is the focus on discourse and culture within teams—what is being talked about, and perhaps more importantly, what isn’t. Drawing on Foucault and Wittgenstein, she emphasizes the power of unspoken norms and assumptions in shaping work environments. By encouraging teams to challenge these silent boundaries, Agile coaching not only aims to improve workflow but also to humanize the workplace, making it more receptive to change and innovation.

Awareness of Culture in Agile Practices

“Can we even think outside our language?”

The challenge for Agile coaches and Scrum Masters lies in becoming deeply aware of the surrounding culture and its influence on thought and action. By critically examining workplace norms and practices, Agile professionals can identify and challenge the limitations imposed by current systems of work. This awareness is crucial in fostering an environment where innovation thrives and work is humanized, reflecting the core goals of Agile methodology.

Philosophical Inspirations

“I’m curious on what I learn from literature. It helps to understand, and develop empathy.”

Michelle’s coaching philosophy is enriched by a broad spectrum of historical and literary insights, demonstrating a deep-seated belief in the value of diverse perspectives. Beyond Foucault, she draws inspiration from literature and other historical accounts of thought, believing that understanding different mental frameworks can enhance empathy and effectiveness in her coaching practice. Books like Edgar Schein’s explorations of organizational culture further contribute to her holistic approach.

Exploring Systems of Control

“Understanding ‘coercive persuasion’ sheds light on resistance to change.”

For those interested in delving deeper into the concepts of systems of control and their implications for learning and adaptation, Michelle recommends an article from the Harvard Business Review by Edgar Schein. This resource provides insights into ‘coercive persuasion’ and the natural resistance to change, topics that are crucial for Agile coaches aiming to navigate and mitigate these challenges in their organizations.

About Michelle Pauk

Michelle Pauk is the founder of Streamside Coaching, where she helps leaders and organizations thrive with change. She has over 15 years of experience working in diverse agile environments as a Product Owner, Scrum Master, project manager, and Agile coach. She is a Professional Certified Coach with the International Coaching Federation and has a master’s degree in leadership and organizational development.

You can link with Michelle Pauk on LinkedIn.

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