Agile and agility IS everybody’s business, even Human Resources. 

And so is the case for VMware, who invited us to spend two days with the  Global HR Leadership Team at their HR Summit in Palo Alto last month.

This is a great example of a group of executives looking to take ‘agile’ beyond software development and apply it their own domain, in this case being Human Resources.

The challenge put to us was:

We want to be more agile in our domain, but…where and how do we start?

This is about building leadership capability in agile and new ways of working. And new ways of working mean new ways of thinking, leading, engaging and learning. We understand this challenge too well…it involves a careful curation of content and activities that introduce the audience to agile approaches. These activities not only nudge people to think in a more agile way, but they also provide hands-one experimenting with tools that they can apply in their day-to-day work again and again.

From comfort zone to learning zone

Across two days with these 100+  senior leaders, we introduced many new concepts and methods.

Day one nudged the group beyond their comfort boundary. We safely guided them out of their comfort zone by covering the agile mindset, what agile looks like outside a software development environment and how they experience change. This set the tone for a shift from ‘supporting people through change’ to ‘navigating myself and my people through deep uncertainty and discomfort’. The VPs wrapped up the day by presenting their FY20 priorities to the broader group via pecha kucha. Pecha kucha is a visual short, sharp presentation that is no longer than 5 minutes. It’s brain-friendly, bite-sized and maintains pace. Already modelling agile practices at its best!


Day two raised the bar. Starting with an agile retrospective on day one, we uncovered some surprises. People told us they loved the VPs’ pecha kucha presentations and saw a vulnerability that made their leaders more authentic. We spent a great deal of time on the FY20 goals with a futurespective activity that takes our participants to a future state and helps them create their change leadership principles.


We practice what we preach! We wrapped up the second day with our own pecha kucha to showcase a few more agile practices they can apply straight away.


Our audience wrapped up the learning by sharing their key take aways in a HAIKU poem. With a sense of fun and lots of energy, we collected just over 100 pieces that were presented back to the group after the session in an eBook titled – Our Haiku Anthology.

By way of example, here’s one HAIKU we collected:

Together we win,

Agile, WOW, retrospectives,

Old ways of thinking go in the bin

The Haiku poems also provided insightful feedback into what was on their minds, key themes and how we can support the leaders after the two days.

Before, during and after — scaffolding for success.

To help embed the learning and create an enduring experience, we created an approach that included engaging activity before, during and after the HR Summit:

PRIME: Pre Summit – one week before

An opportunity to virtually meet the team and kick off the learning with two short clips:

  • Little a, Big A agile
  • Agile and me

Brief the VPs on content and approach with focus on leading activities, i.e. ‘table captain’ and coach on delivering Pecha Kuchas

LEARN WITH PLAY: During Summit – 3 days

Day 1

Observe and meet our audience face to face, get a feel for current state, interpersonal dynamics and language

Days 2 & 3

Facilitate with strong focus on activities and experiential learning

EXPERIMENT & EVOLVE: Post Summit (3 months)

10 days post summit

Kick off group coaching sessions round 1

30 days post summit

Kick off group coaching sessions round 2


Access to short micro-learning clips: self-directed learning

Change nudges for team leaders to continue a culture of shared learning and to kick off conversations


What changed?

The post-session impact was impressive. At the group coaching sessions we heard the leaders share the ways they implemented the practices in their own teams, particularly with team members who were not at the HR Summit. They had kicked off conversations about learning from failure, how to progress without perfection or knowing all the facts, and working differently with vulnerability.

Overall, our carefully designed learning experience ensured that the elements, the content, the timing along with the tools created a safe environment for play, vulnerability and experimentation.