The role of the Sponsor - by Martin Kearns

We had the joy of organising Lyssa Atkins to spend some time with our team and what we named a capability intervention. I saw a serendipitous opportunity come my way when I found out Lyssa was going to be in Australia and put the balls in motion to have her facilitate and assist our Business Agility Capability. I massaged the finance, convinced our CEO, the team got excited and they immediately got the needed buy in from our clients. You know between you and me , I sometimes get frustrated with the number of books my team read and have not converted into action or at the minimum some working knowledge. Seriously between you and me, I reckon there is a couple who might have a book addiction.  

So this intervention was to re-ignite passion, thank people for their amazing contributions and to simply learn something new,  I couldn’t be more supportive. Then it all happened, I didn’t see it coming, I didn’t even know it was a real thing………..the role of sponsor kicked it. I found myself sitting in front of a friend who I have known for a decade, cooked dinner for in my home, know all about the saddest Christmas tree ever with, and here I am outlining my expectations for the investment. You see the opportunity cost of the whole thing was pretty scary and it was all my doing. I even drew a mental model of what I felt we were engineering which Lyssa observed was quite meta. 

 I have never experienced anything like it, the sense of pressure was overwhelming. The desire and hope for the team I love, clouded my ability to be my true self. I even had my good friend Lyssa pull me up for some of my behaviour after lunch when time was running out to leave space for people to think, process, enquire etc… This tension of space was killing me as I desperately wanted to fill space to maximise the value of the day.   

My biggest learning out of everything we did and believe me we did some amazing things, we went into our fears, deep into our behaviour and actually take accountability for the system we created and embrace it . On a personal note, guilt kicked in big time because I gained a whole new appreciation for the role of a sponsor at a workshop and the stress that they are under. To be honest, I have never taken the sponsor role too seriously and I would go so far to say I have vented on them and transferred all of my negativity from the past straight onto the shoulders of a sponsor when they finally had the courage to speak up.  

What a bad facilitator I have been in the past to have so little empathy to a crucial role, to give them titles like “enemy of the people”, “part of the problem”, “typical manager”. So here I am becoming quite self-aware that my “true self” was not showing up in the room and even worse that that my motivations to be my “true self” were clouded and that I was processing all of this with all these wonderful conversations surrounding me.  

This was such a powerful experience for myself, finding out that being the sponsor did not feel for me, like the leader I am and trying to be. I have processed and have made the commitment to feel true empathy with my sponsor and check in with them more often. Allowing for the conversation to be different and take their input seriously. I want to hear their voice to get a sense of the whole system in which I am engaging with.  

I have to finish my blog by saying how proud of was of every participant in the room owning their personal learning and experience. Taking the most out of a unique and cherished moment in our careers. We finished the day after some robust conversations, smiling and genuinely hugging one another with love. It was a special moment, that Lyssa let happen and guided us so gently when we needed it. Thank you for listening to my story.  

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Renae Craven

Renae Craven Prof Pic

Renae has over nine years of experience leading and coaching organisations through their transformation to an Agile mindset, including the establishment of roles, development of cross functional teams and improvement of supporting practices and principles. Renae has also affected organisational cultural change by coaching individuals to adapt to an agile mindset from an individual or fixed mindset.

Renae is a strong facilitator and is passionate about building Scrum delivery teams that can self-organise to achieve commitments and hold themselves accountable for all outcomes.