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Herrankukkaro's smoke sauna

Agile Coaching Camp Finland: serendipity at the retreat


Around forty people interested in agile development came together at the beginning of the summer at Finland’s first Agile Coaching Camp. The May weekend retreat in the beautiful island environment of Herrankukkaro brought in participants not only from Finland but from Sweden, Great Britain, the USA and Spain too. The event in question is a free-form unconference which was initiated in the USA in 2008, and since then has been organized in increasing numbers around the world. 

Even though the Agile Coaching Camp Finland advertises itself as being “an Open Space conference around software development", it’s actually nothing specific to the software field. Nor is it a meet-up for solely agile specialists. The event is open to everyone and will shape up to reflect its participants. In the group of participants, there were many kinds of people from numerous fields, from project managers through to software developers and from experienced coaches to novices interested in agility. The common denominator was an interest in agile development methods.

The first ever Agile Coaching Camp Finland is about to begin
The first ever Agile Coaching Camp Finland is about to begin.

Perhaps you’re wondering what it is that Open Space means? It refers to exactly that freeness of form: the event is open and involving. In practice, the question is one of creating ideal requisites and facilities for those valuable and spontaneous corridor conversations that happen in the breaks of so-called normal conferences. After all, they’re often the most fruitful elements of events where new ideas are born! 

The idea of the Agile Coaching Camp is to increase these fortuitous occurrences by offering a lot of time and space for discussions and the opportunity to go in depth into the things that are of personal interest with a small group, whether it’s a matter of testing ideas, problem-solving or just sharing information and experiences.

The rules of Open Space
The rules of Open Space

The event was participated in by some of the world’s leading agility specialists, such as Diana Larsen, who is a sought-after speaker at conferences in the field. There were workshops in the schedule on Friday, of which Diana’s liftoff topic interested me the most. Liftoff is sort of like the project’s kickoff in a wider sense. You can read more about the subject in Diana’s book: Liftoff: Launching Agile Teams & Projects.

Saturday and Sunday were full set aside for Open Space sessions. Diana facilitated the sessions brilliantly by telling interesting lead-ins to form the basis of the sessions and making sure that each participant contributed something: commented, asked questions, challenged. What stayed particularly in my mind was try-outs at different kinds of facilitation methods and games, as well as several sessions on the nonviolent communications process.

2016-05-21 16.07.42.jpg by Heikki Lahtela on 500px.com

Diana Larsen facilitating Open Space. Image: Heikki Lahtela

My own session was also built around facilitation games and exercises. The intention was to present some of the favorite games among the participants and try out a couple of them, for example Non Musical Chairs. However, there was so much enthusiasm in the air that we ended up testing many games. The session got good feedback; the participants got new exercises for their toolkits that they got to try out in a safe environment. Indeed, a new version of Non Musical Chairs was developed the next day. In the session facilitated by Karoliina Luoto, where elements of fun and positivity were added to the games, Non Musical Chairs was taken a step further with “Full Contact Non Musical Chairs with Sumo Suits” :).

We relaxed in the evenings. We got to enjoy taking a sauna in the world’s biggest smoke sauna and the delicious dinner tables archipelago style. True to form, Druid came in as the drinks sponsor for the dinners.

Watching Finland vs Russia hockey game! by Heikki Lahtela on 500px.com

Watching the ice hockey world championships while grilling sausages :) Image: Heikki Lahtela

An open mind and good spirit guaranteed the success of the first Agile Coaching Camp Finland. Many Open Space first-timers who participated were surprised at what an effective method it is. Once again next year, hopefully!

PS. More of Heikki Lahtela's pictures of the event can be found here.

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