Summer 2018 IT BRM/IT Business Partner Forum – Masterclass review


On Thursday 21st of June our latest IT BRM/IT Business Partner Forum took place in Warwickshire, kindly hosted by NFU Mutual (  A full write up of the event will be available in due course, however in the meantime we wanted to share with you James O’Driscoll’s review of the two masterclass sessions he hosted in the afternoon.

Discovering Outcomes – Change Your Questioning Language

Mike Burrows ( the founder of Agendashift (, a champion and enabler of outcome-oriented change kindly kicked off the afternoon masterclass track.  The purpose of his session was to introduce and then workshop a needs based, outcome oriented approach to organisational change, rather than the norm where you start with a solution(s) and then deal with the inevitable resistance.

Obviously such a huge topic cannot be covered in 50 minutes, so Mike focused on the delegates use of questioning language by first asking them to write down some examples of obstacles they feel stop everyone (so individuals, teams, organisations etc.) being able to work consistently at their best.  A key outcome of this was the majority of the delegates look for obstacles with “absence”, “lack” or “insufficiency” language, so there was no X, there was a lack of Y or there was too little Z.

However, if the delegates want to operate in a needs based, outcome oriented approach they shouldn’t try diagnose or fix the obstacle but ‘flip’ them into outcomes instead.  To help the delegates understand this further Mike asked the groups of four to take it into turns to be a coach (guide of the conversation), client (person with an obstacle taken from the previous exercise), scribe and observer.

Using a cue card the coach then guided the conversation with the client, trying to ensure they resisted the temptation to respond too much and ensure they incorporated the client’s words into their questions.   Suggested questions included:

  1. And when <obstacle>, what would you like to happen?
  2. What is happening when <outcome>?
  3. Is there anything else about <outcome>?

A key outcome of the session from an observer point of view was that whilst there was initially some reluctance to ask questions in outcome orientated approach, as the session progressed you could see the majority of the delegates were becoming more comfortable with such a style of questioning.  Our hope from the session is that the delegates can recall this exercise in their working day with the key message being not to look for obstacles in your questioning language, but ‘flip’ them into outcomes instead.

For further details the cue card and deck are available here – 15-minute FOTO and includes a video of Mike facilitating a discovery session at the Adventures with Agile meetup. For more on our use of Clean Language, see the first couple of chapters of his Agendashift book, the #cleanlanguage channel in the Agendashift Slack, and this reading list.


Debatable Data – Build More Solid Business Cases And Hold People To Account

Tony Koutsoumbos (, the founder of the Great Debaters Club (, the UK’s only debate club and training programme for adults kindly completed the masterclass track and after a few technical issues (thank you George Kerby – kicked off his talk around debatable data.   This workshop was focused on how we use data to test conclusions for the presence of bias and how delegates can make better use of data when justifying their decisions and advice to others.

Again, such a large topic could not be covered in a 50-minute session, so instead the delegates were introduced to the subject with an overview of the difference between data vs.  evidence, some real like examples of misleading data, an explanation of the building blocks of an argument (conclusion – what I want the audience to believe, data – that supports my conclusion and analysis – why data is proof of my conclusion), again backed up with real life examples and finally “Spot the Fallacy.”  This was used to help delegates have the ability to recognise a fallacy in a real-life argument, by being presented with numerous examples and asking them to identify the relevant fallacy using the cheat sheets issued.

As I’m sure all IT BRMs/IT BPs will recognise, the use of data to help make arguments is incredibly useful as part of a wider influencing strategy, especially when dealing with your two key personality types as discussed in the Winter 2017 IT BRM/IT Business Partner forum.   To recap these types are:

  • Pragmatists (Sensing/Thinking e.g. IT colleague)
  • Theoretical (Intuition/Thinking e.g. CxO)

However, from an observer perspective I didn’t feel we gave this subject the justice it deserved in this workshop due to a lack of time.  The delegates did have a clear, high level overview from Tony and good real life examples to start the process of understanding the subject.  However, I would urge IT BRMs/IT BPs to investigate further as it is clearly a subject that can be very useful in both making your own decisions and influencing others.

Next steps

Due to the continued success of the forum more are planned, with the next event taking place on Thursday 22nd of November 2018 (venue and format to be confirmed).  If you are interested in joining this session, please get in touch with James O’Driscoll from Gilbert Scott Associates or Jon Baxter from Baxter Thompson Associates.

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