Aginext Community

Meet the Community: David Heath

Let’s get to know another workshop facilitator. David Heath is a tech lead at GDS and organiser of the popular Liberating Structures London Meetup. So who better to lead our double workshop on Liberating Structures?

Tickets are selling fast to Agile Tour London on 18 October 2019, so don’t miss your chance to participate in our great line-up of interactive workshops!

Start by introducing yourself to our readers, telling us your agile journey.

I’ve been a programmer since I was a kid. I started out on a BBC Micro and went on to study Computer Science. In 2003 I was involved in a big CMS project for environmental and human rights news portal OneWorld.net. I tried to do what seemed to have been considered “best practice” and spent several months trying to write a detailed specification of the system before we tried to implement it. The whole exercise was painful and just didn’t fit with my own personal experience of building software. So when I started hearing about test driven development, Extreme programming, and avoiding big design up front, I was hooked. I learned a lot through the then nascent PHP London user group. My first chance to practice test driven development for real was at a company called Wordtracker, which was a pioneering adopter of Extreme programming. I joined GDS in 2011 which was my first exposure to large multi-team software efforts. It’s been quite a journey seeing GDS grow from 30 people in a back room to the 800 or so people it is today.

Part of your LinkedIn Profile reads “David combines deep technical knowledge with a caring approach…” What is a caring approach to leadership?

Hmm, that’s a tricky question 🙂 What I mean by that statement is that I try to treat everyone I work with as human beings, to understand their own personal situation, who they are both within and outside the workplace. I got interested in Nonviolent communication in 2015 and that opened my eyes to the importance of honouring and hearing each persons feelings and needs. I was raised with a very scientific mindset, and so these concepts turned my thinking completely on its head. I try to practice and model vulnerability, not-knowing, empathy. I fail at this a lot, but I keep trying!

What are liberating structures?

Liberating Structures are a collection of easy-to-learn methods that help groups get better results while including everyone. They were developed by Keith McCandless and Henri Lipmanowicz, drawing on ideas and inspiration from research in Complexity Science, especially the work of Brenda Zimmerman. Keith and Henri asked themselves, what if we designed our everyday business interactions with the aim of including and unleashing the creativity and intelligence of everyone?

Check out David’s ATLDN workshop on Liberating Structures.

How do you apply them to your work at GDS?

I’ve mostly used them in GDS community events, such as our ~150 person technology community. LS provide simple and effective tools to work with groups of this size.

Which is your favourite liberating structures? Why?

Another tricky question! Each structure has a specific purpose and so it depends on the context! But if I had to pick one that’s universally powerful and useful, I’d go for Troika consulting. Troika just means three, and it’s a simple and powerful way to support peer-to-peer support and coaching. I’ve been consistently blown-away by the quality of advice I get in a single 10 minute consultation round.

Bonus Question: Tell us a fun, unique fact about you!

One of my other hobbies is European folk music and dance — something like a ceilidh but based on European traditions. I play the diatonic accordion and organise folk dance events.