Our Shu-Ha-Ri technique

At Teal Unicorn, we have had a lot of success with a workshop to produce a Shu-Ha-Ri profile of a team, which unlocks higher performance, better results, and happier people.   We use the definition of Shu-Ha-Ri used by the Agile software community, which is a modification of the original Shu-Ha-Ri of martial arts.

    • Shu: The student follows the rules of a given method precisely, without addition or alteration. Follow tradition. Apply known solutions.
    • Ha: The practitioner learns theory and principles of the technique. Become free from tradition. Think for themselves, apply theories to create new solutions.
    • Ri: The master creates their own approaches and adapts technique to circumstance. Transcend tradition. Create new theories.

We can do the work to create a new Shu-Ha-Ri model in a single day with one team, or sometimes two or three workshops a few months apart to refine and shake it down.

Beforehand we will have done some or all of:

  • Convince the executives
  • Train and coach management on better ways of managing to support these new ways
  • Reorganise into cross functional teams
  • Improve value streams to increase productivity and profit
  • Empower people to self organise within their teams
  • Most of all, start growing collaborative, collegial, nice culture.

By doing this workshop we: 

  • Understand what a team actually does
  • Map the team capability
  • Identify the skills needed for the team
  • Identify training and development needs
  • Evaluate each person’s Shu-Ha-Ri profile. 
  • Personalise the training for each person (reducing training costs and effective training for each individual)
  • Identify requirements for new team members
  • Provide a foundation for reward systems
  • Move thinking towards skills not roles
  • Create fluidity of work. Clarify who can pull which work (e.g. from Kanban).
  • Optimise the team’s work distribution reading to optimal performance. .Working by skill is very effective and there is no waste or lack of skills needed for a team to complete the task in the best way.

It really is a dynamite little activity. It works like this:

  1. Agree what the team’s purpose is, what it actually does.
  2. Agree what skills are necessary – across the team mix – to achieve that.
  3. Creates a matrix of these skills vs the capability levels of Shu, Ha, and Ri.
  4. Agree what observable capabilities define each cell in the matrix.
  5. Set up increments of each level, perhaps 3 or more sub-levels; or a way of assessing the proportion of each level.  So that it is more granular than just the three levels.
  6. Each person self-assesses their ShuHaRi level for each of the skills. A simple view of Shu-Ha-Ri for this purpose is
    1. Shu: apprentice, not proficient 
    2. Ha: skilled, do well 
    3. Ri: master, innovator, can teach others. 
  7. Others calibrate people’s self-assessment in a “360” review of the profiles.
  8. The overall skill map is clearly displayed, like taking an X-ray of the team.
  9. Do a “Team Tetris”: map of how team members fit together to cover the necessary skills at the necessary levels.
  10. Group discussion of the resulting picture.

After the workshop:

  • Job descriptions are dropped. Traditional organisations often look for candidates when recruiting to fill in the vacant positions. Job descriptions often contain a lot of detailed descriptions as well. There are job descriptions up to several pages long with hundreds of headings. In fact, the more detailed the job description, the harder it is to do the job effectively. We helped a number of orgs to get rid of job descriptions and KPIs; and move to a model that describes the skills, attitudes, and culture required of an employee.
  • Salary is paid according to capability (skills) level, regularly reviewing capability in order to pay a reasonable salary + bonus.
  • The work efficiency and the overall contribution of each individual is transparent (discussed when agreeing levels).
  • People work on whatever is needed at the time according to their skills and availability, planned and agreed by the team as a whole, e.g. in daily standups or Kanban sessions.
  • Everyone is under team pressure (instead of pressure from management)
  • Everyone is accountable (to the team) for the results and quality of the work.
  • Together they produce better results faster, resulting in higher income and happier people.

After 2 months of experience, here are the results via survey in a 500-person company

  • The professional skills of employees are improved every day and many other cross-skills are learned continuously.
  • Get the help they need, get more support.
  • Be empowered, have autonomy in work, have greater responsibility for their products.
  • More productivity and creative
  • Managers have more free time for higher value work, more time to focus on creativity, mentoring and improving systems.

See also

Using SFIA or eCF for IT teams doing Shu-Ha-Ri