Olaf Lewitz and I were interviewed at Agile 2015 on coaching and helping organizations become more adaptable (anti-fragile) through safety – leadership – trust. I am really happy how well it turned out.
It has been 3 years since I wrote “An Agile Adoption & Transformation Survival Guide: Working with Culture” to help the Agile community increase success in spreading Agile. In this video, I share the highlights of what I have learned. Some of it is around thinking tools such as the Laloux Culture Model and some of it is around my inner journey to reach a place where I can really help people and organizations. My goal is for you to take away some practical tools as well as inspiration for your own journey.
You can also see earlier version of slides and video summary.
There is a huge world of difference between Enterprise Agile and Agile Enterprise. They are both valuable and accomplish very different things.
Enterprise Agile addresses the question – “How can we use elements of Agile to improve typical corporate environments while staying within the existing paradigm of traditional (Tayloristic) management. This is Orange level in Laloux Culture model.
In the diagram we see that traditional management practices are in part replace by Agile ones. In this case we are adopting Agile practices and may well have small pockets of Agile culture as well. SAFe is a good example of practice adoption. We typically see a very structured approach to orchestrate activities that are all about top-down steering and control.
The industry term Scaling Agile is about how can we scale Agile practices to support the Enterprise. It is essentially Enterprise Agile that is focused on adoption in large-scale environments. In contrast, Agile as a mindset or culture is about a way of being and does not require specific practices to scale.
With the Agile Enterprise the we are evolving an organization that is very adaptable and resilient to change. Anti-fragile is a good description for this type of organization.
In the Laxoux Culture model this would be represented by Green or perhaps even Teal levels.
In an Agile enterprise, there is leadership at all levels. The people who are closest to the work are the ones driving decisions. Here we replace top-down control with a clear organizational purpose, shared values, visibility and trust. Since everyone is contributing to the shape and direction, the results are emergent. Like a living organism, everyone is sensing and responding to the environment. The intelligence that emerges from the collective is what allows our organization to be ‘Agile’.
Fostering an Agile Enterprise will usually require a complete reboot of the cultural operating system of the organization. As such it is a much more significant undertaking that adopting Agile practices.
It is important to re-iterate that both Enterprise Agile and Agile Enterprise have value.
Enterprise Agile allows organizations to improve their operational capability so they may execute better.
Agile Enterprise is about creating an adaptable future-proof organization.
It’s not about which is better. It’s about what is right for your context.
Culture is at the core of your organization. Everything in your organization informs culture. And vice-versa: culture informs everything in your organization. Here is an illustration:
Culture = “How we do things around here to succeed”
Each element is the above diagram intimately tied to your organizational culture. Let’s consider each in turn:
The arrows linking the elements illustrate that they are all inter-related and connected. It is a web of cross-linking and supporting elements. The web they weave together defines the organizational culture.
Note that the above diagram is illustrative rather than an exhaustive list. For example, we may note that elements such as office structure could be added.
The Laloux Culture Model provides a holistic view of culture that encompasses all of the elements shown above (and more!). In his book, Reinventing Organizations, Laloux makes a clear link between these elements is shown. We cannot shift behaviours without shifting the systems we use. This link was also noted in a 2003 journal paper: Systems and Culture: Connecting the Dots.
In contrast, many models of Culture only use some of these elements. For example, the Schneider Culture Model uses a very specific set of filters that examine what is valued by an organization. This is great for building awareness and starting a discussion around culture, but not as useful for identifying a holistic plan for changing it.
Effective and lasting culture change requires that all of these elements shift together. Teaching people new behaviours or beliefs – such as collaborative meeting techniques or how to assume responsibility – will not work in isolation. Neither will changing our systems and processes without other changes. For more on culture change, please see Culture Change: Reinventing Organizations.
Introducing change efforts such as Agile with teams without changing all the organizational elements around it will generally fail to achieve the desired results. Whole Agile is one of several models to propose a holistic change model.
I have revised this diagram with some really important changes. Please see the new version here: Culture is the Core of Your Organization – V2.
The following infographic adapted from Frederic Laloux’s Reinventing Organizations shows:
The infographic shows that greater trust and consciousness leads to higher engagement and better results. Better results is proven out by case study after case study. As organizations develop from one stage to the next, they develop a more human approach that leads to greater trust.
The Teal stage is shown as separate since it yields dramatic benefits and represents a paradigm shift from conventional management thinking.
Please see: Laloux Culture Model for a description of each of the stages of development.
Increased success requires that we focus our efforts on developing organizational trust and consciousness to foster engagement. We may consider how our existing processes, structures, and behaviours support or reduce engagement. We may measure engagement scores to see if we are on the right track.
A good place to start is by understanding where we are today: is the way our organization functions mainly Orange stage, Green stage or somewhere in between? When we inventory different areas of functioning (See P. 237) , what stage are we at? It helps to do this without judgement. Where we are is where we are. It’s a fact. Not good, not bad.
We may read through case studies in books or other business literature to inspire us to desire a different future and give us ideas of what experiments we wish to run to move us in that direction. My suggestion here is to start with small experiments. We need to take small steps so we may all develop our levels of trust together. Trying to get there all at once is a sure recipe for disaster. It helps to think of Teal as a star on the horizon – a direction to steer in – rather than a destination.
If your organization is near the Orange stage, then your focus is on achievement and results. The dramatically increased results offered by the higher stages compels action. It is the responsibility of management to grow the capacity of the organization to get better results.
If your organization is near the Green stage, then your focus is on the people. The dramatic impact on improving the joy and satisfaction of the people compels action.
Do we want to work in a place where we are supported and grow? Do we want to feel like our opinions count? Do we want a place where we can give our best every day? The answer for everyone is yes – we would like to contribute and to feel like we are making a difference.
The infographic and post is adapted from Laloux’s book – my interpretation & extension. His work identifies trust, consciousness and results as related to organizational stage development. I added the clear association with cause and effect to highlight where it helps to focus. I also added the word engagement.
Sadly, many organizations are mired in organizational debt: mistrust, politics and fear. Changing the process won’t fix this. We need to go to the root of it – to find a way to talk about and shift to a healthier culture: one that values people.
The VAST (Vulnerability, Authentic Connection, Safety and Trust) shows us how we can make our workplaces more human.
We outline a fundamentally different approach for organizational change: one where valuing people is integral to building lasting success.
I am sick to death of Agile Initiatives because they usually fail. Sure there are some companies where Agile just fits, but the most common case is a culture conflict. Best fix I know is: Agile is NOT the Goal (Workshop)
The core problem is that the typical approach used to initiate Agile is inconsistent with Agile goals of empowerment and engagement.
Paul Heidema and I ran a session to explore this at Agile Open Toronto this Spring and this post is a way to share the key learnings.
This is a great workshop to run with people to help them understand different options for engaging with change.
My mom used to say: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”.
Here is how I and others have caused damage with Agile:
Of course you can replace the word “Agile” with any other word such as “Lean”, or “Total Quality Management” or <Fill-in-the-blank>.
We then reflected on the times when we participated and witnessed real change and found that it emerges – it’s not forced:
Real success comes from digging in deep on what is important and really valued in the organization – not just jumping on the Agile bandwagon.
Here is are practical exercise you can use to transform your Agile Initiative into something more resilient and lasting: Agile is NOT the Goal (Workshop)
We really appreciate all the folks who showed up and participated in this session. It was awesome.
(This is goodbye letter shared with the department Paul Heidema and I have been working with for the last few months).
This is a goodbye letter since we are at the end of the main part of project Cocoon.
Why the Bobs?
Someone identified us early on as kinda like The Bobs from Office Space. We like that and think this is really funny.
We hope by now that you see us differently.
We are not here for Agile
If this hasn’t been clear, we are to help you succeed with project Cocoon – which is about re-inventing your department. It’s not about being Agile or using Agile practices. Sure that helps support the goals of Cocoon, but Agile stopped being a goal in April. The goal is helping everyone here be fully engaged and unleashing talent.
Are we Done?
We all wish we had more time. But we don’t. We have made an explicit decision with your leadership team to balance work between tactical, strategic and cultural to best move the needle forward on the Cocoon Vision. We wish we had more time to work with teams, but that would have taken away from sustainable change.
Lasting Change Takes Time
Real and lasting change takes time. It takes everyone working daily to make healthier and more loving interactions.
So sorry, if you were expecting a big TA-DA celebration of success, you are not going to see one. There is a lot of hard work ahead and it takes time to turn the ship around. This is an all-hands type of change.
Keeping in Contact
If you want to stay in touch, you are welcome to connect with us via LinkedIn or email.
When will we be Back?
Paul and Michael will be back together in late August and Michael will be back in Sept/Oct to provide follow-up support.
Happy & Sad
We are so happy to have been able to work with all of you. We are proud of all that has been achieved together. And we are sad to go as we have enjoyed traveling on this road together with you.
You are in good hands
I am glad that you are in good hands. You have a very courageous management team – they are working on themselves first so they can lead by example. And starting to tackle difficult decisions. And of course Corey who has grown so much through this process and enabled all of this to unfold the way it has.
Michael & Paul
Photo: In our support center with Corey
A key success factor in any Agile transformation is understanding WHY Agile – why we want “Agile”. What do we really want?
Here is how to run a one hour workshop turn your “Agile” initiative into something valuable, sustainable and open the door for real change (transformation).
This may be the most important hour in your whole change effort.
Get the senior managers and stakeholders together for a one hour workshop to clarify the purpose of the Agile initiative you are leading or participating in or hope to undertake. Also consider including key influencers from the organization.
Remember that the higher up you go, the bigger the scope of possible change. See How to Build a Culture Bubble for why the choice participants is crucial.
Give everyone sticky notes and sharpies and ask them to brainstorm Why are we doing this Agile Initiative? Ask people to work on their own for three to five minutes before sharing as a group.
I find with senior management, I usually need to explain How to go Fast with Sticky Notes. If they will not use sticky notes, then real change has little hope and focus on adopting Agile practices or use stealth Agile.
Once they have finished writing sticky notes, then setup three flipchart pages with labels What, Why and How. Ask them to put each sticky note on the spectrum made by these three words and cluster based on matching concepts. Circle each cluster. See diagram below.
Explain to people that we are using this model to help clarify thinking around why we are doing this.
As you can see from the photo, I sometimes add the label Outcome to help clarify meaning of “What”.
THE TRICK: It is really important to ask WHY when brainstorming and only during playback separate the reasons into What, Why, How.
Here is my explanation:
Note: it doesn’t really matter where things go as long as it generally makes sense to participants.
Defend the What/Outcome. It is really important that the What or outcome only contains the end result that is sought after by this group. If it has means and intermediate elements, then expect unhelpful distortions in your initiative.
Important: Have them vote in reverse seniority order to avoid hierarch bias. See Highest Paid Person in the Room (HIPPO) bias problem for why this is very important.
Summarize the results to check for understanding: “So it seems like the outcome for this initiative is X and we see Y and Z helping us get there?”
Let them notice that Agile is gone! The outcome that they seek has nothing to do with Agile! Agile is not the goal.
Help them notice how Agile will help with the What, Why and How (if that is true).
Suggest officially dropping Agile as a goal and instead re-brand the initiative to focus on whatever their desired outcome was.
This will help people focus on the outcome, and not on “doing Agile”.
In a recent transformation, this turned out to be a key element in our success. Do not underestimate the value of a name and the stories we tell about ourselves.
It probably seems scary to let go of Agile as an official goal.
It turns out that this is necessary to Stop Agile from being used as a Whip or a Shield.
My experience is that the only way we can really get to an Agile mindset is to let it arrive of it’s own free will. Coercing a system as an evangelist (I have done this) guarantees limited results.
If you love something, set them free.
If you want to learn more, come to one of our Certified Agile Leadership Trainings.
Click to see our calendar and when we will be in your area:
Guy Lawrence – former CEO at Vodafone – tells of an organizational transformation effort that is intrinsically tied to office renovation – he says: “Conventional offices and working is dead”.
The motivation for undertaking these sweeping changes is to have people from Generation Y (born after 1982) actually want to work at Vodafone. A basic requirement here is that the tools they get at the company are as good or better than what they have personally. Nobody wants to use an infrastructure that sucks but for Gen Y this is a real problem.
Gen Y work on a collaborative model and do not tolerate a dominant hierarchy. Their employee engagement score plummet and they quit in droves.
A central part of the plan is to put the organizational hierarchy in the background and push communication and decision-making lower down in the organization. Part of the idea of getting rid of offices is to reduce the power differential between managers and subordinates. Guy reported that 49 of his 5000 staff did not make the adjustment to this brave new world.
The net of all this is to create a place that can rapidly respond to changing events. To use open networks of communication to tap into people’s creativity.
I am curious about teams in this brave new world. Agile Software Development and many others observe that building stable teams is a great recipe for high performance. My suspicion is that this model would be further enhanced by having a clear role for teams.
One thing very interesting is that Guy is leading a cultural transformation without clearly outlining the culture of the organization the way many other great organizations such as Zappos do. Instead, he uses simple rules to subvert traditional corporate behaviour. I imagine that this type of transformation could be even more successful if accompanied by an explicit culture model.
I have been involved with Agile at Rogers (based in Toronto) on more than one occasion and it is by and large suffering from the typical culture and bureaucratic challenges of any large organization. I have been wondering what hope there is for the organization to truly transform without top-level leadership in a new direction.
Guy starts at Rogers in December, 2013.I am truly delighted to see that he will take steps towards a people-friendly work culture. I am also very curious to see if he will be able to overcome deeply entrenched resistance to change. Go Guy, GO!