Working Authentically: How Conceptual Constellations Are Helping ‘Team IT’

A few months ago I attended a first-class training course with Ed Rowland and Sarah Rozenthuler on ‘Conceptual Constellations’. You can check it out for yourself on their website here: The Whole Partnership

Fast forward to this week.. as we tested the methodology with a specific team within an IT Directorate with over 130 staff. With this team we prototyped the viability of the methodology, as we explored two important and powerful questions:

  1. What is the purpose of this team within the IT directorate?
  2. What is the purpose of Team IT within the wider organisation?

To these ends, we used a combination of techniques and approaches that I had learnt from the training including: floor mapping; dialogical techniques; team constellations; as well as team self-organising so as to capture their sense of desired direction/ movement for their desried future.

We also mapped potential blockers or impediments to the desired movements. Next we then identified the team resources that they could call-on to help them to ‘unblock’ thes blockers.

This is a (simplified) example of what I am attempting to describe as a conceptual constellation.


Whilst the exact outcomes are confidential to the team, there were three insights that resonated with the team members that lend themselves to sharing by way of dissemination:

‘Authenticity is a powerful way of unlocking collective intelligence’

‘I have a genuine sense of where we want to go (as a team) that has moved through me both emotionally and in so many other ways’

‘Seeing us standing here together sharing what is important and why has been important…we don’t do enough of this’

I’ll address these three important insights in turn.

‘Authenticity is a powerful way of unlocking collective intelligence’

Authenticity is a sense of being one’s genuine self. Carl Rogers had a lovely description that I think captures it well. He talks about the human that is fully functioning. This involved movement “away from facades, from oughts, from meeting expectations, from pleasing others, and towards self-direction, openness to experience, acceptance of others and trusting oneself” (Joseph, 2016; see p. 34).

Abraham Maslow puts this sense of authenticity in a similar way and says that such people tend to be “realistic in their perceptions, accepting of themselves and other people, guided by inner goals and values, able to form deep relationships, not needing to seek other people’s approval, and well-adjusted to their culture but not immersed in it unthinkingly” (op cite).

We witnessed this within the workshop as team members shared their own sense of the purpose of their team. Next they shared their experiences/ stories that their team members could sense as authentic (in an embodied way). This early activity helped to      co-create the right team environment for the workshop session; or what in the literature is referred to as a ‘safe container’.

‘I have a genuine sense of where we want to go (as a team) that has moved through me both emotionally and in so many other ways’

Towards the end of the workshop session the team used what they had learned and experienced as they self-organised and constellated around their desired future. They mapped where they collectively desired to move; and then identified any blockers to that movement. During a previous activity (that morning) the team had identified their resources that is to say their collective strengths, skills, competencies and experiences that they could draw or call-on.

It is fair to say that there is something powerful about conceptual constellations with these ends, or aims, in mind. There is an ‘unlocking’ of collective sense-making; energy (physical as well as within the team field too); and team collaboration that is moving in so many different senses of that word.

It is fair to say that the team have been moved. They have a sense of collective moving that was unknown before we started. We did not pre-plan or design this in a priori. In other words, this collective energy and movement emerged through the constellation. It was awesome to witness.

‘Seeing us standing here together sharing what is important and why has been important…we don’t do enough of this’

Teams do have a variety of meetings or ‘coming together’. Each meeting has a different objective and style and this is appropriate. However, what really struck this team was the powerful, engaging, collaborative, energizing and experimental power of constellations when we are exploring powerful or profound questions.

When I say powerful questions I have in mind deep, profound or difficult questions like the ‘why’ type of questions. Of course, ‘What is the purpose?’ is an excellent example of this type of question.

Such questions often mean that we have to move the unit of analysis ‘away’ from the individual or even the team. As Ed remidned me recently “It is like we need to google map or zoom out to see something bigger: the whole as well as the parts”. So powerful questions are most often ‘Big Picture’ questions or systemic in nature. This means that the answers are complex. Within this IT team it is authentic to report that they found that conceptual constellations were an excellent approach.

Have a life affirming festive period.

Take care, Jason





The Beautiful Flame: Alchemy, Conflict and Appreciative Inquiry


The Beautiful Flame:

Alchemy, Conflict and Appreciative Inquiry.

A Personal Inquiry by

Jason A Nickels

BSc(Hons), MSc (Cardiff)



Appreciative Inquiry has struggled with the concept of conflict. This case study and associated first-person inquiry celebrates the necessary role that conflict has played in organisational transformation activities within a set of IT projects. It is suggested that AI would benefit from a more comfortable position as seeing conflict as a paradoxical factor rather than a binary or polar opposite of consensus. The ways by which this has been experienced, understood and critically reflected on are shared by way of lessons learned.


This paper seeks to address an identified weakness, or at least a criticism, that Appreciative Inquiry (AI) does not adequately address conflict. To this end, the paper will seek to do three things. Firstly, it shares the lessons learned from an embedded case-study that conflict can and does give rise to transformation. Secondly, the ancient Art of Alchemy is used as the key metaphor/story to make sense of the forces and factors at play. Lastly, to make the link between the individual experiences and the external project(s), the Alchemist leadership model/action logic has been both useful and authentic to this purpose. In this way, this paper seeks to integrate the ‘inner/developmental work’ of the leader with the ‘outer work’ of the projects themselves.

A need to incorporate conflict with AI?

In the past AI has come under criticism for its lack of analysis, recognition and methodological relevance for power-relations and conflict (see Koster-Kooger, 2016). In response to this critique, this paper celebrates the necessary, but not sufficient conditions, of interpersonal conflict. It celebrates the role of conflict within the hidden and mysterious ‘Art of Alchemy’. This latter worldview is best described as the sense-making ‘lens’ or metaphor from which the empirical data has been understood.

More specifically, Koster-Kooger (2016) goes-on to say this about the weaknesses of AI with conflict:

“Although some of the Appreciative Inquiry’s literature hints at these dynamics, it only scratches at the surface and portrays little critical reflexivity regarding the position of AI practitioners in power-resistance relations” (p.59).

She also adds this important point:

“AI literature has shown little reflexivity regarding the consultant’s role in the social construction of change. Indeed the classic distinction between the change agent and recipients is retained”.

Stacey (2016) also adds an important point when he says:

“For AI to be really generative, it has to rely on doubt, disagreement, and thus conflict. An interesting question is how AI deals with the dynamic tension between consensus and conflict in such a way that organisations evolve to higher levels of coordinating actions, and negotiating meanings” (p.52).

The Alchemical Metaphor

This paper uses the Alchemical tradition as a metaphor for transformation. As will be demonstrated, Alchemists saw that there needed to be a genuine integrative link between their own ‘inner work’ or self-development, to the ‘outer’ work of the actual transformation that they were seeking; that is to saw changing/transforming crude or base metals into alchemical gold; through a series of iterative experiments.

To these ends the Alchemists describe in their writings the central role and importance of the fire within their furnace. Stated briefly, without initiating, nurturing, developing and understanding the fire, there can be no alchemical transformation. For the Alchemist it was seen as essential; a pre-requisite set of activities from which the elements could be carefully transformed from base metal through (eventually) to the desired and precious gold.

The paper is structured in the following manner:-

  • The Alchemist leadership framework/action logic will be explained succinctly
  • The Inner/Personal and Outer/Project works and points of integration will be evaluated
  • Highlights from key points of critical reflexivity
  • The lessons learned will be shared

Picture One: The Alchemical Furnace taken from Geber in ‘De alchimia 168’


The Alchemist

The leadership model that has been adopted for this first-person or personal inquiry has been the Alchemist. The Alchemist as a style of leader, Torbert (2008) suggests has the following action logic:

…a “meta-perspective, with loyalty to the whole system and the ability to hold and transcend polarities”.

In other words, the Alchemical leader is not drawn into sub-groups that are most often expressed as ‘in and out’ groups and does not look to be loyal to a small cabal, or coalition of power. No! Rather they seek to be loyal to the whole system. (NB: On reflection, this is seen as an important point of critical reflexivity that will be returned to a little later.)

The Inner Work

As part of the series of action inquiry cycles, there are moments when the outer work located in the complex world of IT transformational projects calls for, or demands, a corresponding amount of inner work. There are four key turning-points of inner work and the following insights are useful from Hillman (2014):

“Because fire cannot be touched directly, it must be grasped indirectly, by hints, paradoxes, analogies, allegories, cryptic cyphers and arcane symbols. Gnostics, Rosicrucian’s, Kabbalists. The black art of the hidden knowledge.

Anything usually perceptible to the common eye is not the alchemical gold; all things, the mind itself, must be initiated, sophisticated.

Only an elite…reclusive and disciplined, having suffered long in the mystery, done their mortifications and their praying, can work the fire” (p.51).

He also has these important additional points to make to:

“In the fire of the work, or on fire with their work, alchemists are subject to fire’s defiance of gravity, and they imagine their work pointing upwards in accord with the flames and the heat they are attempting to control. From lower to higher, from inert to active, heavy to light, small aimless and smouldering to intense and leaping, imperfection to perfection, disease to health, particular to universal; mortal to immortal…saved from hell fire by divine fire…the phoenix rising from the ashes” (p.50-51).

There is much authenticity in the proceeding descriptions, and accordingly these have used some of the resonant themes as frames for the inner work completed:

  1. “Because fire cannot be touched directly, it must be grasped indirectly, by hints, paradoxes”

Appreciative Inquiry states that what we go and look for in organisational life we will find. In other words, if we are motivated to research pathology, dysfunction, crisis, or dissatisfaction then we create suitable instruments or tools; we go in search of what we are interested and no surprise we find it! This it seems to me lies behind the ‘positive turn’ in Psychology in general. We are now as interested, if not more so, in what gives life, joy, success and fulfilment at work as opposed to the opposite. However, herein lies the paradox! This it seems is the general concern we have in exploring conflict it can become a negative self-fulfilling prophecy.

To this area, Stacey (2016) makes the point that conflict and consensus are not simply polar opposites but rather a paradoxical tension.

He says: “For AI to be really generative, it has to rely on doubt, disagreement, and thus conflict. An interesting question is how AI deals with the dynamic tension between consensus and conflict in such a way that organisations evolve to higher levels of coordinating actions, and negotiating meanings” (p.52).

The Alchemists’ flame has this very paradoxical quality; it lends itself to being incorporated into AI’s lexicon for these very reasons. We have a choice as AI practitioners that rather than seeing conflict as the negative of the binary with consensus, we can rather view and talk about it in its paradoxical quality. It seems to the author that this neatly ‘circumvents’ the confirmation bias described earlier. In other words, we won’t end-up in a negative self-fulfilling prophecy, but rather have a life-affirming mystery! We can say that the flame of conflict is indeed necessary. It is fundamental requirement. However, we must be careful: Whilst the flame is essential at the same time we don’t want to get burned either!

  1. “Having suffered long in the mystery”

It is hard to appreciate ‘suffering’. None the less, it is authentic to state that large-scale transformational change has called for additional resilience. There has been moments of pain and indeed some suffering.However, this has further developed resilience, emotional stamina and indeed additional patience.

One of my key learning’s from a systemic constellation (see page 15) was that I “cannot bear the system load on my own”. This called for additional humility, as well as the courage to accept the limits of my own systemic influence.

It is authentic to share that despite my best attempts to ‘integrate the radicals’ within the existing organisational forces- expressed best as the organisation need for traditional project discipline within the transformational ‘space’, I failed. (NB: The radicals were a small but influential agile sub-group that resisted any attempt to integrate ‘agility’ with ‘project discipline’).

  1. “Done their mortifications and their praying, can work the fire”

During July 2016 I completed two retreats as well as a conceptual constellation. Each of these in turn gave generative space to explore, discuss and work-on my emergent inner work.

  • Stories That We Are.

This 2-day retreat run by Geoff Mead (see Mead, 2014) helped explored the sense of identify shaping that personal narratives have. For me, this was about softening an old story and exploring some of the paradoxical categories that shape my ancestry. I also had time/space to meet David Drake (2016) who asked me this important question:

“What story is worth your life?” 

This forms part of my on-going inquiry.

  •  St Buenos.

Under the Christian tradition of St. Ignatius this weekend silent retreat enabled me to ponder, reflect and meditate. I also completed some art work; and wrote a short poem. This formed part of my inner work. I came away refreshed and re-focussed.

  • Systemic Constellation with Ed Rowland

This conceptual constellation allowed me to ‘map out’ the whole system from my own point of view. I identified key sub-groups and participants. My learning from this was that despite my best attempts to facilitate the integration of the ‘radical agilists’ I have failed. In real terms this meant that some individuals that I got along with quite well would later leave or indeed had left already. However, I also learned that the ‘system needs to find its balance’. As can be demonstrated the systemic agility is improving albeit slowly, but significantly, and this is encouraging.

  1. “From lower to higher, from inert to active, heavy to light, small aimless and smouldering to intense and leaping”

For the Alchemist the ways by which the base metal was transformed into the desired gold was completed by a series of small, iterative experiments. Each type of experiment relied heavily on getting the ‘right type’ of flame. They understood that it was essential that they had the right temperature, the right quality of flame:  otherwise that stage would fail.

In this regard around quality, it is fascinating to note that when alchemy speaks of degrees of heat it does not refer to numbers. Rather it speaks of the ‘heat of the heat of the sand’, the ‘heat of horse dung’, and the’ heat of metal touching fire’. These heats differ- both in degree, but more importantly for this inquiry- in terms of quality. Stated simply, this inquiry makes the central claim that a chaotic flame is a dangerous flame.

In fact, we can go further and pay attention to the ways by which the Alchemists saw chaos as the crude materials from which to start-up their heating process. This is a fascinating metaphor for large-scale transformation in that we need the paradoxical flame of conflict: consensus. Without the ‘right’ quality of friction we cannot create the energy necessary for change.

However, in much the same way as with the Alchemist, if we get it wrong then that stage of the transformation will fail, and we will need to repeat the experiment. We need enough conflict but not too much! Too much and ‘people get burned’. Just enough and we can see that ‘Jane is on fire right now’ signifying that she is in that personal space of high performance! Herein lies the paradox. Therein lies the danger as well as the opportunity!

The Inner Outer Work Synchronised

Taking into account the link between the ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ work the Alchemist seeks to “be the change”. As Marie-Louise Von Franz (1982) says the Alchemist recognises that the work can only be only be completed the help of God, or a Master, that acts as a Mentor.

She says:

“This science of theirs is given only to the few, and none understands it unless God or a Master has opened her understanding.

She then adds:

“Since all the essentials are expressed in metaphors they can only be communicated to the intelligent, who possess the gift of comprehension” (see p. 302)

My journal seems to support this claim has on Thursday 14th April 2016, I note:

“Working through what it means to behave as an Alchemist. I think I understand a little more about being loyal to the whole system…” (Emphasis mine)

The Outer Work

The graphic picture (below) seeks to demonstrate my own sense of personal energy/fire across the total time period.


As can be seen I start with a typical ‘honeymoon’ new starter period. This falls away gently as I/we are seeking to address more complex questions such as:

  • How do we scale our agility across the Enterprise?
  • How do we collaborate across and between the (at that time) six or seven agile project teams?
  • How do we successfully address the complex (myriad) interdependencies?
  • How do we make sense of the overall Vision in concrete terms?

There is little doubt that some 13-months ago we were attempting to co-ordinate a highly complex set of inter-related projects. This was a demanding conceptual and operational (delivery) task. An internal audit some 7-months later highlighted that the risks were indeed high in terms of delivery of the same.

However, this is not to say that individuals and teams were not deeply committed. Quite the contrary would be my own experience. I noted after several weeks that the enthusiasm and even excitement was tangible.

There are 3 turning-points in the organisational history and my own sense-making narrative:-

  1. Perturbing the Field/ Breaking the Spell 

A new systems leader joins and sees things ‘afresh’. Jung (1980) calls this perturbing the field. This can be likened to that turning-point in a story or traditional Fairy Tale when a new character emerges and ‘breaks the spell’ that the current characters are living under. My direct experience of this was a challenge to the ‘radicals’. The consequences of this were that we:-

  • Changed strategic direction by developing a new strategy linked to the business needs;
  • Changed priorities across the projects to provide space for further work necessary for mapping dependences and resourcing
  • Challenged our cultural assumptions in the ways by which we thought about being ‘agile’ in the broadest sense. 
  1. A re-balancing of IT projects and IT operations

On this second note: the ‘system finding its balance’ has meant that for us that whilst all the ‘radicals’ have left, a few of them were also high status within the local Agile community and others (following them perhaps to some extent?) have also left.

It is fair to say that the system has more recently ‘found its balance’ in at least three ways:

  • The sense of organisational ‘fit’ both with the strategic vision and commitment to a more ‘tempered’ Agile approach
  • The degree of conflict has ‘settled down into itself’. By that I mean that rather than ‘over heating’ at the inter-personal and inter-team levels it has normalised to what I would describe as a ‘respectful difference of opinions’
  • The number of projects has reduced (as with personnel) from 7 projects down to 3; and with approximately 20 vacancies (somewhat 10%). The average turnover previously being around 3.5% 
  1. Agility is enhanced through new tools and approaches 

By the end of August 2016 there are a number of key points of progress:

  • Delivery of a complex project to budget and time. The new systems leader noted that this was down to ‘everyone in IT pulling together and their (systemic) commitment’
  • New integration (called Middleware) installed making all IT work across the business (Enterprise) much easier going forwards
  • New tool for web development that relies less on technical coding per se, and more on configuration (the latter enhancing our speed/agility by a factor of eight)
  • Successful installation of the new IT HR system project. This is the second project under the revised IT strategy demonstrating its success to date which is encouraging
  • Key politically important project on track for delivery both in terms of time and budget

Personal Lessons Learned

Taschen (2009) notes this about fire:

“All living things are in some way fertilised, tempered, ripened, or destroyed by forms of fire….Friction ignites the hidden fire between wood and stone, as in ourselves it transposes possibility into conception.

A single flame-point illuminate’s darkness, focuses or mesmerises the eye, ascends the vapours of inspiration and offering. The fire of passions sweeps through the body, consuming and germinating, just as conflagration can blacken the forest and engender new growth” (p.82)

What resonates is the sense of friction. Friction of course is also an excellent way of describing interpersonal conflict. The metaphor has further value too in that we can accept, that like the Alchemist’s flame, the quality of the flame is key for success.

We need friction! We need a difference of opinion. We need some conflict. That is what has been learned from this inquiry. However, too much and people get burned; worn out, tired and we have the potential for pathology at the individual, team and organisational level.

However, we can and we would bode well to appreciate that genuine transformation is based on a generative model of conflict. It is underpinned by embodied values such as: openness, respect, courage and commitment. In that generative space some healthy difference of ideas and opinions can create a much needed and indeed beautiful flame!

When viewed in this more appreciative way; conflict can be likened to a “generative uncertainty.” (see Drake, 2014). This seems to neatly signify the paradoxical quality to it.

For AI Practitioners, the Alchemical leadership model holds much promise to these ends. There is a life-affirming integration point between the ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ work.

There are also careful reminders of the reflective need for being loyal to the whole system; as well as a commitment for praxis to be ‘the change that one is seeking’. As has been expressed, this takes both an equal measure of courage and humility.

None-the-less, when seen as ‘inner transformation’ as a work-in progress; this creates space for growth, learning and indeed service to things that really do matter. To these ends, it seems to the author that it is an authentic claim that appreciating conflict from an Alchemical tradition and leadership approach adds personal knowledge, systemic insight, and pragmatic value.

The humble (and burning?) question that AI needs to ask itself as a body of knowledge and community is: Is the flame of conflict one that ought to be included within its lexicon? I’d suggest the answer might well be a resounding ‘YES’!





Berke, J.H. (2015) The Hidden Freud: His Hassidic Roots. Karnac Books Limited, London.

Cooperrider, D.L. & Whitney, D. (2006). Appreciative Inquiry: A positive revolution in Change. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, San Fran, California.

Drake, D. (2015) Narrative coaching: bringing our new stories to life. CNC Press, CA, USA.

Hillman, J (2010). Alchemical Psychology. Volume 5 of the Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman. Spring Publications, Inc. London.

Jung, C.G. (1980). Psychology and Alchemy. Routledge, London.

Koster-Kooger, I. (2016). The Elephant in the Room: A critical inquiry into Appreciative Inquiry’s struggle with appreciating power-resistance. AI Practitioner, February 16.

Mead, G. (2014) Telling the Story: The Heart and Soul of Successful Leadership. John Wiley and Sons, West Sussex, England.

Stacey, R. (2016). The Paradox of Consensus and Conflict in Organisational Life. AI Practitioner February 16.

Taschen (2010). The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images, Archive for Research in Archetypical Symbolism.

The Jungian Center (2015) Dreams and Dreamwork: A Short Course.

The Scaled Agile Framework. (SAFe). Found at

The Tanakh: Hebrew-English (2003). Jewish Publication Society, London.

Torbert, B. (2004) Action Inquiry: The Secret of Timely and Transforming Leadership. Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc. San Francisco, CA.

Von Franz, M-L. (1985). Alchemy: An Introduction to the Symbolism and the Psychology (Studies in Jungian psychology)

Wernham, B. (2012). Agile Project Management for Government. Maitland & Strong, West Hampstead, London.

Whittingham, J. Systemic Coaching and Constellations (2016): The Principles, Practice and Applications for Individuals, Teams and Groups. Kogan Page. London.


Appendix Items 

Item A: Understanding the Agile Alchemical journey

The first schematic is a time-line that highlights the key milestone events within IT digital transformation. The key events are summarised in the following Table 1 below:

Date Milestone &

Alchemical Signification

Description and Relevance


10/07/15 First Person Inquiry: Values



This inquiry process was simply around questions of organisational ‘fit’. I was enthused, excited and engaged by the questions that the agile teams were seeking to address around scale, spread and high performance teams.

As such I accepted the formal job offer and joined the organisation.

03/09/15 Agile on the Beach



My peer-group of five Scrum Masters attended this Conference over 3-days. This gave us the space and time to get to know each other well. We explored the methodical ways by which we could seek to improve our praxis. We also had a few beers on the beach too!
17/09/15 Cycle 1: Integration Possibilities?







My questions around this stage were:

How do we appreciate the excellent governance offered by methods such as PRINCE2 and MSP?

How do we successfully engage with a PMO that requires a set of governance information?

How do we offer a plan for projects within which project boards and internal stakeholders can make sense and discharge their respective responsibilities?Stated simply: How can I integrate ‘project stuff’ with ‘agile ways’?

This could be likened to any set of polar opposites. Both ‘sides’ held strong views and I was seeking to integrate them.

At the team level we had some measure of success using statistical forecasting; and then overlaid this onto a very visual storyboard (see attached).

10/11/15 Cycle 2: Scale



Separatio &


At one inter-team meeting we mapped all of the inter-dependent work in and between the teams. It is fair to say that it was the most complicated and complex map I have seen in 15-years of working in this space.

What also became apparent was the need for web-page developments (front-end) to be able to call Enterprise services. This is called vertical slicing. This was a challenge for us at this point.

08/11/15 SAFe training



To aid my own learning and understanding I asked colleagues from other organisations which was the best-in-class for working at this complex scale and it was SAFe.
06/03/16 The Radicals: A Love for the Chaotic Flame?




“Just throw the code across the fence”.

At this point I became increasingly aware that some of the agile community were getting frustrated. This resulted in a binary thinking of ‘us and them’ and consequently some key agile influencers were advocating and ‘coaching’ that the answer was to proverbially ‘throw hand grenades’ at other parts of the IT family or whole system.

There were there key moments that stand out in my mind:

·         Holding a caring, authentic but courageous ‘mirror’ up to a key systems influencer that his adversarial stance was giving agile a bad reputation

·         He resigned later that same day and I still wonder to what extent I contributed to that decision

·         Another key influencer also claiming that his stance was to “inject chaos” into the system for new forms to emerge. He resigned 6-weeks later·         Then we had a number of people leaving over a number of 13-months this was 10 permanent and 10 contractors

·         This was from a total headcount of 131.

My learning journal has this note:

“Finished my blog today (Monday 7th March) and have the sense that I’m being drawn to the constellated field approach to organisational change. The field activated by unconscious constellations of archetypes resonated with my current thoughts and ideas”.

On 15th March I made the following note:

“All systems are influenced by organising forces which attempt to maintain the coherence of the whole. This is where the principles of Time, Place and Exchange come from…but if you ignore or violate its rules you’ll feel its powerful impact”.

Jung’s insight is that in fairy tales someone is often drawn into the story or system and by ‘breaking the spell’ he called this ‘perturbing the field’. A new leader often does this as she/he sees things in a fresh way.

17/04/16 Cycle 4: Resilience




My learning journal notes

‘Am reading my notes on alchemy after a conversation with a senior leader about his view that we need some chaos.

Then I re-read this:

“The nigredo is the initial stage. This chaos; the prima material/ mass confusia. Thus we add HEAT and the Alchemist heats-up the opposites producing a fine, white powder.”

It seems that chaos or a mass confusia is the initial or even pre-stage for the intervention of the Alchemist.

What is fascinating is that I started co-coaching another of my peer-group as he was needing to ‘dig in deep’ given some of the complexities of above, and some personal issues that required additional resilience. It was only a few weeks later that I also had a genuine need for additional resilience myself.  Around the end of April I am in that ‘sacred space’ called ‘stuckness’.

27/04/16 Constellation: Divided Loyalties



Distillatio &

Fermentatio &



My journal makes this note:

“We are possessed by Stories see Geoff Mead. And Felicitas Goodman says there are times when we unconscious of the effect, we program ourselves by repeating, word for word, the stories our family members have handed down about each other and we entangle ourselves in them like flies in a web (see page 7).

This resonated and I wondered: to what extent am I entangled? Is this why I feel so stuck?

This led to my taking the action to seek out help from Ed Rowlands. The need to belong is a strong psychological need for me. Whilst I can celebrate the paradoxes of consensus and conflict (Stacey, 2016); at this point it is experienced as a divided loyalty between:

·         Agile practitioners that seek to make incremental changes through collaboration rather than chaos

·         Wanting to incorporate the best of governance from PRINCE whilst the ‘radicals’ reject any such notion

I therefore seek out help from Ed Rowlands and complete a conceptual constellation where I can map, test and experiment with my experiences of divided loyalty in a ‘safe space’.

There are some first-class personal insights and these are:

·         The whole system is much bigger than me and my intentions

·         A need to go back and more fully explore Theory U

·         A need to get grounded in my praxis

·         I was deeply upset expressing this in the moment

My journal has this note:

Geoff Mead notes that we must learn how to differentiate between narratives that are self-serving and self-interested and those that come from a place of greater mutuality and genuine engagement…

I am wondering how to integrate this with ‘acknowledging what is’ when we look at systemic coaching?

07/05/16 Internal Audit Report



A senior system leader asks the internal auditors to review some of the key projects.

What is fascinating is that with one key project he describes the next phase as the potential in these terms: “The phoenix shall rise from the ashes”

Stated simply, there are a number of challenges that are needed to be addressed as a matter of urgency. Key themes are:

·         Governance

·         Road Mapping

·         Inter-Dependencies

By way of authentic writing it is fair to say that I held these same concerns months previously under my rubric of ‘integration’. However, I felt no smugness in ‘being right’ rather sadness at my lack of influence with my peers and others within the system.

24/05/16 The ‘Stories We Are’ Retreat


Liquefactio &


Geoff Mead hosts a 2-day retreat for those organisational development practitioners that use narrative leadership and methods in their praxis. This was important for three reasons:-

·         Part of my stuckness was linked to early formative/familial constellation

·         There was a space for more generative personal stories and ensuring that ‘old stories’ had a softer edge to them

·         I wanted to explore aspects of my identity that were, and are, paradoxical such as my Jewish ancestry and Christian( I’m quite a liberal) ideology / faith.

·         I wanted to celebrate both but with increasing anti-Semitism this was troubling and gave rise to questions like: Was this similar to my Great Grandmothers decision to ‘marry-out’

Joseph H Berke (2016) expresses Jewish marrying-out or conversion to Christianity as the ‘royal road to social acceptance’. This seems very sad and something I am deeply opposed to in principle and practice.

My notes from Monday 20 June 2016

“Had an honest discussion with a senior leader today and consequently I am staying (here)”.

16/07/16 St Beuno’s Retreat





This was a silent retreat from St Ignatius tradition. I incorporated liberation psychology as the ‘grounding’ for my work with the homeless voluntary work years ago.

Here I had some ‘inner work’ to work in that explored the genuine challenges of forgiveness in a personal area. This no longer holds a ‘grip’ on me as I have worked it through over the last 12-months.

I also found a peace that has re-energised me: both in work and at home too.

19/07/16 Cycle 5: Strategy




The Senior Leadership Team have completed the principles and key ideas for the ways by which the IT department will be developed.

It is an exciting period- we have it seems to me a genuinely grounded assessment of our capabilities, challenges and opportunities. Whilst I did search for a few jobs during the ‘resilience’ phase some of this (now seems) I was ‘running away’. I delighted to say that I have decided to stay and implement the strategy for the next 3-years.

09/08/16 Cycle 6: Pace and Power



We have made significant progress with our agility over the last several months. Whilst this has been a challenge there are demonstrable outcomes with recent projects delivered on time and to a high quality.

Very soon (a matter of 6-8 weeks) we will also be in a position to have even more agility. A good example of this is the ways by which a new web-based configuration tool and an IT integration layer will enable us to have ‘hot releases’.

I love the fact the release is ‘hot’. Neatly alchemical! This is the ‘alchemical gold’ of Agility.


 Appendix Item B: The Key Alchemical Operations in the Narrative

Alchemical Process Signification or Meaning

(every term listed here has more than one meaning in the

alchemical literature)

circulatio the process of circling that brings the outside in and the inside out; the cycling ascent and descent; a rotation meant to strengthen constancy, humility, moderation and concentration; the archetypal spiral
circumambulatio the process of going round and round in an enclosed space with the goal of producing the “Original Man;” a ritual; the archetypal spiral; the process necessary to transform the life mass; the process entailing holding the tension of opposites
contemplatio the process of reflection and introspection that applies active imagination focused on an object
contritio “perfect” repentance, completely rejecting sin as the opposite of the good, without fear of punishment
digestio the process of assimilating and processing a new insight
divisio one of multiple process representing the original state of conflict between the 4 hostile elements; separation of the elements


the physical process of reducing the complex to the simple; synonym: informatio
fixatio the process that consolidates feelings; or holding the tension of multiple opposites
illuminatio the process of achieving enlightenment in a spiritual (not intellectual) sense; a “lighting up” of consciousness
incineratio the process of burning up, a la the phoenix; one of several processes causing dismemberment of the body and separation of the elements;
incubatio the process of heating (akin to the Sanskrit tapas, or self-brooding) or self-heating; a state of introversion in which the unconscious content is brooded over and digested
liberatio the process of release from psychic bonds; the process of emancipating the ego from psychic dominants;
liquefactio the process that transforms a solid into a liquid; a dissolving
meditatio the process of having an inner dialogue with someone unseen, e.g. God; part of the work of coming to terms with the unconscious
mortificatio literally, the process of dying; linked to the calcinatio and putrefactio; a physical slaying; a disintegration, symbolized by a skull; associated with the nigredo phase of the work;
peregrinatio the process that undertakes the “mystic journey” leading to the 4 corners and to the center of the Earth; a wandering undertaken by the alchemist
resurrectio the process of change, transmutation or transformation of one’s being; occurs in the albedo phase of the work; linked to the phoenix, peacock and lapis
symbolizatio the process of drawing parallels and analogies as part of amplification; interpreting by the use of symbols;


transformatio the process accomplished by the (magical) lapis or by Mercurius; a core process in alchemy
transitio the process of change or being in the midst of change; key words: the between, boundaries, borders, frontiers, liminality; the Buddhists’ concept of the Bardo
unificatio the process of synthesizing or unifying


(© the Jungian Center 2015).


Appendix Item C: Conceptual Constellation with Ed Rowlands.

On 24/04/16 my journal makes the following notes:-

  • I am one person in a complex system of people and I cannot bear the system load on my own
  • Divided loyalties is an ‘Old Story’ that can be traced right back to that vulnerable child when my parents divorced. (Parsons 2000) sees Oedipus as a life-long developmental challenge with ‘new kinds of oedipal configurations that belong to later life’.
  • I want to find my peace with the IPO system
  • I need to respect the system and let it find its balance
  • Constellations are powerful, soul-work, mysterious, profound, and insightful (see also Whittingham, 2016).

Picture 3: The Conceptual Constellation (My Own Representation)







Has silence lost its power for us?

Over the last few weeks I have been curious about the role of silence. Many of my critical friends have expressed genuine curiosity about my retreat; and more especially that it is a silent retreat.


Given the kind questions, I thought I’d try to express some of my interest in this and see where this takes me/us. By way of some background, over the last seven years I have honestly found that Rabbi Sacks regularly speaks into my heart, my life, current questions and concerns, and even many of my personal  interests.

I’ve placed this link in here for you for the full text as it is well worth a read Rabbi Sacks

Rabbi Sacks makes a fascinating point into some of the reasons why God might have selected the desert to reveal the Torah or Law that would later mark-out a Nation we today call Israel.

He shares this:-

“…But there is another, more spiritual reason. The desert is a place of silence. There is nothing visually to distract you, and there is no ambient noise to muffle sound. To be sure, when the Israelites received the Torah, there was thunder and lightning and the sound of a shofar. The earth felt as if it were shaking at its foundations. But in a later age, when the prophet Elijah stood at the same mountain after his confrontation with the prophets of Baal, he encountered God not in the whirlwind or the fire or thunder”

He then adds this “The sages valued silence. They called it ‘a fence to wisdom’. If words are worth a coin, silence is worth two. Shimon ben Gamliel said, “All my days I have grown up among the wise, and I have found nothing better than silence.

The silence that counts, in Judaism, is thus a listening silence (emphasis is mine) – and listening is the supreme religious art. Listening means making space for others to speak and be heard. As I point out in my commentary to the Siddur, there is no English word that remotely equals the Hebrew verb sh-m-a in its wide range of senses: to listen, to hear, to pay attention, to understand, to internalise and to respond in deed”

Incidentally, there is a Japanese word that gets a little closer to the Hebrew than the English. The Japanese word includes both the heart and the ears- signifying the connection of one’s empathy and deeper understanding.

Rabbi Sacks then invites us to ask some quite profound and soul searching questions:-

  • Do we, in marriage, really listen to our spouses?
  • Do we as parents truly listen to our children?
  • Do we, as leaders, hear the unspoken fears of community?
  • Do we really listen to those we seek to lead?
  • Do we internalise the sense of hurt of the people who feel excluded?

But what of others faiths?

If we turn to the Buddha we find the loving story of Kisa Gotami. Her life was struck by a series of tragedies. First, she lost her husband, and then another family member and then her only beloved son got ill and he eventually died. Striken with grief she carried her son’s dead body with her pleading for medicine to help to bring him back from the dead.

Someone then told her to speak to the Buddha, which she did. The Buddha promised to help her. He sent her to get some (very commonly found) mustard seed from the local village. Just as she left to leave, he added:

But Kisa you must find this from a home that has never lost a member of the family, a relative or friend“. Of course, she searched and searched; but each time found that every home had lost someone who they cared for. She eventually returned to the Buddha asking for his blessing on her son’s soul and for him to teach her more. History tells us that she became a genuine disciple of his.

The wise Greek mathematician Pythagoras has this wise sentiment: “Be silent or let your words be worth more than silence”

This is a fab quote from Ben Okri: “Tranquility is the resolution of the tensions and paradoxes of story into something beyond story; into stillness.

He also offers this lovely idea too:

“I think we need more of the wordless in our lives. We need more love, more silence, more deep listening, more deep giving”. 

The founder of Christianity, Jesus, also made space for silence.We can read from Mark 1:35

“Early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up and slipped out to a solitary place to pray” 

So what style, or form, of silence?

So I guess I am talking about a generative or creative silence as Sue Hollingsworth and Ashley Ramsden call it.They describe this as “A creative space full of potential and curiosity, a companionable moment rich in imagination and feeling”

This is more than simply mental stillness. This is a space to quieten the mind and stop the mind’s endless chattering, and remind myself that some of the most insightful and helpful times come when the world just settles into quiet. To listen as Rabbi Sacks has so eloquently described it.

Mother Teresa says “See how nature: trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the starts, the moon, and the sun, how they move in silence…we need silence to be able to touch souls”.  

A silent retreat like St Beuno’s is of course one form of a retreat. However,  there are others. One example, is the one that I am attending in a few weeks time with the Centre for Narrative Leadership. Here we are exploring the ‘The Stories We Are’.  I’ve put the link in here for you Narrative Leadership

Stated briefly, we are going to ‘explore the ways in which we create our identity through stories and to consider how, in our various fields of practice, how we can better help individuals and groups come to understand and sometimes to change their stories’.

Together we are going to consider such questions as:

  • How do we create, maintain, and explore our identity through stories ?
  • How do we better let go of the old stories when they no longer serve?
  • How do we find, co-create and share the new stories with each other?
  • How do we bring them into an emerging context that can shape our future?

I’m sure there will be so time both for discussion, inquiry and much much more. I’m sure too that I’ll expereince the power of silence in the ways that I’ve tried to describe.

Take care Jason.



Appreciating the value of SAFe

SAFe4.0_transparent_background 8.5x11

Over the last few days I have been taking the time to carefully reflect on the reasons why I really appreciate the SAFe framework. I’ve put the link in here for you SAfe 4 and there are a number of case-studies detailed in here SAFe case studies

I will neatly ‘side-step’ the positivist hierarchy of evidence question for the time-being as I think that might muddy the proverbial waters in terms of my appreciating what it offers, for me, and perhaps for you. Stated simply, case-studies offer three things for the interested professional:

  1. Credibility. Many Senior Executives find it helpful.
  2. Insights and Learning: The Case-Studies and CoP help foster respectful collaboration
  3. Evidence. Many large public and private organisations want underpinning evidence for the ‘case for change’ or an associated business case for validation.

But this does not really capture what I have in mind and this is the consultancy cycle approach to incremental change. It is fair to say that I’ve been using this model for over 16-years now. Stated simply, it starts with a problem that needs to be solved. It also sets aside any notion of a prescribed methodology, or indeed methodologies, and instead actively seeks out the established ‘evidence-base’ for what has effectively worked in similar situations/contexts or what we might call case-studies?

To make my point a little more ‘real’ let me provide three hypothetical scenarios and the ways by which the SAFe framework would, perhaps, offer something of value, insight and help.

Remember, of course, that one of the foundations of the agile movement is all around incremental change. That is to say, that we are looking to make small, testable improvements from the current state to the desired future state. We collect data/evidence as we test our hypothesis to this end.

Also, remember that SAFe is a framework and therefore you can select the parts that you wish to test as hypothesis to help you gain more agility.

Scenario One:

The organisation wants to empower its teams to use the most appropriate methodology and associated tools so that they can take seriously the ideas of the self-empowered or organising team.

One of the strengths of SAFe is the operational ease by which each team can adopt, test and refine its own lean-based methods such as Scrum, Kanban, ScrumBan or any refinement that the team makes as part of its own individual agility maturity. We don’t need, anticipate or expect that innovation is quashed by ‘corporate policy’ or the illusion that if every team used the same tools then life would be simpler! SAFe is ace in this regard!

Scenario Two:

There is significant technical debt because projects are being stopped and started. The dependencies are out of synchronisation, and even completed projects are left on the shelf completed without any genuine business value being realised.

Thankfully SAFe has lots to offer in the ‘strategic portfolio operational’ space. At the Enterprise there are key strategic themes. In turn at the Portfolio there is a ‘work-in-progress’ limit to the number of projects that are in the Portfolio strategic pipeline. Thus, the value stream per theme is clear; with enabler projects and Epics being clearly worked up and approved in a ‘light: tight’ governance role. This simply means that the business value of working software is known prior to it being started. SAFe also has a very realistic portfolio budgeting method that lends itself to ‘light: tight’ financial planning. This model is very similar to that advocated the National Audit Office for financial budgets that have a range of variables and costs with the assumptions (and sensitivity analysis) explicit.

Notice though, that if any project has emergent problems and has to stop whilst those problems are solved, that the WiP ensures that there is a worked-up (i.e. ready to go) project for that team. Thus, there are no idle, redundant or sunk costs due to poor sequencing or Portfolio synchronisation. SAFe is first-class in this area!

Scenario Three:

In a word the next problem is all around system improvements. Consider a context with SOA architecture and three projects needing to ‘call’ various SOA services before the transition to a fully production/live services.

In this regard SAFe has lots to offer! Consider the cadence or rhythm of the software (fully tested and system Demo to all stakeholders including the business Users). The neat release train ensures that all the teams know when to have their Epics completed to ‘hit the next train’. This makes System Assurance testing co-ordination that much simpler too. In effect the Business Users have shippable working software more frequently and better tested across the Enterprise.

SAFe also has a very sensible 10 or 12-weeks planning session for all the teams, or silos, within IT or ‘brand IT’. In this way it ensures that the front-line staff across the whole of IT all have co-created a plan that they are all equally aligned with and committed to. (I’ve blogged previously about systemic alignment).

For me, this is very powerful. It shifts the thinking from silo or ‘part’ to the ‘us’ or the ‘whole’ IT family or system. I love this for the collaborative hope that it offers. And given the significant number of businesses across a range of Industries that have, and are, successfully using SAFe this is encouraging to me.


I hope that I’ve demonstrated the rationale for why I can appreciate the SAFe framework when we are seeking to improve our agile maturity? I hope that whilst you may prefer a different scaled framework, or none at all, given your specific/particular circumstances or contextual factors, that for others SAFe is both a fab place to start that journey, or indeed help the maturity?

Take care, Jason


Jason is a Certified Scrum Professional; as well as a Business Psychologist and Agile Project Manager. 

Scrum-Professional-Seal-sm whatisbp






Symbiotic Transformation

My current inquiry concerns systemic leadership and its associated organisational transformation. I’m fascinated by the ways by which ‘whole systems’ thinking, strategic design /planning and systemic relationships can co-create lasting participative transformational change.

To this end I’ve been engaged in some first-person work asking my critical friends: How well am I doing in terms of behaving, talking and relating in a more systemic way? Linked to this was an insightful question from one friend who asked me:

“What is it you are trying to do? What is the outcome you have in mind?”.

I sat for a few minutes in silence letting the question settle. Some initial ideas surfaced and I made a link between a recent Constellation I’d been on where a leader of a charity shared her vision of raising human consciousness to a new point that we live in a more balanced, sustainable and respectful way for all sentient beings. I recall being moved by such a bold but equally essential vision. I shared this with my friend and then I added:

“So I think I am looking to raise our systemic consciousness within our department and perhaps even within the organisation”. The next set of carefully challenging questions from my friend helped me to work through some of the options around the ‘how’.

It then struck me, quite powerfully, that what we/I need is access, or availability, of more systemic language: metaphors, myths, and stories to draw from. We need new stories and to be able to share them. These new stories will help shape our organisational ecology in systemic ways.

This is my current learning-edge. This is where I am ‘at’ right now.

One interesting idea that has caught my imagination is symbiosis. You’ll recall this is two separate living organisms living in harmony together. There is a beautiful example of this in this short video here:-


What I love about this is the way by which the algae has adapted itself to its host. In turn, the host has ‘accepted’ the algae through a symbiotic interaction or relationship. Rather than being seen as an invading parasite, that the host would reject in one way or another, the algae has been accepted. As you can see, the host and the newcomer benefit from the new relationship as two parts of a new, emergent ‘whole’. In fact, it gets even better for the host as they benefit from the converted sunlight from the algea as a new powerful source of energy. It is to coin a phrase from management-speak a ‘win:win’ relationship.

I’ve been wondering to what extent we can draw an analogy from this for new ways of working? For example, when we are looking to follow UK Government policy by becoming more agile? This does speak to me. Ensuring that the ‘host’ organisation seems the new relationship as symbiotic and that it can have demonstrable benefits from a ‘new and powerful source of energy’ seems like a fascinating, life-affirming new story in this space!

Take care, Jason.







Systemic Leadership: How do we acknowledge what is?

This blog is more a reflective piece as I don’t have the answers. My question is: How does a systemic leader successfully acknowledge ‘what is’ or the truth of the situation and at the same time take a holistic view of the impact of recognising that some things have not gone as well as we would have liked?

Let me share where I am coming from and what factors are shaping my inquiry. Can I first state that this is an inquiry is systemic. A systemic or holistic perspective considers that all parts of the system affect one another (see Tarnas, 1991). In other words, release processes affect the development/Scrum team. Next, the quality of testing from the development team also affects the anxieties and concerns of business as usual, and so on. I personally also extend this view to see that the success of one team delivering a key project also highlights collaboration across the system too. And, if one project has not delivered in the ways that we first imagined or fantasized; then this too will have both direct team impacts and as importantly systemic ones too. Agreed?

One of the most important roles of a systemic leader is to ‘acknowledge what is’. John Whittington for example says that in terms of systemic coaching that “standing in what is, the truth of the system, settles (the client) and opens doors to fresh resolutions” (p.83). The advice goes on to note that in this coaching role at the individual level it is important for the coach to remain “neutral” which is a gift that the client can benefit from.

Stepping inside a new leaders role and reviewing the last years highlights, progress and areas for improvement certainly resonates with this central idea of needing to acknowledge what is. This resonates around sincerity, candor and transparency and there are neat links in here for Scrum values. “This has not gone as well as we had planned”. Why is this important? If we have genuine concerns that things might be a little ‘happy clappy’ then looking from this perspective (or walking in this leaders shoes) one can have some empathy.

For example Tuckett & Taffler (2008) report that in some organisations there can be a culture that co-creates a ‘bubble of euphoria’. In this bubble (think of the banking crisis) everyone implicitly colludes in a process that everything is OK and all the people get “separated from reality”. The longer this continues the more the risks that actual events get glossed-over, spun and even re-defined to the a degree that we enter a ‘perverted reality’. Newcomers then have three choices: collude, exit or seek to facilitate change. In some cases this creates a systemic cycle of key roles that do indeed ‘exit’ for whatever reason(s), creating what is referred to as the ‘ejector seat syndrome’. This of course, is unsettling systemically.

However, there is a tension in here for me. And this is my inquiry question. In what ways or to what extent should we as systemic leaders, that recognise both positive and negative feedback loops on the system, acknowledge what is: whilst recognising that ‘bursting the bubble” will create pain? We will witness ‘exits’. We will see and feel hurts, disappointments and a sense of mourning.

It is my experience that in most complex systems there will a multi-factoral model and lessons to not only learn from but also not repeat. That’s a genuine learning edge. To this end, the leader’s communication would need a sensitive (neutral?) systemic language. To be seen to attribute (or worst still ‘blame’) a ‘part’ of the ‘whole’ would, in my experiences, only unsettle.. as it does not resonate as the ‘truth of the system’. This is no easy task and I would not profess to always get this right. The leaders would need a ‘heightened awareness’ of their own systemic entanglements and loyalties some of which may well be divided. Developing this awareness; now that’s a different story…

As leaders we would need to be able to understand our own stories (see Geoff Mead, 2011) and the ways by which these stories flow through and sometimes how we get trapped by them. My own inquiry in this has taken to Theory U and I’ll blog on that at some future point.

For the time being, my recent experiences with a constellation with Ed Rowland has helped me to experience the systemic in fresh, insightful and fascinating ways . I experienced and witnessed some of the ways by which formative familial constellations can get re-played in organisations. (see The Whole Partnership).

“Some things have not gone as well as we would have hoped”. There is truth in these words. Is it fair to posit that a bubble may have burst? Is our system maybe hearing a new truth? If so, then let’s be sure that we have a systems assessment; and that any lessons are indeed systemic and do not reveal any invisible loyalties, or personal defences/ protections.

Personally, I am committed to a more morphic model of transformation as this is beautifully systemic and relies on the forming and shaping of new organisational forms through organic changes. In this way we see merging and being merged in new ways; thus ensuring that the organisational is fit to evolve in light off its changing environment. This is fab transformational language.

Personally over the last few months I have been fragmented, disoriented and held contradictory feelings of both excitement/joy as well as genuine sadness/ disappointment as I’ve worked across two teams that are in very different ‘places’.  I’ve wondered whether this has been systemic valency? In other words the ‘micro’ in the ‘macro’ and whether unconsciously I’ve taken-up a role on behalf of the system? I wonder if my divided loyalties between first-class projects as a profession and excellent Scrum teams have been a ‘symptom’ of something wider, something much more systemic? All organisations have defences, and mine is not any different in this regard.

So my question is this: What systemic language speaks truth but at the same time speaks from a respectful place?

To end with a favourite quote of mine from Geoff Mead:-

We must learn how to differentiate between narratives that are self-interested and self-serving (and thereby diminishing of others) and those that come from a place of greater mutuality and genuine engagement (and thereby life enhancing) (p.117)

Quote taken from ‘The Heart and Soul of Leadership’.


Agile types within the community?

Over the last few years I have been undertaking some action research around Agility and what we might possibly mean by the claim of an ‘Agile community’? Are there, like most other professional/social communities distinct sub-communities? Can we trace or recognise smaller grouping(s) that seek to collectively make sense of the notion of ‘Agility’ in its broadest sense? And does this naturally mean that Agility is understood in different and even competing ways? And, if so, how can we, and do we, make sense of that multiplicity of meaning-making, for want of a better term? What method lends itself to understanding?

One approach I like is that proposed by Carl Jung and his use of ‘types’. This is a first-class resource for those wanting to read/study a little more

Stated simply, Jung made the claim that humanity share a collective unconscious. Our collective unconscious was inhabited by a range of characters that he called archetypes. I guess then, I am wondering if these characters are shared symbolically by the agile community? Can you recognise any of them? Do they resonate? We each then using this framework can be ‘activiated’ by an archetype and act-out in the ways described. Of course, this would be unconsciously, rather than consciously given the nature of an archetype. What types can we recognise?

On Method
Following quite extensive individual and small group interviews; and then reading primary and secondary resources, I think I’m in the position to postulate the following typology. I have attempted to condense the complexity to a rather simplified 4 core types, but of course, I am in the process of making-sense of my own, rather limited, direct lived experience. There are therefore, I am certain, more that can be re-searched and shared, expounded and I hope, in a life affirming manner, debated too.

For each of the 4 types I have attempted to analyse sameness and difference. I’ve also looked at some of the main metaphors that resonate for each type. Next I’ve looked at some of the main ways by which they tend to ‘act-out’ in terms of power-relations. Lastly, I’ve examined some of the unconscious ‘shadow side’ of the types so as to provide psychological space for humility, reflection, insight, and possibly more self-awareness.

As I write that last sentence I make the candid declaration that I am a ‘flawed human’ with a need for my own ongoing ‘inner work’. I am grateful for my coach, mentor and friends to this end.

What are the 4 types?
I have carefully traced the following 4 types:
• The Radical
• The Reticularist
• The Retro
• The Romantic
I’ll address each in turn and then a short summary table for ease of reference etc.

The Radical.
With the Radical type of character there is an inherent impatience with the rate, or pace, of progress. If their dreams were actually realised; then there would be a massive, unmeasured and rapid change to their ‘way’. They seem to desire an over-idealised Agile image that forever seems just ‘out of reach’. Consequently, their preferred modus operandi is the on-going challenge, the critique. This is what Cooperrider refers to as ‘the deficit model’. They have ‘weapons of mass destruction’ and they are willing to deploy them if deemed necessary. Their preferred metaphors for Agile teams are ‘squads’ based on a military/conflict model. Thus, they speak and think in terms of war; fighting; and competition. For them to win then others must lose on their imagined Agile ‘Crusade’.

Their psychological narrative is binary: good/bad; in/out; friend/foe. They prefer in-groups where all the members share their future ‘end game’ when, presumably, they have ‘won’ and anyone that does not share their own (rather narrow view) of organisational Agility has lost? Thus, Agile ‘coaches’ caught-out by this character might spend over 80% of their time, energy and persuasion on ‘challenging the status quo’. As you might have guessed the Radical struggles with multiple, competing interpretations of reality. Thus, he sees things in a single-minded manner. They are very stubborn and fixed.

Of course, there is as with all types more positive aspects to this type. They have deep personal resource ‘wells’ of energy, resilience and massive drive. This role can be seen in some circles as a ‘necessary mavericks’ and by a smaller number as ‘heroes’ taking forward and representing the Agile cause with ‘passion’.

When things are not moving as fast as they deem realistic then their impatience reveals their shadow-side. This shadow-side includes all the military undertones of actual warfare: propaganda, guerrilla attacks, and psychological injuries. Next, given that they often have strong group boundary norms they can be given-over to darkened shades of group-think. The advice? To keep this in check this sub-community would do well to keep connected with other sub-groups and more especially the Romantics. (NB:- They would need to be careful with the Reticularist as the latter may simply be seen as an ‘intelligence source’ for their next ‘campaign’).

The Reticularist
I’ve blogged previously around the role of the Reticularist. Stated simply, the Reticularist is sometimes referred to as a ‘boundary spanner’. This Agile archetype is a ‘whole systems’ actor, thinker and planner. Therefore, within the organisation (and more especially the IT department) she/he is seeking to understand work flow. Questions arise such as: How does work flow through the organisation from product conception right through to the release stage? Where are the blockers to flow?
With whom do I need to make allies with and, quite literally, ‘see’ work from their perspective in an appreciative way? The Reticularist seeks to co-create with others incremental improvements to flow, and so share successes across teams.

The guiding metaphor for them is an organic or ‘living’ system. This is because such systems move, change, shift and therefore, new patterns emerge from the interactions of the parts. In this way, the Reticularist is a collaborator par excellence as they act on and with the ‘edges’ of different interfacing teams and departments. As an example: If product releasing is a current challenge- then a collaborative group would seek to co-create a solution.

Whereas for the Radical the temptation would be to challenge and then release the product from the direct Scrum team and then more simply watch and ‘see what happens’ which could well include fall-out and tensions…the Reticularist would systemically foresee the tensions arising from such unilateral decision-making and seek to circumvent it via a more collaborative method (e.g. a small cross-group experiment).
The shadow-side for the boundary spanner is gossiping. This is because when you are seeking to understand all the ‘parts of the whole’ of necessity this means engaging with the teams within those parts.

Consequently, there is a genuine risk of information-sharing for understanding in transit/translation, losing its ethical value, as gossip. The downside of gossiping are likely to include damaging trust, as well as negating possible future relational reciprocity. To mitigate this risk, one ought to state one’s own intentions for Agile improvement as the contextual discussion background. Thus, you cannot be ‘all things to all people’ if this means in professional practice you are left without any ethical ‘grounding’ from which others can evaluate you intentions for good or ill.

The Retro.
According to the online urban dictionary the Retro is a ‘contemporary style containing elements but not the replication of a previous era’. Thus, there is a sense of looking back in time or history, for the Retro. They hold in especial respect and regard the ‘Founding Fathers’ of the Agile movement. The Retro often have applied longevity with the application of Agile methods in various types of organisations. Many of them are seen as current leaders themselves. A smaller sub-set have taken the opportunity to incrementally develop, refine and market new tools, techniques and methods. The Retro has a deep and genuine sense of respect for the ‘Giants of the Past’. They will have taken the considered care and time to study their words and often memorised their key concepts and suggestions, and applied them too.

Whereas for the Retro there is respect and even reverence for the Founding Fathers this is often at the business or logical level. The Retro deeply understands marketing, branding and profit margins. This can be contrasted with the Radical as the latter actively seek to challenge the ‘Old Timers’ for even better methods; innovative breakthroughs and new models.

The shadow-side for the Retro is most often witnessed by a degree of arrogance, pride and a somewhat ‘closed mind’. Therefore, on many dimensions the Retro can be contrasted with the Radical. Whereas for the Retro ‘wisdom’ is a core value; for the Radical disruptive innovation is of a higher need/value. Many current and previous Agile community arguments can thus be framed using this interpretative lens or schema.

The guiding metaphor for the Retro type is honouring the wisdom of the collective past as incremental improvements are made moving towards the visionary future. The future vision, of course, would seem consistent with the Founding Fathers, whilst accepting and even celebrating a sense of building on their foundations.
Key words: vision, values and wisdom. In terms of power-relations the Retro views power and residing in the empirical evidence-base underpinning their Craft. Therefore, they look back to the philosophical Greeks not just for wisdom; but also for their technical Craft or techne. They are keen to learn the ways by which to persuade, cajole and bring others along in a relatively harmonious way to a more Agile organisation.

The Romantic.
For the Romantic type the Agility journey must engage meaning. It is essential for the Romantic they can see their role and the ways by which this is connected to the Agile journey for the organisation. For the Romantic, Agility has everything to do with increased job and team satisfaction; a more life affirming and innovative work-place. Whilst they appreciate all the empirical data ‘under the sun’ such as: efficiency, effectiveness, productivity and outcomes; the Romantic longs for something more: meaning. Therefore, and this is very important their emotions must be engaged.

The Romantic will have emotionally internalised the Scrum values, for example, and seek to work and be ethically guided by them as part of their working intuition. They may even internalise them as self-embodied values within other areas or life domains. Thus, they will enjoy experimenting with agility in their personal lives. Thus, when these values are ‘crossed’ there will be a deep sense of disappointment and even shame and regret. The Romantics are therefore, captured by a participative ‘Mission’ that must have an ethical sense of direction.

The Romantics are looking to carefully, and at times, patiently build the ‘Agile City set on a Hill’. Given their need for emotional connection and meaning; when senior leaders fail to make their connection for them by organisational discourse, metaphor and mission statement the Romantics symbolically (and perhaps in reality) ‘lose heart’ and they consequently disengage. The Romantics are deeply connected, on an emotional level, with the ‘Founding Fathers’ and they are seeking to be as true to those initial values as the Founders were. Respect is a key word in their psychological lexicon. Indeed, they are less interested per se, in new ‘brands’ or emergent markets, but rather to co-create new idea, and to solve new problems if and only if, they are underscored by the correct set of values.

Their shadow-side is revealed not be naked resistance (as marked-out so obviously by a Radical), but rather, by ‘going through the motions’. When the shadow falls over the Romantic they somehow seem emotionally ‘hollow’ to their team mates and wider colleagues. It is this sense of an accompanying emotional numbness that psychologically signifies the denial/rejection of things that really do matter (deep down in their soul) to them.

In this blog I have sought to explore and understand the notion of an Agile community and posited that there might be a number of Agile sub-communities. Why? I have done so in the hope that by articulating the ‘contested space’ of Agility that more harmony, collaboration and legitimacy can be taken-up by different ways of living and indeed being Agile.

It is beyond the scope of this current blog to work through how many of each type are the optimal ‘mix’ given any organisational agile journey. I would imagine that the organisational culture is a key factor?

Jason is a Certified Scrum Professional. He is also a Business Psychologist, as well as a full member of the Association of Project Managers.