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 http://jungiancenter.org
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?
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.
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’).
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.
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.
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.