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)







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.

Agile Testing: The Test Flight.

There is something really #Agile about the ways by which this successful and very extreme testing resonates with me as a Scrum Master and Certified Scrum Professional.

This film is worth watching as you can see and hear the ways by which Boeing test pilots have subjected the new 747-8 Freighter to extreme testing.

Watch and you can see, hear and experience the ways that the plane has been dragged, dropped, soaked, forced to hover, shudder and flutter. This testing has costs millions of pounds. The testing takes the plane to the most extreme limits of what is to be expected when in the real world, or in software terms, the ‘live environment’.

Interestingly, there are a number of  what in software development we call ‘negative Use Cases’ such as deliberate stalls and flutter tests. The testing from what in Agile we call beta testing. Way before live!


It might be worthwhile where I am ‘coming from’. I work in the civil service and we have this fab team at the GDS that undertake the research and shape policy so that we can be the most effective in delivery. To this end, we are all Agile teams most of us use Scrum, Kanban or Scrumban.

Government Digital Service: UK Policy

Beta Outputs

Notice the similarity with the testing of the plane and the UK Government policy around what constitutes the end of the beta phase:

  • delivered an end-to-end prototype of the service (including SIT, stress and performance testing)
  • a collection of prioritised work to be done (your Product backlog)
  • a user testing plan (UAT)
  • accurate metrics and measurements to monitor your KPIs (given the above for performance, stress and integration)
  • fully tested the assisted digital support for your service
  • a working system that can be used, for real, by end users

Because it is an #Agile design notice that component testing, performance, load, stress and continuous integration run all the way through the software product lifecycle. We would also ensure a full regression test at the end of the cycle.

This is because we want to identify and fix any bug as part of continuous agile improvements and not wait until the end of all the software development has been finished and have a large ‘testing phase’ at the end delaying delivery and be reliant upon a small team rather than having those skills (and availability of automated technologies) in each and every Scrum team.

Once you have this concept, then notice the shift as we Go Live:

Going live

To provide a fully resilient service to all end users the service should now meet all security and performance standards. You have configured your analytics to accurately monitor the key performance indicators identified in the building of your service.

I write this in the hope of looking forward we can get a deeper sense and appreciation of the fantastic ways by which Agile (when understood and implemented properly) ensures the highest quality. It also ensures the most effective use of resources and flexible responses to feedback from customers- this ensuring that time, quality and costs (the ‘holy trinity’) are maximised.

Take care Jason



Fixing the project deadline: Agile choices.

There are legitimate reasons why a project would need to have a fixed deadline and although the Agile community would rightly counter this with a range of sensible reasons why you might want a more flexible approach, on occasion a fixed deadline is a non-negotiable contractual characteristic.

What is fascinating is that Scrum, as a method, seems to me to be more effective when there are relatively known quantities (such as Requirements or Features) and then during the course of a number of short iterations and shipping of completed and usable/working code empirical comparisons can be made between expectations and actual. Of course, we can make this comparative analysis between actual and forecast costs in both types: capital and revenue as part of budget analysis.

One of the headlines that grabbed my attention this week was this one:New British Airways direct flight from London Gatwick to New York’. This is good news for those of us that have friends, family and colleagues in New York. It is fair to say that the BA have turned the proverbial corner with the latest fiscal analysis suggesting that AG (the firm that to all intents and purposes own BA) have reported a 25% rise in profits to a new level of some £315 million for the 3-months (quarter) up to 30th June 2015. This is an impressive set of business results.


Chief executive Willie Walsh told the BBC that the impressive changes to the airlines operating model highlighted the “underlying strength of the airlines” which is encouraging.

But what about agile working? How does this fit? Does it play a part?

We need to go back in time to make sense of the Agile change. Back in 2009 BA were facing a horrendous situation and the time for tough and testing decisions to be made. At that time BA CIO made the statement that both “lean and Agile as part of continuous improvement will help us beat the downturn”also expressed as the global recession.

BA then cut around 2,500 jobs in 2009. It then addressed an outdated operating model that was fit-for-purpose historically, but was found ‘lacking’ in these new and testing times. Interestingly, in 2010 Paul Coby, the CIO when addressing a business conference in London made the following key announcement and observation “We need smart innovation and smart change leveraged by technology. Lean and Agile are becoming key enablers”. Notice that back in 2010 and then read again the rise in 25% quarterly profits. There is something close to prophetic in Paul’s words. #leadership.

But what of the staff that had to be re-trained, coached, and deployed in Lean and Agile methods. A few years later the new Head of IT delivery, Mike Croucher made two observations of their journey of transformation that created a more flexible, agile and successful business operating model enabled by IT:

“The first thing I’d point to is the value that we’ve driven for the company, because that’s the reason why we’re in business.

And the second thing is the way it has motivated many of our people in IT. Some have said it has changed their lives.” #changedlives

What many people are less aware of is that BA typically run fixed-term projects of around 6-months. This helps co-ordination as well as ensuring that the ‘time-boxed’ Sprint philosophy runs all the way down into the governance framework and light touch paperwork across the portfolio. #light:tight

In this way, the maximum business value and wider benefits are the central discussion point. The Agile team via the Product Owners prioritization of the Stories are focused on value. Let’s get the maximum value or return on our investment (ROI). Release management is a little easier to co-ordinate too. This has built confidence in Agile across all the business units and within the wider culture.

Can you imagine the conversations that start with: How do we maximise the ROI? That is an exciting place to contribute… that’s where the edge truly is.

I enjoy those conversations in my own work-place. I’ve witnessed the changes in behaviour, attitudes and collaboration when conversations are ‘framed’ in this way. From the largest Epic down to the smallest and elegantly sliced Story let’s ensure ROI is up front and central. Agile is all about value. And if we need to fix the deadline to help our thinking then let’s do just that.


As this important case-study has demonstrated having a fixed project deadline can be a successful methods for implementation and co-ordination for IT transformational programmes and projects.

Take care Jason

Business Agility: What’s the added value of Senior Management Coaching?

The role of senior management in setting the business strategic design, development and implementation is well researched with a firm evidence-base. What is less well-known are the ways by which cultural change is enabled by coaching when it comes to a stated aim to become ‘more agile’.


Thankfully there are resources which add insight, challenge and case-studies from which we can learn. But before that it is worth briefly stating the subtle difference between an espoused value and an actual value. In the past I have worked in organisations were there is a total contradiction between the two which creates all manner of professional headaches. Consider a healthcare provider claiming that they genuinely care for their patients; and then receive patient complaints and feedback that in reality they are consistently rude, dismissive and unkind.  That’s a contradiction.

I’ve also worked in organisations where there is a distinctive, but more of a degree, of difference between their espoused and lived values. For example, several years ago one organisation claimed that our people are our most valuable asset and yet their staff satisfaction surveys were in the lower quartile of their industry benchmark. In this case, there was an organisational development programme to ‘close the gap’ between the desired and actual state. This, to be fair, is not uncommon. It is why cultural transformation for genuine practitioners takes time. There is no ‘quick fix’.

But what of agility? There is little doubt in my mind that agility might well be, or yet become, another management fad or fashion. There are several reasons for this possibility, and I will address one. In a previous blog I have looked back and traced various management ‘fads and fashions’ as well as shifts and movements in management theory, practice and aims. I will not be repeating that analysis in here. However, just to make the point that a stated aim is not reality. Cultural analysis aka Edgar Schein (1987) makes the point that one of the key points of analysis is the actual business policies, practices and staff attitudes.

How do we go about improving agility? Having trained Scrum Masters and teams is without doubt a significant investment with identifiable and quantifiable returns. That’s one key intervention.

The next has to be senior management as their role (leadership) as key ‘influencers and shapers’ of cultural change has, in my professional experience, a three-fold impact when compared to team investment alone. Yes three-fold! If you are looking to increase understanding, practice, pace and collaboration across all business Divisions or Units-then this is an intervention worthy of merit and serious consideration.

(If you happen to be a public sector organisation then I’ve also had a Non-Executive Agile Lead. This is also a good idea. It can complement the Coaching).

But what of the leadership coaching approach? What are the leadership behaviours? Thankfully, there is a first-class resource by Brian Wernham that has, through careful and considered case-study research, identified a set of 9 leadership behaviours that can add value to any Coach.

I have found these to have face validity and genuine added-value practice. Well worth a serious study and reflection. There is also this fab webinar that the APM invited Brian to discuss some of his key ideas in:-

So if you are looking to ‘close the gap’ between your strategic values and your current business operating model/practices what is stopping you? Is it time for senior management Coaching?

Take care Jason


Jason is a Business Psychologist, Scrum Master and Registered Project Manager.

The Scrum Master: Appreciating the Reticulist.

This week my attention has been turned to, and reflecting on, systemic influence and the ways by which as Scrum Masters we are seeking to develop relationships of mutual trust, respect and with that foundation or ‘ground’ firmly in place that we can effectively seek to co-create more Agile organisations. These thoughts returned me to something that has shaped my professional practice, or praxis; and this is called the boundary spanner.

It is fair to say that the traditional way of describing the boundary spanner is an ‘agent’ that works collaboratively across multi-organisations, or agencies, so as to improve customer experiences through redesign etc. However, to what extent can ‘system influencers’ that work across different departments, Divisions, or service areas gain insights from this applied model? What can Scrum Masters learn, if anything?

Boundary Spanner

One of the core competencies of the boundary spanner is the notion of the Reticulist. Stated simply, this is the wisdom of the network and the judgement of how to best (and by best I mean ethically) influence and make judgement about the ways to which to influence a complex network of other actors or humans.

Friend et al (1974) rightly notes that such judgments are fraught with personal and professional tension because they are bound up in personal, professional and organizational concerns. Questions arise such as:

  • What is the best intervention?
  • At what level?
  • And in what form?

Of course, as the Agile Manifesto makes clear for Scrum Masters we value ‘relationships over process’ and there is an important clue!

Friend (p.365) goes on to say that such actions or interventions will need to be“guided by other motives at the more personal level such as the desire to be liked or esteemed by his associates” thus adding to the complexity! I have found it best that as a maxim we must be kind- but not colluding, if less effective methods and/or decisions are being made that run counter to our ends in mind.. aka #Agile.

Next, it is fair to say that the evidence-base suggests that reticulists are expected to deploy political skills which Friend strongly advises “must include a sure grasp of modes of behaviour relevant to different types of relationship between agencies and between actors”. An added value insight.

Degeling (1995) suggests that reticulists should command an appreciation of the interstices of power; so as to appreciate the systemic coupling, interdependencies and where fissures are likely to occur. Thus there is a call for us to be ethical as well as skilled at identifying the strategic points wherein intervention and influence are best placed. Thus, and this is key it seems to me, Scrum Masters (as a professional group or community or collegiate) will combine a strong commitment to change through the cultivation of linkages between key individuals with common interests and power, rather than adopt a passive/aggressive role of organizational representative. Reticulists are “individuals who engage in networking tasks and employ methods of coordination and task integration across organizational boundaries”. 

Next, Alter and Hage, (1993) note that large-scale change needs strategically placed individuals who use their interpersonal skills and relationships to keep pathways open at all levels in the hierarchy. It seems to me that ‘evolution trumps revolution’ (I cant stand the sight of blood!) and that we are therefore looking to develop relationships whereby we can ‘bring people with us on the Agile transformational journey’?

Consequently, Large-Scale Scrum it logically seems to imply requires experience and practical understanding of organisational power-relations. Thus, to be successful a collegiate set of Scrum Masters need the proverbial ‘wisdom of Solomon’ to ethically build coalitions between strategically located players who are committed to finding new ways forward on specific Agile concerns, ideas and ways forward.

Challis et al (1988) note that such people are not located at the top of the formal organizational hierarchy, but typically, have good access to it. Thus, the implication is that for Scrum Masters to be successful they will need to keep a ‘tight:light’ praxis that enables them to be “less bound by normal and accepted channels of organizational behaviour and are encouraged to be a little unconventional”.

Challis then also adds this as a kind but equally important word of warning- their “position and status within the hierarchy is such that they do not represent an explicit threat to top management, but are tolerated in the expectation that they can deliver solutions to complex problems“.  Of course, Scrum Masters need to deliver solutions. It is in our very DNA! To this end, it would be fair to say that describing a problem is for analysis…solving it requires a Scrum Master(s).

Take care.


Dynamic Leadership: Thinking and Acting Dialectically.


Dynamic Leadership: Thinking and Acting Dialectically.

If you read any serious review of strategy or public sector reforms in one guise, or another, you will find the leadership theme writ large. “More leadership is needed” or words to that effect. In terms of my own professional practice I moved away from more ‘fixed’ conceptions of leadership based, for example, on traits or a personality type many years ago.

That is not to say that they don’t have a part to play. Just not in the style of coaching and development that I specialise in. My niche tends to be for those in current leadership positions or roles and are leaders de facto. Therefore, my needs are different. Quite distinct. Unique? Well… not quite that far! But each of them is without a doubt a unique individual.

One model I have found that adds value is one that I developed around 7-years ago whilst completing some first-person inquiry work. I thought I might share it and you can see if it catches your imagination, interest or even curiosity?

Rather than seeing key concepts as ‘fixed’ it creates a context that is much more dynamic or fluid. It is grounded by leader-member exchange theory (LMX) and then fused or integrated with dialectical theory or dynamics.

For those of you that have not heard of this before consider a form of magnetic power like the one in the picture.


You might remember at school a simple experiment that used magnetic ‘power’ to drive a small object such as a toy car, for example? If not, then imagine one now.

Dialectical power is stating things as plainly as possible… the real energy from the two opposing forces: like the two poles of a magnet, North and South or positive and negative. You’ll soon notice that lots of practical things have two opposites: good and bad; eternity and mortality; the sacred and the profane; inside and out; back and front; etc.

In terms of developing leadership awareness or ‘talent’, skills and responsiveness to a given context my clients have found the following model adds value. For our model imagine two sets of poles or opposites:-

  • Vision/Far Away versus Present/ The-Here-and-Now
  • Individual/Team Needs versus Task/Delivery/Execution

Most of the leadership empirical evidence tends to support the view that leaders will have strengths or preferences for one of the two poles. For example, a Visionary leader may have a compelling strategy. And they might also prefer to meet the individual and team’s emotional, psychological and training needs. However, as you can see their ‘blind spot’ is that they are not strong on focussing on the here and now and the absolute need to deliver a product and/or service to their customers or service users. This analytical framework can be found in many organisations, as well as many a discussion in the staff canteen when front-line staff are ‘getting it in the neck’ from disgruntled customers due to delivery delays!

My clients report that they have found that the practical added value of this model lies in the ability to empower them in these five key realities:-

  1. More flexibly in harnessing organisational energy (a great part of the model is making energy explicit. I’ll blog soon on various organisational energy flows especially around innovation).
  2. Responding to emergent business/customer intelligence in more responsive and effective ways
  3. Team members connecting their work-load to the broader Vision and thereby enhancing meaning; job satisfaction and retention rates
  4. Improved delivery of key products/services to customers
  5. Improved cognitive and emotional capacity through reflective professional practice

I hope this model might help you to see yourself in a dynamic, fluid and changing leadership context and that you can respond in more grounded and reflective ways.

Take care Jason

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Jason is a Business Psychologist as well as a qualified Project Manager professional.