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 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?

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.

Summary
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.

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’.

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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

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

Organisational Transformation: New Talent Might Be Essential!

transformational

One of the most accepted leadership paradigms is that of the transformational leader. Work/Occupational Psychologists have been promoting this model for those organisations that have transformational programmes or strategies to implement. Thus, Work Psychologists have been helping such organisational to identify, recruit, and further develop the right individuals that fit this model and the strategic need. To be fair to the leadership field this is a plethora of robust empirical evidence supporting this model.

 

Over the last 35-years I have worked in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors. Over the last 15-years I have also been a Coach to Senior Directors/Leaders within those sectors too. Over this time I have questioned whether it is better to bring-in new top talent or external strategic Consultants to develop the existing leadership team (or more likely a ‘blend’ of all three approaches). I have often wondered when a top team is struggling to make proper in-roads whether Senior Directors can become too familiar with their organisations. Can you get over familiar with the culture and does this prevent the necessary challenge and energy to implement change?

 

I guess stated simply my question can be framed as: Can over-familiarity prevent the next stage of the transformational journey?

 

With these questions in mind I was delighted to come across a neat research paper developed by Russell Guay (2013). It is entitled “The relationship between leader fit and transformational leadership” and you can locate it in the Journal of Managerial Psychology. Vol.28(1), 2013, pp. 55-73.

 

Guay (2013) draws on the transformational literature and develops a model that explores 3 types of fit between the leader and the organisation:

 

  1. Person-Organisational fit: the extent to which their own values fit with those of the employing or host organisation
  2. Needs-Supplied fit: the extent to which the job meets the leaders own need
  3. Demand-Abilities fit: the extent to which the leader has the knowledge, skills and experience to meet the demands of the job at hand

 

For those of you with a research bent- he uses structural equation modelling to statistically demonstrate the best fit of the data-set/ results. Now in my view…here’s comes the fun part! The insights and application!

 

 

Guay (2013) reports a negative relationship (-0.17) between 1 and the outcome measure of transformational leadership. He also reports that as he hypothesized there was a positive relationship between 2 & 3 (0.14 & 0.24 respectively). Lastly, he also reports a negative relationship between tenure in the organisation and transformational leadership behaviours.

 

So what might this mean in practice?

 

Evidently, we are ‘bang on the money’ when it comes to our well established transformational leadership model. When any job supplies our personal needs for development, challenge and growth (2), and we have the pre-requisite skills, knowledge and experience then we can empirically anticipate, in all good faith, the organisational transformation.

 

Then, here comes the caveat. Or at least, here comes my interpretative caveat…over familiarity with the organisation may well prevent the leader from implementing the transformational necessary. So it seems there is an ‘upper limit’ for some Director posts (and one could sensibly argue any post associated with the transformational programme or strategy) to stay in the same organisation. This also helps explain the negative relationship between tenure and a lack of transformational outcomes/behaviours too.

 

Of course, as with all empirical inquiry there is the classic ‘more research is needed’ and this holds true here too. Just how long is the question and, of course, if we take any existing ‘top team’ can we inject some new transformational energy/blood by changing one or two of the Directorship posts and, by so doing, refresh the energy, the focus, and the necessary challenge.

 

These insights also help to explain why external ‘Change Consultants’ earn their buck… because if you want to keep a fairly stable, senior team (for identified stability or even organisational political purposes), then having a ‘fresh but critical’ pair of eyes can have the same effect. However, this latter tactic would seem to hold true… just as long as you employ some ‘fresh transformational blood’ further down the organisational hierarchy to get into implementing the identified transformational programme.