Agile Transformation is a Cultural Transformation

For valid reasons, many organizations have chosen to go through an „agile transformation“ while using Scrum as a framework for complex product development processes.

This transformation is a journey and impacting the way of working, the behavior.

With the positive attitude, enthusiasm and the genuine commitment from both top and down the transformation start very well. After a while -even in the development teams the transformation shows the expected results- at a wider range in the company the transformations slows, even more, the transformation becomes something for „development only.“ Old behaviors come back, and it starts limiting the growing space of agile teams. As a result, the progress of those teams reaches a „plateau,“ where they do not grow anymore, and even worse it may start to shrink. Shrinking becomes visible with less employee engagement and lack of trust between the teams and disconnects towards higher management.

Those may be the warning signs „lost energy“ (hard: money/cash; soft: internal cohesion) caused by frictions, which require everyone to think and act. In other words: transformation is most likely going to fail, and it will be only a „change“: the framework is adapted, but the behavior remains the same as before.

What could be the reasons for that?

Agile Transformation is a „Cultural Transformation.“ Why? Scrum is giving a framework and asking to change the way of working and embracing the following values: commitment, focus, courage, openness, and respect. Those values are positive, and everyone agrees on the importance.

Values are „real values“ if they are lived daily by demonstrating them with behavior and taken as a „decision criteria.“ Printing them with large letters and putting everywhere does not help if the behavior is not reflecting the value itself. As the culture is developed by behavior, the transformation we are looking for is cultural transformation: moving from the old towards a new one.

If the mentioned values are not lived, or they cannot be lived due to „potentially limiting“ values in an organization (like hierarchy, blame, micro-management), then the envisioned agile transformation would have a hard time to flourish.

7-LevelsLet us take the Seven Levels Of Consciousness of Richard Barrett (Barrett Values Centre) and map the Scrum Values. Respect level 2, Focus level 3, Courage level 4, Commitment and Openness level 5. Even if it’s possible to act on different levels of organizational consciousness at the same time, there will be challenges. For example, if the organization has not mastered the level 1 (financial stability) and level 2 (positive relationships) due to, e.g., potentially limiting values of blame and micro-management, it will be challenging to have working „openness and commitment.“ We often hear: „we have given the people all the freedom, but they are not taking responsibility.“ Why? Good question: why people are hesitant…?

What could be a way to go?

No matter whether you are in the transformation process or just about to start it:

  1. TRPCoach everyone in the company The Responsibility Process® created by Christopher Avery: „which mental state we are choosing when we face a problem/upset“, to learn how to take responsibility.
  2. Measure your culture, yes it is measurable (Values Centre). Share the results with employees and take actions and commit to change the culture.
  3. Support everyone with appropriate coaching during their transformation.

Here is the challenge: this is a personal transformation. It requires individual commitment. Organizations do not transform, transform people do!