The Agile Transformation as a Joint Learning Journey

Agile transformation is not a change project designed by consultants and ordered by top management, however much some people selling panaceas may propagate it. Agile transformation is a joint learning journey that includes all levels of the hierarchy. The task of leadership in transformation is first to explain the purpose of change and to determine the new course, but then to take a step back and create a framework in which those affected can courageously embark on the joint learning journey of transformation.

Height Times Width

As much as I love cultured rebellion and grassroots movements, in today’s hierarchical organizations their effectiveness is always limited. Such movements can reach an amazing breadth and mobilize many comrades-in-arms. But most of the time they are comrades-in-arms at the foot of the pyramid. Without the levels above, this movement remains flat and is suppressed when in doubt.

People don’t resist change – they resist being changed.

Peter Senge

But prescribing the agile transformation from above alone is just as ineffective. Too often, employees have had to experience this classic change pattern, primarily accompanied by external consulting firms. The reaction is automatically passive-aggressive rejection in the sense of what Peter Kruse describes in this video as “baw” for “bend and wait”, just lean back and wait until the big fuss is over. (This amazing talk about the “Eight Rules for Total Gridlock in the Organization” is unfortunately in German; however, thanks to there is a complete transcription available.) 

Eight Rules for Total Gridlock in the Organization by Prof. Peter Kruse

A successful agile transformation requires both height and width. The larger the product of height and width, the better the conditions for success. Neither should the feeling arise that the managers are rebuilding the rest without also questioning themselves, nor should the rebellion at the grass root degenerate into a destructive partisan fight between the bottom and the top. The transformation can only succeed together.

Joint Learning Journey Instead of Change Project

There are no blueprints for an agile organization and no master plan for transformation, no matter how convincing the promises of certain consultants may sound. The attempt to impose panaceas and apparently proven models on one’s own organization leads to cargo cult hell and inevitably ends in a dead end.

A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.

Lao Tzu

Not because the models are wrong or bad, but because they are not the result of joint effort. The agile transformation is and remains a journey into the unknown, on which the participants try out and learn together. This learning can be accelerated by networking and exchange, but not shortened by blueprints and panaceas.

Humility and Participation

“If you want to dry up the pond, don’t ask the frogs.” This sentence sounds logical and funny, but is simply stupid and arrogant as a guideline for changes involving people. The agile transformation only succeeds when people are allowed to participate with equal dignity. Only in this way people can become actively involved subjects of change acting responsibly in the sense of the whole instead of just passively affected objects.

It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.

Steve Jobs

On the one hand, the leadership task is to state the mission clearly and attractively and to excite the people about it without already imposing the finished solution on them. On the other hand, good leadership in transformation is characterized by modesty with regard to one’s own limited abilities to know the right way coupled with great confidence in the creativity of the affected employees to find exactly this way together.

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