This was an amazing two and a half-day working session, with participation of organizational leaders and enterprise coaches coming together from different parts of the world: Sweden, Costa Rica and USA.
One of the co-creators of Certified Agile Leadership (CAL) course – Pete Behrens took the mixed group, consisting of managers and coaches through a very engaging training experience. CAL curriculum was geared towards improving theoretical expertise and practical skills of people that operate in various agile leadership capacities. Presence of both, managers and coaches in the same room throughout the entire training, ensured that many real-life scenarios were simulated and explored in-depth.
Note: It is worth noting that with exception of a short Case Study presentation, where the use of .ppt slides was inevitable, the entire course was based on very direct interaction, facilitation and the use of very effective graphic visualization techniques (see below).
Stage Setting: Learning Objectives
CAL’s learning objectives included the following (top themes):
- Governance policies that enhance organizational agility
- Organizational Structures that support agility
- Factors that influence organizational culture
- Alignment of leadership development framework with agile
- Alignment of organizational metrics with agile behaviors
- Management trends and their historical fit with business
- Economic/market factors that lead to rise of agile approaches
- Relationship of complexity/uncertainty to agile approaches
- Organizational challenges with understanding agile
- Benefits of becoming Agile Leader
- and more…
Case Study Review
The goal of this session was to deconstruct two types of case studies presented, to better understand how two different companies try to be more agile, respectively. The two companies presented were: Consulting Company (name obfuscated), with its “Create” culture and SalesForce with its “Compete” culture.
Both companies were analyzed along the following three dimensions:
- Organizational Structure
- Organizational Policies
- Organizational Metrics
It was interesting to see how agile works differently in the environments of Creation vs. Competition.
Types of Organizational Culture
Deconstruction of the use cases (above), was followed by a conceptual discussion of “Agile Culture Compass”, where the following four types of Organizational Culture were plotted on the dial:
- Collaborate Culture
- Create Culture
- Control Culture
- Compete Culture
Exercise: Graphic Visualization
In the practical exercise that followed, the class was tasked with graphic visualization of the four types of Organizational Culture (click on the thumbnails below to enlarge):
Exercise: “In or Out” Canvas
In the next session, the class was presented with the four “poles” of Agile Culture Compass (four different culture types) and a variety of attributes, that were ad-hoc mapped to the cultures. Attributes used were: values, principles, norms, companies’ names, organizational goals/vision, etc. The class was tasked with properly re-mapping the attributes to the most suitable cultures: some attributes remained “In'”, some had to be moved “Out”.
What is shown below is the final state: after all available attributes were properly mapped to the respective culture (click on the thumbnails below to enlarge).
Types of Leadership
Expert Leader – a person who gets things “done” by actually doing work. Such leader thinks of himself as a “jack of all trades”, a hero, a super-performer, commander-controller, who wants to be a primary channel of information flow, in all directions. Such person wants to control all communications in 1-on-1 relationships, with his personal presence.
Achiever Leader –a person who gets things “done” by delegating work to others, while retaining tight control of everything that takes place. Such leader, while he micro-manages others, is very competitive and strives to outperform his peers but he knows how to do so by manipulating his subordinates, to do work for him, “his way”. A leader like this, usually has a good grasp of organizational strategy and is focused on others, pushing them to the their performance. His main message to subordinates is “are you with me or not?”.
Catalyst Leader – a person who gets things “done” by empowering others and stepping back. Such leader prefers de-centralized decision making matrix over centralized control, and creates an environment of safety and trust. In his vocabulary, the word “we” supersedes the word “I”. He acts as a coach-enabler and views other people as valuable assets, not as mechanical executioners. A leader like this has a great vision and is focused on high-level goals.
(click on the thumbnails below to enlarge):
Discovering more System Variables
In this exercise, the group explored additional factors (system variables) that influence organizational agility. This was done in the form of graphics (click on the thumbnails below to enlarge):
Reconstructing It back:
This was one of the key “aha” moments in the workshop. After identifying and thoroughly discussing the three types of leadership (Expert, Achiever and Catalyst) the following important discovery was made:
- Both, Experts and Achievers mostly operate under conditions of Duality: black OR white/right OR wrong
- Catalysts, for the most part, operate under conditions of Multiplicity: shades of gray, options (AND). They are also much more collaborative
Exercise: More System Variables
In this exercise, more factors (system variables) were discovered and related to organizational agility:
- Complexity vs. Uncertainty
- Management Trends
Organizational Challenges: Statistics
In this session, every manager and organizational coach was asked to share some of the most common organizational challenges with agile adoption that they have experienced at work or while serving their clients.
Exercise: What Leaders Need to Understand
In this exercise the class was divided in a few groups, with each group working on graphic representation of the following three areas, where organizational leadership must have expertise, in order to succeed with agile:
- Organizational Structure
- Organizational Policies
- Organizational Metrics
Then, the class discussed why so many organizational attempts to become more agile fail. Success rates of agile efforts coming from inside vs. outside were discussed (click on thumbnails the below to enlarge):
Change vs. Transition & What’s In-Between?
The group made a very interesting distinction between two frequently overloaded terms: Change vs. Transition.
- Change = EVENT – was defined as a more abrupt, binary process that could be metaphorically described as“Lets Go”, coming from very strong and passionate leaders
- Transition = JOURNEY was defined as a more gradual process, where things happen much slower
The group also identified a number of reasons why organizational changes often fail and how improving values of organizational leaders could bring more sustainable changes.
What Should Leaders Focus On?
The class discussed the most important areas of focus for organizational leaders who want to implement agile changes and organizational coaches who want to be successful in assisting their clients in agile transformation journeys. Two main focus areas were identified:
Exercise: Causal Loop Diagram (CLD) to explore System Dynamics
Causal Loop Diagrams (CLD) the graphic visualization tool that is widely used in Large Scaled Scrum (LeSS) to illustrate system dynamics, was used in this practical exercise (facilitated by me) to discuss the relationship between high levels of employee engagement and its downstream benefits to an organization. The use of this light visualization “tool” sparked a lot of interest in class and was used in the following exercise to discover organizational impediments, bottlenecks & friction (see below).
Exercise: Organizational Impediments, Bottlenecks & Friction
This practical session revealed a number of already known system variables, whose relationship and cross-dependencies, however, were not immediately clear. By using CLDs, many of such relationships were discovered. Also, in the course of the discussion, people came to agree that bottlenecks (“soft” obstacles) and impediments (“hard” obstacles) are best not to be split as separate groups, as they, effectively, mean the same thing. A more effective way of distinguishing between “soft” and “hard” obstacles, could be – by ranking them (click on the thumbnails below to enlarge):
Agile Leadership Benefits
By the end of the workshop, the class came up with the list of benefits of agile leadership style. They were also graphically illustrated by using a flavor of CLD approach:
Workshop Feedback (Incremental)
Throughout the workshop, feedback was provided incrementally, and the format used, closely resembled a sprint retrospective. Questions, suggestions and comments were addressed continuously, in the order of arrival.
This training workshop was a great mind-shaping exercise for everyone. The sequence and style of content delivery tremendously helped with information absorption and its retention. Small group break-outs and role-playing helped experimenting with new coaching and facilitation techniques. For everyone in the room, it was a great opportunity to share every-day challenges and “domestic problems” but in a very safe and uninhibited way.
For me personally, as an organizational coach, this course helped tremendously to systematize my existing knowledge as well as grasp additional concepts that I will be putting to use in a near future.
This course is strongly recommended for managers, senior organizational leaders and organizational coaches that want to learn system dynamics and better understand implications of organizational design and culture on overall system agility.