People Over Process

Here is the latest version of my “People over Process” slides that are about coming back to the heart of Agile: People – to unleash astonishing results.

It covers:

  1. Intro – People over Process.
  2. Agile = Culture. Whole Agile.
  3. Focus on People: Vulnerability, Authentic Connection, Safety & Trust (VAST)
  4. People-centric organizations (Laloux Culture Model)
  5. People-centric Change

You can also see earlier version of slides and video summary.

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Manager’s Journey: Awareness, Epiphany, & Choice

Delighted to share the slides from my and Soo Kim’s presentation at Spark The Change.


An insider’s account of a manager’s journey of cultural transformation. How our beliefs and assumptions radically shifted. How we found the courage to fully see what is there and accept it.  Being vulnerable enough to speak our truth to allow new options to emerge. Developing the boldness to choose them.

The Journey

Awareness, Epiphany, & Choice


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Enterprise Agile or Agile Enterprise?

There is a huge world of difference between Enterprise Agile and Agile Enterprise. They are both valuable and accomplish very different things.

Enterprise Agile

Enterprise Agile addresses the question – “How can we use elements of Agile to improve typical corporate environments while staying within the existing paradigm of traditional (Tayloristic) management. This is Orange level in Laloux Culture model.

In the diagram we see that traditional management practices are in part replace by Agile ones. In this case we are adopting Agile practices and may well have small pockets of Agile culture as well. SAFe is a good example of practice adoption. We typically see a very structured approach to orchestrate activities that are all about top-down steering and control.

Enterprise Agile is about adopting Agile practices


Scaling Agile

The industry term Scaling Agile is about how can we scale Agile practices to support the Enterprise. It is essentially Enterprise Agile that is focused on adoption in large-scale environments. In contrast, Agile as a mindset or culture is about a way of being and does not require specific practices to scale.

Agile Enterprise

With the Agile Enterprise the we are evolving an organization that is very adaptable and resilient to change. Anti-fragile is a good description for this type of organization.

Agile Enterprise Is Resilient

In the Laxoux Culture model this would be represented by Green or perhaps even Teal levels.

In an Agile enterprise, there is leadership at all levels. The people who are closest to the work are the ones driving decisions. Here we replace top-down control with a clear organizational purpose, shared values, visibility and trust. Since everyone is contributing to the shape and direction, the results are emergent. Like a living organism, everyone is sensing and responding to the environment. The intelligence that emerges from the collective is what allows our organization to be ‘Agile’.

Fostering an Agile Enterprise will usually require a complete reboot of the cultural operating system of the organization. As such it is a much more significant undertaking that adopting Agile practices.

Both Enterprise Agile & Agile Enterprise Have Value

It is important to re-iterate that both Enterprise Agile and Agile Enterprise have value.

Enterprise Agile allows organizations to improve their operational capability so they may execute better.

Agile Enterprise is about creating an adaptable future-proof organization.

It’s not about which is better. It’s about what is right for your context.



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Agile Culture –> Self-Managing People

Four years ago, I argued that Agile is a Culture System focussed on Collaboration and Cultivation. We may build on and refine this understand to see that Agile points towards a higher level of organizational consciousness and the benefits that come with it. In particular, Agile is about valuing people and setting them free to deliver.

The Agile Manifesto & Principles

Let’s use the Laloux Culture Model as a lens for understanding the Agile Manifesto. If you haven’t read about this yet, it is fantastic – go read it now – otherwise this post will not make much sense.

When we colour code each of the manifesto statements to match various stages of consciousness we get:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools (Green)
Working software over comprehensive documentation (Orange)
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation (Green)
Responding to change over following a plan (Teal)

We see that the Agile manifesto is a mix of ideas from different levels.

Agile Principles

  • Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software. (Green)
  • Welcome changing requirements, even late in  development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage. (Teal)
  • Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale. (Orange)
  • Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project. (Green)
  • Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done. (Green)
  • The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation. (Green)
  • Working software is the primary measure of progress. (Orange)
  • Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely. (Teal)
  • Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility. (Teal)
  • Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential. (n/a)
  • The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams. (Teal)
  • At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly. (Teal)

Note: Some principles are not colour coded since I didn’t really see how they fit. If you have ideas, please post a comment.

Agile is Teal/Green

When we tally up the results, we get the following for Agile Culture:

  • 6 – Teal Stage – Self-management, Distributed power, and emergence. 
  • 6 – Green Stage – People: purpose, values and empowerment
  • 3 – Orange Stage – Achievement

In a diagram, it looks like this:

Agile Culture

The Agile Manifesto is pointing to a way of working that is at the Teal/Green stage. Elements of Scrum such as emergence and self-organizing teams are very closely connected with the Teal stage.

In summary, Agile Culture is about organizations operating at a higher level of consciousness with self-managing people.

Implications for Using Agile

For organizations at the orange stage (most large companies) Agile will be experienced as a disruptive force. As all the elements of culture need to shift together, Agile will by necessity be watered down or contained. This is what we typically see – Agile Adoption – with Enterprise Agile or Scaling Agile.

The main challenge for Agile Culture is that it is only a partial specification for operating at a Teal/Green stage. As can be see from Whole Agile, we need to consider other cultural and organizational elements for a holistic solution. We must look beyond Agile to allow Agile to succeed. This is the path of organizational transformation.

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Culture is the Core of Your Organization

Culture is at the core of your organization. Everything in your organization informs culture. And vice-versa: culture informs everything in your organization. Here is an illustration:

Culture: Structure, Systems, Management, Leadership

Culture is at the Core

Culture = “How we do things around here to succeed”

Each element is the above diagram intimately tied to your organizational culture. Let’s consider each in turn:

  • Leadership: Who is allowed to lead change in your organization? Is it just managers or is anyone allowed to initiate a change program?
  • Management: What are managers expected to do? How are they expected to behave? Are they elected by staff?
  • Org Structure: Is there a hierarchy that shows importance and power?
  • Roles: Do people have clearly defined roles that limit how they can contribute? Can people easily create new roles to meet new business needs?
  • Systems: Are these chosen to serve business needs or to reduce costs and standardize? How do they enforce or limit behaviours?
  • Policies: What rules do we have for people? How much do we trust them to make good decisions on their own?
  • Processes: Are our processes designed to support the needs of customers and staff? How much process (rules) do we need? In what areas?
  • Unwritten rules & norms: What are the sacred cows and taboo subjects? What is acceptable behaviour?
  • Identity: How do we see ourselves in relation to the organization’s purpose?
  • Values: What are the stated values? How well does this reflect what actually happens?
  • Behaviour: What we say and do is the most concrete manifestation of culture. How we think about ourselves and our organizations will show up in every single meeting. Not only in how it is conducted, but in what is noticed and what people choose to say (or more importantly not say).

The arrows linking the elements illustrate that they are all inter-related and connected. It is a web of cross-linking and supporting elements. The web they weave together defines the organizational culture.

Note that the above diagram is illustrative rather than an exhaustive list. For example, we may note that elements such as office structure could be added.

Laloux Holistic Culture Model

The Laloux Culture Model provides a holistic view of culture that encompasses all of the elements shown above (and more!). In his book, Reinventing Organizations, Laloux makes a clear link between these elements is shown. We cannot shift behaviours without shifting the systems we use. This link was also noted in a 2003 journal paper: Systems and Culture: Connecting the Dots.

In contrast, many models of Culture only use some of these elements. For example, the Schneider Culture Model uses a very specific set of filters that examine what is valued by an organization. This is great for building awareness and starting a discussion around culture, but not as useful for identifying a holistic plan for changing it.


Changing Culture

Effective and lasting culture change requires that all of these elements shift together. Teaching people new behaviours or beliefs – such as collaborative meeting techniques or how to assume responsibility – will not work in isolation. Neither will changing our systems and processes without other changes. For more on culture change, please see Culture Change: Reinventing Organizations.

Introducing change efforts such as Agile with teams without changing all the organizational elements around it will generally fail to achieve the desired results. Whole Agile is one of several models to propose a holistic change model.



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Culture Change: Reinventing Organizations

The following infographic adapted from Frederic Laloux’s Reinventing Organizations shows:

  1. A path for reinventing your organization.
  2. The reason why management and workers need to care.

Culture Change Model

Laloux Culture Model in Action


The infographic shows that greater trust and consciousness leads to higher engagement and better results. Better results is proven out by case study after case study. As organizations develop from one stage to the next, they develop a more human approach that leads to greater trust.

The Teal stage is shown as separate since it yields dramatic benefits and represents a paradigm shift from conventional management thinking.

Please see: Laloux Culture Model for a description of each of the stages of development.

The Reinvention Path

Increased success requires that we focus our efforts on developing organizational trust and consciousness to foster engagement. We may consider how our existing processes, structures, and behaviours support or reduce engagement.  We may measure engagement scores to see if we are on the right track.

A good place to start is by understanding where we are today: is the way our organization functions mainly Orange stage, Green stage or somewhere in between? When we inventory different areas of functioning (See P. 237) , what stage are we at? It helps to do this without judgement. Where we are is where we are. It’s a fact. Not good, not bad.

We may read through case studies in books or other business literature to inspire us to desire a different future and give us ideas of what experiments we wish to run to move us in that direction. My suggestion here is to start with small experiments. We need to take small steps so we may all develop our levels of trust together. Trying to get there all at once is a sure recipe for disaster. It helps to think of Teal as a star on the horizon – a direction to steer in – rather than a destination.

Why Management Needs to Care

If your organization is near the Orange stage, then your focus is on achievement and results. The dramatically increased results offered by the higher stages compels action. It is the responsibility of management to grow the capacity of the organization to get better results.

If your organization is near the Green stage, then your focus is on the people. The dramatic impact on improving the joy and satisfaction of the people compels action.

Why We All Need to Care

Do we want to work in a place where we are supported and grow? Do we want to feel like our opinions count? Do we want a place where we can give our best every day? The answer for everyone is yes – we would like to contribute and to feel like we are making a difference.

What’s New Here?

The infographic and post is adapted from Laloux’s book – my interpretation & extension. His work identifies trust, consciousness and results as related to organizational stage development. I added the clear association with cause and effect to highlight where it helps to focus. I also added the word engagement.

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Laloux Culture Model

Looking for a way to help evolve your organization’s culture? Frederic Laloux’s model provides a clear picture of how culture may evolve in an organization.

The model comes from Reinventing Organizations – a landmark book in the development of organizations that unleash the talents of people to get astonishing results. The book is grounded in case studies from around the world of organizations that are succeeding in a new way of working. The book has inspired me and helped me see much more clearly what is possible for myself and the clients I work with.

Laloux Culture Model

Frederic has a really awesome model for understanding organizational culture. It looks like this:

It shows how our society (over thousands of years) has evolved new ways of working together. Each stage has value: more advanced is not necessarily better – it’s about fit for context. It is derived from other models such as Integral, Spiral Dynamics, etc. Note that Laloux does not call this a culture model – he refers to it as stages in evolution of consciousness and organization.

Centralized Power & Structure [Red & Amber]

Red is about power: I am the leader – do what I say or else. Key innovations are the division of labour and authority. Examples include street gangs or tribal militias.

Amber organizations channel power through a hierarchy with formal roles and reporting lines (command & control). They establish stable processed that allow them to scale to a large size. Current examples are: military, government agencies, public school systems.

Achievement [Orange]

Orange is about a shift to focus on achievement: bigger and better. Innovation is key: how do we evolve our process? What projects do we need to improve things? With orange, we create plans and hold people accountable for results (predict & control). Since the focus is now on results, a meritocracy is formed based on who actually delivers. The organization is seen as machine to be exploited. Examples are multinational organizations and charter schools.

People [Green]

Green organizations focus on the empowerment of workers (within the hierarchy) as the key for driving success. There are explicit shared values that guide behaviour and decision-making. Green organizations have family as a guiding metaphor. They also have a clear purpose to support coherent activity. Green organizations see a bigger picture beyond profits: workers, customers and their role in the community. Examples include Southwest Airlines, Zappos, Ben & Jerry’s.

Shared Power [Teal]

Teal organizations are decentralized into autonomous teams or groups. Power is shared and people are self-managing. Decisions are made independently – there is no centralized group telling people what to do. Decision-making independence is enhanced with visibility and advice. Trust replaces process. People’s whole selves (mind, body, heart, spirit) are welcomed. The organization evolves through an emergent process since everyone can make decisions. The metaphor for Teal is that of a living system. Examples include: Patagonia, Morning Star,… (more in the book).

Go Read The Book

Creating Organizations Guided by the next stage of human evlolutionThis is the best book I have read in years. It has helped me tremendously in getting a deeper understanding of the work I have been doing with culture for the last few years and helped me see the larger pattern of organizational evolution much more clearly.

In upcoming posts, I will write more about how to use this model and the Teal stage.






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VAST – Virtuous Cycle for Connection

It’s all about how we show up. If we show up in a way that invites people to connect, to trust, to feel safer than usual, they probably will. And astonishing results will follow. Olaf and I have a vast experience of limiting our results because we didn’t dare to show up, speak up, stand up. We’ve been not daring, not trying, not challenging, most of our lives—like most people! We’ve learned the hard way how to show up in a way that enables connection, and impact.

We use the VAST cycle to increase connection to grow engagement in the workplace. We know safety and trust are important, but that is not the whole story. We need whole humans, intensely connected, to unleash the co-creation of astonishing results.

Joint post with Olaf Lewitz.

VAST Cycle

Virtuous Cycle for Connection

Virtuous Cycle for Connection

Authentic Connection

How to use VAST for Yourself

We use VAST as a way to navigate relationships. It works in personal and professional contexts.

Use VAST for introspection: In relation to another, we may ask ourselves:

  • How trusting am I?
  • How safe do I feel?
  • How connected do I feel?
  • How vulnerable am I choosing to be?
  • Am I acting authentically?

With this new awareness, the model suggests a variety of moves:

  • I can choose to be vulnerable and share how I feel. How I am feeling unsafe. How I am not trusting.
  • I can choose to trust the other person and see how my behaviour shifts.
  • I can state what I want. “I want to restart this conversation. I want to focus on how we can support each other. I want to focus on the goal.”
  • I can ask for help.

In our experience, the most powerful move is vulnerability. Owning our experience and how we feel and then sharing it really kicks off the cycle. That’s what we mean by showing up.

I have a short video explanation of VAST in my People over Process talk.

VAST for Organizations

We use VAST to build awareness and choice for organizations. It is especially useful when contrasting with organizational debt (fear, mistrust) as a way of being.

A team, group, or organization may choose VAST as a future way of being. The cycle helps guide behaviour and create ideas for experiments.

We can use it in retrospectives, to collect narratives that demonstrate the behaviour we want. Acknowledge when someone was daring, inspiring us to move forward.

Run a Temenos lab to experience the cycle for yourself or with your team.

Origins of VAST

The VAST cycle is the result of a sense-making journey between Olaf and I over the past years. We have been learning and studying its elements to help ourselves and our clients grow. We didn’t go out to invent something, it just emerged – it’s a discovery. We then noticed how well it explains many beautiful personal and professional growth experiences with ourselves and our clients.

The term “VAST” was created by Anton Gillis-Adelman – who is an expert in turning a jumble of letters into words.

Related Work

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Organizational Debt Cycle

Many consider the modern workplace inhumane and uninhabitable. People are not fully engaged. It is killing our bottom lines. It is putting our organizations at risk. With our prevailing management system we have created a vast organizational debt that inhibits growth and performance.

We define organizational debt as the baggage that prevents people from delivering astonishing results. The diagram below shows the key problems that impact each human being and ultimately the effectiveness of our whole organization.

Joint post with Olaf Lewitz.

Organizational Debt Cycle

This is how the organizational debt cycle works:

Organizational Debt Cyle

We learn not to trust people we don’t know well, so our first principle is not to trust anyone. We act as if we’re afraid and sometimes we are. We want to be safe, avoid to be noticed, avoid to stand out. The more we cover our *ss, the less we connect. The less we connect, the more we feel alone… and can’t build any trust. The cycle continues.

The cycle works the other way, too: We start being afraid, not trusting people, feeling alone, so we make sure we don’t get hurt…


There is a direct connection between each of these problems and our organization’s effectiveness. For example:

  • No trust → I will try to do this myself rather than cooperate with you. I don’t believe in my leaders.
  • Fear → I will not ask for help when I need it. I will not take any risks that might improve things.
  • Cover your *ss → I will not report important information. I will not speak up to avoid disaster.
  • Alone → I will disengage. I will be powerless and not valued.

Henry Ford reportedly said that “every pair of hands comes with its own brain”. Many people got used to leave their brain at the door when they came to work. In many organisations people additionally leave their hearts outside. We don’t fully show up at work.
Prominent words like “work-life-balance” only make sense if we leave our life outside when we go to work. This cycle describes how we do that and why we keep doing it. We don’t feel we have a choice.

How We Create Organizational Debt

In organizations we create structures to support it:

  • RACI matrices have single responsibilities → alone
  • Performance reviews → fear
  • Reports are expected to match plans → cover your *ss
  • Don’t rock the boat → cover your ass
  • Gap between what we say and do → Trust no one

As leaders, we may unwittingly create or support an organizational culture where mistrust and fear impair performance.

How to Use this Model

The purpose of this model is to create awareness. When we choose to acknowledge and accept what is actually going on, then new behaviours and choices automatically emerge. Once we decide that we no longer wish to operate in this cycle, we may then ask, “What do we wish for ourselves?”

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Whole Agile – Unleash People & Organizations

Agile missing partsAgile is incomplete. We need to augment it to create the “whole product”. But what is it?

There are many ideas: transformation approach, culture, leadership, but something is still missing.



Whole Agile

Whole = Agile + People + OrganizationWhole Agile is a holistic way to see the functioning of the entire organization.

In order to fully unleash the potential of workers we need to augment Agile with Valuing People and rewire the Organizational Model.

Valuing People is about building a place where the whole person is welcome so they are fully engaged in work. A place where there is safety, trust and authentic connection.

Organizational Model refers to the approaches we use to run organizations: organizational structure, planning & control, roles & titles, compensation, performance management, information access, leadership and power. These need to shift for us to reinvent our organizations to unleash people’s capabilities.

This is essentially what I have been doing the last few years. Now I have a good name for it. I will be writing more about Whole Agile in the coming weeks but in the meantime, here is a video summary and slides.

Video Summary


Why “Whole Agile”?

An obvious question is: Why do we need something more than Agile? Why make up a new name?

One answer is that Agile is great at a team level but provides no guidance at an organizational level. We need to replace burdensome organizational processes and with lightweight ones that foster self-organization and engagement.

The most important reason for selecting a name is that we want to create a movement within the Agile community. Not everyone will be interested in building whole organizations and that’s OK.

Here are some alternative names:

  • Holistic Agile
  • Conscious Agile
  • Evolve Agile
  • Beyond Agile
  • AgileAsItWasMeantToBe

Online survey results with comments on names. You can add to the survey as well.


First, I would like to thank my dear friend and colleague Olaf Lewitz who has been deeply involved in developing this. Other key contributors include: Melanie Meinen and Laura Powers. Thanks also to those who responded to my online survey: Clint, Jeff K, Fanny, Olivier Gourment, Shyam Kumar, Geir, Peter Trudelle, Frank Olsen, Alistair McKinnell, Justin Reyna.


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