A simple (and misunderstood) way people think of their change initiative like this:
Their organization is just sitting there, ready to change in wonderful ways. We just have to tell people how great our new initiative is and they will be lining up to learn more and make things happen. Right?
Unfortunately, organizations are complex adaptive systems with their own dynamics and forces at play.
Note: we could be talking about the whole organization, a group, or a team here.
Forces Acting on an Organization
In the following diagram, I will use the word Culture to capture the existing forces at play in an organization. The real situation will be of course much more complex with various attractors influencing the system in different ways, but this will reveal the essence of what I have seen with change initiatives around Agile.
Some remarks on the diagram:
It is difficult for a change initiative to make real progress if it runs against the culture of the organizations (as is usually the case with Agile). It’s like trying to roll a giant boulder up hill.
When forces pull an object in different directions, the object is under tension. Too much tension and the organization will be damaged (red squiggles). So, when you notice resistance, applying more force will damage your organization. A few weeks ago, this simple explanation helped a client reduce tension by shifting the blue rather than adding more green.
The change initiative will eventually fail. Why? Energy is required to keep the change initiative going. Eventually, people will just declare victory or give up and move on to the next initiative. At this point the boulder rolls down the hill, crushing supporters of the initiative on the way.
Rolling Rocks Downhill
A much better way to go about this is to forget about change strategies and work on an organization’s culture so that it moves the organization towards the desired outcome without conflict. This is of course a vastly simplified version of reality, but it helps us stop and consider the root cause of dynamics and forces in an organization.
In this post I am sharing workshop results on how to understand the readiness of the leadership to undertake organizational transformation such as the intentional upgrade of the cultural operating system. It is partly a checklist and partly a diagnostic tool to understand current perceptions.
In his seminal work, John Kotter identifies a Sense of Urgency as the key first step to any major change initiative. Success requires that “75% of a company’s management is honestly convinced that business as usual is totally unacceptable.”
In this post, additional considerations are considered.
Transformation is #1 Organizational Priority
In addition to Kotter’s remarks we add the following litmus test for undertaking transformation.
A common symptom of failure is that transformation or improving culture is listed as the fourth bullet point in the yearly objectives.
Leadership Team Readiness Checklist
What follows is one readiness checklist to assess whether the leadership in an organization is really ready. The text in blue indicates activities that can support a leadership team in understanding where it stands on each item.
Red Flags is a term from Good to Great where great companies have hope and faith to see the red flags or difficult truths. Red Pill is a term from the movie the Matrix that denotes the willingness to explore disconnects in our belief system to understand the true and perhaps discomforting reality.
Dear leaders, how are you doing?
The following diagram shows a set of diagnostics that can start a real discussion around the perception of the current state of the organization. It is intended to be used for one or more people to put an “x” on the line indicating where they see that aspect. The scale increases from left to right with either a rating of 1 to 10 or from ☹ to ☺
The astute reader will notice the last question is not a scale, but an open-ended exploration called My Worst Nightmare.
I would like to thank the participants in this session including Don Gray and Claudia Melo. I would also like to acknowledge the financial contribution of the Agile Alliance for sponsoring this workshop through the Supporting Agile Adoption Program.
The post is about how one can create a bubble of a new culture inside of an existing organization. For example, this may be used by a group interested in developing an innovation and learning culture inside a typical bureaucratic organization. This post is a continuation of my earlier post on how to Build Culture Adapters to Avoid Agile Failure.
I realized that I have drawn the diagram below dozens of times with clients, prospects and colleagues over the last year and realized other people may be interested in it.
The drawing below shows the hierarchy of a typical organization with a dominant culture (in blue) and a new culture bubble formed (in green).
Given the nature of a power hierarchy in traditional organizations, a leader/manager can induce a culture shift in the organization that reports into her. See Transformation? Leaders Go First! for an explanation of how leaders can support a transformation process.
It is of course, critically important to build adapters around your bubble so that it can safely interface with the rest of the organization and avoid trigger the attack of organizational anti-bodies.
A final comment is regarding the cooperation of partner groups (in light blue) that are tightly bound to the same customer value stream. The close cooperation required for success necessitates a higher level of alignment. This means that the partner group must either help lead the culture change (and go green) or at a minimum be neutral (as show in light blue).
In a software context, a very tight relationship exists between the product and development groups since they need to work together to create customer value. A common pattern is for the green bubble to be the development and the blue bubble to be product.
When and How to Use This Diagram
I typically draw this picture and provide this explanation when socializing alternative approaches to Agile. In virtually all cases, the change agent leading the Agile initiative is not the CEO and does not have a span of control or influence over the whole organization. It is usually the case that typical “modern” management practices are in place that are regressive and hostile to fostering an Agile culture. So most leaders have the option of sticking to the adoption of practices that are consistent with the existing organizational culture or undertake a transformation of their group to realize a new culture that is supportive of Agile.
It is of particular importance, that as an external change artist, we are fully respectful of our client’s wishes and intents. It’s their organization after all. For some coaches this means letting go of the dream of helping the organization move forward on the road towards an Agile mindset – or “real” Agile.
Some time ago I shared George Schlitz and Giora Morein’s Agile Enablement Battlefield model to help understand how a transition is progressing. I am no longer a big fan of the metaphor of war, however, the notions of “fog of war” can be helpful. As well, I have seen increasing danger and harm caused by wolves in sheep’s clothing. These are the folks who say they are on board and go along with changes, but resist in passive ways. Of course, this is a natural and understandable response to coercion. If we really want to change our organizations then coercion is a tool that we need to leave behind.
The basic ideas of managing gaps in culture comes from William Schneider’s book How to Make you Culture Work. Many thanks also to all the various workshop participants who validated that these patterns apply.
The purpose of this post is to explain why building culture adapters around at team or group is a good idea. It is important for me to revisit this topic from my book and conference presentations since I have learned something new and wanted to share it. All but the last section is an excerpt from my book.
Let’s talk about one way of moving forward with Agile – building adapters. This is an effective approach when the span of control and influence of the leadership does not cover the whole of the organization.
Start with A Successful Agile Team
A very powerful way to think about introducing a foreign culture such as Agile to an organization is through a cellular model. Consider a successful transformation of one team or group to Agile. This may have been a special pilot project with all the people keen to do Agile.
Imagine that the team is very excited about the new way of working. The team exists in the context of some other culture.
The team is not that excited about all of the organizational barriers and limits on productivity and success. So, what typically happens is they start to push back on the needs and requirements of other groups that are not adding value to the team and to the customers.
Attack of the Organizational Antibodies
The result sounds like a B-movie: “Attack of the Organizational Antibodies!” In the human body, we have antibodies (Killer T-Cells) that are designed to eliminate foreign elements to keep us healthy. In a similar way, organizations will react to the introduction of a foreign culture system such as Agile. These are the elements that work hard to preserve the status quo.
Build Culture Adapters
The movie doesn’t have to have a bad ending. One common pattern is to build adapters or translators around the foreign culture so that it fits within the overall culture. These are depicted in the diagram below as shapes surrounding and protecting the team. In this situation, the adapter allows the team to blend in with the overall organizational culture and avoid triggering the antibodies. It looks like this:
In practical terms, the adapter could take the form of a Microsoft Project Plan that has no value to the customers or team but is required by the organization. Another might be team use of a peer-based review for merit increases that still gets submitted by the manager since the system requires input only from her.
This sounds like a lot of effort! Is it worth it? The value is equal to the benefits derived from Agile less the cost of adapter maintenance. Assuming there is good value in the team’s new state of functioning, then sadly some of that productivity will be lost maintaining the adapters. But this is a much better situation to be in compared to getting attacked by organizational antibodies. The adapters are part of the cost of doing business. Like taxes.
Lean differentiates between different types of waste in organizations. Type I Muda (waste) are non value added tasks that are required at the current time. Type II Muda are non value added tasks that can be removed immediately. Maintaining the adapters is type I since the environment requires them.
The model above points a way to success with Agile transformation – it is possible to transform one team or group provided that care and attention is provided to satisfying the requirements of the larger organization. It is a feasible strategy to consider this a first step before a wider organizational change initiative.
THIS WILL EVENTUALLY FAIL!
The adapter strategy is not sustainable in the long term. Why? Eventually, the manager of this group is going to leave and a new manager will be selected. The new manager will typically be chosen to reflect the host organizational culture and will become a powerful attractor for the host culture. An then Agile gets dissolved or neutered. And the people who love working in this new way to deliver great products quit the organization and go work somewhere else.
At a number of conference presentations, I presented the arguement that no responsible manager should undertake using this pattern since it is ultimately doomed to failure. And this is my mistake. I was wrong. Sorry.
But that’s Good! (My New Insight)
I was at a client earlier this year and this topic came up. As I have been working very hard on supplicating and having compassion for the organizations I coach, I noticed something interesting. This particular organization was focussed on short term results and not long term results. (Yeah, I know this is a losing strategy but it’s their culture not mine). So, in the context of their organizational culture is was not only acceptable but highly desirable to do something that will work in the short run but fail in the longer term. So, if you are a manager in an organization that is fixed on short-term results, then the adapters are a truly great strategy to use with a clear conscience. Happy trails.
A friend of mine asked me what is going on with all this touchy-feely people and personal growth stuff – “What’s it got to do with Agile?” My answer: everything! So this post ties together: Agile, High-Performance Culture with People skills and Temenos Workshop among others.
Here is my current roadmap of focus areas related to rebooting organizational culture:
The arrows indicate support. For example, People Skills such as communication models lead to Relational Flow where people trust one another and are emotional supportive. This in turn leads to or supports High Performance Culture.
High Performance Culture is the Goal, but Need to Focus Elsewhere
My goal is to help organizations develop high performance culture through the creation of environments where people can bring their best every day. We can see there are a variety of things to focus on that will lead to support this goal.
Let’s take meditation as an example. There is no direct connection to high performance culture – it’s indirect. But in my experience it is 100% relevant and salient for bringing about a sequence of changes that support the goal. So, we need to focus on the things that will lead to a great culture and the ensuing results. Of course, there are many routes and practices – so nothing is mandatory: meditation works for me, but you may have an alternate route to personal growth.
This is not an exhaustive map of all the elements that lead to High Performance Culture – for sure there are lot’s of things we could add. My purpose in creating and sharing this is to create a call to action to focus on these or related elements so that we can really help organizations succeed.
Examples of Posts on these Topics
My hope is that you are curious about some of these content areas, so I will share some of my blog posts for further reading.
The Temenos container provides a powerful mental model for understanding and improving relationships with others.
Often we do not consider the larger context of the situations we are in. When we explicitly look beyond the specifics of a conversation or interaction to the relationship itself, we may more easily achieve relational flow.
We use the term container to talk about the underlying fabric of our relationship with another person. The same notion can be used to understand groups we are part of as well as our relationship with ourselves.
Consider the diagram below illustrating how containers may be used. For example, we may wish to imagine our vision for the relationship, the baggage of our history or the roles we play.
Roles We Play
Dave Snowden has frequently pointed out that one specific dimension of the complexity of human systems is our ability to change roles (containers) from one second to the other. For example, when my wife calls me at work my role changes from colleague to husband. One set of beliefs, principles and values is replaced with another, potentially conflicting one.
Each role we play applies to a specific context. We share most of these contexts with other beings. A container is the Temenos term to talk about these specific contexts. Within these containers we evolve the different roles we play in life.
When we consciously examine our containers we can evolve the roles we play. Or evolve ourselves so that we behave the same across containers – to our true authentic self.
What is a Temenos?
Temenos is a Greek word for a transformational container, such as a separate piece of land dedicated to a king or god. It is a contained space of spiritual importance. With Temenos we hold all our containers as a sacred enabler to connection and relation with other human beings.
The focus of this post is on the use of the container in the context of a relationship with another person and with ourself. The creation of a transformational Temenos container and how to leverage symbols of transformation will be the subject of another post.
Containers In Our Lives
In the history of our lives, these containers are formed: shared spaces for ourselves or others, each of which defines a unique identity (the role we play), unique habits we acquire, and adds specific emotional baggage to the load we carry around in our lives.
We spend our lives in different containers. Each of them helps us to grow and be more of ourselves. For every container, we have needs that we want fulfilled and expectations we feel obliged to fulfill. Every time those needs are not met (or we think we don’t fulfill the needs) we are hurt: we think we fail the container or the container fails us. Some examplesy of such containers:
Our self. This is the most important and challenging container for each of us.
The family we grow up in.
The friends we make, and lose, over the years.
Teams we join, and leave, workplaces, clients…
People who die.
Relationships we start, and finish.
Our children, the mutual unconditional love that challenges us and makes us whole.
All of these relationships, the roles we play in these and how they affect us can be framed as containers:
Containers we join (some deliberately, some by chance)—born into a family
Containers we leave (or that leave us)—divorce, death
Containers we enter—coming home from work
Containers we exit—leaving home for work
When I created my first influence map and reflected on the containers which have been important in my life, I noticed I had unconsciously (though still deliberately) removed roles from my portfolio. For example, the relationship to my parents had transformed into a mutual friendship on eye level; same with my brother. I had effectively stopped acting as a son, and brother. Don’t get me wrong: we didn’t break up, the relationship became closer. Its quality had changed, and I noticed that not playing these roles gave me ease. So I thought: why not continue deliberately in that direction? How many roles do I want to and do I need to play? I haven’t found a definite answer yet. And I’ll stop being an employee soon, which is a step on this path.
One example of using the container model to improve a relationship is with my younger son, Sean. When I considered the whole of our relationship, I could see that I was failing him in providing attention to him as an individual (rather than as part of my pack of three kids). Once I had taken stock of the current situation and our history, I was able to create a vision for how I wanted our relationship to be. For this container, what I want is for me to really see him and for him to know that I really see the special, unique person he is. Our relationship has improved. And that for me is the whole point of containers: an opportunity to reflect and create a different path for ourselves.
Origins of Temenos
Temenos is a special kind of experiential laboratory (usually delivered as a weekend lab) that Siraj Sirajuddin has created over many years integrating diverse influences such as Buddhist, Islamic, Jesuit and Hindu spirituality, mythology and Jungian psychology. He’s been using these labs to support lean and agile transformations in his practice as an Organisational Transformation Mentor.
Temenos is a Greek word for a transformational container, such as a cut off piece of land dedicated to a king or god. It is a contained space of spiritual importance.
Temenos is also the name of a special kind of experiential laboratory (usually delivered as a weekend lab) that Siraj Sirajuddin has created over many years integrating diverse influences such as Buddhist, Islamic, Jesuit and Hindu spirituality, mythology and Jungian psychology. He’s been using these labs to support lean and agile transformations in his practice as an Organisational Transformation Mentor.
In a broader sense, Temenos is also a philosophy and mindset.
In brief, deep bonds and healing result from exploring each other’s personal history (how we became who we are) and visions (who we want to be). We use the conceptual model of a container to help us perceive and understand our relationship with ourself and other, so that we can consciously let go of emotional baggage and create strategies that serve our and others’ needs in an exercise we call Clean Slate.
This is the start of a series of multiple blog posts that Olaf Lewitz and I will publish over the following weeks with the help of Siraj and other Temenos practitioners.
Temenos Outcomes and Mechanics
The diagram below is intended to be a sketch rather than a definitive guide of the why, how, and what of Temenos. A key objective of Tememos is to get people into a state of relational flow where they are aligned and don’t keep bumping up against people’s wounds and challenges. The bottom items (what) are the actual activities that are conducted in a Temenos.
Healing ourselves using authentic connections
Influence Maps – sharing what our influences are
Growing strong containers
Clean Slate – getting rid of baggage
Containers – how we create safety and opportunities for transformation
Building Authentic Connection through Sharing Perceptions and Appreciations
Temenos Feedback – how we help people see their better selves
Update Strategy – how we deliberately modify our relationships with others
Alignment of Personal and Shared Visions
Who do I want to be? Where do I want to be?
Where do we want to be?
Through Lean/Agile and other approaches it has become clear that high-performing environments (containers) live on a foundation of trust, safety and respect. Temenos lab is an experience centered around fostering the relationships between beings. This is helpful for people who work together as a team. In particular it was designed to help leadership teams go first in the transformation of their organisations.
Why Attend Temenos?
Attending a Temenos lab can serve multiple purposes. Without limiting your options, I’m listing a few common intentions that participants had in attending a Temenos lab or organising one. Siraj hosts monthly labs at Kayser Ridge in West Virgina, about 2h drive from Dulles airport (Washington DC). We’re planning to organise Temenos labs in Europe later this year. Ping us if you’re interested!
Temenos for Your Personal Growth
The endless curiosity and passion we’re born with gets dampened when we meet the limits of the context we grow up in. This can hurt, and deviate us from our path of growth. Attending a Temenos can help you clarify for yourself what you want, who you are, who you can and want to be, and help you devise a strategy for your success.
Temenos for Your Team
A team’s effectiveness and performance is strongly correlated with its members’ ability to articulate what they think and feel, say what they want and help each other achieving it. Attending a Temenos lab together gives you this option, and may lead you to create a shared vision.
Temenos for Your Leadership Team
The leadership team of an organisation is a special kind of team, as the product you co-create and grow is your organisation. Communication habits and behavioural styles within this team give an example to all people in your organisation. Achieving a clean slate and shared vision in the leadership team, nurturing your ability to create and sustain authentic connections to other beings, will greatly improve your effectiveness in helping your organisation achieve its goals.
“The Temenos session at Play4Agile 2013 with Olaf Lewitz and Michael Sahota helped me to see more of my person and talents and my intuition which helps me in my work. I got enriched by opening my inner self in the deep process in this secure container. I had the impression that I entered a room where we all are in connection and help us to see ourselves with all our aspects. The process allowed and invited me through getting in resonance to the stories of other people to heal my wounds and to see that I’m not alone. Now, I have a better understanding how it feels that we are all connected.” - Christine Neidhardt, Coach, Nürnberg
“The Temenons workshop gave me a lot of new insights to recognize who I am and what made me the person I am today. It connects different experiences in my life with strengths & weaknesses of my character and the environments (containers) I live in and grew up to a whole picture. A picture of different colours, structures and signs of beauty and ugliness. A picture that shows me who I am and that I can be what and who I am.
Especially the influence map was one of the tools that showed me in a very simple but effective way which things, persons and experiences have influenced me in the past but also in the present. The method of the influence map opened my mind and my heart and I guess I have shown more of my fragile personality than I wanted to show.
Maybe it’s hard for the other people in the workshop to deal with such a high level of openness. But I have always reminded me, that on the first hand I don’t do it for the other people, but I do it for myself to recognize myself better. If I recognize things and structures in me, it helps me to understand people, their character and structures better. So I can consider it in my daily work with them in my way to communicate with them and solve problems.” - A Scrum Master about a Temenos lab Olaf convened at a client
Further Writing by Others
More people participating in Temenos labs have been publishing their experience:
Traditionally we think about learning skills and capabilities to effect change. We learn models and frameworks. We learn facilitation techniques. We learn new tools and ways of thinking. All of this is good, but this is not personal transformation. This is illustrated in the diagram below as the parts outside the heart.
In the classic personal growth book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey states that private victory precedes public victory. We need to look after ourselves before we can effectively help others. We hear the same message when we are on airplanes: “In the event of a drop in cabin pressure, put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.”
Personal transformation is about the shifting the structure and character of ourselves – learning to alter our own identity, values, and beliefs to become better human beings. How do we do this? We improve our empathy skills or better yet develop our compassion. We use mindfulness of meditation to become more focused and present with others. We acknowledge our flaws and love ourselves as human beings not despite them but because of them. We trust others. It’s all about forming a better relationship with ourselves so that we can form richer more valuable relationships with others.
My own personal journey has centered around letting go of ego, insecurity and perfectionism to develop self-kindness, caring and being present. Although the road is hard and painful, it is also joyful and liberating. I can see a manyfold increase in my effectiveness in my personal and professional life. Now I know I am in a place where I can participate in leading a transformation – I wasn’t before and didn’t recognize it.
We can only transform to the extent that we have a capacity in something. To build environments of high trust we need to be trusting. We need to value other human beings for them to feel valued. We need to embrace and love our shortcomings so that others can feel safe making mistakes and learn from them rather than feeling inadequate.
Of course in a transformation, leaders will need to attend to external matters such as vision, purpose and culture, but these will not fully succeed without their personal transformation.
I have recently been writing and will continue to write on topics around personal growth as I see this as central to organizational transformation.
Lululemon – An example of Break-though Culture
My last post was on the amazing culture at Lululemon. Christine Day, the CEO, is a living example of what Good to Great calls – Level 5 leadership – she is humble and nurtures those around her grow and learn.
Everyone at Lululemon gets free Yoga classes. Can you imagine the power of a workforce that is more balanced, at peace, and present with others? Wow. That’s the kind of shift I want to see cultivated everywhere.
Brene Brown’s work on understanding shame and empathy kick started this journey. Siraj Sirajuddin’s Temenos retreats had a profound impact. Most recently, I have found Oneness meditation to help me connect with my humanity and love myself more deeply.
Let us consider an organization that wants to transform itself. i.e. to change in structure and character.
A simple view would be as follows:
By state, I mean the complex system that represents the organization. This includes people, culture, customers, infrastructure, etc.
Transformation is in a Direction
Real transformation is about pursuit of a direction, not achievement of a goal. A living, growing systems will continue to pass through a series of many small transformations as per diagram below.
Each Person Transforms
When we talk about an organization transforming we are are really talking about the aggregate of the transformations of all the individuals. Many people need to transform before one may recognize a change in the organization as a whole. Of course people will transform at different rates as per Moore’s model for diffusion of innovation based on innovators, early adopters, etc. The diagram below illustrates each person needing to transform.
Leaders Go First and become Attractors
For a given moment of transformation, it will be the case that some people will go first. These people will act as leaders in the context of the organizational transformation. They will become what Siraj Sirajuddin refers to as a symbol of transformation and act as an attractor to facilitate the transformation of others. In the diagram below we can see a leader who is acting as an attractor.
Success Requires that the Leadership Team Go First
If an organization truly wishes to transform, then the leadership of the company need to transform first. This would include the CEO and senior management of a hierarchical organization or perhaps the head of business unit and her management team. Illustrated in the diagram below, we see how a leadership team can become a powerful attractor to a new organizational state.
In hierachical systems, transformation initiatives will fail if the management team does not transform. In this case, the management team acts as an attractor for the current state. Failure of the management team to fully embrace a change with a sense if urgency is a severe problem in many transformation efforts. If urgency is not in place, it is better to abort a transformation effort and replace it with a less significant change effort.
Change Artists Lead the Leaders
A change artist is someone who works with organizations to support their growth and transformation.
Like the leaders in an organization, the change artist needs to transform first so they themselves can act as a symbol of transformation. It is not possible for a change artist to facilitate a transformation without having gone through the journey themselves. It is for this reason, that people that can play this role have already undergone their own transformation. They need to play the archetypal role of the Wounded Healer.
Thanks for Siraj Sirajuddin for mentoring me in his model of transformation via Temenos and private conversation. Many of the ideas here are either directly from him or were strongly influenced.
Thanks to the person or persons who told me that people have to transform one at a time – I wish I could remember who!
Thanks to Jon Stahl for helping me crystallize the notion of leaders going first through his presentation Agile from the Top Down.
Temenos is an experiential workshop for people interested in personal growth so that they can enjoy authentic connections with others. Full 3 day Agile 2013 Temenos in Nashville with Olaf Lewitz and Michael Sahota. Nashville, TN Aug 2,3,4