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Business Agility Consulting & Training

Why Agile won’t fundamentally change your business (hint – it’s your people)

“People and their mindsets (which can, with coaching, be changed) are the true drivers of change in any organisation,”

Kayla Cartwright, Project Lead

We could start and end this article with that statement.   It has the four words that matter.

People.
Mindsets.
Coaching.
Change.

We talk a lot about transformational change, consulting and coaching, the whys and the hows.   Particularly in the last few years. Certainly in more recent times, change has never been more present in our work lives.

To understand that transformational change in organisations doesn’t come down to strategy, but the people who drive the strategy, is fundamental to success.  This article leans into the importance of having people with the right attitude for addressing and embracing change.     

In this article, we will provide insight into what it means for your employees, your team colleagues and importantly yourselves.

“Agile won’t change the people within the organisation, just the type of work they’re doing, and how they’re thinking about and executing that work,” says Luca Fiorentino, from our Australian office. 

The people are the soul of the organisation. The soul of the organisation is not changed.  It is freed to flourish in a new, lean, nimble environment, brought on by adopting new ways of working.

WHAT IS AGILE REALLY ABOUT?

We describe Agile as new ways of working, sets of values & new mindset, etc. What Agile fundamentally tries to achieve is to help teams work better together to deliver better customer outcomes.   And how do you make teams of people do that?  By coaching them with new tools and practices, that slowly shift their hardwired behaviours.

Yi Jin, from our Melbourne team explains, “The series of cadences Agile has that you may have heard of, e.g. standups and retrospectives, are merely to encourage people to communicate with each other more often, to reflect on what worked and what didn’t, so they can do better next time (test & learn).”

IT STARTS WITH LEADERSHIP

Fiona Royall, one of our project leads in Australia says plainly that people are key to the success of agile.   She says, “Leadership needs to walk the talk and demonstrate the agile mindset and behaviours. They need to clearly articulate the why behind a business going agile, what is the burning platform for change, along with what it will unlock in terms of value and outcomes. Without this, getting buy-in from teams and individuals will be an uphill struggle“.

Leadership needs to be at the front and be the face of the change to the organisation/business. So, Leadership needs to be able to communicate the ‘why’ behind the change.

“Leadership buy-in is critical because employees look to their leaders for direction and stability,” states Rachna Verma, senior consultant in Australia.

MINDSET AND BEHAVIOURS DRIVE ORGANISATIONAL CULTURE

The collective mindset and culture of an organisation are the primary determinants of organisational success, especially in regards to an organisational transformation.

Agile is so much more than a framework or process, it is very much a mindset. If the people are not empowered to make decisions or the organisation still maintains a command and control mindset, Agile begins and ends right there.

And implementing an Agile framework in the absence of a collaborative, growth-oriented culture will likely be an arduous venture with minute benefit.

“If your organisational culture is one within which cross-functional collaboration, testing and learning, and growth is encouraged, an Agile framework will simply maximise your efficiency and multiply your success exponentially,” believes Patrick Fitzgerald, from our US team.

“Agile coaches often talk amongst themselves about people “doing” Agile, versus “being” Agile,” says Steve Walton, principal in Australia.

What they are really doing though is acknowledging that it is not the ceremonies and work breakdown alone that transforms businesses to deliver more targeted value or lift employee engagement. “It is the mindset and behaviours that make the difference,” says Steve.

This goes back to the common misconception that the adoption of new tools will fix a problem when the problem is the way of working, the process or the resistance to change.

Nikhil Josh, from our Canadian team explains, “It ends up with trying to fit a square peg (tool) into a round hole (process/mindset). Start with the people and you will find or create that metaphoric square hole to fit the square peg (Agile) into.”

The agile mindset encourages teams and team members to think and respond differently and give things a go by testing and learning,” says Rachna.


AGILE AS A LANGUAGE

“As someone who learned the formal language of ‘agile’ later in my career, I see agile as a language and set of principles and guidelines to drive change and empower teams,” says Kayla.

Kayla was drawn to agile because of the principles and how they allow managers to release control and become leaders. “In any transformation I have led, it is the people, and their foundational beliefs and mindsets, who make or break the transformation,” Kayla explains.

One of Kayla’s favourite books, “The Energy Bus,” by Jon Gordon, talks about the importance of having people being either on the bus or not.  “I know that people who choose to bring positive energy to any team are able to move the bus forward in a business. Those who won’t get on the bus will hold the business back and deter any change to your business, whether you are applying an agile framework or not.”

WHY COACHING MATTERS

Without coaching, it can be difficult for people to change their mindset from legacy silo’d, hierarchical, me vs them way of thinking.  Coaching provides the tools and practice for individuals to shift damaging business habits and practices.   Agility matures when teams are coached continuously. Can you imagine a sports team ever saying, “Now that we’ve won a few games, we should get rid of our coach”?

New roles, new terminology and cadenced delivery training, all make a big difference, but people need recurring, objective feedback on ways they might improve.

Ray Freeman is a senior leader in our Los Angeles office.  Ray gives the example of a User Story.  “Your teams’ user story writing skills can have a catastrophic impact on business value delivery. A poorly written user story can cause a team to deliver a bad product, that customers can’t use or don’t want. Whereas a well-crafted user story can lead a team to the discovery of unimaginable new opportunities. So! How do you make sure you’re getting really great user stories…? Make sure every team has a coach.”
[Watch our video – How to Refine a User Story]

A note about scaling Agile

Implementing Agile can start small with pilot teams. Usually designed to embed a key team of employees with tools and practices, and to help leadership get their head around the new way of working.  As well, pilot teams are sometimes aligned with budget, sometimes due to resistance from stakeholders and sometimes the organisation is just too large, that the piecemeal approach is the best way to begin.

However, as teams transition to agile ways of working, there can be rubbing points with dependent teams who are working in traditional ways. Rachna gives this example, “A delivery team has adopted agile ways of working and Legal is a key dependency, but they are still working in their traditional way and if you want something done it just takes time. This construct will slow down progress and cause friction until there is a move towards transitioning support functions like Legal to agile ways of working.”

Agile recognises that processes are important but values individuals and interactions over processes and tools.

There’s a saying that agile won’t solve your problems, it just makes them visible. So agile isn’t the silver bullet. It’s how people and businesses change behaviours so there is transparency, and where you choose to go from there is up to you.


Thanks to the contributions from the following ADAPTOVATE employees.
You can find them all on our LinkedIn People page.
Please reach out and connect with them if you’d like to find out more about ADAPTOVATE.

Kayla Cartwright – Project Lead, USA
Inaya Dsouza – Associate, USA
Luca Fiorentino – Senior Consultant, Australia
Patrick Fitzgerald – Senior Consultant, USA
Ray Freeman – Project Lead, USA
Yi Jin – Associate, Australia
Nikhil Josh – Consultant, Canada
Benny Ko – Senior Consultant, Australia
Fiona Royall – Project Lead, Australia
Rachna Verma – Senior Consultant, Australia
Steven Walton – Principal, Australia












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