Agile: Gateway Drug to the Learning Organization

This post is how Agile is really just a gateway drug than can lead to a hard-core habit of Organizational Learning. However, that progression from merely ‘playing Agile’  to becoming a full-blown Learning Organization is by no means guaranteed.

 

In 1990-1991, Peter Senge wrote a book called THE FIFTH DISCIPLINE. In that book he describes the 5 characteristics of a ‘Learning Organization’. In my view, describing a Learning Organization is far easier than building one. Finding a learning organization as described by Senge is also quite difficult. In fact, it is about as difficult as finding an organization that has implemented and achieved real Agility, what I call Free-Standing Agility.

Agile is a culture hack, and the intent of the hack is to produce a small learning organization- we call it a Team.

What is Agile then?

Agile is a gateway drug to real organizational learning. All of the Agile techniques are in a sense very small A-B-C prescriptions  for learning how to be a Learning Organization.

Scrum.

Kanban.

Task Boards.

Information radiation.

Retrospectives.

XP.

Pair programming.

Iteration.

Burndown charts.

Work-in-process limits.

Test-driven development.

Etc.

ALL of these practices are nothing more than gateway drugs to the ultimate enterprise high: organizational learning.

Working at an organization that rapidly learns is the ultimate high. You are respected as you respect others. The space is safe for the best idea, asking for help, and calling bullshit when we start sidetracking. You love working with the people there, even as you strongly disagree with them.  Mistakes are learning events. Differences are raw material for innovation. You use specific techniques and behaviors to rapidly learn as a group. The people there value what you value. You feel in sync and are in fact highly engaged.

Participating inside a true Learning Organization is the ultimate career high.

We are in the late-majority stage with respect to Agile. Most organizations are “playing Agile”, in effect “smoking the dope” of Agile practices to get a quick buzz. These organizations are not focused on organizational learning as the end game. They are out in left field, missing the boat, asleep at the switch. The buzz you can get from Agile is nothing compared to the transcendent bliss of experiencing social membership in a genuine Learning Organization.

Team learning is by no means automatic. We must intend it as a group. Everyone and every organization gets what it wants. To know what an entity wants, examine long-run results. Intentions == Results.

The next chapter with Agile is business agility. A business that is truly Agile is in fact a Learning Organization. The primary tool for getting there is a focus on creating and maintaining a culture that is 100% conducive to extremely high levels of Tribal (group) Learning.

Culture hacking is one way to get there. Culture hacking is the intentional modification of culture, with or without permission…with intent to change the game. Agile is a great example. Agile is a total culture hack.

I explain ALL of this in great detail in my book, The Culture Game. It is a culture hacking tutorial and reference guide– the handbook for game-changers and innovators who live and work in the corporate “reality-distortion” field.

The Culture Game book explains the 16 learning patterns that, if implemented, can almost automatically generate much higher levels of business agility.

Summary

Is organizational learning addictive? It might be.

Scrum, Kanban and the rest….they are mere gateway drugs to the real deal: the enterprise-wide mainlining of the habits that lead to the ultimate organizational buzz: The Learning Organization.

Agile is a gateway drug to organizational learning and the blissful state and status that any rational organization must aspire to: the learning organization.

The Learning Organization: Argyris and Schon defined it. Senge popularized it. The Agile movement made it real.

But not at scale.

Agile is a convenient gateway drug to the ultimate buzz: participating in always-on, enterprise-wide organizational learning.

Who wrote this? Learn more here.


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