The Genius Organization

Is is possible to create a “genius team” using off-the-shelf Agile techniques like Kanban and Scrum? Can ANYONE create a genius team, assuming they and the team members are willing? Can McCarthy’s Core Protocols play a big role in the development of a Genius Organization? Is culture a gating factor in how organizations learn?

I think the answers are yes, yes, yes and yes.

The Genius Organization

The genius organization (aka a “learning organization”) is an organization that rapidly assimilates new knowledge. It rapidly converts tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge. It constructs and then consumes that knowledge, enterprise-wide, in pursuit of great results.

The genius organization:

  • Learns fast
  • Senses and responds at high speed and in super-rational fashion to change
  • Creates safe space for members to express what they want, think and feel
  • Works from principles and values, not practices.
  • Chooses practices that are informed by purpose, principles and values
  • Views differences as opportunities to learn and innovate
  • Views mistakes as learning opportunities
  • Values people over roles; does not view people as ‘resources’
  • Has an intentionally developed culture which is designed
  • Is in a state of Free Standing Agility
  • Almost automatically qualifies for WorldBlu certification


Agile Coaching

In my view Agile coaching has a huge and pivotal role to play here. We can either take the money of clients without imposing any standards on what they are requesting from us, or we can work in service to the building of an organization that can rapidly learn. And by learn I mean, learn after we exit the engagement. Learn to learn fast, without any external assistance.

Learn to be a Genius Organization. Agile coaches have a pivotal role to play in whether this outcome happens or not. At issue is what we are serving as we engage with client organizations around the world.

Kanban and Scrum

Kanban and Scrum are prefabricated plans and designs for teams that need some help creating and holding a set of shared understandings. Kanban and Scrum are simply entry points along the path to becoming a Genius Organization.

Discussions of one or the other being the ‘one true path’, discussions of which is ‘superior’ are at best immature and misguided. These social technologies help groups of people build substantial and shared mental models and the potential for a shared vision. That is the value of any Agile technique. Discussions of differences may be intellectually interesting but in the end miss the point: Agile is a gateway drug to a state of organizational bliss: the Genius Org.

A genius org can rapidly sense and rationally respond to opportunities. It has reached a state of Free Standing Agility. This requires an enormous amount of alignment on purpose and values across the entire organization.

A couple of my most progressive clients are very close to this ideal. In future posts, I plan to profile them.

Moving Beyond IceBreakers!

If you are an Agile coach or Agile practitioner, YOU NEED THIS BOOK.

Not too long ago, in Boston, we discovered TEEN EMPOWERMENT. This non-profit is in the business of mediating conflict and violence between gangs and other groups of people in the inner city. They are in the business of building shared understanding between rival groups. They are in the business of helping young people in the inner city reclaim their identity, and their lives. TEEN EMPOWERMENT is in the business of serving others.

But wait…there’s more. The leader Stanley Pollack discovered that by using what he call ‘interactive activities’, (read: “agile games”) people can learn to build bridges, get learning, and develop shared understandings, even as they process differences.

Does this sound familiar?

I hope it does.

At, we are doing everything we can to promote the work of TEEN EMPOWERMENT and the amazing book, MOVING BEYOND ICEBREAKERS.

You want to examine this amazing book NOW,  and get a copy.

Interested? Learn more here.

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.



Task Boards.

Information radiation.



Pair programming.


Burndown charts.

Work-in-process limits.

Test-driven development.


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.


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.

Agile: It’s a Culture Hack

On September 12 in Philadelphia and September 14 in Boston, Agile Philly and Agile Boston are bringing the Agile Culture Conference to the world. Philadelphia and Boston associate with freedom and revolution. And life, liberty and …the pursuit of happiness.

It’s time!

Thomas Paine said it well when he said:

“…self-organizing teams perform for themselves almost everything that is ascribed to managers.”

Well, he did not exactly say THAT, but he is close. Click the link above to see what he REALLY says.

It’s time to call Agile what it is: it’s a culture hack. The values, the principles, the practices,  and processes are all a bundle of culture hacking tools. The harsh reality of software development has spawned a bottom-up revolution in how we think about working. In teams.

Agile is a culture hack. With Agile, we can create a Learning Organization.

And what exactly is a Learning Organization? According to Wikipedia,

A learning organization is the term given to a company that facilitates the learning of its members and continuously transforms itself. Learning organizations develop as a result of the pressures facing modern organizations and enables them to remain competitive in the business environment. A learning organization has five main features; systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, shared vision and team learning.”

Organizations do not organically develop into learning organizations; there are factors prompting their change. As organizations grow, they lose their capacity to learn as company structures and individual thinking becomes rigid.”

We can create a genius from a group of people- if they are willing. We call this genius “a team”. The reason “Agile does not scale” is precisely because becoming a Learning Organization is at best a challenging task. It is also a deeply rewarding one. We all need to wake up: Agile people are culture hackers. We are in the business of creating Learning Organizations. WE. KNOW. HOW. TO. DO. IT.

The broader implications of this are profound. The implications are:

1. Cultural design, culture engineering and culture hacking are in fact better descriptions for what we do than any other description. We Agile folks are in the business of culture. We are culture engineers. We do culture engineering. Culture hacking is one kind of culture engineering.

2. Culture technology exists and can be exploited to create Learning Organizations. My book, THE CULTURE GAME is a culture technology tutorial and reference guide. It is a handbook for culture engineers.

3. In organizations, our work is about reclaiming a cultural garden that is full of cultural weeds. The root word for culture in Latin has many meanings, one of them is ‘to grow’. We are in the business of cultivating certain kinds of growth, and eradicating undesirable growth.

4. Agile methods are culture hacking methods. Agile frameworks are culture hacking frameworks. In the hands of a competent coach and in an organization of willing people, we can and do facilitate genuine cultural movement.


We have an amazing event planned for the Fall. The event is historic and represents a potential turning point in the Agile story. This is the moment when we port Agile up and out of IT, from teams to tribes…and entire organizations.

We have amazing keynotes. Harrison Owen, the father of Open Space,  is the keynote in Philadelphia. Dave Logan, the author of TRIBAL LEADERSHIP, is the keynote in Boston. Both events have amazing speakers like Traci Fenton, CEO of WorldBlu, the worldwide champion of Freedom At Work. We have Ayden Adler, the Exec Director of Orpheus Orchestra, the renowned, self-managed orchestra that has NO CONDUCTOR. We have many noted authorities in the Agile space speaking in breakout sessions.

You can attend in Philly AND Boston, and connect by train. The Agile Train. You can self-manage and self-organize your colleagues and friends to be part of this event with you. We the organizers are chartering a party BUS for speakers, sponsors and organizers, shuttling the whole group from Philly to Boston.

Agile has been struggling to understand itself these past several years. The cat is now out the bag: cultural architecture and design, leading to higher levels of engagement and productivity, is the new normal.

We are culture hackers!

Agile is a culture hack. We are culture hackers. We are culture designers.

We are culture engineers.


Get your ticket for Agile Culture Conference PHILADELPHIA here!

Get your ticket for Agile Culture Conference BOSTON here!

Four Years of Open Space

(NOTE: This is a guest post from my friend Jay Vogt, author of RECHARGE YOUR TEAM: The Grounded Visioning Approach.)

Rex and Bruce, two managing directors at Cyrus Innovation, had planned their big quarterly company meeting down to the last detail, but they still weren’t happy with it. They went back and forth, trying to find better ways to cater to employee needs, and really engage them. Finally they said, why don’t we just let them decide what they want to do? Let’s toss the whole agenda, and meet in Open Space.

Open Space is a self-organizing meeting method that allows participants – in this case the whole company – to meet without any preset agenda. Participants, guided by a few simple principles, create their own agenda, convene their own discussion groups, and produce their own proceedings. Participants use their time as they see fit.

Cyrus, with twenty employees, held its first company meeting using Open Space, and it went well; after that people asked for it. It became a company standard, and they’ve been doing it consistently, once a quarter, for the last four years. Today Cyrus has nearly fifty employees.

Cyrus maintains an open climate. Any topic in Open Space is fair game. “No one has ever put anything on the table that made me wince,” says Rex Madden, Managing Director and Chief Operating Officer. “It has run the gamut. From policy-type things – like the receipt and expense process is too hard – to how we can keep attracting top talent, to technology-specific things, to client-specific stuff, like how we can convince this client to do X. Even pay scales got raised, and after that, we opened them up. We have always believed in transparency. Open communication is one of our core values, and Open Space reinforces that.”

How has it changed our culture? We tried to move toward getting teams to be more autonomous, giving people more responsibility to do things. Our attitude has been, ‘Go forth and do it, and let us know how it goes, and what you need.’ There is part of that embedded in Open Space. We are following the employees.”

Doing Open Space gives us a sense of what people are interested in, what they want to do now, and how they want to approach something. You can learn a lot about people. When we see people are interested in something, we support it. One time, a guy went to a conference, and wrote up great notes. We said, ‘This is great, let’s share this with our clients.’ A gem of an idea grew into a marketing piece. This guy was really passionate about it. There is a lot of that. We have learned to recognize what people are interested in – where they excel – and we nourish it.”

My advice to other companies? Read Harrison Owen’s book (Open Space Technology: A User’s Guide), get a facilitator, pay for some decent space so you can leave the office, and do it. Invest a full day, and be sure you follow up on action items. Retrospect it to improve it, and add value. On the first one, you will uncover a lot of stuff – better be listening for that. You will find out anyway, through other mechanisms, what the problems are, so you might as well get it straight, deal with it, and move on. Whatever it was we used to do, that came up as stuff at our first meeting, we don’t do anymore, because we fixed it.”

It takes some courage to throw your whole company into a day long meeting with no preset agenda, but Open Space, also known as Open Space Technology, rewards the brave. It challenges participants to connect with what they really care about, and are willing to make happen. It challenges managers to trust their people, and let them step up. The folks at Cyrus would say that a company that meets in Open Space over years enjoys a more open climate, with more autonomous teams and more passionate people.

Jay W Vogt is president of Peoplesworth, and author of Recharge Your Team: The Grounded Visioning Approach and Board Roles to Board Goals: Creating an Annual Board Workplan. Jay has facilitated hundreds of meetings with at least a hundred participants, and regularly facilitates meetings in Open Space. To see a four minute video of Open Space in action, visit: 

Winning the Productivity Game

Dave Logan is the author of TRIBAL LEADERSHIP. In this book Dave describes the triad, a structure that is essential for scaling Agile from teams to tribes.

In my book THE CULTURE GAME, I describe how to use triads to get viral spread of the sixteen team-learning practices described in that book.

Please join Dave Logan and myself (Dan Mezick) on the 1-hour FREE call entitled Winning The Productivity Game.

During this public learning event, you will learn:

  • How to raise your productivity at work, both individually… and in teams;
  • Why your meetings (and often work in general) can be soul-sucking death march from hell, and what to do about it;
  • What specific techniques you can use as a manager and/or someone who convenes meetings…to raise the level of engagement and productivity at work;
  • Where you can find specific resources and tools to help you install small changes (“culture hacks“) with big, positive effects for your teams and the wider organization.

Register now for this call to learn the specific steps you can take tomorrow to raise the level of productivity in your organization.


During this 1-hour call, you can help make work and meeting more engaging, productive and fun. I plan to disclose specific techniques to do this that are found in THE CULTURE GAME book.

You can click this link to learn more about the event, and sign up to be on the call! I hope to see you there ! Here is part of the description of the event found on the CultureSync registration page:

Play the game and love your work. Author and coach, Dan Mezick, will join Dave Logan for a rousing 60 minute romp through the games you can play every day to make work more productive, satisfying, and fun.

Dan says: 
Productivity at work is a game. If the core requirements for productivity at work are not present, you disengage and check out. If the core requirements are there, you automatically experience fun, satisfaction and potentially, a deeply engaged sense of well-being.

We’re sure he’ll share the 8 specific things he’s learned you must do if you are to win the game of engagement, happiness and productivity at work. You’ll walk away from the call with actionable techniques you can start using today to win the productivity game.

NOTE: This is a free online event from CultureSync, Dave Logan’s company providing education, tools and resources for leaders, managers and teams who are seeking an upgrade of their company culture.

REGISTER HEREWinning The Productivity Game

Culture Hacking

Culture hacking is almost the same as software hacking. Culture hacking modifies culture, instead of modifying software. Software hackers in the 1970’s created code for personal use and for others to also use and enjoy. In the modern day, culture hackers actively modify culture for personal betterment and the betterment of others.


Hacking Culture- like it is software

What is significant here is the software view of culture. I have already written about how culture is a system, like software, and can be hacked like software. In my view culture is composed of stories, and stories are composed of language. If you modify language you are in fact culture hacking.

I credit Jim McCarthy and Michele McCarthy for emphasizing this link between culture and software,  in their book SOFTWARE FOR YOUR HEAD. The book describes structured interactions for humans. Likewise I credit the McCarthy’s with moving decisively to popularize the phrase culture hacking. My book  THE CULTURE GAME is literally a culture hacking manual.

Here is what Jim McCarthy says about culture hacking:

A culture is the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that both describes and shapes a group. Our era is increasingly characterized by an emergent “software culture.” Not only is software itself creating much of our global wealth, but the unique challenges of creating our software have demanded wholly new types of engineered corporate culture from us. In response to the demands of software, various high tech development disciplines have been articulated and “packaged up.” We have created several seminal management “movements” (such as Agile, Scrum, XP, etc.). These movements represent the birth of culture engineering and are primitive compared to what will soon follow.

Culture hacking is itself a distinct kind of culture engineering, and is faithful to the particular hacker ethos that originated in the world of software hacking. Good culture hacking will tend to protect personal freedom, extend openness, embody rationality and promote culture design elegance. Culture hacking takes into account the limits and uses of authority, is skeptical of incoherent institutional power, and is subversive of it. As our many cultures become increasingly (and fruitfully) hacked, we will likely grow in effectiveness, and ambition. This will bring more and more of the world’s problems into manageable scope. This will likely trigger an unprecedented Golden Era.


Agile in reality is a great big culture hack: a collection of processes and methods and specific actions that, when used together, influence culture at various levels: team, department, division, enterprise.

Agile is a culture hack. And over time, we may start to understand it as a relatively and historically primitive one at that.

Think of it like this:

culture hacking = agile++



Attend the Self-Management Symposium Online!

Here is a brief video welcoming attendees and speakers to the SELF MANAGEMENT SYMPOSIUM.

This invite-only event May 20-22 promises to be very great !

I am presenting the session GAMING HAPPINESS AT WORK from my book THE CULTURE GAME. The book went to production this week !

I am very grateful to the Self-Management Institute for this opportunity! My book THE CULTURE GAME debuts at this event !!

Become a member of the SELF MANAGEMENT INSTITUTE here.

Learn more about watching the LIVE STREAM here !




The Culture Game at Zappos Insights

Zappos is the world’s largest shoe store, selling over 1 BILLION of shoes per year from the website. The company has achieved this while building a strong company culture. Exactly what role does company culture play in the success of Zappos? Tony Hsieh’s book, DELIVERING HAPPINESS is  essential reading for those who want to understand the Zappos culture and story.

Zappos is a training and coaching client. We have been working for them in one way or another since 2010.

My book THE CULTURE GAME builds on content from Tony Hsieh’s book, and includes a lot of content from experiences and friends at Zappos.

During my last visit to Zappos, Robert Richman (Culture Strategist, Zappos Insights) sat me down for a quick interview on my book THE CULTURE GAME, which went to production this week. In this interview we cover the basics of how to managers can quickly manifest culture change in their organization by using some of the tools and techniques described in the book.

Zappos is an amazing organization and Zappos Insights is the amazing arm of the company that provides a range of services to culture-curious individual and organizations. Visit ZapposInsights to gain access to tours, formal training, tours of Zappos ….and membership access to premium ZapposInsights content that is downloadable from the web site!

The Video

This video, captured at Zappos Insights in 2011,  is short- just 12 minutes long– and jammed with useful content.

Enjoy !

Video: The Culture Game book at ZappoInsights.

Contents: CULTURE GAME author Dan Mezick, with Rob Richman. We cover some simple techniques, derived from Agile, that convert meetings from soul-sucking death marches to fun, enjoyable and engaging social experiences.

Like the video? Click here to learn more about THE CULTURE GAME book by Dan Mezick

(DOWNTOWN) Monthly Meeting Thursday 06/07/2012: Dan LeFebvre on GATHERING AGILE REQUIREMENTS


Slides from this event are available online as a PDF.

The gathering of requirements is an essential task for every Agile team. Yes, the Scrum framework makes it clear that only the Product Owner owns this task and is responsible for it. The reality is that the gathering and and grooming of requirements is a complex task that must be executed in groups to be done well.

The gathering of requirements and the preparation needed to make these requirements READY for Sprint Planning is a very common ‘pain point’ for Agile teams just starting out. Experienced teams also face real difficulty when the organization is not ready to execute on the deep level of collaboration needed to get the job done.

Attend this session to get your head around gathering and grooming your Product Backlog. We’ll show you 4 specific sense-making tools that can help your team gather requirements at he rate of one per minute. We’ll show you how to groom those same requirements at about one minute per. Since the average Product Backlog has over 200 requirements coded as user stories, you have some work to do. We show you how.


  • Overview of Agile Requirements
  • Review: User Stories, Story Points, Estimating and Planning
  • Using Personas
  • User Story Mapping
  • How to Make Sense of Requirements As a Team
  • How to Facilitate a Product Backlog Workshop



0300PM Agile Scrum Introduction by Frank Saucier

0330PM Break with light food, beverage






Dan LeFebvre

Dan LeFebvre is the founder of DCL Agility, LLC, a provider of agile and Scrum coaching, training, and transition services. He is a Certified Scrum Coach with over twenty years in software product development as a developer, manager, director, and coach. He has been applying agile practices to successfully deliver products since 2003.

Dan helps software engineering organizations improve quality and productivity. After successfully delivering software products in diverse industries, he has developed a strong passion for helping organizations create great products and teams.

Dan spent two years as the internal agile coach for Kronos, Boston-based Software Company, where he coordinated and implemented Scrum in the 700 person engineering organization across all sites including Massachusetts, Atlanta, Chicago, Oregon, Montreal, British Columbia, Belgium and India. This resulted in increased visibility into the development process and a reduction in defects by 60% in 18 months.

Dan holds a Master’s degree in Computer Science from Boston University. He is a Certified Scrum Master, Certified Scrum Professional, and the first Certified Scrum Coach in New England. He has contributed articles to Scrum Alliance and Boston SPIN. He has presented at Scrum Gatherings, agile conferences, and agile user groups around the country.

Dan Mezick

Dan Mezick is a coach and trusted adviser to executives, project sponsors, managers and teams developing complex products using Agile and Scrum. Dan’s firm New Technology Solutions, Inc. delivers Agile training, coaching and consulting to businesses of all sizes. Clients include Zappos Insights, The Hartford Insurance companies, Siemens Corporation, Sikorsky Aircraft and dozens of mid-market organizations.

Dan is the author of THE CULTURE GAME, a book describing 16 patterns, derived from Agile, which can be used anywhere in your organization where more teamwork and learning is desired. Dan is a frequently invited speaker at industry events, most recently the Self-Management Symposium held in May 2012 and sponsored by Harvard Business Review.

NOTE: This is a AGILE BOSTON/DOWNTOWN event. The venue is: Hyatt Regency Boston • One Avenue de Lafayette, Boston, MA 02111. Call 203 915 7248 if you have questions on the meeting day!