Signal That You Have No Authority


If you are an Agile coach, it is essential that you signal to anyone and everyone (inside the client org) that you have no authority. Period. Teams automatically project authority on you, and it is essential that you not only refuse to accept it, but also that you immediately reflect it back to the team that is offering it to you.


For this to work. two things must be true:



  • Formally authorized authority figures in the org must be willing to grant authority to teams to make decisions within clearly defined guardrails. They must signal this continuously. And mean it.
  • You yourself must be able to resist any and all attempts by the team to draft you into the role of authority-figure. Otherwise you have “no shot” at encouraging them to self-organize, which is in essence the act of self-management.


  • Formally authorized leaders must signal that teams are free to make real decisions within well defined “guardrails”.
  • You yourself must resist being attracted to any and all projections of authority by the team.

Do you see why?


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The Agile Imposition Revisited

Here are some verbatim statements from actual Agile Manifesto signatories, about the dangers and futility of imposing Agile practices on teams without their consent: 






“…Imposing an agile process from the outside strips the team of the self-determination which is at the heart of agile thinking.”
-Martin Fowler




“… imposing agile methods introduces a conflict with the values and principles that underlie agile methods.”
-Martin Fowler




“…I’d rather have a team work in a non-agile manner they chose themselves than have my favorite agile practices imposed upon them.”
-Martin Fowler




“…You know as well as I do that if the team really doesn’t want to use a methodology, IT WON’T WORK. (emphasis added.) Let them make their own assessment.” -Jeff Sutherland and co-authors, POWER OF SCRUM book, page 31 (page 37 in earlier versions)




“…[A leader’s] responsibility is to make clear to the team that THEY should be in control of their own work processes, and show them how to do that.” -POWER OF SCRUM book, page 31 (page 37 in earlier versions)




“…So I hope I’ve made clear that imposing agile methods is a very red flag. ”-Martin Fowler, Agile Manifesto signatory. Written 2006, the “Agile Imposition” blog post, Martin Fowler




These are protective warnings from Agile Manifesto signatories. These warning continue to be largely ignored by the Agile coaching community as a whole.



For good measure, and to add strong support for the story I am telling, here are some additional quotes from genuine thought leaders in community-building, organizational development and management science:



“Transformation occurs through choice, not mandate. Invitation is the call to create an alternative future. What is the invitation we can make to support people to participate and own the relationships, tasks, and process that lead to success?”

-Peter Block: COMMUNITY: THE STRUCTURE OF BELONGING (Arguably one of the most brilliant thinkers of our time on organizations and organizational development.)





Transformations can’t be accomplished without others helping voluntarily, & people don’t help unless you engage them first.
-Geoffrey Moore, ZONE TO WIN. (Arguably one of the greatest management minds of our time.)





Those in favor of push, coercion and top-down authoritative imposition of Agile practices on teams can’t say anything in defense that makes any sense.



The fact is that imposition makes no sense whatsoever if you are optimizing on genuine transformations over mere transactions.



I  mean, Martin Fowler is saying as much in those quotes. Who wants to take the other side of his argument?

Answer: NO ONE. 

Yet PUSH and IMPOSITION remains the de facto standard in “enterprise Agile adoptions” today !

What gives here?


Simplicity Is What Scales

I am sad.

I do not believe I am oversimplifying when I say that participant engagement is absolutely essential to enterprise-wide process change.

I do not believe I am oversimplifying when I say that engaging people- at every level of authorization- actually creates ALL of the “right underlying conditions for agility” that are necessary to succeed.

I do not believe I am oversimplifying when I say that engaged people can and do routinely solve big, huge problems like “crushing system dependencies” without any help from an external authority. Being able to do this (without an army of consultants) is, after all, what self-sustaining, freestanding, enterprise-wide Agility is all about.

Accepting the idea that the “it doesn’t matter if you mandate it or not” is very much out of alignment with absolutely core Agile principles. Martin Fowler said as much, directly and plainly, back in 2006.

The fact that we as a community are willing to accept and approve of the idea that engaged people “don’t know how to self-organize” is something I am truly sad about.

Really? Is this true? Do we actually believe this?

Are we then to “manage” this process of self-management?

If the answer is yes, perhaps we are part of the very problem we claim to be solving.

Martin Fowler said as much in 2006: The Agile Imposition:

“…Imposing an agile process from the outside strips the team of the self-determination which is at the heart of agile thinking.”

Simplicity is what scales. It all starts in Open Space.