Agile Trance Formation

Most Agile adoptions are “roll outs” or “push” of Agile, usually by higher-ups with plenty of formal authority. The C-level folks. In an entirely well-meaning manner, execs are often encouraged by “Agile transformation firms” to push a specific framework on the organization. This has the effect of creating an enterprise-wide “trance formation.”

At every level, people in the org wonder what is going on. They have no part in the creation of the story, even as they are expected to do “what the story says.” To do what leaders say. Or else. Without much respect for what the people who do the work want, or think or feel.

Up, down and across the organization, the people in it have defined a game…a situation within which they are comfortable. Some spend years fine-tuning the design of their job and position.

Now when Agile practices are forced, it forces triggering questions about:

  • My status and position
  • My role
  • My career
  • My current authority
  • How much money I make
  • My kids college education

These are triggering questions. Unsettling feelings about survival and fight-flight become predominant… up, down and across the organization. These are feelings triggered by fear, by  a focus on what is feared. This can happen at the enterprise level as more and more people begin to feel fear and get triggered. When this happens, the result is a very counter-productive,  enterprise-wide “trance formation.” An entire organization full of worried, triggered, fearful people, behaving unconsciously.

And after a while, more than a few resentful people. At every level of authorization. People who never agreed. People with good ideas! People who know what can work. People who are now consciously and unconsciously slowing it all down. Some of these folks have substantial authority. And they are now RESISTING.

This is exact opposite of what you say you want.

What to do? The remedy is very simple. If you are a coach, encourage formally authorized leaders to define a very clear Agile direction, and INVITE everyone into the process of getting there. INVITE everyone. Open Space (and other tools and techniques) can help.

This is how to get a genuine and lasting transformation, instead of the typical outcome: a zombie-like, unconscious, triggered, fear-based, enterprise-wide “trance formation.” A triggered state of being, one that leads to enterprise-wide trance, resistance, resentment, lower morale, weak results… and eventual backsliding into the old way to doing things.

If you are an Agile coach, and you say you are coaching transformation, then you must learn the dynamics of invitation, and teach these dynamics to those well-intentioned higher-ups that are signing your checks.

To do otherwise- to “leave out” or omit this teaching about invitation–  this is the same as valuing transactions over transformations. If this is what you are doing, stop.

Stop right there.

Because, truth be told, you are an enabler. Your unwillingness to teach invitation to those executive leaders is part of the problem.