On Invitation

The act of invitation is fundamentally respectful.

Respect for people is a core, bedrock value of Lean and Agile thinking.

Invitation is therefore fully aligned with Agile and Lean.

We feel good when we feel a sense of control, and a sense of belonging.
Control and belonging make it easy to get (and stay) engaged.

Engagement is good.

When we are invited, we are in control of what happens next. The basic responses are some variation of YES or NO. Either way, the receiver is in control of that response.

In this manner, invitation delivers a sense of control to the receiver.

When we are invited and say YES, we experience a sense of belonging (and membership) with everyone else who also says YES to that invitation.

A sense of belonging is an important aspect of well-being.

Feelings of community (membership and belonging) are associated with health and wellness.


The Story

Almost every invitation is an invite to be in the story, and be an author of that story. If I invite you to a dinner with others, you are invited into that story and also invited into writing how that story goes.

Likewise for your Agile adoption. When your Agile adoption is based on invitation, you are inviting others to be characters in the Agile-adoption story and also to be an co-author of that Agile-adoption story.

Inviting others creates engagement, the very fuel of a genuine and lasting Agile adoption.


In Light of the Foregoing…

Does engagement actually matter?

Is engagement a critical success factor in Agile adoptions? Is engagement the “secret sauce?”

Is engagement essential?

If it is, you might consider invitation over imposition of practices.

OpenSpace Agility (OSA) is one way to do this. OSA provides a starting point for bringing invitation into your Agile program.

OpenSpace Agility actually works, and it works with what you are doing now. It is used to start new Agile adoptions, and address the issues of ongoing Agile adoptions that are in trouble.


Related Links:

OpenSpace Agility explained

OpenSpace Agility testimonial videos (15 minutes each)



The Virtue of Coercion

The following is a session submitted to the Agile2015 by one Timothy Turnstone. The session was not selected.

Even so: I find the session more than intriguing. I have submitted the following “Lightning Talk” about this idea of coercion. It has been accepted to the conference and I hope you can attend!

I promise you a most interesting experience as we unpack the assertions of Timothy Turnstone and his dubious-at-best “VIRTUE OF COERCION” session.

If you are going to the conference, I hope you will attend.

Here is the schedule link:




Where: Agile 2015, Washington DC

Date: WEDNESDAY, August 5

Time: 345PM

Here is the session:

Someone named Timothy Turnstone submitted this intriguing talk to the Agile2015 conference.

I am eager to comment on it in some detail.

The proposed session and related comments follow….please note the intriguing comments from Tobias Mayer, Ron Jeffries, Harrison Owen, and many others…..


The Virtue of Coercion

Presenter: Tim Turnstone

Track: Enterprise Agile

Source Link (for reference):



management, leadership, Enterprise, Enterprise Agile, manage, coercion


There is almost no chance of Agile transformation without the imposition of Agile practices on teams. Pushing Agile practices on teams is the primary way to obtain lasting enterprise-wide Agile adoptions.

…in this session we present 4 years of data proving that employee engagement actually has nothing whatsoever to do with successfully scaling Agile. Rather, the right underlying conditions for agility have more to do with buy-in (and appropriate funding) at the C-level. We show how the crushing system dependencies found across typical enterprise IT systems actually make the imposition of Agile practices essential.

During this session we also present data that proves that “Agile-at-scale” is seldom if ever achieved without a well-planned and coercive mandate (or “push”) of specific Agile practices on teams. We present and detail the data behind seven successful “push oriented” Agile adoptions, at scale (30 teams or more in each sample, across multiple locations and time zones.)

Inside this session, we present the very strong correlation between the imposition of Agile practices on teams, and successful Agile transformation at scale. We back this up with case data. We also debunk some of the more common myths. Specifically, we systematically dismantle the well-meaning (yet dangerous, and even misleading) essay written by Martin Fowler in 2006, “The Agile Imposition.”

Information for Program Team:

Please reference the following essay from Martin Fowler for an idea of the dangeous myths we will be dismantling during this presentation: http://martinfowler.com/bliki/AgileImposition.html

Prerequisite Knowledge:

Knowledge of Agile, Agile-adoption failure patterns, and Agile coaching techniques

Learning Outcomes:

Understand the subtle differences between effectively mandating, effectively coercing and effectively pushing practices on teams.

Understand how and why the imposition of Agile practices on teams actually works at scale.

Gain access to a Agile-at-scale “framework” for helping you get great results with “Agile push” across your entire enterprise.

Presentation History:

We have developed and refined an Agile-coercion framework over the last ten years which we plan to share and distribute to all participants who attend this session.


Public Comments

Wed, 2015-02-25 17:43—Tobias Mayer


Well… this is either a brilliant tongue-in-cheek effort to take us into the land of the absurd in order to understand the opposite message as being valuable, or else it is serious, and the presenter actually believes that Agility must be mandated (and has real data to “prove” his case). Either way, I endorse this session, as no matter if absurdist or serious it has to be one that will challenge Agile group think—shake us off our our comfortable couch. Thumbs up.

Fri, 2015-02-27 12:05—Harrison Owen

Absurdity Confounded!

This is so absurd it just has to be worth while! Might just open up some space for useful learning.

Fri, 2015-02-27 14:16—Harold Shinsato

Enjoying the commentary

The session proposal sounds so serious, it’s hard to see the satire at first especially as the Virtue of Coercion seems so much like the way “Agile” is forced down people’s throats. If this is satire – I wonder if the presenter would be willing to come in dressed like Emperor Palpatine with a dark flowing cape and hood, and say things like “feel your anger”. Either way if this is serious or satire – if Harrison Owen and Tobias Mayer say yes, I feel in extraordinarily good company asking that this session be accepted.

Sat, 2015-02-28 08:15—Pablo Pernot

Hats off

Oh such a pity we do not have sessions like this one in France. Hats Off to US.

Sat, 2015-02-28 10:32—Richard Saunders

The SERF Framework actually works!

I am a manager in a large company in the USA. Lately I have been drawn to the ideas of some of the more outspoken and leading Agile coaches out there.

These ideas make lots of sense to me:

Self organization is not impeded by the presence of team-external managers. (plural)

Agile practices absolutely should be mandated.

If people don’t like it, they can always self-organize into another job.

For Agile to work, we have to learn to tolerate an organization’s established, outdated worldview and practices until it can change into an agile organization. So we do have to force it. That’s what people actually expect and want. Especially senior managers like me that sign the checks and make the whole thing go in the first place.

I used to work in human resources and now I work as a Senior Director in IT. A lot of what I learned in HR applies here. Agile obviously works when coercion is applied thoughtfully. In 2013 I was looking for a simple way to force Agile across the enterprise without a lot of discussion about what people want. And this is it. Tim Turnstone is a leading agile pioneer in this space.

I’m eager to see people learn more about the SERF (Scaled Enterprise Resources Framework). Disclosure: We have employed some (many!) of the ideas of Tim at my company. That’s how I know the name and details of his framework. Tim’s SERF framework actually works. We are getting AT LEAST 11% improvement in everything we are now measuring. You can also! Two thumbs up. We need to get the best ideas out there.

Sat, 2015-02-28 11:14—Michele McCarthy

What is obvious?

Everyone knows that I just can’t say enough about coercive techniques. It would be wise to watch this one.

Mon, 2015-03-02 17:40—Tricia Chirumbole

Let’s get real about our relationship with coercion and control!

This is a hot topic that looks like it has already started to get good! No matter where the presenter actually stands, or where you or I say or think we stand, the conversation is worth bringing to the fore! How many of us would swear up and down in public, and even quietly to ourselves, that we do not in any way endorse coercion, mandates, or the attempt to manage self-organization, but in reality we can’t let go of these practices and even believe they are necessary? Is this you? Is this me?! Let’s get real and be honest with ourselves and dive into why people still regularly lean into coercion, mandates, and the seductive desire to manage and control ourselves into a comfortable stagnation!

Tue, 2015-03-03 10:55—Martin Grimshaw

About time…

At last, someone speaking my mind. It’s time to counter all this new age namby pamby touchy feely politically correct nonsense about choice and ‘co-creation.’

Every good boss knows that the way to get things done is to tell your staff what they have to do, and threaten them if they don’t obey. After all, it’s the bosses who know best about everything in detail that all staff are doing and what they should do better. That’s why they are bosses. Let’s welcome this session with open arms and stop this ‘self-organisation’ flim-flam before its dangerous malintent causes irreparable damage.

Thu, 2015-03-05 15:04—Andrea Chiou

I am confurious!

I was both curious and confused and responding to a tweet about this session, when I mistakenly typed ‘confurious’…

It seems COMPLETELY INSANE and good that avowed members of the Open Space community are raving about this session – to say nothing of attracting the likes of Michele McCarthy of the well known ‘Core Protocols’ – where checking in, checking out, pass, decider and other protocols provide the safest system for getting to effective team products!

By all means, bring this on! I’m sure more folks will sign up for Agile2015 now – esp. in DC – where agile-by-mandate is hot business!

Fri, 2015-03-06 09:44—Daniel Mezick

An “Agile-coercion framework” ?

Is coercion Agile? Is there a certification?

Mon, 2015-03-09 16:54—john buck


I do not think this session is tongue-in-cheek as one commenter speculates. We do a lot of very successful software development. We would not be so successful if we had not forced the introduction of our Agile practices. Organizational change initiatives are typically met with initial staff skepticism and resistance. We skipped all that by simply mandating. We watched carefully for any signs of passive resistance and squelched it in the few cases it appeared. Once staff grasped that they actually had more freedom with Agile, all resistance disappeared. It may seem ironic that we can push people into freedom, but it really works! Try it!

Mon, 2015-03-09 17:08—Richard Pour


The proposed session is ridiculous and offensive. The soul of Agile is voluntary self-organization. I am outraged by the obvious mockery of our sacred values. I hope that the conference organizers will reject it as simply in bad taste and poor. – Richard

Thu, 2015-03-12 11:55—erik blazynski

What is this about?

Is this about getting people to do what you want them to do without them knowing that you you are getting the to do it? Sounds interesting.

Thu, 2015-03-12 13:00—erik blazynski

I have an idea for this topic

Change the name of this session to “Foie Gras Agile” Bring some feeding tubes so it can be demonstrated how to jam process and procedure down people’s throats until the human resource value bloats and can be extracted.

Sat, 2015-03-14 18:15—Ron Jeffries

But Seriously …

I am no fan of coercion. However, imagine the following scenario:

We impose some practice, say TDD. A bunch of people say “bite me” and quit. Others, being all WTF, give it a go. Some come to like it. They begin doing it more. Good results happen. People say “How are you getting those good results?” People reply “The jerks upstairs actually had a good idea with this TDD thing. They didn’t have it quite right but look how it’s working for me.” Voila, imposition worked.

Hell, if someone made me exercise 3x a week, I might come to like it. Maybe. It could happen.

I don’t know whether this is serious or not. I don’t know whether he has a solid experiment or not (I doubt it, solid experiments are hard to do.)

But if he has data we need to look it in the eye.

I recommend acceptance of this session, and some guidance from a mentor so as to present substantive material in a way that won’t cause people to shout it down before they know what is being said.

The Anxiety Iceberg

Let’s play a game. The object of the game is to initiate and obtain a rapid, lasting and positive change, across your entire organization, at scale, as fast as possible. OK?

Let’s call it “the culture game.”

To win the culture game, you have to see everything that is going on, just under the surface…

Let’s assume the org is a very large bank … with tens of thousands of employees…many of which have worked there for 10 years of more…let’s also assume the contemplated change is “an Agile adoption.”

…the main impediment to Agile adoption at this company? The legitimate concerns, worries and anxieties of everyone involved. Slamming “structure” changes into the organization triggers people with very legitimate worries, anxieties and fears.

These very legitimate worries, anxieties and fears (repeat: very legitimate worries, anxieties and fears) exist just under the surface, and represent about 90% of ALL the challenges and impediments to your Agile adoption.

There is lots of scientific proof that triggered, fearful people do not learn very quickly.

If at all!

Agile is about generating adaptability through learning.

Fear just shuts that learning down.



But wait. Some of the triggered people are formally authorized leaders who run entire departments and divisions. People with some authority. With direct and indirect reports. What happens when these leaders are not really supporting the Agile “structure” changes?

Answer: They send very clear “anti-Agile, anti-change” signals to their direct reports, who receive the signal. Then the receiver also (quite rationally) fails to strongly support the new change initiative. These direct reports of the leader in turn then become senders. They send clear signals of “fear, uncertainty and doubt” about the Agile-change to their direct reports. It just cascades down the reporting structure.

At the start, just one leader had doubts. Now 80 people are “skeptical at best.”

Multiply that times dozens of leaders, in a large company, at scale. This is actually THE main problem.

But wait. Some very vocal Agile coaches suggest these leaders (and their direct reports) can “self-organize to another job.”

Really? Does that actually work?

Because the reality is: these now highly triggered, very worried people do not vacate. Far from it! The reality is that people at a job 10 years or more are very, VERY slow to vacate. They have, after all, spent years fine-tuning their situation at work. And they can and will outlast, outwit and outplay those who authoritatively slammed in the Agile “structure” change.

When this happens, we say “Agile failed.” What actually failed was an attempt to force a process change on people– the leaders and the teams– without their consent.

And people want to be free.

The mandated approach can work. For it to work, lots and lots of people have to quit.

This usually takes many years. By then, the Agile coaches have come and gone: just like the Agile adoption itself.

Sound familiar?


Mandates create impediments hidden under the surface.

These “iceberg impediments” torpedo the very best of intentions for positive change in your company.


A Faster and More Lasting Solution- the OPEN Approach

The best way to bring process-change into an organization is to frame it as an experiment to be inspected … and invite people into the process of experimentation and inspection. That is, actually implement Agile in an empirical, inspectable, emergent, highly adaptive Agile way.

Leadership sets direction– and invites people to play. Leadership also sets the context with leadership storytelling and other intentional signaling behaviors that support the approach.

This is the fast-track to a rapid and lasting Agile adoption. Engage people. The people you already have! If people sense they can actually help author the new story, and be a character in the new story, there is no “buy in” …. because there is no need for persuasion. The people are not “bought in” …. instead, they are “LOCATED IN” … the new story. The Agile adoption story is THEIR story.

The Open Space meeting format can scale to thousands of people. We use this meeting format inside a wider method called Open Agile Adoption. It gets great results. It frames the experience as experiments— with inspections. And adjustments. There is no force-feeding of a mandate, and nothing is set in stone. It starts and ends in Open Space with a period of experimentation in between. Everything is inspected and the enterprise then adapts.

The Agile Manifesto is the single constraint- any practice can be used as long as it supports the Manifesto principles.

Pushed people are triggered people. Invited people are not. Invited people are free, pushed people are not. Invited people feel that the story of the org is unfolding, and that they are helping to write it, and that they are free. This generates absolutely tremendous levels of human engagement, the very fuel of a rapid and lasting Agile adoption.



Most of your biggest Agile adoption challenges are below the surface.

An open and inviting approach is the way to address these challenges, and neutralize them. Convert that anxiety from a bug to a feature. A double-positive, using one simple yet profound leadership move.

For handling any kind of enterprise-wide change initiative, you can use Prime/OS. For handling your Agile adoption, you can use Open Agile adoption, which is built on top of Prime/OS. Both are listed below.

Both of these tools will help you completely take the steam out of the very legitimate worries and fears that your people have.

This is done by “opening space” for everyone to express themselves, get in the game, and help write the story. And be a character in the emerging story.


Related Links:

Open Agile Adoption- based on Prime/OS (link)

Prime/OS- technology for culture change in organizations (link)

Video testimonials (link)

Telling Management What It Wants to Hear (link)














Does Software Influence Culture?

Does software inform– or even create— culture? Probably.

We know from Conway’s Law that people in an organization will create systems that match their general pattern of communication. I think it is a little deeper than that, and has more to do with the formal pattern of authority distribution inside the organization. The communication paths follow from that.

In organizations that take the hierarchy literally, we find that loosely-coupled, peer-to-peer, well-interfaced, object-oriented “design patterns” of software design are usually hard to get implemented. Instead, more centralized and hierarchical designs are favored. This is “Conways Law”:

organizations which design systems … are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations


Now it gets interesting.

The inverse– is it also true? This is my expression of the inverse:

organizations are constrained to employ organizational designs which are copies of the authority distribution structure underlying the software systems they use.


Call it Mezick’s Inverse if you like.


Consider the internet. It is built on TCP/IP: the down-low substrate, the fundamental “under it all” stuff that connects everything.

It is a P2P network protocol. Peer-to-peer. No one computer has any more “control” than any other regarding how packets (data) make it from A to B.

On top of that, higher-level, P2P-oriented layers of protocol emerge: HTTP, IRC, SMTP.

On top of those protocols, applications like instant messengers show up.

Then, still later, very rich P2P apps. Facebook. Twitter. LinkedIn.

These are rich, end-user P2P apps… with P2P architectures… that encourage and in fact enable P2P relationships by and between the users.

What is the result… at the highest level of abstraction? Peer-to-peer culture. Or, at least more demand, more pressure, for genuine P2P culture.

Worldwide. And, in your country. And, in your org. And, on your team…


And so: does software create culture? Prob-ab-ly.

Just take a look around.


Related Links:

Conways Law (link)

McCarthy Show podcast “Software Creates Culture” (link)











Theory A

Here is a brief summary of “Theory A“: a theory pertaining to microsociology which may explain some of the actual mechanics of “self organization” in human social systems.

Theory A

Respect is felt feelings of esteem for another individual, and demonstrations of those feelings, through behavior. You can look it up. Most folks understand what respect is. In typical 1-to-1 interactions, mature people always send at least a minimal level of respect to everyone they encounter. “Treat others as you like to be treated” is a basic rule of thumb here. The Golden Rule.

So, respect is routinely sent and received by and between individuals. When those individuals are in the same group, the “packets” of respect get tagged with various additional properties.

Chief among these properties is the “Authorized-To-Lead” tag. The details of that tag contain the message “you have my consent to help lead the group.”

This is the A-tag.


Details Of Theory A

Coherent groups seek leadership. And so members send these “A-tagged” packets of respect to others, who receive them. The receivers may then either accept or reject these packets.

The packets are tagged with “consent to follow.” Tagged with “you have my permission to help lead”. Tagged with “you have my authorization, permission and support to actively help lead this group.”

This is the “Authorized-To-Lead” tag. The A-tag.


If I tag you, you receive it. You may ultimately reject my tagged send. The tag does after all come with some duties, doesn’t it? You make a choice, conscious or otherwise. Accept or reject.

If you accept my send, others notice.

Say your name is Michelle. My name is Daniel. Say we are in the same group. I send you some respect, tagged with the A-tag. You receive it, and accept it. This is a “from 1, to 1” send and receive. This send and receive is by and between a dyad– just two people.

We are in a group. Others in the group notice that “Daniel tags Michelle.” The others are observant, and independent agents… and so they each decide individually (consciously or unconsciously) what’s best… and what’s next… for them.

The options are:

  • Do nothing, or
  • Send some respect to Michelle, and tag it exactly the same way, or
  • Send some respect to Michelle, with different tags, or no tags at all

There are obviously some other interesting options, right? This is a concise summary, and so let’s keep it as simple as possible for now, shall we?


“Daniel tags Michelle.” Others notice and may respond. Note that no response is a response. There’s no time limit, and everyone, as always, does only what they want to do, consciously or otherwise.

If enough people tag Michelle with the A-tag,  and she accepts being “drafted into a leadership role”, then Michelle is now a de facto person of influence in our group. Someone with some special permission from the group.

Seems so simple, doesn’t it?

Not so fast.


Summarizing Theory A

Being tagged with authorization is very flattering to the ego, and can be the cause of many sorrows.

And not just for the “tag-er” and the “tag-ee,” but for the group as a whole.

In self-organizing systems with high levels of maturity, authorization routinely flows to where it can do the most good, in service to the group’s primary task. This assumes of course that the group has clearly identified the primary task– that is, what it actually wants. The primary task of a group can and does shift over time, causing shifts in levels of authorization– and coherent leadership.











Crossing Over

Regarding: The passage rite…applied to organizations:

There’s a large body of knowledge in cultural anthropology that describes the utility of passage rites. Passage rites are designed cultural experiences- ritual events- that facilitate an individual’s journey in transforming from one social status to another in the society, family or organization.

Open Agile Adoption, to be clear, does NOT do this. Open Agile Adoption (OAA) is a designed experience for an entire organization, not the individuals. The individuals do not repeat DO NOT experience a change in social status.

Really? Then what the heck is actually going on inside an Open Agile Adoption?

What’s going on is, quite simply, a passage rite through which the entire organization is passing, not any one individual or subset group of individuals. It’s the entire living system that’s leveling up, not a set of individuals. It’s the entire tribe that’s graduating– not a subset of it. It’s the organization as a whole- the tribe, the living system- that is taking the journey from here to there. The “organization”, the “living system”, might be a division or business unit of a larger containing entity or enterprise. The fact remains: that entire subset- that entire living subculture– is going through it together. As a single living system. As a single entity.

While we may be able to find some support for this idea in the Organizational Development community, we will find little if any support for it inside the usual source of information on the subject of passage rites, namely: cultural anthropology.

Arnold van Gennep coins the phrase “rite de passage” and Victor Turner later elaborates on this and the concept of liminality…at the individual level. As far as I know there is little if any support in cultural anthropology for the idea of “tribe as individual” experiencing a rite of passage.

In cultural anthropology, going from here to there inside a ritual is always an individual journey.

Yes- others are also journeying at the same time.

Yes- there is communitas.

Yes- after a group of girls in a tribe experience the passage rite and are officially adult women, there are system or tribe-level effects.

That said, the idea that a family or a tribe or a modern corporation can “level up” by experiencing a passage ritual is a new idea. With no apparent support from cultural anthropology.

Or so it seems.

The reality is: this works. The organization is a single, living system. It has the attributes of a living system as described by people like Arie de Gaus (author of The Living Organization) and others. There is little doubt that modern organizations are complete and living systems. As such, they can be addressed as a single entity. And that’s the basis of many applied frameworks from communities such as the Group Relations and Organizational Development communities.

In this sense, Open Agile Adoption is really nothing new. The components are sourced from other disciplines. These components are well-developed and well-understood by the diverse communities who have developed them. Open Agile Adoption however, is a new composition of diverse parts that make something new. The components are: invitation, Open Space, game mechanics, the psychology of games, leadership storytelling, and the essential passage rite structure.


On Communitas

I’ve seen the communitas concept play out in living color, larger than life. That is, the spirit of community. Certainly participants at the same level of authorization experience this feeling and spirit of community, as they go through the shared experience of learning, and engaging in the difficult business of belief change.

That is not surprising. What is surprising is how people at all levels of authorization experience communitas when going through the passage-rite process of Open Agile Adoption. While roles and related levels of authorization vary widely across an entire organization, it does not seem to matter. Those going through the OAA passage-rite process who have lower levels of authorization understand that the “higher ups” are experiencing something too. And as the higher ups are transformed in their own way, via some stressful learning, they understand that all the participants are going to school- together.

This is what a great Agile adoption is actually made of- the spirit of community.



In Summary:

And so the question remains: does the ancient cultural device of the passage rite apply to modern organizations? Yes, it does.

Can the passage rite be utilized in service to getting the organization from here to there? Yes, it can.

I’ve seen it, I have done it, I am doing it. And I plan to keep supporting others who are doing it.  I’m grateful for the help of other professionals are doing experiments and sharing their experiences with the Open Agile Adoption technique.

Others are beginning to discuss and rapidly refine these ideas— and use them to solve very difficult problems. Like reducing the number of coaching days needed to achieve both a rapid and lasting Agile adoption.

To make enterprise Agility a reality.


Related Links:

Open Agile Adoption


Arnold van Gennep

Victor Turner

On Liminality

On Communitas

Arie de Gaus- The Living Company

Group Relations Community

Organizational Development Community








Now What?

Regarding: The coach vacating the organization for at least 30 days following the 2nd Open Space in Open Agile Adoption.

The 2nd Open Space event in Open Agile Adoption (OAA) is a closure event. It serves to delineate the boundary between the previous chapter of organizational learning and the next one. It is the terminating point in the organizational passage rite that Open Agile Adoption is implementing. For the passage rite process to work, the organization must have a sense of “leveling up” or graduating.

Using a different venue and different Facilitator for the 2nd Open Space event is recommended. Making these changes avoids the feeling of a “re-run” and supports a sense of progress. The requirement that “the coach’s role must change” also supporting “leveling up” and a strong sense-of-progress and moving to the “next grade” or level. It supports feelings of graduation.

If the coach role does not change, there is a diminished sense of progress. The coaches role must change. The goal of OAA is to bring the organization to a state of self-sustaining, “freestanding” agility as soon as possible. For this to happen, diminishing the coach’s role and perceived authority with the teams is absolutely essential.

It’s important to note that, by vacating the organization for a time, the Agile coach is also vacating the role of Master of Ceremonies (MC) in the months-long passage rite that OAA is implementing. For that OAA passage rite to stick, it is essential that the MC role is temporary, and that it ends upon the end of the ritual itself. Passage rites by definition have an MC, and also by definition, passage rites have a beginning, a middle and an end. The MC role (in the canonical form of a passage rite) is temporary by design.

By vacating, the authority projected upon the Agile coach by the organization (as coach and as MC of the OAA passage rite) runs out of gas. The 2nd Open Space was yesterday. The coach has vacated.

The game is over. It’s JUST US. Now what?


On Vacating the Organization

I’ve done some experiments taking this concept one (radical) step further. Before the 2nd Open Space I now foreshadow that I am not available AT ALL after that event- no phone calls, no email– for 30 days. The idea is to get the org to realize that it is all alone– and always has been. And that it now has all the know-how (and everything else it needs) to continually improve…. without an “external authority” telling it what it “should” do.

I am pleased to report that this technique works very well. Amazing actually! The org realizes that it has learned a lot and initiates experiments to improve… all by itself. What they do takes on many forms. The org might make changes to existing meetings, and replaces long and poorly structured meetings with shorter, focused meetings. In one client a key manager who was an obstacle to org improvement felt the shift in the culture and quit. In general, the general tolerance for wasteful practices across the entire org decreases dramatically as the people who do the work come to enjoy taking action, being in control of it and improving their results.

So: IN OAA, the last act of the coach is to VACATE COMPLETELY for 30 days. Doing so punctuates THE END of something old, and THE BEGINNING of something new. Thereafter, the coach may reenter, in a new role, for example coaching just Scrum Masters, or just executive leadership. Vacating the org is an extremely powerful way to make the passage rite very REAL for the organization. As such, vacating for 30 days after the passage rite it is now incorporated into OAA and is a core and essential aspect of the Open Agile Adoption method.


Related Links:

“Rite de Passage”

Open Agile Adoption

Open Agile Adoption Components








Authority Distribution in Open Space

Open Space is a most interesting format for a “gathering,” also known as a “meeting.”

What exactly is going on in Open Space?

(NOTE: If you are new to Open Space, see the links at the end of this essay to get oriented. Open Space is a key component of OpenSpace Agility, a method for introducing agile ideas into your organization.)

Here are some facts about the Open Space meeting format:

  • No one has to attend the meeting. Attendance is 100% opt-in. That means anyone can opt-out of attendance.
  • No one that attends the meeting can be made to do anything they do not want to do. Specifically, no one (authority figures or otherwise) can make you: attend an Open Space session, initiate an Open Space session, speak or otherwise contribute to an Open Space breakout session, etc.
  • No one can make you stay the whole day.
  • If you want, you can do absolutely nothing during the meeting. For example, you can just enjoy the coffee, snacks and food all day, and not attend a single session during the day.

What is going on here? Why is Open Space a 100% opt-in meeting?

As it turns out, Open Space is much more than a mere meeting or gathering format. Open Space has the potential to completely shift your culture towards a stronger capacity to adapt.



Let’s call authorization the “right to do work.”. Authority is something you grant someone else… on an opt-in basis. When you take a job, you opt-in to respecting the authority of your manager to define your job and your work.  Your manager in turn is opting-in to that role, a role which is authorized by the organization itself.


Formal and Informal Authorization

In the example above, your manager has formal authorization to manage people. It comes from the organization. Your manager is “duly authorized” by the organization. This is formal authorization.

Informal authorization is the “right to do work” that others grant you, or that you grant them…informally. It does not come from the organization. Instead, informal authorization comes from individuals and is inherently peer-to-peer. You may be recognized by another person on your team as an expert, or recognized as someone who just knows “how to get things done.” In slang terms, they have “street credibility”, also known as “street cred”. You respect their skills… and are happy to say so.


Drafting or Nominating Someone Into a Role

If you are perceived as someone who can get some work done, people may attempt to draft or otherwise nominate you to occupy a role, or otherwise take up a task. When you accept this invitation, you are consenting to it. You are opting-in.

Sometimes,  a person (or persons) may attempt to draft you into a role without your consent. They might try to “volunteer” you. And they may pressure you in some way (via guilt, peer pressure etc) to accept the invitation to play that role.


Dynamic Sending of Authorization

In the authorization game, you can play as a sender. If you are a member of a group, and you see something that needs doing, you might draft or nominate someone into a role, to do some specific and important work. In effect you support and sponsor them in that role.  If you are on a software development team, and the work is about databases, and you think PersonX has that expertise and is qualified to lead, you might suggest to the group that PersonX might be able to best be able to provide direction, and make some key decisions, and lead the group’s effort for some period of time. This is the dynamic sending (by you) of informal authorization.


Dynamic Receiving of Authorization

In the authorization game, you can also play as a receiver. When an individual or the group attempts to draft you into a role, you can either opt-in or opt-out. Since being offered more authority can be very flattering, we often find ourselves occupying an authoritative role without our explicit, fully conscious consent.

If you are on a software development team, and the work is about databases, and you have that expertise, some other team member may suggest to the group that you might be able to  lead the group’s effort for some period of time. This is the dynamic receiving (by you) of informal authorization. Receiving authorization is one thing; consciously consenting to it is quite another.


Drafting Someone Without Their Explicit Consent- aka “Coercion”

We often draft others into roles without their explicit consent. We don’t ask. We might “volunteer” someone, perhaps by threatening them with feeling of guilt, or getting them to “move” in some other way. Persuasion is a mild form of coercion and is in fact a kind of manipulation.

In high-functioning self-organizing teams, this does not happen very often. Inside high-functioning teams, attempts to manipulate others are rare, and coercion is typically non-existent.


Self-Organization in Teams and Groups

Now that we understand the basic mechanics of informal authorization, we can address self-organization as it pertains to groups of people.

Self-organization can be said to be the process of the dynamic sending and receiving of authorization by and between individuals and the group. In other words, “self-organization” is actually the act of dynamically establishing who has the right to do what work.  Figuring out who has the right to do what work is a dynamic process and is by no means static of fixed. It’s a flexible process that responds to the situation at hand.

A major and essential aspect of social system organization is the dynamic sending and receiving of authorization. Without this, the group cannot accomplish what we currently call “self-organization.”

Some of the most important work in a group is the work of deciding. People who make decisions that affect others have higher authorization than others in the group. This higher authorization comes from the members of the group.

Authority is something that can be granted, and taken away.

Self-organizing teams routinely and dynamically authorize one individual and then another as time progresses, in response to ever-changing internal and external conditions. As you think about this, you may notice these dynamics in your own working life, inside the teams and groups where you have membership. High-functioning teams have extremely flexible and fluid authority-distribution behaviors.

When seen in this light, we can safely say that self-organization is actually the dynamic sending and receiving of authorization and information related to it. This dynamic allocation of authority tends to be responsive, highly adaptable… and highly efficient. This is the informal authorization system. The formal authorization system (the one represented by the org chart) is no match in a test of adaptability with a self-organizing system. It’s not even close.

The informal system of dynamic authority distribution changes moment by moment as needed to respond to conditions. The formal system does not do this, and might be up to 1000 times slower than the informal authorization system which dynamically and continuously adjusts to changing conditions.


Authorization Dynamics in Open Space

Now we can scrutinize what might be going on in Open Space. Recall that no one can “make” or compel you to do anything at all during and Open Space event. This includes your manager. Repeat, this includes your manager, the person “in authority over” you.

Open Space has a theme, one “law”, five “principles”, one slogan, and a few roles. That’s it.

(NOTE: Describing all of these components is beyond the scope of this essay. If you are new to Open Space, keep reading and later investigate the related links that appear below.)


When a genuine and authentic Open Space meeting starts, at least in theory, everyone except the Sponsor and the Facilitator have equivalent authorization. Folks may attend the opening circle, or not. They may initiate a breakout session, or refrain from doing so. They may (or may not) attend sessions throughout the day. Since there is no defined lunch break, a participant in Open Space can elect to eat and drink whatever is available, and do that whenever and wherever they like. Whenever they like.



Yes, it is true that each person brings their “story” and reputation into the meeting. Yet, even with that fact, Open Space creates the conditions where, in theory at least, everyone in the room (with the exception of the Sponsor and the Facilitator) has an identical level of authorization and/or identical “right to do work” during the event.


As the Event Progresses, Authorization Changes

The one slogan in Open Space is “Be Prepared To Be Surprised.” And nowhere is this more true than in the domain of authorization.

The structure of Open Space creates the conditions necessary for self-organization to happen. Recall that a big part of self-organization in a social system is actually the dynamic allocation of authority, in real time, moment by moment, in the here and now.

Open Space helps this to happen. And so, for example: a normally very shy and retiring person, Beth may rise from her seat in the opening circle of the Open Space meeting, and define a session, and invite people to participate in it. If the session is a hot one, and of interest to lots of people, there may be some cheering as Beth places the session description on the wall. During Beth’s session, lively dialogue and debate may ensue. In defining this session and helping to make it happen, Beth has spoken for the group as a whole.

Most everyone notices, and pays attention, and makes note of this. Formally authorized leaders may also be attracted to the session and attend, to investigate what is going on.

At the closing circle of the Open Space event, several people refer to Beth’s session and express positive feelings about that session, and about Beth. After the event, formally authorized leadership examines the Open Space proceedings (a written document) and pays particularly close attention to the report on Beth’s session. They later invite Beth to chat about the session after the event, as they meet to decide how to address the organizational issues surfaced during the Open Space meeting.


Summing Up

The above scenario is but one example; there are many other dynamic Open Space examples and scenarios I could describe here.  The point is very simple: the Open Space meeting format creates the necessary conditions for self-organization to emerge. And as we now know, what we call “self-organization” in human groups is largely the dynamic allocation of authority by and between the members of the group and the group itself.

What’s going on in Open Space? It’s the dynamic, responsive, and flexible informal authority distribution system that is in charge. There is no formally authorized “boss” of your work there. There’s just you and the other participants in a single meeting event that we call “Open Space.”

The reality is that in that place, at that time, everyone– and not just formally authorized leaders– can influence what is happening inside the group-as-a-whole.

Who is present? Who is “the boss?” There’s just us— figuring out what work is important to the group, and how to best get it done. In that time and in that place, if it is done well, Open Space sets up what we often call a “level playing field”, a place and a space where everyone has a legitimate shot at influencing what happens next.

And so, in Open Space: be prepared– to be surprised– about authority and authorization. Because, in a self-organizing world, the dynamic distribution of authority (in real time) is how it actually happens.


Related Links:

Authority Unpacked: BART Analysis (Boundary, Authority, Role & Task) (link)

OpenSpace Agility– a template for moving forward with process-change (link)

Introduction to Open Space (link)

Pictures of Open Space Meetings (link)

A Brief User’s Guide to Open Space (link)




































Broken Promises

We are at a tipping point in the Agile story.

For almost a decade now, highly authoritative “agile enablement firms” have been telling management that it is perfectly OK to mandate the use of agile practices, and that everything will be OK.

They’ve been told that the opt-in engagement of the people who do the work does not actually matter. As long as the highly authorized leaders are in, we will be OK. The people and the culture will change if you authorize the agile coaches to implement this new set of practices, and/or this new “structure”.

In the present day, we have large corporations trying 2, 3, 4 times to get it right by using this approach. Millions upon millions are being spent on management-mandated agile training, management-mandated agile practices, and management-mandated agile “coaching”.

It’s the elephant in the room. The leaders of the agile institutions and those who orbit around these institutions are saying absolutely nothing about this in the public square.

And there is a term for this: it’s called whistling past the graveyard.

The answer of course it to replace the management-mandate of agile practices with an enterprise-wide invitation.

And invite everyone in the organization into the story, and into the process of writing the new story.

That requires the formally authorized leadership to actually admit they do NOT have all the answers.

It also requires agile coaches to routinely and deliberately deflect all projections of authority.

These are huge impediments to the successful implementation of agile ideas at scale– the implementation of agile thinking across an entire enterprise.

The solution is actually very simple. Instead of pushing a process change, use “pull” instead. Use invitation, instead of that nasty mandate.

Open Agile Adoption (OAA) is one way to use invitation and “pull” to successfully introduce Agile into your company.

If you are considering a new Agile adoption, OAA and “pull”– powered by invitation– can actually help you get traction right away.

If you already tried a management mandate of Agile, OAA can help you do a reset…and turn that thing around.







Telling Me What I Want to Hear

The whole idea that you can bring radical process changes into an organization without considering the people who do the work is an idea promoted by many “Agile enablement firms.”

According to these highly authoritative “Agile transformation” consultants, all you have to do is completely authorize their well-documented process-change plan, and write a big check. The now-authorized consultants will do the rest. Click. Done. Well-intentioned leaders in large corporations are usually very happy to believe this, as it is often exactly what they hope to hear.

If they ask about employee engagement, the well-intentioned org leaders are told that employee engagement in the new plan is not a necessary precondition for success. What a relief! The employees and eventually the entire culture will eventually do what the new plan (the new “structure”) encourages them to do.

While it is true that new rules encourage new behaviors, this is typically not immediately true, since people are involved … and people like to be free.

New rules imply some kind of game. And every good game has opt-in participation.  The process change amounts to a management mandate. A large number of participants refuse to play, and “opt out.”

But wait. These highly “triggered”, justifiably resistant, opted-out employees do not “up and leave.” Far from it! They do not vacate your organization for a long, long time. Instead, they simply disengage. They “check out.” It shows up as passive  behavior that directly opposes the very-well-intentioned process change.

And this high level of disengagement virtually guarantees that the change isn’t rapid, and that it doesn’t last.

Management-mandated process change actually perpetuates the original problem: lower and lower levels of employee engagement.

The solution is very simple. Instead of pushing a process change, use “pull” instead. Use invitation, instead of that nasty mandate.

Open Agile Adoption (OAA) is one way to use invitation and “pull” to begin the process…the process of installing genuine and lasting business agility across your entire enterprise.