On Liminality

The liminal state is a transitional state of being. The root Latin word- limens– means “threshold”. The liminal state is a no-mans land of transition, confusion, stress and vagueness. It is lacking in definition. No longer where you were, and not yet where you are presumably going, liminality has the potential to drive you and your organization crazy.


Learning and Liminality

Adopting Agile always means lots and lots of new learning. Learning is stressful, because it generates liminality. All genuine learning in adults creates instability- liminality- until that learning is integrated.

We know the world through our models. Mature adults hold a model of reality. Genuine new learning challenges the validity of that model. This invalidation of your previous assumptions produces the very unstable,  liminal state, until you integrate that new learning.

The introduction of Agile into an organization definitely creates liminality. In my coaching, I notice that the introduction of Agile is usually quite triggering for most participants. This “triggered” behavior is based on fear, and is a natural reaction to entering the unstable state of liminality.

Before Agile, everything was well understood. Then: …new roles, new ways of interacting, and a new mindset are all required of you. The learning is constant, and stressful. Agile can be very triggering.

Uncomfortable in the transition, the natural and safe thing to do is turn around and go back to where you came from. And people in organizations routinely do exactly this. We backslide on Agile and return to where we came from. This “going back” reduces the worry, the fear and the anxiety, the core emotions evoked by the liminal state of being.


Rites of Passage

Various tribal societies, throughout the world, across different periods of time, and coming from different places, have all come to the exact same conclusion: liminality must be carefully managed, and the best way to manage it is to institute a passage rite.

The purpose of a passage rite is to manage the transition from one state of being… to another.  Tribal societies have been doing this routinely, for thousands of years.

In the modern day, we routinely introduce Agile into organizations, while blissfully ignoring the essential human dynamics of liminality.

This is probably a very serious error.


Stability in the Liminal State

The hypothesis of Open Agile Adoption is that introducing Agile into typical organizations creates liminality at the group level. If this liminality is managed with a passage rite, there is potential for a rapid and lasting Agile adoption.

The core idea behind Open Agile Adoption is that the active management of liminality reduces worry, anxiety and fear, creating at least the potential for a rapid and lasting Agile adoption. The primary way this is accomplished is by leveraging the ancient practice of the passage rite. A passage rite creates a structured experience for participants….with a beginning, a middle and an end.

Open Agile Adoption is a repeatable technique for getting a rapid and lasting Agile adoption. It works with what you are currently doing, and can be added at any time. It incorporates passage rites, game mechanics, Open Space, storytelling and more, so your Agile adoption can take root.


Related Links:

Quick Overview: Liminality explained

Detailed Essay: Navigating the liminal state

More Information on: Open Agile Adoption

Back to Open Agile Adoption home