SPIRIT: Development & Transformation in Organizations

Open Agile Adoption is a technique for success with Agile. It is an approach that encourages (and in some ways makes obvious) what it takes to get a rapid and lasting Agile adoption. Open Agile Adoption uses Open Space Technology as the primary tool for achieving this goal.

Open Agile Adoption is a sociological approach to Agile adoption. It is not a set of Agile practices but rather, a tool for “opening space” for the right conversations. It assumes people power Agile practices, not the other way around. Open Agile Adoption is based on the hypothesis that people need and require a sense of control and sense of progress to feel good at work and in life generally. It assumes that people want to (and in fact need to) express what they want, think and feel. Open Agile Adoption leverages the Open space meeting format to deliver a sense of control and to create a safe and open place for people to bring the very best they have to the task at hand.

We all want rapid and lasting Agile adoptions. At issue is exactly how to do this. We know the current practices-based approach of mandating specific practices is probably harmful. All we have to do is inspect the results to see what I am talking about.

Spirit: Up… or Down?

Harrison Owen has written many books on Open Space. When I was first forming my ideas on Open Agile Adoption, I started Googling around and eventually I came across an absolute gem of a book called SPIRIT: Development and Trasformation in Organizations by Harrison Owen. Not only is this book amazing, but it is also FREE for the taking as a PDF download.

In this book I picked up many interesting and useful ideas. It’s over 200 pages so stop right here if that’s too long for you to commit to. This is a deep and dense book. When I examined it I found that my pattern was to read maybe 10 pages and then try to integrate them. I went along this step-by-step way for quite a while the first time around. I’ve read the book 3 times and I still find myself reading it in this manner. It’s deep and wide, like a big, old river.

Here are some of my key takeaways from this book. Some are covered in the book, others are personal insights derived from a careful reading of it:

  • The spirit in an organization can be ‘up’ or ‘down’.
  • The culture is in the stories people tell. You an plot the culture in graphical form, using a mythograph.
  • All change is grief. People enter into a grief pattern which includes anger and (especially) denial.
  • Open Space can tip a group of people from denial to hope in one shot, if and when they are ready to move
  • Open Space can provide just the right set of conditions in time and space to create action and movement in the minds of participants
  • The entirety of reality is self-organizing. This means all social systems are self-governed.
  • Leadership is a essential function of a healthy social system. It is an emergent property of a smooth-functioning self-organizing system. The social system supplies leadership to itself. Leadership is not a role.
  • Likewise, management (of feedback) is essential and a self-supplied function of a social system. Management is a function, not a role.
  • All change is grief. All learning is change. Therefore, all learning has at least the potential for some grief. One (familar) way of thinking is dead or dying; another, largely unfamiliar…is being born. Something is dying while something else is being born.
  • Facilitators of development and transformation in organizations are servants. They serve a group of people in the here and now, in pursuit of the group’s aims. Facilitating this process is about serving other people. Without a heart of service, you have no shot at being helpful in this context.

Where’s The Book Review?

You might have started reading this post looking for a book review. I am not providing one here.

Instead, I offer you an opportunity. SPIRIT is a difficult book to read. Give it a look.

It’s not for everyone. That said, this book unlocked many mysteries for me. The focus on self-organization and the self-organizing universe helped me to understand the nature of both social systems (in general) and the specific dynamics of change in organizations. And so, the opportunity is to give it a serious look if you like what I am saying.

One of the biggest takeaways for me are the dynamics of grief that are evident when change is introduced to an organization, be it a team, department or entire enterprise. The hypothesis that all change produces grief is an extremely powerful and useful idea. If you sit with this concept for a while, you may find yourself questioning the wisdom of your current approach to Agile adoptions.

And so I invite you to examine this book. Will you examine it?

I do believe a careful and thorough reading of SPIRIT is a very leveraged use of time for any serious student of Agile coaching. For practitioners of Open Agile Adoption, a complete and careful reading of this book is required. That’s because the thinking, tools and techniques found in the SPIRIT book are informing the entire Open Agile Adoption approach.

We all want rapid and lasting Agile adoptions. The Open Agile Adoption technique (OAA) can help. The OAA technique is drawing deeply from the book SPIRIT by Harrison Owen. It’s an amazing and even essential book for any person who is serious about achieving a rapid and lasting Agile adoption. In a very real sense the book SPIRIT by Harrison Owen, first published in 1986, is the first (and perhaps the only) book written on how to achieve a rapid and lasting Agile adoption.

I have written this book for friends and colleagues, known and unknown, who find themselves in the midst of a transforming world, and are resolved  to look beneath the surface to the underlying source of change. This source, which has become manifest in the form and structure of our organizations, I call Spirit. – Harrison Owen, Prologue, SPIRIT: Development and Transformation in Organizations. (Circa 1986)

Related Links:

[1] SPIRIT Book: (PDF link)

[2] Open Agile Adoption technique (link)

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