(Original version first published on Linkedin, Dec 3, 2015)
I love Agile.
Agile changed my perspectives and views of the world. It gave my instinctive attitude towards work and relationships, a name.
Still, I don’t consider myself an Agile “evangelist”. This term, coined within the Agile community refers to the way that Agile practitioners adopt and share the Agile thinking.
When you speak to an Agile evangelist, it seems that nothing else; nothing different from Agile, would be acceptable.
In it’s original form, Agile “evangelists” were those that would undertake the Agile adoption within an organisation. The “pioneers” or “champions” that would have a deep understanding of the inner workings of this approach in order to support the organisation and make a successful transition.
With time though, the term “Agile evangelist” turned into something different. It started referring to almost an ideology. Agile evangelists stand for and defend the principles and values of Agile fiercely. I’ve sometimes perceived a message that resembled a religious one, coincidentally. A one sided position, that could even come across somehow aggressive if their views were not shared by “the other”. And this is where I dissent.
Agile is the utmost declaration of freedom. Freedom of thought, and conscious, responsible action. Power to the people that make up the corporations, freedom to let them make the decisions. Decisions driven by knowledge authority and not by power authority. Dismantling the hierarchy of power based command and control, it enables knowledge and experience to take over.
This is a catastrophe to some when they are not shown that it is not about getting rid of what existed (the broken system) and rather, replacing it with a new way of understanding the organisation. When managers and executives are not well trained and coached and their views challenged in a positive, compassionate way, Agile becomes a struggle for them; a threat to all that is known and for which they worked so hard.
We coaches have a duty of care towards everyone in the organisation including the management, and this is why coaching skills come handy: gently coach them into the realisation that they are needed as a core member of the community – organisation, so that they learn to exchange “power (aka management)” for “visionary leadership”. And this is not just words. There is a lot to learn about it, and it is difficult to coach people into this type of leadership. This is among other things, because of the fact that there is the need to change from extrinsic motivation to intrinsic motivation of teams and individuals.
Here is where I think that we need to be careful. Evangelism is an extreme. We need to take people kindly by their hand, speaking their language, and understanding their fears and their current belief system before they would even consider to listen to us. Our Agile language can be difficult to interpret sometimes. We agilists talk about “weird” things. “You are the worse leaders ever …”– I was told by a manager with a very extreme command and control attitude once. He went on explaining that a leader should never let people decide how to do the work and also how much work they could do.
My question to him was, what should we do if we were to work together again, so that we could find a common ground; that space where my mental model of reality and yours crossed paths and in that way feel that we both grew?
I’ve got to the conclusion that taking sides is not going to resolve, but enhance the already divided communities. There shouldn’t be a fight about “who is right”. I feel that a key value to Agile has to do with not taking part, and just being objective, humble, integrative. Other key values for me are those of compassion, trust, tolerance, fairness, welcoming of diversity, positive conversation and respect.
We coaches, and especially those that consider themselves “Agile gurus” need to understand that it is a fallacy to think that we can impose Agile. Because then, “we are right and hence “the other” is wrong”. Instead we should accept the notion that we are just sharing one perspective, and if a client is not ready to get to a certain extent of different thinking and behaving and practicing, then we should just respect that. Possibly leave if needed, but respect for where they are at in their journey.
It is hard work sometimes. I admit. I continue to walk the walk… I’ve been doing it now for 10 years and still I only wish that there was more love and tamed egos around all of us …