To this point, I’ve covered topics around failure in leadership and failure in workflow. It’s now time to dig a bit deeper into the question, How does your organization “show up?" That is, What’s the overall sense of how people take ownership for their behavior in the transformation? What healthy alignments emerge among the teams? When a leader chooses to ignore the importance of behaviors and relationships, I refer to this as a failure in congruency.

What do I mean by congruency? To take a geometric perspective, envision polygons that have similarities in the number of sides; their angles also align with one another. In this, they are congruent. They can turn or flip or rotate and remain congruent. In fact, they need not be in the same location to have this attribute of congruency.

 (photo: Flickr CC)

In our human world, congruency evidences itself through changes in behaviors across the team. Congruent team members move away from a “yes/no” “black/white” “us/them” mentality. Congruent teams abide by norms in which pathological (yes I said pathological) behaviors are not acceptable, because relationships matter. The pathologies of blaming or placating are replaced with an emphasis on equal stature and equal voice. In environments of congruency, each member is heard, understood, and valued.  

Of the 12 failure modes in Agile transformation, consider failures 7, 8, and 9 as failures in congruency.

7. Lack of a Transformation Product Manager

Imagine your transformation as a product. The product you create is not one that is “in” your business; that is, it is not software or a service you would sell. Rather, this product is one that works “on” your business. As such, it requires the discipline we’d ascribe to product development. You need to identify a “Transformation Product Manager” to be your scout leader in delivering a high-quality transformation. Have this person work in a tight relationship with the executive owner of the transformation. Together, they define the disciplined exploration and execution to deliver a world-class transformation. And, together, they are the models of congruency among all players in the transformation. They define the value of our various team polygons: different but equal.

Using language from Virginia Satir, think of congruent teams as “family” systems in which the whole matters. As you move through the bumps of your Agile transformation, your transformation product owner helps the teams be attentive to the incongruent behaviors that can eat away at the sense of “us” and “among”. What behaviors are creating distrust or lack of safety in your transformation? If you walk around your teams and notice tendencies toward blaming, placating, distracting, or being overly focused on process and structure , you are smack in the middle of incongruency. Ignore these harmful behaviors at your own risk.

All the process in the world is not going to move your Agile transformation into a healthy, sustainable state.

In a healthy world of Agile transformation, an intention around congruency emphasizes, How can we better behave as a whole system to bring about the best results? Here’s a start: ensure your Transformation Product Manager has the vision and empathy to recognize the destructive, incongruent behaviors. Next, ensure there is a non-negotiable value of trust — not just within a team, but across teams. Incongruency will evidence itself through “us/them” behaviors. Remove confusion about what we mean by product ownership. Incongruent Product Owners focus on “what’s in it for me” (WIIFM). There is a protectionist attitude about their particular backlog and the teams that work on them. Blaming becomes their primary communication mode.

 (photo: Flickr CC)

Congruent transformations breed new types of Product Owners, who let go of this pathology around defending their product and product teams. Instead, they engage in conversations like, Given the value that this product brings and its projected cost and value, what’s best for the overall portfolio?

Investing in a congruent transformation opens critical dialogue around:

  • How the transformation impacts behaviors as well as processes and structures
  • Clarity of transformation goals in teams and across teams
  • The health of teams where behaviors such as blaming and placating, or a focus primarily on process and hierarchy are recognized as detrimental to the transformation
  • Intentional decisions about consistency of behavior not just standards and practices around process and metrics
  • Supporting the benefits of congruency over enforced enforced behaviors

8. Failure to Create Fast Feedback

 (photo: Flickr CC)

Did you know that Sir Isaac Newton never had an apple fall on his head? He was, however, the father of the fundamental law of cause and effect. Little did he know the impact his physics would have on software development in the 21st century. Through the Industrial Age into the Age of Information, we’ve been clinging to cause and effect in how we build our organizations and how we expect them to work. Frederick Taylor and Henry Ford took advantage of this principle too. At its core, the assembly line uses cause and effect to create sequential, predictable, repeatable processes. Feedback loops on quality were less important or non-existent compared to how many items came off the line at any given point.

But where are we now? The nature of our knowledge work is inconsistent with the predictable, sequential work Newton helped foster. Yes, gravity still exists in a congruent world (well, at least in mine it does) but there’s much more going on. This is particularly true in an Agile transformation.

The forms we take, the behaviors we bring, the knowledge we carry all impact how we can stay in congruency. That means we need to embrace regular learning as a core practice in our work.

How would you know that your Agile transformation remains largely informed by Newtonian physics? Think about these behaviors:

  • Clinging to a strict sense of predictability for when feature work will be completed
  • One centralized organization deciding all standards and rules for every team at the start of the transformation
  • Large-batch delivery of feature sets
  • Holding onto the belief that precision in analysis can resolve all risks in product delivery
  • Lack of experiments to test cause-and-effect assumptions about time, effort, and value
  • Blaming between business and development about delivery predictions and actual dates to support projected value
  • Blaming between development and testing about defects long after the features have been built

And finally, my favorite indicator of incongruent behavior:

  • Failure to get feedback through retrospectives, or the retrospectives that do occur perpetuate cause-and-effect fallacies and pathological behaviors (blaming, placating, etc.)

Fast feedback is the unspoken hero of congruency. We seek feedback on:

  • Guesses
  • Value
  • Behavior
  • Risk
  • Culture
  • Agile practices

In sum, healthy Agile transformations crave fast feedback on every aspect of how our the transformation is progressing. For this to occur, ensure you deliver feedback both ad-hoc and on a cadence, the latter being more formal and facilitated. The ad-hoc feedback reduces the waste of waiting for direction on very transactional decisions; the cadenced retrospectives ensure regular inspect-and-adapt sessions across the organization.

9. Short-changing Collaboration and Facilitation

We humans forming teams are constantly playing with the balance of how to be a team member and now to remain an individual. How can I speak up, be valued, and not have fear of recrimination while at the same time working toward the good of everyone? This is where some sense of congruency can help.

Recall that our congruent polygons are not identical. Rather, they hold similar characteristics such that you could recognize them as belonging to the same “polygon tribe.”

Can you say this about your teams? A few things occur when we inadequately support team interactions through facilitation and collaboration: we lose a sense of trust. Our teams end up fighting the gravitational pull of artificial harmony, low standards, and inattention to results, all due to a fundamental absence of trust. (See Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team to dig more into this pyramid of incongruent behaviors.)

Think about this: using Virginia Satir’s language, if we invite behaviors that gnaw away at the core fiber of a team, people move into modes of behaving that do not bring out their greatest insights. When this occurs, our dynamic is self-destructive. Why? Because we are only as smart as the least vocal person in a team.

How do we hold our insights dear and precious and necessary? We must seek a core team belief that collaboration makes us greater. And to collaborate, we recognize the value of objective facilitation. The work of the facilitator guides a team of individuals to decisions that integrate diverse perspectives in order to converge on actionable decisions. Good facilitators devote themselves to bringing out the best in the team. They do so by addressing incongruent behaviors and creating divergence and convergence processes, to safely buoy the team to sustainable decisions.

 (photo: Flickr CC)

Be clear with yourself and your teams. Collaboration does not mean groupthink, despite what people may infer. Rather, we are explicit and intentional about when to bring voices together for the greater good of the team. These voices can disagree. And we need them all so that we uncover risks, opportunities, puzzles, and surprises. Armed with this knowledge, teams can bring this caution into their commitment and move forward with their work.

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