Conquer These Cultural Barriers to Agile Transformation

Cultural ChangeWhen implementing a new framework, there are two factors an organization needs to make it successful: proper “know-how,” and openness to change. Without both companies will fail before they get off the ground. Gaining the “know-how” is fairly straight-forward. An organization brings in Agile experts to build internal competency from the executive level through to the technical teams. Cultural change, however, is a massive hurdle to overcome. From my experience, cultural change is one of the most significant challenges an organization faces when implementing a new framework. Scrum Values – Focus, Courage, Openness, Commitment, and Respect – should be used to guide your teams on a day-to-day basis and how they interact in the workplace. Scrum Values and the three Pillars of Empiricism – Inspection, Transparency, and Adaptation – are required to make your business Agile. Otherwise, it will suffer and collapse.  It is essential to recognize the cultural issues that work against Scrum Values and  Empiricism to hinder successful Agile implementation.

Cultural Barriers to Successful Agile Transformation

Culture of Fear

A culture of fear incites employees who are not team-oriented, and thus, the blame game often comes into play.  Everyone looks out for themselves over a constant fear of punishment or, even worse, losing their job. Scrum nurtures team collaboration and depends on self-organization. Teams cannot thrive in a culture of fear; this lessens their ability to make important decisions and destroys morale. What becomes their top priority when working in these conditions? Self-preservation. They try to fly under the radar or strain for perfection, which is an impossible goal.

The Pillars of Empiricism and Scrum Values are significantly affected by fear in the workplace. Impediments may not be brought to the attention of the Scrum Master out of distress that the employee will be punished rather than the issue be resolved; affecting Openness, Courage, and Transparency. Collaboration invokes learning, and employees who fear their employer won’t be so willing to share their ideas or skills with other team members and leaders out of the possibility for negative consequences or betrayal. This also affects Commitment and Respect among teams.

One major event in the Scrum framework I’ve seen skipped in environments like this is the Sprint Retrospective. Employees have the misconception that the Sprint Retrospective is a means to punish them, rather than be used as a learning opportunity for the team. Sure, we need to be accountable for our actions, but we also need to have the Courage to confront mistakes or weaknesses, inspect them and adapt to better ourselves.  This is why we also focus on the positive aspects of team dynamics and collaboration skills during the sprint retrospective.  Pointing out what works in addition to what doesn’t is as useful for team members to understand their strengths and address their flaws.

Culture of Mistrust

Usually, where there is a culture of fear, a culture of mistrust is also present. Fear tends to breed mistrust among people. For instance, impediments may not be reported due to lack of trust in leadership and potential harmful ramifications; such as,  job loss or missed opportunity for promotion. If leaders are giving orders to a team more than asking questions, this can also lead to the idea that experts are not trustworthy enough to provide solid solutions to problems; resentment begins to replace Respect.

Drive Significant Change by Focusing on Scrum Values and Empiricism

Boost self-organization and team confidence through the Scrum Values and three Pillars of Empiricism. By holding these ideals and practicing every day, you’ll soon see attitudes improve among your teams.  Employees will want to go the distance to see a project or company succeed. Innovation will be fostered through the notion that their place of employment cares about their ideas. The Scrum framework embodies this concept. Empowering members of a team to assign their work in increments instills confidence that they know what they’re doing and have control over it. Daily Scrum events and open communication allow for professionals to coordinate their work and see it to the end. It also enables them to confidently offer expert opinions as to why something may need to be inspected and adapted for further sprints.

I’ve seen employees in Scrum Teams that go from a negative culture to a positive one, and within weeks feel more valued as an employee. They’re no longer characterized as a cog in a machine, but rather a piece of something larger and satisfying. In turn, the client wants to do further business because the team can not only produce successful work but offer insights and collaborative effort toward to the client’s needs. They are genuinely fond of the work and fueled by their desire continue working in this environment.

Lead by example to change culture for the better. Implement Scrum Values and Empiricism to drive the change you seek. Keep faith in the process and believe it will work, because it will. Studies have shown how cultural change that lessens the reigns on employees to solve trust issues allows for stronger motivation, more independent teams, higher efficiency, and innovation.

 

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