As I explored in my last post, being agile is about transformation at an individual and organizational level, going deeper than simply adopting frameworks and practices. And depending upon your present organizational culture, agility will be a larger change for some organizations than it will be for others.
The reason for this is that organizational culture is defined by what the organization believes it needs to do in order to succeed, which translates into a specific mindset and a preferred way of operating. And while there usually is a dominant culture, keep in mind that traits of other cultures will most likely be present.
In this post, I’ll look at two culture types that more readily support agility than the other two – as those cultures are defined by William Schneider in his book The Reengineering Alternative: A Plan for Making Your Current Culture Work.
The two cultures covered in this post are the Collaboration and Cultivation cultures.
The Collaboration Culture
This culture is all about leveraging the diverse backgrounds and capabilities of people – and getting them to interact in such a way that they are genuinely utilizing one another as resources with the expectation that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In other words, 2 + 2 = 5.
In order for this to occur, Collaboration Cultures need people to be committed to the organization and its objectives as a whole first and foremost, not on individual glory. As Schneider says, “Selfishness or individual grandstanding will get you into hot water in a Collaboration Culture.”
Allegiance to a functional specialty isn’t where it’s at with Collaboration Cultures, either. A Collaboration Culture needs you to be more rounded because contributing to the whole is what is most important. You must have skills that enable you to make a contribution, of course, but it must be in a team-first context.
Collaboration Cultures also understand empowerment, emphasizing a mindset of “whatever works” – particularly when teams are deciding what will work for them. This requires the ability to adapt and to trust, and leaders in Collaboration Cultures “work hard to earn their people’s trust and to create conditions in which trust can flourish.”
To create the right conditions, leaders guard against things that will erode collaboration, like politics, infighting, and betrayal. Leaders concentrate on team building and fostering cooperation and coordination, building commitment through helping teams and individuals identify with the organization and developing a strong sense of ownership with the organization.
Another component of this is that status and rank are less important in Collaboration Cultures, and staff functions are kept to a minimum. In Collaboration Cultures, it’s all about what happens between those boxes on the org chart. Collaboration Cultures nurture people and encourage interaction, believing that ideas and concepts – while vitally important – will take care of themselves as a result.
Ultimately, organizations are deeply commitment to their employees and will do all they can to hold onto them. Harmony is highly valued and people are expected to work hard at channeling their unique talents into what others need and what is best for the entire organization.
The Cultivation Culture
The Cultivation Culture strives “…to realize human ideals, to elevate people and society to a higher plane. It tries to fulfill a purpose for its customers, to expand their horizons, or to fulfill their aspirations.” To achieve this, Cultivation Cultures concentrate on creating conditions where people and the organization grow and develop in order to accomplish this “higher-order” purpose.
It is this strong sense of purpose that is the foundation of a Cultivation Culture, coupled with empowerment and encouragement of self-expression. Cultivation Cultures expect that when people have that higher purpose, people will accomplish great things. That they will dedicate themselves to doing their absolute best if they are given the opportunity to grow and develop as they pursue this higher purpose.
Conversely, anything that stifles growth, self-expression or the realization of the potential of its people will be rejected by a Cultivation Culture. This translates into the ability for people to freely interact with anyone and everyone in the organization – regardless of rank or placement on the org chart.
Cultivation Cultures are typically decentralized and operate with minimal lines of authority, with few rules, policies or procedures. People are trusted to do what is best for the customer and the organization, and people help one another out a great deal. Mutual encouragement is a strong characteristic.
The general assumption with Cultivation Cultures is that everyone possesses unique talents, but those talents can and should be developed and broadened – a growth mindset is prevalent. Managing people becomes a matter of developing and guiding – cultivating – people’s commitment, growth and contributions. People are typically placed where they can make the greatest contribution.
Leaders in Cultivation Cultures are catalysts, they seek to expand the horizons of their people and the organization, to enlarge and enrich the lives of everyone who is involved with or touches the people and the organization. At its core, a Cultivation Culture runs and trust and commitment, and leaders must do everything that they can to clarify and articulate the purpose of the organization and create the conditions that promote that vision and allow people to pursue it.
How These Two Cultures Relate to Agile
Hopefully you can see that a lot of what these two cultures offer relate direct to agile development and leadership. Teamwork, optimizing the whole to avoid sub-optimizations and the use of generalizing specialists are all concepts discussed and supported in agile circles. As are concepts such as building trust and creating the conditions in which trust can flourish.
Likewise, empowering and trusting people while minimizing the lines and authority and staff overhead are directly in line with what is required with agile leadership. Employing a growth mindset and developing the capability of the people and the organization are at the heart of what lean and agile are really all about.
The notion of a catalyst leader in a Collaboration Culture is just one of five levels of leadership explored by William B. Joiner and Stephen A. Josephs in their book, Leadership Agility: Five Levels of Mastery for Anticipating and Initiating Change . (There are two levels above that, and if you want to find out what they are, either read the book or take a look at my blog post discussing the book. And even if you read my post, I still recommend reading the book!)
Finally, note that these cultures aren’t confined to “just the development team;” they permeate the entire organization and represent what a company believes it needs to do in order to be successful. Beliefs are difficult things to change, and fortunately these two corporate cultures are in greater alignment with agile development and leadership than the other two cultures that I’ll cover in my next post.