It’s not uncommon that companies copy tools and techniques used by other companies, hoping to duplicate the other company’s results that they have observed or learned about. Unfortunately, this copying is too superficial to provide transformational results. Something is left behind.
When it comes to agility, it is more accurate to say that there are interrelated somethings that are left behind. And those are the key leverage point: the mindset and behaviors of being agile.
Our behaviors are driven by our beliefs and values – our mindset – that Dan Mezick has articulated very nicely in his book The Culture Game: Tools for the Agile Manager. (Read more about the Results Pyramid in my post, Adopting Agile: Seeing is Believing.) As I stated in the close of my last post, transitioning to being agile places a focus on changing existing patterns of thinking and behavior that, little by little, change an organization’s culture.
An example of “agile copying” is implementing Scrum, adopting all the rituals, terms and artifacts such as daily stand-ups, burn-down charts and visible task boards, but using sprints as a series of mini-waterfall projects. In this scenario, superficially copying Scrum hasn’t allowed the team to let go of its current way of working, denying the team the real benefits of agile that are possible through an actual transformation.
We’re very used to process discipline, courtesy of the prevalent Control culture. Supporting agile – really supporting it – requires that we develop learning organizations. This challenges Control culture thinking because a learning organization is not a destination; it is a state of being. Learning and improving becomes a continuous activity of the organization and its people.
The people in a learning organization have certain qualities, as pointed out by Peter Senge in his book, The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization. The key attribute of people in a learning organization is that people are seeking personal mastery – striving for a “special level of proficiency.”
These people are inquisitive, committed to continually seeing reality more accurately. And in doing so, they regard themselves as part of a larger creative endeavor, where they can exert influence but not control. And just like the organizations never “arrive,” people with a high level of personal mastery never feel that they “arrive,” either. They are in a continual learning mode.
To foster a learning organization it is critical that management support learning by facilitating ways to spread knowledge laterally. Toyota calls this yokoten. And one of their ground rules is that the person who has learned something new or has discovered a way to improve a practice is responsible for sharing this knowledge.
There should be limited amount of knowledge-sharing via the command hierarchy and institutionalizing learning by capturing “knowledge” in processes or even “best” practices. What is best in an organization where continuous learning and improvement is the norm? Best is only the best for a moment in time, and perhaps only really best for a specific situation, not a universal truth that should be applied in every circumstance until someone can prove that another practice is truly better, and then forced to gain approval to implement it as a new “best” practice.
Organizations only learn through individuals. However, individual learning does not guarantee organizational learning – there can be organizational barriers that prevent this from happening. But the foundation of organizational learning is with the individuals that comprise the organization. Without individuals learning and sharing what they learn, the organization learns nothing at all.
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