Helpful Travel Guide for your agile Transformation Journey

Agiler Transformationsprozess

Helpful Travel Guide for your agile Transformation Journey

11. June 2018

Experience shows, that sustainable transformational processes can only succeed, when the individual potential of the employees and the interpersonal potential of the organization is activated.

This article shows, what that means and presents a model, how this process can be approached holistically.

When trying to apply the methods that have proven to be successful in software development to the organization as a whole, one quickly encounters limitations. The reason for this is that agile methods are not compatible with every organizational culture. What works well in an IT department may encounter structures and processes in other parts of the organization that collide with agile principles. Examples include traditional purchasing policies, which are often very cumbersome and centralized, or the often equally centralized financial and budget policies, with forecasts that have to be made for the next three (or in some cases four to five) years.

Wouldn’t it be convenient to have a good map, as well as a suitable travel guide and compass, on this long and eventful journey of cultural transformation, with all its unforeseen surprises?

We have introduced method X (insert as you like) perfectly, why does it not work?

A common misconception when introducing so-called “business agility” is the assumption that processes can control the transformation. One may think that if the organization succeeds in introducing Holacracy or SAFe perfectly according to the textbook, then all problems are solved and the organization is agile. If it then fails, it is often assumed that it is because the chosen method was wrong.

How can the integral model help?

Unfortunately, it is not that simple. And with this insight the real work starts. Helpful on the way to a deeper understanding is the integral model of Ken Wilber. Combined with Spiral Dynamics, a consiousness level model which we will discuss briefly below, it serves as the basis for the integral map that will help us to find orientation and navigate the transformation.


The picture shows the four quadrants of the model.

The Quadrants on the left – Inside

On the left are the so-called “inner” quadrants. The quadrant in the upper left corner represents the inside of the individual. It is about our personal values, feelings, attitudes, thoughts, about who we are and want to be, our fears, our trust.

The lower left quadrant represents the inside of the collective, in our case the whole organisation. It is about who we want to be as an organization, how we define ourselves, what visions and common values we have and if and how we live them. It’s about our attitude to work, our willingness to change and the culture of communication we cultivate. This is the area in which we work when it comes to the cultural merging of two organisations or departments or to change and development.


The Quadrants on the right – Outside

On the right side are the “outer” quadrants. In the upper right corner is the exterior of the individual. This is about the behavior, the abilities, the appearance, the behavior, our self-management as well as leadership and conflict behavior, it’s about how the outside world perceives us.

The quadrant on the bottom right represents the exterior of the collective. In the case of an organization it is about the form of organization, the business model, the structure of the organization, the processes, the handling of finances and resources, the technologies, processes and methods used. In this quadrant we find agile methods if used. Similar to the above, it represents how we are perceived as an organization from the outside.

Methods used must be adapted to the organizational culture

We can see from the diagram that methods, structures and processes belong in the lower right-hand corner. The decision to use an agile method and the choice of the most suitable one therefore belong in this lower right quadrant. However, the introduction and implementation of the chosen method will only succeed and be sustainable if the culture of the organization allows it or is developed to this end. This inner orientation belongs in the lower left quadrant.

Experience shows that all four quadrants must be equally considered if the method is to have a sustainable effect. Only then will the “soft facts” of the left-hand quadrants, which are often neglected in our corporate culture, be given the value they deserve.

If too little respect is paid to this fundamental aspect of balance from within and without, the result will be that there is a lot of sand in the gears, the agile “project” will not progress and in many cases will be abandoned at some point. Under the motto “it just doesn’t work after all”.

An example

In reality there are many variations and different gradations. The following example describes in a placative way what happens daily.

A few years ago Scrum was introduced in a company’s software development department. It worked well, so that Scrum was introduced in other IT teams. When this step was also very successful, the call was made to introduce this method in other areas of the company as well, in order to extend the increased effectiveness to the entire organization.

No sooner said than done. But there were many departments that were very traditional and rather conservative in their approach. Clear hierarchies, strict rules, complicated and lengthy processes, blatant measures in case of errors or failure to follow instructions, rewarding the obedient – we know what it’s like. People who work in such structures are used to taking orders, not questioning anything, not having an opinion of their own and simply working through what ends up on their desk or in their inbox. They don’t think along and they don’t feel responsible for the result.

Then suddenly – perhaps triggered by a change in management – there is the instruction to make the organisation as a whole agile. The experienced Scrum people, having successfully introduced Scrum in the IT department, are now supposed to introduce Scrum in departments where work is done under completely different conditions. After initial information seminars, in-depth Scrum training is conducted for these employees.

These employees, who for years were trained neither to think nor to bring in their own ideas, are now expected to operate the toggle switch and become agile overnight. From one day to the next they are expected to understand how creative it can be to communicate openly, to give and receive feedback (including explicit appreciation), to make decisions and make mistakes, and how it feels to be responsible for the steps and results that they have worked out and developed together with their teams.

The famous Mindshift – from inside to outside

Cultural transformation means the movement from the inside out and stands for the much-cited mindshift. The explanation can be seen in the picture with the quadrant model.

Mindshift in the organization means:

  1. As an organization, to become aware of where you are (map – you are here!).
  2. To define together where you want to go.
  3. To find an organic way to move there as an overall organization.

With this perspective it becomes clear that it is not always the same method that leads best to the goal. The choice of measures necessary for further development depends on where you are today. The conventional team described above first of all needs training in the area of personality development and communication in order to be able to move and prove themselves in this new, agile culture.

In an agile world, defining objectives for an organization means working together to develop them. Nothing is prescribed from top to bottom by the management. And depending on where the management stands today, further training, personality development and conscious rethinking are also needed at this level.

Spiral Dynamics creates Transparency

In the holistic approach, Spiral Dynamics is now used to create the map and the next steps and is laid over the quadrants. Spiral Dynamics is a very differentiated consciousness level model that Ken Wilber also works with. It describes the development of human consciousness, was originally developed by the psychologist Clare Graves and is used today in many ways in the organizational environment. So-called lines of development are laid across the quadrants.

Let’s look at the values in the lower left quadrant, for example. How do we as an organisation deal with loyalty and what does loyalty mean to us? Are we committed to loyalty to our boss or to our department? Is it “us against all others” or are we committed to the organization as a whole? Or do we belong to a larger community and feel committed to social and sustainable values that we would not sacrifice for anything, not even for our organization?

This example also shows how misunderstandings and disputes can quickly arise within a team when loyalty is not defined jointly and team members have different views on loyalty because they look at the value from a different level of the consiousness model. Everyone then thinks that the other is not loyal.

As another example from the lower left quadrant we can take the handling of finances. Do we invest in structures and technologies, or rather in growth potential, in sustainable corporate values, or even in future potential? Again, depending from which consciousness level on we make such choices, changes the choice we make.

Such specific topics, which can now be looked at in detail, are called lines of development. There are many possible lines per quadrant. In each case, those topics and lines are chosen that have a high priority for the current situation.

Using the Integral Map

If we want to use the model as a map, we define some lines of development for each quadrant that are relevant to the current issue and consider how we deal with them. This shows us where we stand. The map then shows us what the next sensible steps on the way to our goal might look like.

Ken Wilber’s integral model, combined with the understanding of Spiral Dynamics, provides a versatile, complete and differentiated map. It enables us to orientate ourselves before and during a cultural transformation and to design the meaningful next steps. The refined understanding of change in organizations helps to set targeted and sustainable change impulses for individuals, teams and entire organizations.

Guide for the Map

If you want to delve deeper into these exciting topics, you have the opportunity to attend our basic seminar Innovation CoachingĀ  (in German, if you are interested in an English workshop, please contact us). It provides experience-based information on how to see organizations in a new light and how to design them more consciously. It is offered in three modules of three days each, introduces the basics of the models and shows how they can be implemented in an organization.

The next 1-day workshop, entitled “Business Agility – an integral voyage of discovery”, will take place on June 4 in English and on June 9 in German. It provides a good overview of the contents discussed here and offers ample space for wide-ranging discussions. It can also be booked as a company course and is currently held online.