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11 hurdles of agile culture, how to eliminate?

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Agile culture may be right for certain organizations and inappropriate for others. Despite this, many companies with a scenario converging to agile have enormous difficulties in implementing this culture. This happens because management makes a great effort trying to force the implementation of this model, which is in vain, as it is done even before identifying and eliminating the obstacles that prevent agile.

What is agile culture?

Agile culture is a culture that is light on bureaucracy, complexity, wasted time, energy, and focus bottlenecks. The agile culture has less entropy, less energy is spent managing egos and internal issues, and more energy is spent on what really matters, and adds value to the strategy, market and customer.
Are agile culture and agile methods the same thing? Negative! It is possible to have agile methods as a way of managing projects, without necessarily having an agile culture. Just as it is also possible to have an agile culture without using agile methods to manage projects. One thing can help the other, and can act together or separately.

Agile culture locks in each layer of Hofstede’s model

Recalling Hofstede’s model, see below the barriers to agile in each layer of organizational culture components.


1. Agenda prioritized by the leader

When the Leader prioritizes his personal agenda, he is probably doing a lot of things to feed his ego, but that have nothing to do with the business. Now when the leader prioritizes the events and encounters that facilitate and strengthen an agile culture, the chance of that turning into a lock is none, and the culture gets much faster.

2. Error reaction

In the agile culture, the error must be seen as part of the process, which serves to evolve. That happens? Wonderful! Now, when error is punished, people stop innovating, and it becomes a lock.

“Oh, we accept the mistake, we embrace the mistake, we appreciate the mistake”. Okay, but improvements are made through mistakes or are mistakes simply left unpunished, but is it a culture of low bar, of condescension, of accepting things as they are, saying “Oh, that’s part of it!”?

In summary, in a simple and straightforward way is the following, the error is used to evolve? It’s not lock! Is the mistake used to punish or to keep it as it is? It’s latch to agile!

3. Divergent opinions

When there are differing opinions, are they smothered? When the meeting is over, is the professional taken aside and given feedback saying that he should have agreed or kept quiet?

When disagreement is dealt with openly, people bring their points of view, discuss without taking it personally, this is an agile lever. Now, every time disagreement is hushed up, it’s what we call choking behavior, co-workers stop talking to the professional, putting him in meetings, calling him for lunch, inviting him to happy hour. These attitudes say that disagreement is bad and frowned upon. However, agile often means adjusting, pivoting, redoing and thinking differently, but if there is suffocation in those who think differently, that line of creativity is lost.


4. Furniture and layout

On the symbols layer, look at the furniture and layout. How many times before becoming a leader did a person look at that closed meeting room, and think “Gee, this blocks me, I need to rehearse a long time to get to my manager, I need to ask permission from a secretary to get to him”. This is a block to agile, in which energy, time, effort is wasted, instead of actually solving what needs to be met for the customer or the strategy.

From the moment the professional becomes a manager and says “Oh, now that I’m a manager I want my office closed, I want to have a car that sets me apart, a beefy computer.” The question is, but does it use data processing? Do you use something that justifies all this? “Ah, but I became manager and I have the right”. This kind of thinking and attitude goes against agile, it’s a very frequent lock and block. It is when the professional maintains any type of protection, differentiation or prominence thinking about his ego and instead of the business.

5. Focus of attention

Another lock of this layer concerns where the professional puts attention. When you have many elements of hierarchy, the person will pay more attention to these elements than to the client, for example. If we are talking about agile culture, it should be customer oriented, solution, resolution and simplification. The more elements of bureaucracy, the more attention will be paid to them than to the customer, which should be more important.


6. Reference person

There are what we call ‘weird heroes’. The person in no way represents the desired values, such as agility, simplicity and the customer, even so wins the stage, it is the person who will speak on the microphone at a party, it is the person who will speak to everyone in a moment of inspiration or alignment . Why give stage to someone who is the opposite of the desired behavior reference?

So every time people are placed or removed from a leading figure, I am either reinforcing or toning down the construction of a hero. It is necessary to ensure that whoever is a hero represents an agile mentality, has an agile attitude, is simple, direct, constructive, respectful, but absolutely objective, without a series of waste and entropies.


7. Decision making

In the past, it was common to find a top-down decision culture, where one decides and the rest obey. It has already been identified that this is a major obstacle to the creative process, to cooperation, engagement, retention and inspiration. Despite this, in many cases, if you went to the other extreme, you put so many people to have a meeting that if you do a meeting to schedule a meeting, instead of being agile, it becomes time consuming.

There’s a technique called ratid, from a consultancy called Bain in Company, that shows who should be at the meeting. It should be at the meeting who makes the decision, who provides concrete, specific and exclusive information for the meeting, and who will help to understand a little about all these steps of the excursion. When you start having 3 people with the same role, what are the other 2 for? 1 is just enough. It is at this time that we guarantee a more agile decision-making.

8. Omission in the face of conflict

If there’s a conflict and it’s being left under the rug, it’s like they’re putting some kind of thick grease on it. You know when you go to change the oil in your car engine and there comes a time when the mechanic says “Look, if you didn’t change it, your engine would start to lock up” that’s what happens when I stop dealing with conflicts and go omitting and putting it under the rug, I’m making this gear slower, more locked, more “gooey”. As a result, that set of problems suffocates the culture instead of looking at the customer, market, strategy and future.

So dealing with the conflict in a transparent and open way, doing the laundry and ensuring that there is no veiled discomfort is very important. That’s why honest conversations, tough conversations and frequent feedback are great tools for agile.


9. Selection

In the selection, when the ‘least worst’ is brought in, it conforms to the so-called satisfactory underperformance, which is a lock.

How is it possible to be agile by bringing people who are stuck, people who are not agile in the intellectual sense? How to bring people who will make obstacles overcome, if at the same time more or less people are placed on the teams? With more or less professionals, the obstacle is more or less overcome, now if professionals with a mindset aligned with the challenges are taken, then you have the potential to be the ‘Pelé’ of that market.

10. Dismissal

The delay in firing those who are slow, who are more or less, is a big obstacle to agile. The condescension, giving millions of chances, two hundred feedbacks are big mistakes. By keeping those who are slow, those who are really good are discouraged. Avoiding dismissal is reinforcing the race to the bottom, it is making the environment uninspiring. Because those who have an agile mentality and behavior, who are against the barriers to agile, want to stay out of this environment.

11. Promotion

The promotion lock is something that few people pay attention to, but it has high relevance for agile. This happens for both incorrect promotion and no promotion.

Something common to happen in organizations is the so-called ‘knife in the neck promotion’. It happens when the person is not even that good, does the job in an average way, puts the knife on the HR or manager’s neck and says “Either you promote me or I leave”, and at that time the thought should be “Leave my son!”. Promotion should only be given to those who are spectacular in the structure, to those who actually do what it takes. This is because by promoting the ‘half-mouth’, it levels itself down and ends up with the agile.

Another point of the promotion lock is when it takes time to happen for those who are agile. This makes professionals really aligned with agile think “Wow, I do it like crazy, I adhere to the context, but nothing happens to me”. When it takes time to promote those who are agile, the organization is left behind, because those people leave. This is because those who are agile want more agile people together, and when these types of professionals work together, the sky is the limit.

The importance of communication for agile culture

Communication is essential to break the barriers of the agile culture and strengthen the elements necessary for this model to be established and maintained. For this, it is necessary to look at the communication ducts and analyze them. How much is being communicated to ensure that all elements that are obstacles to agile are being addressed in a contrary way in the communication? How often is it said that these behaviors are inadmissible? How much is being ensured that these communication channels are flowing and information is reaching people?

We had a case here at People & Results recently of a company that had a shortage of communication channels, and they implemented everything and went to the other extreme, from lack of communication to excess. The same message arrived on multiple channels simultaneously, to the point where people said, “I’m unable to keep up with everything. If I go to see everything that arrives, I’ll run out of time to work’. So lack is bad, but excess is also a problem. Looking at it, adjusting each lock and tailoring communication is like building the path to success, the culture flies and it will indeed be agile.

Need help identifying agile bottlenecks in your company?

In our Culture Diagnosis, we identify all the cultural elements that leverage the strategy, and we point out all the toxic elements, which are working like a ‘hand brake pulled’. Click here and learn more about our solution!

AUTHOR [Danielle Amate]