How to Create an Organizational Culture that Fosters Scaled Agile Adoption
More often than not, the introduction of Scaled Agile leads to a huge cultural shift in an organization. Despite the many benefits of Scaled Agile, if you don’t strategize to handle this cultural transition as smoothly as possible, the positive change you expect to see can turn sour in the end. It’s a reason cited at the root of many Agile failures we hear today. In fact, 43% of respondents to a survey conducted by Digital AI in 2021 recognized “Organizational culture being at odds with Agile values” as the most significant barrier to successful Agile adoption. Therefore, creating an organizational culture that fosters the adoption of Scaled Agile becomes a great responsibility of those driving Agile changes in the workplace.
Scheider Culture Model—understanding different organizational cultures at play
One of the tools we can use to understand the diversity of cultures present at different organizations is Schneider Culture Model. It describes four prominent cultures defined by the organization’s orientation, as the following diagram shows.
Depending on their people vs. company-orientedness and reality vs. possibility-orientedness, the four cultures Schneider’s model highlights are:
- Collaboration culture that focuses on the success achieved by working together.
- Control culture that finds success by getting and keeping control.
- Competence culture that seeks to be the best for finding success.
- Cultivation culture that focuses on the success achieved through personal growth.
Despite the different characteristics of the cultures presented by the Schneider Model, it doesn’t discriminate to say one is better than the others. Determining which culture model suits the best for each organization requires the evaluation of several factors, including its business needs, traditions, and available resources. For example, in many large enterprises, it’s common to see a control culture that follows a hierarchy and maintains order due to its predictability and stability.
While the cultures you would see at different organizations are not limited to only these four, it provides us an entry point to start our discussion on organizational culture and its effects of Agile adoption.
Collaboration and cultivation cultures are better fits for Scaled Agile adoption
Despite the importance of different organizational cultures under specific contexts, collaboration and cultivation culture have a clear edge over the other two in facilitating a faster and smoother transition when it comes to Agile adoption. This shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the people-first approach shared by these cultures and Agile practices. It gives them a headstart on developing a workplace ideal for implementing a Scaled Agile framework.
Collaboration culture, for example, focuses on people working together to find success. It already contains some of the ground required to launch Scaled Agile, like encouraging teamwork, partnership, and building trust among employees.
On the other hand, cultivation culture, with its focus on continuous learning and personal growth, already possesses a framework that gives people the freedom to figure out their purpose in the organizational context. It comes with a set of individuals that constantly realizes new avenues to find success without being prompted or ordered by another party. By allowing each person to discover the best way they can contribute to the organization, a cultivation culture creates a workforce well-attuned to the company’s vision and mission. It also gives them an understanding of what needs to be done personally to achieve those objectives.
Collaboration and cultivation cultures, having already embraced the elements of Agile as mentioned above, only require final refinements such as introducing technical aspects of the framework when entering Scaled Agile. Collaboration culture also requires a mindset change within individuals to pursue personal growth, while the cultivation culture has to work on improving its ability to collaborate with others.
Agility in control and competence cultures is not unattainable
Even though collaboration and cultivation cultures are better prepared to accept a shift to Scaled Agile, it doesn’t prevent the control and competence cultures from successfully integrating Agile practices. However, such a transition would require a longer time and an incremental adaptation approach to prevent incoming changes from overwhelming people.
Michael Sahota, a popular Agile coach, introduces the concept of culture bubbles to allow organizations to drive an incremental shift towards the Agile way of working. A culture bubble is a single unit within an organization, be it a particular group or a department, that embraces a different way of working from the rest. Creating such a culture bubble at a workplace with a control or competence culture enables it to adopt a Scaled Agile framework and introduce agility to its business operations insulated from the others. This gives an opportunity to that particular unit to change the way they work without overhauling the entire organization.
The changes that occur within the cultural bubble, however, should not disrupt the regular workflow of the others. Therefore, the unit within the bubble should still adhere to organizational-level standards and deliver operational artifacts that impact those beyond the bubble boundaries. It includes attending inter-department meetings, preparing the documentation required by other units, etc.
Seeing the cultural shift and its positive effects within the bubble over time can then encourage other parts of the organization to go through a similar transformation, slowly driving its way towards a fully-agile future.
An organization is not limited to just one culture
Thus far, we assumed a culture as a uniform element common to the entire organization. But this isn’t always the case. Particularly in large enterprises that expand across multiple geographic regions, how each unit operates can be drastically different from the others. Even individual departments of a single organization can have varying cultures developed over the years. Therefore, any strategy you create with to foster an environment better suited for Scaled Agile needs to take such factors into account.
For example, you can use a more straightforward transition approach for units with collaboration or cultivation cultures and choose an incremental approach for units with competence or control cultures.
Leader involvement can make or break the transition to Scaled Agile
No matter the type of culture in your organization, any successful integration of Scaled Agile requires leaders who are fully on board with your transition strategy and share your vision for the intended cultural change. They need to understand the elements governing the organization’s existing work culture and the direction it should move in to support wide-scale Agile adoption.
The understanding itself is not enough. Leaders also must actively participate in bringing the desired change to the organization through their actions. For example:
- Leaders need to change how they interact with employees and adjust their expectations. An Agile leader acts more as a mentor than a higher-level authority and provides employees the freedom to determine the best way they can contribute to the organization’s success.
- Leaders should also build good relationships with people using trust as a foundation. Trust is essential for implementing a collaborative, cooperative work culture that Agile requires.
- Leaders should also be transparent in their decision-making processes so that the employees understand what the objectives governing the business’s direction are. Trust and decisions supported by data and logic are vital in adding transparency to a leadership process.
Implementing a Scaled Agile framework in an organization can easily backfire due to the sudden cultural shift it forces upon people. Preventing your organization from meeting a similar fate requires a thorough understanding of the quirks of different cultures at play and developing a strategy to bring them to a state that is ready to accept the Agile way of working. Though not every culture is prepared for faster adoption of Scaled Agile, it doesn’t prevent organizations from starting with changes made in places that leave the biggest impact.