Organizational Culture: The Ingredients for your Agile recipe

I came across this blog by Michael Sahota.

Cue sound of trumpets, heavenly sunbeams, moment of revelation!

The short version of his theme of Organizational Culture and Agility is that it’s the culture that provides the ingredients.


  • Doesn’t matter how good the recipe it, if the ingredients aren’t available, then you can’t bake that cake.
  • Culture = “How we do things round here”.
  • Culture is very hard to change.  Not impossible, but very hard.
  • If your agile adoption is looking like being a poor orphaned child, then it’s probably because the organizational culture just isn’t aligned to agility.

Read the blog for more details.

For me, it was a huge relief.  I had been getting nowhere with our agile adoption internally.  With a team of external contractors, we were using almost full Scrum and getting results.  If that team had a proper dedicated Product Owner, it would have been full Scrum.  As it was, we knew we had several people who’s combined effort was the equivalent of a Product Owner, but you can imagine, without the single voice, there was some pushing and shoving and waste.

However, with the internal teams – and I use the term “teams” here very loosely – I was getting nowhere.  After reading Sahota’s blog, and the book from which he got the spark for his ideas (The Reengineering Alternative: A plan for making your current culture work by William Schneider) what became clear was that we had a whole organization culture of Command and Control (we get things done by telling you/being told what to do) with a local team culture of Competence (we get things done because we’re good at it) with a smattering of Cultivation (we get things done by helping people grow).

To add to the confusion, we’re working in a bank originally created and developed by a bunch of good old Southern boys (I suspect army buddies) so of course the internal culture is pretty Command and Control, as well as being highly conservative and resistant to change.  That’s what it’s like in the South.  However, the bank had been bought by a huge Spanish banking machine, and they had their own culture.  To be honest, I’m still not sure what that culture is, but it is very different to the Southern culture.

So we have friction as the gears of the two culture grind together.  Ever tried to fit a metric screw into an imperial nut?  Kinda feels like that.

Now, there are loads of people here who pretend that we have a Collaboration culture (we get things done together) but it’s simply not so.  It’s magical thinking.  In fact there’s a lot of magical thinking around here.

What, I hear you ask, is “magical thinking”?  It’s seeing a causal relationship with correlation on one hand (“Every time I whistle Dixie, the wind changes direction!”) and on the other hand assuming that thoughts, wishes, and “rituals” directly affect the external world (“Time for a nor’easter, let’s get a’whistling!”) .

But that is a topic for another post.

Back to my point, it was a huge relief to realize that we weren’t getting anywhere fast with agility because it was like trying to bake a loaf of bread with sand, sump oil, and shaving foam.

So the question has to become “What can I make with sand, sump oil, and shaving foam?”  If I didn’t take a long hard look at what was actually available, then how the heck could I hope to achieve anything?  My mistake had been in the realm of “I didn’t know what I didn’t know”.  I didn’t know that the ingredients weren’t available, nor did I know I too was indulging in magical thinking.  “If I just tell them about agile enough, they MUST see the light, I mean, doesn’t everyone…?”

In the meantime, do please jump across to Sahota’s blog and absorb the wisdom there.

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