Culture and Behaviour

As a community, we spend a lot of time debating the practicalities of Agile thinking. What makes a good retrospective? Should we run 2 or 3 week Sprints? What questions should we ask at the stand up?

These are all great things to discuss, but if we agree that Agile is a set of principles, a mind set that has people at its heart: how they communicate, how they collaborate, how they make decisions, how they resolve conflict and so on, then perhaps the thing that we should start by discussing is how we drive a culture that supports an Agile, or even an agile way of working.

Ask yourself a question: is your Tech team viewed as a trusted partner or as a service provider? Are the goals of your Tech team aligned with those of the rest of the organisation?

If the answer to either of those questions was no, then perhaps a cultural change, a behavioural change, and even a change to the way we are organised is required.

So what is culture?

Culture is made up of the beliefs, the values, the attitudes and the behaviours that are shared by the people in your organisation. It’s represented by how people talk to each other, the language they use, by the history of the organisation and by their daily working practices. Changing culture is hard. People have to unlearn old behaviours before they can learn new ones. The good, or possibly the bad news, is that for the most part those new behaviours are learned from others.

How do we go about changing behaviour?

Often we find ourselves divided. Teams that depend on each other may sit separately, communicating with each other through Product or Project Managers, or perhaps even through ‘tickets’. How can we expect to understand each other’s context, to be close enough to the needs and the knowledge of others in the organisation, if we rarely talk face to face and even more rarely collaborate to solve a problem?

Alignment is key. Fostering collaboration by moving people who depend on each other to sit with each other simply makes sense. We often talk about co-located teams, and we often talk about cross-functional teams, but we don’t really consider how well this might work if teams are made up of people from across the organisation. Working together every day soon provides people with each others’ context, builds trust, and generates ideas for meeting our shared goals. Tech are no longer a service provider, they are a trusted partner.

We can’t be Agile on our own.

1 thought on “Culture and Behaviour”

  1. As you know, I’m a big fan of co-location and sitting a team together in a physical location. I still find it amazing that Cockburn’s osmotic communication (see Crystal Clear) didn’t — and doesn’t — get more airtime. Maybe it’s because organisations find sitting people together isn’t convenient (e.g. doesn’t go well with outsourcing and cost-savings).

    I even heard of one (at the time) respected business who had the tech teams sitting amongst the stakeholders/users … and then separated their whole org by moving “the business” to one side of the building, and “the tech teams” to the other side of the building. There was even the reception area separating them. Bonkers!

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