The Hardest Thing – The Culture

“What is the culture in my company now?
How well is the culture aligned with Agile?
What problems can I expect due to misalignment?”

With these powerful questions Michael Sahota writes about cultural models in his book “An Agile adoption and transformation survival guide – Working with organizational culture“. To my taste, he well chose the William Schneider’s model illustrating an organizational culture:


Every company has a dominant culture with ingredients of other cultures, especially the neighboring ones. Diagonally located cultures rather collide than complement each other.

The agile culture resides on the left side of the diagram, supported by values like partnership, collaboration, trust, purpose, creativity, experimentation, diversity…

The control culture is characterized by the formal power, process, hierarchy, order, rules, stability, security, standardization…

The competence culture, to my opinion, can be a big trap for leaders and organizations transitioning to Agile. It suggests expertise, specialization, efficiency, craftsmanship, achievement, results, being the best…

Nothing is wrong with that. But, it is not about being the best – it is about becoming better every day. It is about sustaining the culture (and the structure) of constant learning and improving the organization as a whole. Then, the competences are a logical outcome and a beneficial consequence.

Specialization is valid. Becoming an expert and doing the good work is expected. However, if a team or other individual depends on us, our personal expertise, our information and our knowledge, we make the system fragile and vulnerable in a particular point/person. Without collaboration and cultivation, without horizontal sharing of information and learning together, we preserve the heroic culture, the culture of strongly self-oriented individuals and the culture of vertical communication. Here, the vertical communication means the interactions mainly towards supervisors and subordinates, rather than peers. Instead of concentrating the ‘power’ of knowledge in individuals, by sharing, we need to use and motivate every single beautiful brain in the organization and give out the best of it.
Agile principles make this trap visible. This trap is the real test for agile leaders in which, unfortunately, many fall.

The cultures clash in their values and behaviors, striving to prioritize and put different things in focus. The control culture is a culture of things that is still dominant in many organizations (see this post!), not just business organizations, but also social, society and governance institutions. Collaboration, together with Cultivation, is the culture of people, and if those two caltural characteristics prevail, Agile may reach the tipping point and cross the chasm on the agile transformation curve:


The managers/leaders play the essential role in shaping the culture, not just adopting new methods, but rather becoming more adaptive for things to come. Stating this means we have to stay open for any change or surprise and care less about compliances. Therefore, a cultural shift needs a governance shift (people and processes) towards a dimension of distributed knowledge, distributed power and distributed decisions.