Agile Reflections

Organizing reflection 33

This is a post in my series on organizing ”between and beyond.” Other posts are here. The purpose of this post is to reflect on subjects occupying my mind. I make no claim to fully believe what I write. Neither do I pretend that others have not already thought or written about the same subject. More often than not, I take up, combine, and add to already existing thoughts and ideas.

What is on my mind?
Woody Zuill (@WoodyZuill) is co-author of Mob Programming: A Whole Team Approach. He works with software development teams to help them excel in their work and life. Woody Zuill uses the values and principles of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development as a foundation for his work, but he doesn’t see them as “static.” He sees them as a “somewhat firm yet dynamic set of guidelines” for his own thinking and exploration. For him, “Pure Agile” is to “constantly Reflect, Tune, and Adjust.”1 For me, this sounds generative.

Generative organizing requires constant reflecting, tuning, and adjusting. This is based on continuous felt sensing.2

1 Woody Zuill, To Me, This is Agile, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Agility, 2014-03-31 (accessed 2018-09-01).
2 Eugene Gendlin described the unclear, pre-verbal sense of “something” as a felt sense. Gendlin also described it as “sensing an implicit complexity, a wholistic sense of what one is working on”. See Focusing – Wikipedia (accessed 2018-09-01).

Related posts:
Organizing in between and beyond posts

Agile Books Leadership Reviews

Book Review: Leadership Agility

Let me first say that I was provided with a complimentary copy of this book so that I could review it. I accepted writing this review since I’m interested in deeper generative organizing. The dance between leadership and followership is part of this dynamic. So, here is my summary of the book together with some impressions.

The core of Leadership Agility: Developing Your Repertoire of Leadership Styles by Ron Meyer and Ronald Meijers consists of ten opposite pairs of leadership styles.1 These ten dimensions represent many of the balancing acts leaders are faced with.2 Each dimension deals with a different leadership task, and each task differs in nature and scope.3 The focus is on understanding the qualities and pitfalls of each leadership style.4

The authors believe that leaders need to “have the capacity to switch between leadership styles, and adaptively master new ones, in rapid response to the specific needs of the people and situation they want to influence.”5 Keywords here are flexibility, adaptability, and responsiveness. Leadership agility is, in short, sensing into what is required in the situation, while attuning to people’s needs.

The authors explore the various leadership styles throughout the book. They also clarify what they believe is the essence of leadership,6 for example:

  • Leadership is about engagement instead of enforcement.7
  • Leadership can be exercised by anyone at any time depending on the situation.8
  • Leadership is helping people to make sense of the situation and themselves.9
  • Leadership is helping people to find their own meaning in what they do.10

As soon as we want to influence people to move in a certain direction, we are leading. We are, in fact, leading all the time. 11 This also means that leading is relational, involving two or more willful beings. The authors point out that getting people to follow requires more than key performance indicators. You can manage things, but people have a heart and mind of their own.12

All this sounds like music in my ears. The authors, furthermore, emphasize that formulating a “leadership script” is useless and misleading. There are simply too many variables that need to be taken into account in order to arrive at a simple leadership formula.13

There are many ways of being an effective leader. You have to figure out yourself what works for you under what circumstances.14 This book may help you to expand your leadership style repertoire, but moving outside of your comfort zone is something you have to do yourself. You have to experiment and see what works for you.

The authors end the book with a few words on the “paradox of leadership and followership.”15 People are leaders and followers—at the same time. The ultimate test of leadership agility is combining leadership and followership.16

There are thousands of books on leadership — and agility has become a buzzword — so I was a bit skeptical when I first heard about the book. But it’s a great book. The focus is more on leadership styles than leadership agility. I particularly appreciate that the authors avoid formulating leadership scripts or formulas. I also share the human values expressed in the book. People are living beings and not things to be managed.

1 Ibid., pp. xx, 18, 21.
2 Ibid., p. 17.
3 Ibid., p. 19.
4 Ibid., p. 227.
5 Ibid., pp. xvi–xvii.
6 Ibid., p. 3.
7 Ibid., p. 7.
8 Ibid..
9 Ibid., p. 11.
10 Ibid..
11 Ibid., p. 13.
12 Ibid., p. 14.
13 Ibid., p. 16.
14 Ibid., p. 17.
15 Ibid., p. 258.
16 Ibid., p. 259.

Agile Articles Lean Methods

Bob Emiliani on Scientific Management and Toyota Management

Bob Emiliani

Bob Emiliani is a professor of Lean Management. Here is his post on the historical parallels between Scientific Management 100 years ago and Toyota Management today.

People flocked to Scientific Management to become consultants. They would then install something similar in appearance to Scientific Management. Soon an efficiency movement was born, which installed dilutions of Scientific Management.

Similarly people became aware of Toyota’s Production System (TPS) in the 1970s. Interestingly, most studied the technical aspects of TPS, but not the human aspects. Soon a small army of consultants started to sell TPS tools. TPS is seen as a production system. Yet, TPS was Toyota’s management system. In 1988, the term Lean production was introduced. This resulted in a huge army of consultants and the Lean movement was born, which implemented dilutions of TPS.

Business leaders are devoted to finding the latest tools that help them achieve short-term gains. Consultants are more than happy to help, regardless of whether the movement is called Lean, Agile, or something else.

Here are Bob Emiliani’s recent blog posts.



Agile Organizing Sociocracy Thoughts

Organizing in between and beyond

This is the first post in my series on organizing “between and beyond.” Other posts are here.

The last chapter in Science, Order, and Creativity by David Bohm and F. David Peat is about “the order between and beyond”.1 Bohm and Peat write that most attempts to find order, say a new theory, involve searching for a position between two theories.2 Physics faced this situation at the end of the 19th century when it was discovered that Maxwell’s electromagnetic theory didn’t accord with Newton’s classical mechanics. At first physicists tried to make the theories fit together in an order “between.”3 It wasn’t until Einstein developed his theories of relativity that an order “beyond” was discovered. Today, there’s a search for an order “beyond” Einstein’s theories of relativity and quantum mechanics.

My point is that there’s a similar need to search for an order “beyond” our traditional ways of organizing work. Many different approaches have been developed over the years. They all have different names — e.g., Lean, Agile, Holacracy, etc — and are often accompanied with a whole industry offering tools, training, consulting, certification, and other products and services. The problem, as I see it, is that most of these approaches are examples of what I would call organizing “in between.”

A recent example is the attempt to combine Agile with Sociocracy. This is said to be “a way to create alignment between Agile ecosystems and the business needs of strong leadership and a clear hierarchy.”4 Well, maybe? I have questioned the assumptions here. Neither Agile, nor Sociocracy, can be said to be totally satisfying. And I don’t think that the solution lies in combining strong hierarchical leadership with sociocratic participatory policy decision-making. This is, in my view, an example of organizing “in between.” What is necessary is to move to an organizing “beyond,” which transcends, in this case, the compromise between strong hierarchical leadership and sociocratic decision making on policies.

I don’t know how the organizing “beyond” looks like. What I do know is that it will contain both leadership and decision making, yet move “beyond” the limits of both. My search for better ways of working together continues.

Here is the next post in the series. Here are all posts.

1 David Bohm and F. David Peat, Science, Order, and Creativity (Routledge, 2010-09-01, first published 1987-10-01), pp. 275–314.
2 Ibid., p. 308.
3 Ibid..
4 Pieter van der Meché, Jens Coldewey, Hendrik Esser, and Anders Ivarsson (contributor), Decision Making Systems Matter (The Agile Alliance, 2016), p. 1 (accessed 2016-07-20).

Related posts:
Organizing in between and beyond posts
Is sociocracy agile?

Agile Articles Organizing Sociocracy Thoughts

Is sociocracy agile?

Decision Making Systems Matter is an interesting article by Pieter van der Meché, Jens Coldewey, and Hendrik Esser, with Anders Ivarsson as additional contributor. The article is funded by the Agile Alliance and is a Supporting Agile Adoption publication. The authors describe how combining “Agile with ideas from Sociocracy provides … a way to create alignment between Agile ecosystems and the business needs of strong leadership and a clear hierarchy”.1 The article gives excellent insights into sociocracy and is well worth reading! Pieter van der Meché has over 20 years of experience in sociocracy.2

Pictures from the article (from left to right): Pieter van der Meché, Jens Coldewey, and Hendrik Esser.

The assumptions in the article are 1) that “a clear hierarchy and strong leadership” are required to achieve “speed and control (coordination)” and 2) that “policies … ensure alignment”.3 My question is whether “strong hierarchical leadership and strong participatory [policy] decision making”4 contributes to agility? It’s possible, of course, that agreements on policies — which are defined as “general agreements on the what, when, how and who”5 — can increase the speed. But a strong focus on policies can also become rigid. It’s as if sociocracy, for the sake of control, values policies and following a plan — the “what, when, how, and who” — over responding to change.6

While a sociocratic organization certainly values individuals and interactions, it’s also policy-driven, which easily leads to a focus on process-discipline.7 Sociocratic leadership is furthermore “conductor-like”.8 The idea is that you as the leader should coordinate (control) your team like “a conductor of an orchestra”.9 It’s self-evident that you as a strong hierarchical leader value control over participation. What if the team can coordinate itself? (Here is an example of collaborative leadership in a conductorless orchestra.) And what if the challenge isn’t primarily to ensure “alignment throughout the hierarchy”10 but to nurture collaboration throughout the organization?11

So, is sociocracy agile? I’d say no. It depends, of course, on what you mean by agile. My impression is that sociocracy values policies and control over people and collaboration. While there is value in the latter, sociocracy values the first more.12And, yes, decision making systems matter! But why limit participatory decision making to policy decisions only?13 It’s as if sociocracy doesn’t take the full consequences of participatory decision making.

1 Pieter van der Meché, Jens Coldewey, Hendrik Esser, and Anders Ivarsson (contributor), Decision Making Systems Matter (The Agile Alliance, 2016), p. 1 (accessed 2016-07-20).
2 Ibid., p. 14.
3 Ibid., p. 7.
4 Ibid..
5 Ibid..
6 Agile values “responding to change over following a plan“. See the Agile Manifesto. There are similarities between sociocratic policies (what, when, how and who) and plans.
7 Agile also values “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools“. See the Agile Manifesto. The focus on policies easily leads to a focus on process-discipline, i.e., define the policies and processes (albeit in a participatory way!) and make sure people follow them.
8 Pieter van der Meché, Jens Coldewey, Hendrik Esser, and Anders Ivarsson (contributor), Decision Making Systems Matter (The Agile Alliance, 2016), p. 8 (accessed 2016-07-20).
9 Ibid..
10 Ibid., p. 10.
11 It’s an Agile principle that business people and development teams must work together daily. See the Principles behind the Agile Manifesto.
12 This is a paraphrase of the Agile Manifesto. The crucial question here is which values are given precedence over others.
13 Elections of people to roles and responsibilities are allocations of resources and thus policy decisions. See The three principles in Sociocracy, Wikipedia (accessed 2016-08-02).

2016-07-24: Pictures of authors added. Questions added. Text and notes updated.
2016-07-26: Questions updated. Text updated. Related post added.
2016-08-01: Middle section split into two parts.
2016-08-02: Note added. Minor changes in the text.

Related posts:
Principles for collaborative leadership
Organizing in between and beyond posts

Agile Quotes

Agile software development in the 1970s

Here is Dee Hock’s own story of the development of VISA’s first electronic authorization system (BASE 1) which was launched in 1973.

We were determined that the needs of our members and cardholders would be served, not the needs of technology or vendors. That required internal responsibility. We decided to become our own prime contractor, farming out selected tasks to a variety of software developers, then coordinating and implementing results.1

Swiftly, self-organization emerged. An entire wall became a pin board with every remaining day calendared across the top. Someone grabbed an unwashed coffee cup and suspended it on a long piece of string pinned to the current date. Every element of work to be done was listed on scraps of paper with the required completion date and name of the person who had accepted the work. Anyone could revise the elements, adding tasks or revising dates, providing they coordinated with others affected.2

Each day, the cup and string moved inexorably ahead. Every day, every scrap of paper that fell behind the grimy string would find an eager group of volunteers to undertake the work required to remove it. To be able to get one’s own work done and help another became a sought-after privilege.3

Leaders spontaneously emerged and reemerged, none in control, but all in order. Ingenuity exploded. People astonished themselves at what they could accomplish and were amazed at the suppressed talents emerging in others. Position became meaningless. Power over others became meaningless.4

A few who could not adjust to the diversity, complexity, and uncertainty wandered away. Dozens volunteered to take their place. No one articulated what was happening. No one recorded it. No one measured it. But everyone felt it, understood it, and loved it. The dirty string was never replaced and no one washed the cup. “The Dirty Coffee Cup System” became legendary—a metaphor within the company for years to come. The BASE 1 system came up on time, under budget, and exceeded all operating objectives.5

1 Dee Hock, One From Many: VISA and the Rise of Chaordic Organization, (Berrett-Koehler, 2005), p. 172.
2 Ibid., p.173.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid., p. 174.

Update 2022-09-15: Text converted to blocks.

Related posts:
Dee Hock in his own words
Dee Hock on control
Dee Hock on rules

Agile Articles Holacracy Leadership Methods Organization People Power Quotes Sociocracy Thoughts Workplaces

What if control is inappropriate?

My conclusion after having read Brian Robertson’s new book on Holacracy and Gerard Endenburg’s first book on Sociocracy is that neither Holacracy nor Sociocracy replace Command & Control (C&C). Both use C&C within limits.

This triggered feedback from Holacracy people that the Lead Link Role doesn’t manage day-to-day work and doesn’t manage others, but that there is definitely control in Holacracy. All Roles “have the authority to control and regulate” their own Domains (Holacracy Constitution v4.1, 1.4 Authority Over Domains). There is definitely control in Sociocracy too.

My follow-up question is: What if control in itself is inappropriate?

Here is an interesting article on The “Command and Control” Military Gets Agile by Daniel Mezick, which contains references to writers within the military who challenge control themselves. Key points are that complex situations cannot be controlled, and control is in fact an emergent property, not an option to be selected. Here are a few quotes:

The word “control” is inappropriate … because it sends the wrong message. It implies that complex situations can be controlled, with the implication that there is the possibility of an engineering type solution. … But this is a dangerous oversimplification. The best that one can do is to create a set of conditions that improves the probability that a desirable (rather than an undesirable) outcome will occur and to change the conditions when what is expected is not occurring. Control is in fact an emergent property, not an option to be selected. … The argument that … commanders in the military or… management in industry do not have control creates cognitive dissonance. Nevertheless, this is undoubtedly the case. The widespread belief that we have control is merely an illusion, and a dangerous one at that. The literature on complex adaptive systems explains why the notion of control as a verb is misguided.1

…any Complex Adaptive System…cannot be controlled or ruled: a CAS will simply find ways of working around the rules if the context in which it formed remains viable. … The basis of these … systems of working … are based upon very simple trusts — not rules …
Essentially, the tension is … between trusts and rules.

Attempts to control complex systems … tend to be pointless at best or destructive at worst.3

And here are quotes from some non-military references:

For life, where freedom of choice in acting exists, control and prediction is impossible, attempts to control are destructive to life and lead to chaos. If we examine the causes of our failing institutions, it is easy to show that attempts to control them, violating normal processes of life, makes them fail.4

We talk and write about leaders and managers being in control of organizations. In the reality of our experience, however, no one can control the interplay of intentions, because they cannot control what everyone else in every other organization is choosing and doing. Consequently, no one can choose or be in control of what happens.5

For nearly three centuries we have worked diligently to structure society in accordance with that concept, believing that with ever more reductionist scientific knowledge, ever more specialization, ever more technology, ever more efficiency, ever more linear education, ever more rules and regulations, ever more hierarchal command and control, we could learn to engineer organizations in which we could pull a lever at one place, get a precise result at another, and know with certainty which lever to pull or for which result. Never mind that human beings must be made to behave as cogs and wheels in the process.6

1 David S. Alberts, The International C2 Journal | Vol 1, No 1, 2007, pp. 15—16.
2 Simon Reay Atkinson & James Moffat, The Agile Organization: From Informal Networks to Complex Effects and Agility, pp. 5—6, 7.
3 Stanley McChrystal, Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, (Penguin, 2015), p. 68.
4 Norm Hirst, Towards a Science of Life as Creative Organisms, (Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, vol. 4, nos. 1-2, 2008), p. 93.
5 Ralph Stacey, Dialogic Organization Development: The Theory and Practice of Transformational Change / Gervase R. Bushe & Robert J. Marshak, editors, (Berett-Koehler, 2015), p. 153.
6 Dee Hock, One From Many: VISA and the Rise of Chaordic Organization, (Berrett-Koehler, 2005), p. 37

Update 2022-09-15: Text converted to blocks.

Related posts:
The big misconception in sociocracy
Dee Hock on control
Harrison Owen on control
Fritz Perls on control
The phenomenology of sociocracy
Traditional vs. Sociocratic vs. Holacratic Command & Control
Holacracy vs. Sociocracy
Book Review: Holacracy by Brian Robertson
Book Review: Sociocracy by Gerard Endenburg
The phenomenology of sociocracy
Machines are allonomic, living organisms are autonomic
Autognomics: Radical Self-Knowing
Self-organization is the real operating system
Emergence is simply what life does
Empowerment is a red herring
Pre-conditions for self-organization
What if the organization is a living system?
Carl Rogers on person-centered leadership

Agile Inspiration Organization Thoughts

Appreciate today’s tweets

I appreciate today’s tweets from Erik Schön (@erik_schon) and Deb Hartmann Preuss (@deborahh). It feels encouraging to know that my search for life-giving ways of working is of interest and adds value to others. Follow my search here and on twitter (@janhoglund).

Agile Sociocracy

Scrum vs. Sociocracy

Scrum is an iterative and incremental agile software development framework for managing software projects. Sociocracy is a method for equivalent, effective, and transparent self-governance in organizations. They are surprisingly coherent and complementary. Sociocracy’s focus is on the governance of the whole organization, while Scrum’s focus is on the project management. Here’s a comparison between them:

  • Scrum is built on an empirical process control model. Sociocracy is too.
  • Scrum has a Scrum Master. Sociocracy has a Facilitator.
  • Scrum has Scrum teams. Sociocracy has Circles.
  • Scrum keeps everything about a project visible to everyone. Transparency is important to Sociocracy too.
  • Scrum makes obstacle removal an objective. Sociocracy too.
  • Scrum has daily Scrum meetings. Sociocracy has not.
  • Sociocracy has double links between teams. Scrum has not.
  • Scrum is different. Sociocracy is too.
  • Scrum requires courage. Sociocracy too!

Scrum can learn from Sociocracy how to turn a whole organization dynamic and agile. What can Sociocracy learn from Scrum?

Related posts:
Sociocracy requires a new mindset
Sociocratic principles can be implemented in many ways
Sociocracy is a method, and still it isn’t
Implementing sociocracy without sociocracy
Sociocracy as practiced by the G/wi
Policies vs. agreements
Scaling sociocracy is all about the context
Unspoken sociocratic principles
Cultural dimensions of sociocracy
A prerequisite for sociocracy is a socios
Holacracy vs. sociocracy
The phenomenology of sociocracy
Are Holacracy and sociocracy Teal?
The big misconception in sociocracy
Is Sociocracy an empty method?

Related posts in Swedish:
Holakrati, holokrati och sociokrati
Hur införa sociokrati i en organisation (del 1)?
Hur införa sociokrati i en organisation (del 2)?
Sociokrati är som permakultur, fast för människor
Sociokrati är som en skogsträdgård
Kurs i kväkarnas beslutsmetod, som sociokrati bygger på
En historisk tillbakablick på kväkarnas beslutsmetod
Sociokratibok: Idag publiceras boken
Några tankar om sociokrati
Min gästblogg på #skolvåren: Att organisera oss rätt

Agile Sociocracy

Hur få en organisation att bli agil?

En fråga som jag funderar över är hur vi på ett bättre sätt kan arbeta tillsammans. Med bättre menar jag ett mer människovänligt sätt. Och med människovänligt menar jag ett sätt som ger den enskilde individen möjlighet att fullt ut ”komma till sin rätt”. Detta är inte enbart en fråga om respekt för den enskilda individen. Jag är övertygad om att om människorna i en organisation mår bra så mår också organisationen bra. Ja, jag är t.o.m. övertygad om att våra organisationer skulle kunna fungera mycket bättre än vad de gör idag om vi övergick från det traditionellt hierarkiska sättet att leda våra organisationer, där ”chefen bestämmer”, till ett där alla medarbetare har möjlighet att vara med och påverka. Med tiden har jag blivit övertygad om att om vi på allvar vill förbättra effektiviteten i våra organisationer så behöver vi släppa våra medarbetare fria. Det talas mycket om processorientering, lean, agile, osv. – men detta är, som jag ser det, ytterst en fråga om frihet. Och därför är detta en fråga om djup demokrati, eller mer specifikt, sociokrati.

Jag blev intresserad när jag första gången hörde talas om sociokrati förra året. Sociokrati bygger på att alla medarbetare ges möjlighet att säga ”nej” till beslut som berör dem.  Det är inte bara det att en medarbetare har möjlighet att säga ”nej”, utan det är t.o.m. så att ett ”nejvälkomnas. Det gör det nämligen möjligt att fatta bättre beslut! Det säger sig självt att detta på ett dramatiskt sätt förändrar dynamiken i en organisation. Det skapar delaktighet och engagemang, men kräver också mod. Om du som medarbetare inte är van vid att bli lyssnad på så kan det till en början kännas ovant att göra sin röst hörd. Min övertygelse är däremot att alla människor, utan undantag, vill bli lyssnade på.

Nästa avgörande innovation inom sociokrati är att kopplingen mellan arbetsgrupper, sk. kretsar, består av två personer, sk. dubbla länkar. Den ena personen har ansvar för att representera den ena gruppen i den andra, och vice versa. Detta gör att informationsflödet mellan arbetsgrupperna är dubbelriktad. I en traditionell hierarkisk organisation går ”ordergivningen” uppifrån-och-ner. I en sociokratiskt styrd organisation ser dynamiken helt annorlunda ut. De dubbla länkarna och möjligheten att säga ”nej” till dåliga beslut gör att feedback är inbyggd i organisationsstrukturen. Det om något gör organisationen dynamisk, flexibel och lättrörlig/agil. Och därmed effektiv.

Det talas mycket om “agile” nu för tiden. Om du är intresserad av hur man kan få en hel organisation att bli agil bör du ta dig en titt på sociokrati! Mer information om sociokrati finns på