Interview avec Michael Sahota et Olaf Lewitz

Au travers du thème de cette année, le Scrum Day sera l’occasion de pousser les frontières de l’agilité au delà des équipes vers une transformation à l’échelle de l’organisation. Ce sujet de la transformation agile des organisations sera aussi abordé aussi au travers de 2 workshops proposés par Olaf Lewitz et Michael Sahota. En avant-première, nous avons demandé à Michael et Olaf de nous décrypter les dessous d’une transformation réussie. Voici l’interview « décalé », résultat d’un jeu de ping-pong de questions/réponses sur l’axe Berlin-Paris-Toronto.

Hello Olaf and Michael ! It’s a pleasure to welcome you in Paris on 2 & 3 April where you’ll facilitate two workshops during the Scrum Day. To get started, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Michael: My story is about personal and organizational transformation to a place where we can show up as our whole self and unleash astonishing results. The personal part is that I am the change that I want to see in the world. I have been living by this mantra for the last four years so that I can be and act from a place that invites people to meaningful change. After more than a decade of working with Agile it is clear that the limit to the growth of any organization is the consciousness level of the leader. So my main focus now is working with leaders to help them be the change they want to see in their organizations. I guess there is the more typical stuff people like to know such as I am proud to be a CSC (Certified Scrum Coach), a published author on Agile & Culture, and have a very popular visual blog.

Olaf: I am an agile native, having started with XP in 1999. I’ve been lucky never to have to write software to specification! After 10 years of consulting and coaching on various change initiatives I’m now focusing on the #1 blocker to change and joy: lack of trust. Meeting the need for trust in organisations with my talent to create experiences where people are invited to trust more, I’ve become a trust artist two years ago. I help individuals and organisations grow confidence and trust, providing the ground for growth and great outcomes.

The two workshop you’ll facilitate together, “Reinventing Organizations – Enterprise Agility” and “Temenos—the Healing Container” deal with the culture. Why is culture important?

Olaf: Culture is “what we do around here to succeed”. It’s hidden beneath the surface and yet determining what’s possible in a group of human beings, like an organisation. Culture is our collective identity, it’s the stories we believe to be true about our world. Any kind of significant change needs to take culture into account. We focus in our work on making it explicit, allowing more of it to become conscious, so that we talk about and change it. Since culture is created and transmitted through stories, storytelling formats are important culture building tools. Temenos is such a format that Michael and I experienced together for the first time in 2011 at the Agile Coach Camp in Columbus. It is an experiential team and personal development lab which we’ve run in different sizes for more than 50 times since. In addition, we have since then used and developed more methods and tools to understand and improve culture. Reinventing Organizations is a book by Frederic Laloux. In the book, he explains three breakthroughs of a new generation of organizations: self-management, wholeness and emergent purpose. Temenos and the VAST cycle foster wholeness. With Temenos, we invite a new kind of presence into the workplace, we show up differently.

Michael: I see Culture at the core of every organization. Everything is interlinked: leadership, behaviours, org structure, process, policies. Often when we want to make changes to our organization to improve how it functions we may take a look at just one aspect such as process or leadership. Deep and lasting success requires that we take a holistic view. Olaf and I see culture as a useful lens for examining organizations in this way.

Often, there is a gap between how people see their organization and how it really is. How can we increase honesty and help organizations become conscious about its culture, make it explicit?

Olaf: That gap may well be the main reason so many change initiatives fail. We work on the organisation we pretend to see instead of attempting to change what we really see. Seeing what is really there requires vulnerability, and courage. Think of it like the Matrix: no matter how much effort we take to change the Matrix, we will not change the reality behind it.

Michael: The truth of what is happening in our organizations is often very scary. I hear managers say things like “we can’t do x” and shut down conversation. It’s not intentional – it’s just that this behaviour is woven into how we operate. This is organizational culture at work – that we chose not to talk about difficult truths. I invite people to consider the consequences – what does it mean for our organization when we behave like this? What are the implications? What other alternatives are there? Who gets to decide how our organization will function? I share my perspective on these questions as well to create space for new awareness and choices. I guess the critical success factor is providing emotional support for the people facing these  difficult challenges and giving them total freedom to choose what they want to believe or what they want to do. I am very clear on what I believe and work hard to share loving perspectives from a place of concern, not judgement.

Looking at the organisation as it really is may be a huge step sometimes. From your experience, are we ready inside our organizations to see this gap and address the lack of authenticity?

Michael: Sometimes it is a big step, sometimes not. It depends on how open people are to learning and growing. The first step is awareness. Often it is the case that people know exactly what is going on (deep inside) but are afraid to talk about it. Or don’t know how to talk about it. In other cases, people really have no idea and the information comes as a surprise. Either way, once someone speaks the difficult truth of the situation we come to a place of choice: to explore it or to deny it. Earlier Olaf talked about the Matrix. In this situation Morpheus is offering a choice to Neo: take the blue pill to reject the truth and go back to conventional reality or take the red pill and see where the truth will lead. I see people confronted with this choice all the time. When we create safety and choice I find people more willing to take the red pill. One important lesson for me is to let people and organizations chose their own fate. It’s their choice. And that choice will create their future.

Olaf: we provide two things for people: a safe, trusted space to look where they wouldn’t normally look, and gentle yet very honest feedback so they see what they wouldn’t normally see. The combination provides them with awareness and options. Both contribute to their ability to make new choices. Phrased in another way: We listen to the stories they tell and offer different stories that fit their perception of reality, yet offer a different interpretation. A lot of what we take for granted are assumptions, unconscious beliefs and half-hidden values. This is the part of the iceberg that’s below the surface, and we make some of it conscious by what we do.

Do managers, and particularly top managers, have any particular role during this learning process?

Olaf: Yes. The bottleneck is located at the top of the bottle. In any organization where power and authority are distributed in a pyramid, your beliefs, values, habits, expectations and aspirations are the more influential the closer you are to the top. That’s why we usually start with the executive leadership team: Once they have and demonstrate clarity on what they want, many impediments to the organization’s performance simply melt away.

Michael:  Yes. Absolutely. The limit to functioning and growth in every single organization I have worked with is the most senior leader in whatever part of the organization I have worked in. When a manager or CEO really gets it and wants to change, I have seen beautiful results emerge within days.   Earlier we were talking about culture. The mindset and beliefs of the manager in a hierarchy sets the default culture. Why? They have all the power. In the Agile space there are plenty of stories of how Agile (a progressive culture system) was rolled back when a new CEO or VP takes over.   I commonly say that “Transformation to an Agile mindset (or beyond) requires leadership. Management support is only helpful for adoption.”

Do you have a personal story about transformation to an Agile mindset you would like to share with us?

Michael: Sure. One example case study is for a 100 person department within a large media organization. I helped the management team realize that Agile is not the goal (neither practices nor mindset). Instead we discover what was important for them – their True North. And we steered the initiative based on this. We never talked about culture change as a goal. We never talked about transformation. But that is what happened. It was really inspiring to see managers stepping up their game by being vulnerable and letting go of control. Asking instead of telling. Of course they were learning and made lot’s of mistakes but they learned and moved on. We used the Gallup 12 question survey and engagement scores rose from 0.45 to 0.93 over 7 months (where -2 means strongly disengaged and 2 is highly engaged) – a big shift. It really was a beautiful experience to be a part of. Very inspiring.

What learnings do you hope participants will bring back with them from these two workshops?

Olaf: Most of all: consciousness and awareness. Consciousness of what’s going on in their own work environments, knowing a little more about the things beneath the surface, and knowing how to ask for more. Knowing how to raise awareness. To make our understanding of awareness clear lets use an analogy: when an infants learns how to crawl, and pushes herself backwards underneath some furniture she won’t be able to get out by herself. She’ll try everything she knows, harder, and will be certain that the situation can’t be her own fault: she did what she could. Culture is like that: the stories we believe to be true about ourselves and our context limit our possibility to see what we can do. Our practical methods and tools work like new eyes: Temenos builds trust, for instance, helping you leverage the diversity of your team. Allows you to learn new things about yourself: reducing your blind spot. That way you may overcome past difficulties and move forward together.

Michael: I would echo Olaf – consciousness and awareness for the Culture workshop. We invite participants to see the world in new ways. They may re-enter their work contexts with eyes that may more fully see what is there.   Although this is also true of the Temenos workshop, I see this as more about helping participants travel further on their own personal journey and equipping them with practical tools to build the connection and trust needed for real change.

Thank you Michael and Olaf! I hope all these great insights will spark everyone’s desire to come and live the experience of your workshops during the ScrumDay. And for closing the interview, is there a question you would have liked me to ask you? :)

Olaf:  What’s the most important principle for a thriving culture? To me, it is choice. Choice is based on awareness and options, and leads to responsibility. Choice requires leadership, and it is liberating.

Michael: Q: Why do I do what I do? A: My dream is to help organizations get the astonishing results that come from inviting the whole person to work. I want deep and meaningful engagement to become the norm.  Dragos, thanks for taking the time to play ping-pong interviewing. It’s been fun.

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