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How Quadrants Look from Different Holons

Because we are concerned with enterprise-level agility for Agile Transformations, we have largely focused on the organizational holon level. Working at the enterprise level incorporates the people, processes, and views of the levels rolling up to it, but it can also be useful to see the world specifically from the point of view of a team holon (whether a delivery team or a leadership team) or from the program or department holon. Depending on our purpose, it can be helpful to do some scale shifting, looking specifically at an issue from different holon levels (as we would from different quadrants). For instance, if we’re working with a program or department, it is helpful to see the world from its point of view, in all four quadrants. Since programs and departments are both holons, they are both parts and wholes. As wholes, we can look at them from each of the four perspectives.

For example, when an Agile team brings up an impediment in the daily Scrum, we would first look at that issue from the team holon view to see if it can be resolved—looking from the I, WE, IT, and ITS points of view. If not, we take another look at it from the program level: What do we see, and what could potentially be solved at that holon level and from any of the four quadrants? Many times, we see issues as organizational impediments that are brought to more senior leadership for intervention. As an alternative, we can think about touring the quadrants, the altitudes, and the different holon levels—of using a new form of systems thinking. In addition to looking at the level of agility in each holon, we also pay attention to how they interact, align, and support the overall organizational goal.

This section takes a tour of each quadrant through the three holon levels of organization, program (or department), and team. We will travel quadrant by quadrant—from the organization to the program to the team holon level.

Leadership and Mindset

In this section, we will tour the organization, program, and team levels within the I quadrant.

Organizational-Level Holon

The “Leadership and Mindset” quadrant, when seen from an organizational perspective, includes the developmental levels of leaders across the organization, from team leaders and first-level managers, to executives, CXOs, and even the board of directors. The developmental level of leaders will set a very definite organizational constraint or ceiling for what can be accomplished in terms of evolving to a more adaptive, complex organization. As Laloux (2014) puts it, “the general rule seems to be that the level of consciousness of an organization cannot exceed the level of consciousness of its leader” (p. 239).

Further, if we are attempting to develop real organizational agility, we will likely need to move into the range of Teal altitude. Citing his extensive research into Teal organizations, Laloux (2014) makes the point: “The CEO must look at the world through an Evolutionary-Teal lens for Teal practices to flourish” (p. 239). But for what, exactly, does the leader’s consciousness serve as a constraint? How is the organization structured (hierarchy versus self-organized, functions versus value streams); how does it develop products and services (focused on process, customers, or brand and purpose); what are the attributes of its climate/culture (results-centric versus purpose-centric)? Clearly, development in the “Leadership and Mindset” dimension is essential to our goal.

Program-Level Holon

If we look from the program holon, we see the I quadrant from a bit narrower focus; in essence, we could think of the I quadrant as Program Member Leadership and Mindset. At the program level, it is important to pay attention to how people think about their engagement and connection to the overall program vision and goals. Does the program have a mission, similar to the way a product does? Do the members own and identify with that mission? The program should have a strong sense of identity, a differentiation with a compelling vision that teams can rally around (as occurred with the DaVinci program described later in this chapter). If program members do not feel a strong connection to the overall program goals and culture, a sense of identity connecting them to the program or department, the program will be weak as a holon, and people will find connection at the team level instead.

While the most senior leader’s level of consciousness sets the constraint on how much the organization can develop, at the team or program level the organization may be able to operate—temporarily—at a higher level than organizational leaders do. Laloux’s experience (and ours) makes us quite skeptical of the ability of a group to operate in this fashion in the long term, once more senior leaders understand what is really going on, and how the new way of thinking poses a threat to the current organizational system. Says Laloux (2014): “Ultimately, the pyramid will get its way and reassert control” (p. 238). This is what happens in a bottom-up Agile Transformation approach: It may have limited success, but ultimately it is undermined by the corporate antibodies.

Team-Level Holon

The I quadrant can be seen as Team Member Values, Mindset, and Engagement. Team members who feel highly engaged with other team members are more likely to actually be a team. Further, to form a strong Agile team, they will need to embrace the values and mindsets of their Agile practices and the pride of software craftsmanship. We can also look at leadership traits in individuals: To what degree are team members able to own the work and hold each other accountable? Can they understand and respect the perspectives of others, both other team members and stakeholders? To what degree can they contain their anxieties when under stress—to come from an outcome-creating stance rather than a problem-reacting one? Do their individual values align with each other, and are they aligned to Agile values? To what degree do team members believe their team mission is connected with, and important to, the overall organization’s mission?

Another way to look at this holon is to notice the mindset of leadership at the team level and to determine whether the Agile Transformation effort is solely focused on the team’s delivery and results rather than seeing them as part of a bigger effort that rolls up and across the entire organization.

Practices and Behavior

In this section, we tour the three holons within the IT quadrant.

Organizational-Level Holon

At the organization level, we are looking at the “Practices and Behavior” quadrant and how the whole organization develops and measures its products and services, how it uses technology and employs modern technical engineering practices, what level of craftsman behaviors is apparent, and what kinds of interpersonal and communication skills are developed and practiced. To achieve organizational agility, the organization needs to operate as a whole body rather than as a series of siloes. This requires boundary-spanning practices and behaviors that bring together leaders, programs, teams, and individuals across the entire organization to collaborate and co-create their future. When we adopt this lens, we look at the overall behavior of the organization and what is blocking it from achieving the results it desires.

Program-Level Holon

The IT quadrant at the program level might be thought of as Program Practices and Behavior. This perspective considers how the program develops and measures its product(s), how it employs technical engineering practices (software craftsman behaviors), and the skills and competencies that program members and leaders bring to bear in their communications and interactions and in how they relate with one another. If different practices are used at a program level, your observations could be very different than those made at the organizational level.

When we put on the holon lens of “program,” we are not looking at the full organization but only at the program of focus and its relationship—or embeddedness in—the surrounding environment, the organization. From this view, how does our program contribute to the organization’s overall results?

Team-Level Holon

The IT quadrant for teams concerns Agile practices and behaviors. For teams, this means how the team engages in Agile practices, what their inspect-and-adapt cycle looks like, how the team employs technical engineering practices, and how (and how well) they communicate and interact with one another. This is largely the purview of the Agile health checks that many people do. An additional aspect is how teams manage dependencies and impacts across teams, including how they manage relationships outside their boundary. Again, the results may be quite different at this level than at either the program or organizational level. In fact, many teams we have worked with had a far greater capacity to employ Pluralistic-Green practices than did their overall organization.

Notice again the behaviors and ways of working between holon levels. If your Agile Transformation is only doing Agile practices with teams, and the way of working doesn’t shift between and within each holon, it will not be possible to achieve agility.

Organizational Architecture

In this section, we tour the three holons within the ITS quadrant.

Organizational-Level Holon

The Organizational Architecture and Environment quadrant concerns the overall organizational structure, the team staffing philosophy, performance management metrics, the finance and accounting systems and processes, governance, corporate policies, and external realities like government regulation, industry groups, and competitive pressures, as well as the effects they have on the entire organizational body. If we take a numerical perspective on the organization (using various metrics), we can see whether workflows are constrained, efficient, or adding customer value, as well as the overall flow of value in the organization. We can also look at the level of alignment between senior organizational leaders and the organizational goals and strategies, metrics, employee rewards and incentives, policies, and governance. The degree to which senior leaders are not aligned on how the organization is architected in these areas will inevitably trickle down to middle management and the program level, which then snowballs down to the team.

Program-Level Holon

For a program, the primary focus is how work flows into and out of the program. We could see this perspective as Flow Constraints and Enablers; it concerns the overall environment and the way it supports or inhibits flow, both from and to the program. This includes the surrounding organization in which the program is embedded—for example, how the organizational structure affects the program, how teams are staffed, performance metrics, financing, program governance, and how corporate policies affect the program.

When there is no alignment between program goals and overall organizational goals, the program has too much incentive to remain a silo, its own island. This misalignment is often made evident at the program level, where middle management becomes the “frozen middle” in a transformation effort.

In general, the focus is on how those factors impact the flow of value that the program is able to create, either as a constraint (bureaucratic governance) or as an enabler (an organizational policy supporting collaborative workspaces). A program may have varying levels of influence over this external environment. In any case, it is helpful to understand the limitations, and the opportunities, to enhance program functioning.

Team-Level Holon

Finally, ITS is about Flow Constraints and Enablers at the team level. The overall environment for a team is the surrounding organization in which the team is embedded, especially any program or department of which it is a part. Issues of concern can include how the team is staffed, who the manager of the team reports to, which performance metrics the team is measured on (or whether different team members are measured differently), and how the team’s relationship to the budgeting process, governance, and any corporate policies that affect them unfolds. Again, the focus is on how those factors impact the flow of value that the team is able to create, either as a constraint or as an enabler.

The team is particularly subject to influences from the surrounding ITS environment, especially from the program level. Impediments to the work of Agile teams will show up when no environmental structure supports their ability to do the Agile practices in the way they were intended to be enacted. Some examples follow:

  • Team members are all remote, and there are inadequate collaboration tools.

  • The team cannot set up physical structures like collaborative workspaces.

  • Team members report to different managers who have different goals and use different measurements.

  • There are individualistic reward policies that directly undermine the members’ incentive to work as a team.

  • Policies around the test environment infrastructure or release management thwart the team’s flow.

A lack of adequate flexibility in the organization’s architecture will greatly impede the team’s ability to fully embody the Agile practices and behaviors. In addition, this inattention sends a message that the organization’s leadership is not committed to the Agile Transformation; thus, there is no compelling vision for team members to want to enroll in the change.

Organizational Culture and Relationships

Finally, we tour the three holons within the WE quadrant.

Organizational-Level Holon

The Organizational Culture and Relationships quadrant is fundamentally about the altitude of the organization’s culture—Amber, Orange, Green, or Teal—including leadership, atmosphere, and the mental models and philosophy that drive hiring, rewards and performance, perceptions about failure, learning, accountability, conflict resolution, decision making, organizational values, hierarchy, and authority.

Also of interest is the degree to which different subcultures exist within the organization. Do they harmonize with one another and support the overall organizational mission, or are they a barrier? Does the finance department operate conservatively (Amber) and the technology delivery teams take an inclusive approach with customers (Green), while the senior leadership team focuses on achieving targets at almost any cost (Orange)? Is the Agile Transformation driven purely from IT (practices), or is it truly an organizational transformation?

Program-Level Holon

From a program level, we focus on the culture of the program and the relationships within it, but not necessarily those of the surrounding organization, since they may be different—hence, Program Culture and Relationships. The WE quadrant concerns the shared vision of a common product that binds the program together, as well as the program’s overall culture. It includes the altitude of the program culture and the values that members hold together. Is there a coherent sense of belongingness across the program, or is it merely a management convenience to join elements into a cost center, calling them by the same name? These two alternatives are clearly different.

In an Agile Transformation context, we often see Agile Transformation efforts operated as separate change initiatives rather than being coordinated or consistent in their Agile practices and in their change approach. This causes confusion across the organization, as a common language is lacking that might unite people toward a common goal. Also, you might have experienced programs in various business units competing with each other, vying to be the best, or various programs within a transformation effort competing with each other to “go Agile” first. These behaviors contribute to an us-versus-them culture, which reinforces the status quo and does not bring about transformation.

Team-Level Holon

The WE quadrant at this level could be seen as Team Culture and Alignment. For teams, the WE quadrant is about the quality of the team culture—a strong versus a weak culture, Amber versus Orange versus Green versus Teal altitude, and so on—as well as how aligned team members are around a shared vision, their commitment to a shared process, and their mutual accountability toward their common goal. Fundamentally, are they a team, or are they just a collection of individuals?

When beginning an Agile Transformation, it is critical to address the need for team members to understand their new roles and how they will contribute to the team, including what changes and what stays the same. If not, the team members will not have a strong sense of “we,” as their sense of identity has not been attended to in bringing in the new way of working. This may trigger resistance to Agile at the team level. At the team level, we are specifically paying attention to healthy relationships that model a culture of Agile values and beliefs.

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