Agile Forest

Find your path to agility with Renee Troughton

The Smithsonian is the world’s largest museum and research complex with hundreds of affiliated museums.

The Stoosonian is much the same but switch up museum with people and thought leaders. It could be the collective noun for people focussed on building such a network focussed on leadership in the same guise that the Agile Alliance crowd marketed the Agile Manifesto.

If you haven’t heard of Stoos then you might have been on holidays and not reading or following the twitter streams in the Agile community. In just one week I heard about it from three separate sources so the community is certainly abuzz. And I hope rightly so.

So what is Stoos? Take a look at their opening statement at http://www.stoosnetwork.org

Reflecting on leadership in organizations today, we find ourselves in a bit of a mess. We see reliance on linear, mechanistic thinking, companies focusing more on stock price than delighting customers, and knowledge workers whose voices are ignored by the bosses who direct them. All these factors are reflected in the current economic crisis, increased inequity, bankruptcies and widespread disillusionment.

There has to be a better way.

In January 2012, a diverse group of twenty one people including senior executives, business strategists, managers, academics, and lean/agile development practitioners from four continents, met in Stoos, Switzerland. We believe that we uncovered some of the common characteristics of that better way.

Stoos SwitzerlandFrom the stoos network page there is a myriad of information that can be found from the closed sessions that were held. A good portion of content has started being posted on LinkedIn and on a variety of blogs and other mediums including #stoos on twitter. In fact, the wide variety of mediums does mean you have the traverse around a bit to gleam everything that is being talked about but without a doubt the social stream is incredibly active.

I spent a few nights taking everything in and having a look around. The hype from colleagues lived up to my initial delve and then I began to test the waters on a few questions that I had. My first concern had been the target Stakeholder list. Now let me start that I am highly impressed that the group took the effort to do this list, debate it and then re-evaluate it. But two things jumped out on that list (and a third now that I have received some responses):

  • The C-section (eg CIOs, CEOs, etc) are rated so low (before and after),
  • First line management is non existent (but maybe that is due to deviations in definition of middle management)
  • Shareholders are rated at 0

The reason why I was concerned in particular about the C-section being so low is that every time I have done an Agile transformation within an organisation it absolutely had to have C-section level buy-in. This wasn’t an optional element. It was critical to success. Without C-section level buy-in teams were left to do Agile in stealth. Sure they worked better than before but there was a upper bound of roadblocks that endlessly re-0ccured and never got addressed because there was no organisational focus on being Agile. Culture of the team subtly changed but without C-section buy-in the culture of the organisation would never change.

This is critical to not miss. Agile, to get the benefit, requires cultural transformation. The Leadership problem is no different – in fact it is more often then not Leadership that drives culture. I’m not just talking about first line managers but also middle managers, CIOs and CEOs.

I then did a deep dive at the problem analysis done. The Stoos problem mind mapAgain I want to take a moment and congratulate the Stoos team on the job they did on generating this starting diagram. I would imagine they spent a few hours on this and as a starting map I think it covers most of the key points. To get it past 80/20 right it would have likely taken the whole two days.

If you take a look at the top two (not necessarily by priority) root causes you see shareholders and C-section management as the cause.

So my concern is that without doing something to address those two root causes that all this effort might be in vain.

Side note: would love to see the 5 whys applied to the root causes because they aren’t base root – eg Why are leadership skills missing in today’s managers?

Now I posed the question of C-section being non targeted in the twitter stream and was given a couple of nice links which is great information and a step in the right direction but again isn’t the root cause. The root cause as in the article is lack of education – and who do we need to educate? – the C-section, shareholders, and future to-be C-managers. Which is why I am happy that educators are high on the target audience. So there is hope, but maybe not in my lifetime.

What I love about the Stoos community thus far:

  • They are responsive, they are listening and they have some beautifully deep thinkers in there. A few of the questions that popped up in my mind today whilst I was a road-trip I was amazed to have found others ask and have had answers/responses to.
  • There is an appreciation that the command and control culture is thousands of years old – this is a very deeply embedded behavioural human trait. I am curious if it is neurologically driven somehow.
  • There is an appreciation that we actually have the answers on how to lead – it is just that for some reason it is not disseminating as expected. This is where I think some deep thinking root cause analysis needs to be directed towards.

As a test I asked a friend of mine who leads a team of ten about their leadership.

Do you think you are a leader or a manager?
A little of both. More detail then given.

How do you think your team perceives you – more as a leader or a manager?
Probably a manager.

Why did you go into management as a field?
For the money.

Not because you enjoy working with people?
No. I was smart, it was expected of me to progress that way.

How much time do you spend learning of new leadership and management techniques?
None. I have no time for that sort of stuff. I am too busy. 

So if you weren’t so busy you would spend some time learning how to be a better leader/manager?
Probably not. 

I could have continued going on to find the root cause but at that time my friend was starting to get the picture that I wasn’t playing nicely. Getting honest answers on this is going to be hard but we need to get some broad understanding (ie real metrics lean start-up style) to make sure we are going to make a dent in this massive global problem.

So lastly I want to say thank-you to the Stoos group for having the guts to tackle this and to make a great start on it. I am pleased that the group has such a diverse set of thinkers but would love to see a few other thoughtleaders included in the list – my pick would be someone who represents motivation (eg Dan Pink), someone for crowdscourcing (eg Dan Tapscott) and someone from the field of Neuroscience (to be honest Peter Burrows wouldn’t be so bad as he conceptually understands Agile and more importantly has some interesting team dynamic theories).

Keep it up and don’t take this blog as a big rant of criticism – the good certainly way outweighs the bad.

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5 thoughts on “Stoosonians unite!

  1. Thanks for the post, Renee!

    One comment: it was just 8 people (out of the 21) who were discussing the “priorities” of the various stakeholders. Don’t put too much value in it. Our opinions changed all the time! :)

    Jurgen

    1. Thanks Jurgen – glad to hear it.

      I heard a rumour that one of the leading leaders in Agile went for a toilet break when the ‘customer collaboration over contract negotiation’ line came up and found out after the fact (and disagrees with it!).

  2. Mareko says:

    Gidday Renee,
    Excuse my pedantry but I got distracted by the grating last phrase of your last sentence… “the good certainly “way out ways the bad”, which makes no sense at all unless it “outweighs the bad”.
    That said, here are two comments:
    1. your analysis is structured in a way that reflects the reliance on linear, mechanistic thinking that the Stoos thing was trying to address. Defaulting to an analysis that talks of “C-section” (a gynaecological term!) to describe a level of management reflects a level of comfort with the status quo that is hardly a new way of thinking about the problems this gathering sought to address.
    2. The root cause is not a lack of education, the product of which is knowledge. We collectively have learned a lot already. The root cause is about understanding why shareholders and managers have failed to deal with the issues Stoos is trying to address. I think the answer lies somewhere in a different dilemma; that we know so much and understand so little. We confuse knowledge with wisdom.
    Stoos will yield good results if we take the time to reflect on what they have observed and analysed.
    Keep up the good work!

    1. Hi Mareko,

      Firstly thank-you for pointing out the poor error in my last sentence. I have hopefully corrected it.

      For your comments I think we whole heartedly agree with each other. I don’t know what the root cause is, I believe it hasn’t been drawn into in enough detail yet to get the right answer. Education is the answer that the link that I was referred to gave (along with government changes). I do believe more time should be spent getting to the root cause and trust and hope the Stoos group will do exactly that. See my side note comment regarding my thoughts that root-cause needs more work.

      The C-section reference was again not a term that I began with in relation to Stoos (it is in the problem map diagram). I was using terminology that the gathering used but if the prolification of it further is detrimental I am not bound to it in any form.

      Maybe I missed your point?

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