Lose weight and increase agility. That would be a good New Year's resolution for many organizations. In the past year(s), I’ve been in touch with lots of teams and organizations. And although some of them are in good shape, many still suffer from organizational overweight. ⚖️
Interestingly, most of them already pledged to lose “weight” years ago. That was the primary purpose of their Agile transformation. But instead of losing weight, they gained weight. And instead of increasing agility, they only become more rigid, slow, and sluggish.
So what happened? 🤔
I don’t know the details of all the teams and organizations, but I do see some patterns…
1️⃣ Going on a diet requires discipline, resilience 💪, and patience. Not every organization is able/willing to show this. If the first results don’t show up quickly, they give up and move back to the old way of working, or they try a new diet.
2️⃣ Changing habits is difficult, especially if it impacts you personally, and not someone else. If you can’t put the blame on other teams or departments, you’ll quickly learn if you really wanted to change.
3️⃣ Organizations don’t know HOW to improve. They understand weight must be decreased, they even know how much weight they must lose, but how? 🤷
4️⃣ Organizations don’t know how to set SMALL improvements. Even if organizations know what to improve, they get stuck in way too big of improvements. So nobody knows how to get started. What would be the first step? 🤔
5️⃣ Organizations set unrealistic goals. An ambitious goal can boost morale 💯, yet a totally unrealistic goal can also be highly demotivating. Especially if nobody — except management — was included in setting the goal.
6️⃣ Removing existing parts is more difficult than adding something new. Instead of making tough decisions and removing roles, processes, or practices, it’s easier to add something new hoping it will magically 🪄 improve the situation.
7️⃣ Organizations are addicted to fast food consultancy 🍔. This is the type of consultancy that feels good in the short term but is actually unhealthy in the long term. Don’t fall into the trap of the sugar rush, you’ll regret it and will only gain weight.
Luckily, I have also noticed that many organizations have learned that their existing “Agile transformation” only made them more unhealthy. Maybe this needed to happen first before they are really open to some creative destruction. 🤷
10 Ideas to Lose Weight And Increase Agility
So what can you do to support your organization lose weight and increase agility? I’ll share 10 ideas to help you get started. All of them are based on Liberating Structures. Because using these structures shouldn’t be a goal in itself, I’ll emphasize their purpose and possibilities. Check the related blog posts for a step-by-step explanation.
1. Start with a clear purpose
Having a shared, clear, and inspiring purpose will drastically increase your chances of success. Purpose-To-Practice (P2P) helps you shape resilient initiatives and is ideally suited to kickstart the ambition to lose organizational weight. The first step is to define this purpose together. From there, P2P covers other essential elements — principles, participants, structure, and practices — that are designed to help achieve that purpose. Because everyone is involved in defining these essential elements, you ensure shared understanding and encourage self-organization.
You can download a high-resolution version of this illustration here.
2. Trigger creative destruction
The purpose of Ecocycle Planning is to analyze the full portfolio of activities and relationships to identify obstacles and opportunities for progress. Ecocycle Planning is about exploring what it is that you’re keeping in the air (but shouldn’t), and what it is that you aren’t (but should). Try this exercise within your organization, and plot all the activities, roles, projects, processes, and relationships on the Ecocycle. Analyze where things are stuck in the traps, and determine how to set things in motion. If it’s too much for one Ecocycle, you can also decide to focus on a specific area.
3. Make changes in the organizational system
Organizations are complex systems. They are made up of many layers, components, and elements that interact in unexpected and unpredictable ways. This interplay guides and shapes our behavior and what is possible. Systems Thinking offers a perspective on how we can influence complex systems. It invites us to look for patterns in the entire system and identify potential leverage points. Once we find the proper leverage points, even a small push can trigger a big change. Use the Liberating Structure “Panarchy” to find these leverage points, and remove bottlenecks & dependencies that prevent organizations from losing weight.
In Panarchy, the analysis shifts from one level to many different levels. This is just one example — you can add many more or add entirely different levels (e.g. culture, products).
4. Stop unhealthy and counterproductive behavior
TRIZ is one of the most confronting, painful, and yet also powerful Liberating Structures. It invites the creative destruction of activities and behaviors that limit innovation and productivity. In the first round, you ask everyone to list all the activities they can do, and the behavior they can show, to become the most heavyweight organization ever! In the second round, everyone marks the things they are actually already doing. This quickly illuminates all the existing unhealthy and counterproductive behaviors. In the third round, everyone works together to determine how they’ll stop this behavior from showing up again.
5. Discover essential needs and activities
Gaining weight as an organization is a slow process that takes years. For a long time, it can even go unnoticed. Over time, organizations slowly gain weight by adding roles, activities, processes, rules, governance, departments, etc. However, it won’t go unnoticed forever. Even if the company is still in denial, the harsh reality of being too slow, too rigid, and too sluggish will show up. Customers that wait too long for answers, products that won’t ship, and problems that don’t get fixed.
This is where “Min Specs” can show its value. It offers a balance between first exploring the entire field of do’s and must not do’s, and then aggressively narrowing down to what is absolutely essential. Given all the things we do as an organization, what is truly the absolute essential? And what are things we can actually do without?
6. Refine your improvements
As mentioned above, many organizations don’t know how to set small improvements. Even if organizations know what to improve, they get stuck in way too big of improvements. In the article “How To Refinement Your Improvements Into Actionable Quick Tips”, I address this problem and explain how 15% Solutions can help. They’re not the ultimate solutions to all your problems, but they will encourage the team to continuously make small improvements. Small steps in the right direction. They’ll allow the team to learn what is needed, identify the next steps, and simply boost team morale by showing change is possible! In short, lose organizational weight one pound at a time.
Trigger BIG change by starting small with ‘15% Solutions’.
7. Face paradoxical challenges
Good intentions and ambitions often get stuck because of paradoxical challenges. Despite good intentions, things just don’t seem to work out. Whenever this happens, there’s probably a Wicked Question at play. A Wicked Question creates transparency about seemingly paradoxical realities that exist side-by-side. By accepting both realities, you can engage in deeper strategic thinking and explore new possibilities.
In their aim to lose weight and increase agility, organizations can end up facing dozens of Wicked Questions. For example, “How is it that we want to deliver the best support and quality to our clients, and use minimal processes, governance, and quality checks simultaneously?”. Work together to make the paradoxical challenges visible that your organization faces in its ambition to lose weight, and use “Integrated~Autonomy” to learn how to effectively navigate the challenges.
8. Share success stories
Losing organizational weight and increasing agility isn’t easy. You’ll probably face many challenges that are difficult to resolve. Lack of improvement can start a negative spiral of blaming & complaining, which demotivates everyone. The Liberating Structure “Appreciate Interviews” is a great remedy to prevent or resolve this spiral of negativism. Starting from what goes well — instead of what doesn’t — it liberates spontaneous momentum and insights for positive change as “hidden” success stories are uncovered. Give it a try, share successful moments of organizational weight loss from the past, and work together to determine how you can make it happen in the present as well.
“Appreciate Interviews” is a great remedy to prevent or resolve a spiral of negativism by focusing on successful moments from the past, and bringing them back to the future.
9. Learn from other organizations
Whenever you hear “This is just the way things work in our organization” alarm bells should start ringing. Especially when it’s a widespread belief within the organization. If hardly anyone believes the organization will lose weight, it’s good to bring some fresh insights. Not from a trainer, coach, or consultant with a nice story — which can be helpful, but if it’s only theoretical, also frustrating —, but from other organizations that have managed to lose weight. Ideally organizations from the same size and/or industries. The Liberating Structure “UX Fishbowl” is a great way to have people from different organizations share their experiences, and to offer everyone the opportunity to ask their burning questions.
10. Express essential needs clearly
One reason that organizational change often doesn’t happen is because of unclear requests and expectations. Clearly expressing what we need from others to succeed isn’t something we’re very good at. It's easy to get stuck in vague requests like “We need to communicate openly” or “I need your support”. It's no wonder that the response to these needs is often equally vague, like “I will do my best” or “We’ll see”. Unclear requests for help are often met with equally unclear commitments. The Liberating Structure “What I Need From You” is designed as an antidote to the diffusion of accountability that is often prevalent in organizations and makes it hard to be successful. Give this exercise a try, and make super clear support requests to other teams, departments, and managers, necessary to lose organizational weight.
One reason that organizational change often doesn’t happen is because of unclear requests and expectations. WINFY can help you resolve this problem.
In this blog post, I shared 10 ideas to help your organization get started with losing weight and increasing agility. Ideas to rethink existing roles, activities, processes, rules, governance, etc. What can you change in order to become faster, less rigid, and more agile? In my experience, Liberating Structure can help you make the current situation (painfully) visible, spark meaningful change, and help you define the next small steps.
❓What causes for organizational overweight do you recognize?
❓What other reasons have you experienced?
❓What is an organizational change you’d like to see happen, and what would be your recommendation to start improving?