A drone exploring the agile organization

Culture is what a drone that can roam about freely in an organization would capture as it follows all conversations, meetings and decisions.

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What is the culture of the world's top organizations like?

This is one of the questions we are asked most often.

Our first answer is: Agile organizations are not all alike. And that is for the simple reason that they never take shortcuts.

There is no company in the world that has been transformed by massive Scrum, Agile or Agile HR certifications (just kidding).


There is no organization in the world that has been transformed by the nice graphics that many storytelling, desk and board gurus post on Linkedin. Enough of the show. Companies are too important players in society to keep on fooling around with them.

The sole truth is that the top organizations in the world are the best because they have experimented on their own and have refined their cultures and ways of working over the years.

In today's world there are organizations where leaders improve excels and there are others where leaders improve cultures. You already know who the winners are.

Thus, these organizations do not copy the systems or practices of others, but believe in continuous experimentation to find the best path for their own vision, mission and strategy.

However, we cannot specify what they look like for all of them individually, our almost two decades of experience building these organizations allows us to define 8 cultural features that can be recognized when working and living in these companies. Our colleague David Hanna likes to define cultures in organizations that way:

Culture is what would be captured by a drone that could move freely throughout our organization and follow all conversations, meetings and decisions.
If such a drone existed,
this is what it would capture in any leading organization:
  • 1. Leaders in the Gemba, the place where things happen.
  • 2. Teams (in)validating their ideas with customers
  • 3. Obsession with learning at top speed
  • 4. Problems always come first
  • 5. Leaders who humanize, not robotize
  • 6. A love affair with impact, not activity
  • 7. Shared purpose through OKR that unite and inspire
  • 8. Maximum self-organization and accountability

1. Leaders in the Gemba, the place where things happen

Leaders and teams who close their PowerPoints and leave the comfort of their iPad to practice Genchi Genbutsu: talking face to face with people, potential customers in their Gemba (the place where things happen) seeking to learn about their problems and concerns.

This contrasts to the unfortunately common image of executives in their meeting rooms, disconnected from their customer-facing teams, pondering over products and services that they think people might consume (and often don’t).

2. Teams (in)validating their ideas with customers

Teams that don’t fall in love with their ideas and present them to the customer as early as possible, using the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) to (in)validate that their products or services solve a problem the customer is willing to pay for.

Customer in the middle, teams in front

3. Obsession with learning at top speed

Focus on unlearning. We learn from everything that does not work and then change it accordingly. No matter whether it is a product, a business model or an organizational concept we are talking about.
Just use this simple algorithm:

Every time faster.
as an organizational learning cycle for continuous improvement based on data and provided evidence.

This organizational learning mindset is built on the belief that everyone needs to be prepared to fail, but at the same time ensures that he/she has the capacity to succeed. The focus, then, is not on failure (as seems to be the fashion these days), but on avoiding major failures by being prepared to learn from many small ones and turn them into improved and accelerating actions.

4. Problems always come first

Agile organizations do not recognize those who present scorecards full of “greenery” and seek to extend the shadow of past successes.

In leading organizations, problems are made visible in order to turn them into opportunities as quickly as possible.

One of the leaders who has inspired us most over the past 12 months told his organization when our transformation was launched:

We will not spend one more minute looking at scorecards with "green" indicators. Meetings, on the few occasions when they are really necessary, will be about turning problems into opportunities.

In agile organizations, every day starts from scratch. These organizations believe in finding problems quickly to develop the organizational capacity for solving them. Problems are not only a chance to improve, but also an opportunity to build teams capable of solving problems both autonomously and in alignment with the rest of the organization.

5. Leaders who humanize, not robotize.

To humanize means to respect. Respect, however, not as it is understood in the show of Kibble Eating conferences.

Respect is neither robotizing people nor protecting the mediocre and abandoning those who always respond in a productive way.

True respect is shown in the commitment to develop people so that they can always go another step further.
This is what respect means:

1.

Challenging people's intellect so they dare to evolve, even if it causes them discomfort, and take steps to become the best version of themselves.

2.

Not blaming people for problems that are systemic and require direct intervention from leadership.

3.

Making sure that people don't waste time on automated tasks that can be handled by robots as well.

Leaders are easily distinguished from the wax figure bosses in front of their PowerPoints, as the former continually ask themselves the question:

What can we do to help people grow by innovating and developing better products for our customers?

6. A love affair with impact, not activity

This implies:

Stopping the "hierarchical factory of doing too much"

in favor of

Setting in motion “the netarchy of impact”.

Impact that is generated by developing the ability to transform products, software, or services in the shortest possible time, or rather, in just the time the customer is willing to wait.

7. Shared purpose through OKR that unite and inspire

Objectives and Key Results that are converted into the missions of self-organized teams. OKR provide teams with the guidance needed to shape their missions and their iterative plans to achieve them.

We've proven that massive impact can be achieved without a single PowerPoint.

Additionally, OKR help create interdependencies between different teams and build collaborative routines to make those interdependencies work throughout the year.

8. Maximum self-organization and accountability

Self-organization that translates into autonomy and maturity to be recognized and observed in each team and individual.

Autonomy is the result of in-depth technical expertise. This mastery of technology empowers individuals and teams to deliver value and achieve the common purpose reflected in the OKR.

Accountability is easily identified by a “Think like an owner” mentality. It is evident in those day-to-day decisions that are made “behind closed doors,” where individual interests are secondary to customer interests. Always.
Finally, one significant fact:
More than 76% of the organizations we have built and learned from around the world are leaders in their markets. The eight common characteristics we have just decoded are not opinions, but evidence of real impact made by these multinational top organizations.
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