Agile 2018

Agile 2018
Speaking at Agile 2018

Monday, October 19, 2015

Fighting the Corporate Immune System.

The game of business can be crooked.
One of the most interesting things to come out of biology over the last century has been something known as the Gaia hypothesis.  The theory says that living things interact with non-living things in such a way that a whole ecosystem behaves like a living organism.  It has a lot of criticism in the scientific community and if correct could upset our ideas of natural selection. What makes it appealing to most people is that it conforms with our notions of belonging to an organic whole of life having a purpose on the planet.

If you could apply the Gaia hypothesis to an entire planet in theory you could narrow the focus to a work place.  This week, I want to talk about the immune systems that organizations develop when you are trying to lead change.  I stand by my assertion that the modern corporation is the last vestige of feudalism in contemporary society.  Notions of human dignity, intellectual growth, and making a difference are quickly subsumed by the petty power games of executives, the demands of shareholders, and the peer pressure of the others who share your cubical space.

This is a challenge for agile professionals because continuous improvement and accountability are major threats to executives who see their command and control structures threatened by people in taupe blazers.  The modern business has four major defense mechanisms.

Quid Pro Quo Behavior – 

This phrase means tit for tat.  It is often used during sexual harassment training to describe a sexual favor being traded for bit of career advancement.  For the agilest, this means that people in the organization do favors for each other and in doing so create a currency.  This currency is bartered around the organization and it used to get work done and cover up malfeasance or laziness.  As long as the Quid Pro Quo behavior is not discussed or exposed it will continue.

Social Networks – 

Spending time with people develops bonds.  Friendships with develop and they become a kind of armor against people who want to change things.  A project manager with a close friendship with a department head can get away with plenty of bad behavior to subordinates.  The relationship cultivated will trump the duty of the department head to hold that individual accountable.  So pointing out the misconduct is really threatening your credibility as a person to that department head.

Not invented here – 

Plenty of organizations consider their processes to be unique to their businesses, so anyone who suggests that accounting behaves the same way regardless of the product produced will be treated like a heretic.  Worse these people might be treated like someone “…who isn’t being a team player.”  To suggest that methods of doing things have been tested and true in other organizations, is undermining the uniqueness and authority of the organization you work with.  The change agent will be cut off and eventually removed.

Tenure –

In some organizations the only way to get ahead is to stick around and put up with drivel until someone retires and you are promoted in that person’s place.  What this does is encourage group think and lack of risk taking because the way you move up the organization ladder is to avoid calling attention to yourself.  Thus, the least innovative, curious and creative people make decisions.  It is the reward of the bland and boring.

So this week think about these four pieces of an organization’s immune system and how as a change agent you can work around them.

Until next time.