A Contrarian’s Perspective on Agile Mindset, Behaviors, Culture

We often hear that agile is a mindset. That we need to change our thinking to use agility.

Is that correct? That you need to change how you think first, before anything else?

I can think I change my mindset all day long. However, I don't change until I change my actions, my behaviors.

That's because a mindset is your intention, not what you do.

Behaviors are what we do.  And we behave according to our environment.

Our culture defines our environment.

Define Mindset, Behaviors, Culture

Are you familiar with Lewin's Equation, that Behavior is a function of the Person and the Environment?

Your behaviors are about what you do—your actions. We need behaviors if we want an agile culture.

The culture is a combination of:

  • How people treat each other
  • What people can discuss
  • What the organization rewards.

How do these all intersect?

When we create and refine a culture, we create an environment. Which behaviors do we need for an agile culture? Here's my minimum list:

  • We treat each other with respect. Not just at the team level, but at all levels in the organization.
  • We feel safe to discuss difficult problems, including feedback and financials. (I realize discussing financial information can challenge almost every person in every organization.)
  • We reward people when they work together, not just when they work alone.

These are my definition of the minimum, necessary behaviors that promote agility. You might need different and more behaviors.

Notice that each of these creates a virtuous cycle in the environment. No one has to change their beliefs (their mindset). However, they need to change their actions (behaviors).

Behaviors Create an Agile Culture

Let's discuss behaviors we might see in an agile culture.

I know of many people who reject agile frameworks and still use agile behaviors in their work. They behave in these ways:

  • Plan a little and deliver that little bit, to obtain feedback.
  • Observe their feedback cycles to see where they have delays in their system.  They then reflect and adjust their work to reduce those delays, at all levels.
  • Managers reward team-based work, at all levels. Why? To raise the capability of the entire team.

I consider these agile behaviors. They might not be all the necessary behaviors. However, with the addition of frequent retrospectives, they can create and maintain an agile culture.

Your team might need different and more behaviors.

My Contrarian Perspective

You know the proverb:

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions”

Mindset is about intentions.

Worse, other people can't mind-read what you think. They only see your actions.

No one's intentions are enough to create an agile culture. Only our behaviors can create that culture.

Which behaviors does the environment encourage? And which behaviors does the environment discourage?

That's the culture.

That's why I take a contrarian perspective about mindset.

If I have to choose, I'll take behaviors that encourage agility any time over mindset. Those behaviors will support/create/refine an agile culture. And over time, those behaviors will change beliefs—the mindset.

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