Roy van de Water, Jade Meskill, and Clayton Lengel-Zigich discuss:
- What is the right pace for change in an organization
Jade Meskill: Hello, welcome to another episode of “Agile Weekly Podcast.” I’m Jade Meskill.
Roy van de Water: I’m Roy van de Water.
Clayton Lengel‑Zigich: I’m Clayton Lengel‑Zigich.
Jade: Today we wanted to talk about, when you’re making change inside of an organization, whether it’s at the team level or the management level, the organization structure, change takes some time. Regardless of how fast or slow, it takes some time to happen. How long is a reasonable amount of time to wait for change to happen?
Clayton: What if we start with this scenario? What if we changed as fast as possible so that no one is uncomfortable?
Jade: That’s going to be pretty slow.
Roy: Yeah, I’m not cool with that.
Jade: I feel like I’m OK with a lot of change, but it certainly makes me uncomfortable, a lot. If I waited for myself to be comfortable, I know that I would never change.
Clayton: What is it about being uncomfortable? If you’re saying that change makes you uncomfortable, you maybe get uncomfortable when there’s some change. What is it about that make you OK with being uncomfortable in that context?
Jade: I’d say for me is knowing, based on my previous experiences, that there is probably something better on the other side of that change, even though there is discomfort in the midst of that change.
Clayton: Yeah, I think I would say that I am probably in the same boat. I have past experiences where being uncomfortable, and going through some change is how I got some result I wanted.
Roy: You think that maybe if you don’t have that experience or that knowledge, that the end result is going to be better. The harder you push to try to make things go faster, the more pain or uncomfortableness you experience. It’s like, “I don’t want to push any harder, because then it will just make it worse, and it will get more and more painful, and there is no ceiling.”
Clayton: I like Indiana Jones in the “Last Crusade.” I am willing to step off that ledge where it looks like I’m going to fall in the ravine, because I know that the invisible ledge is actually there. I’m going to be able to walk across the chasm.
Jade: The chasm. The first time you did that…?
Clayton: The first time I did that, it was like in the movie, where I was like, “I’m going to fall my death.”
Jade: Somebody had to get the sand for you and throw it across?
Clayton: Yeah, there you go.
Jade: A prerequisite to this episode, “Go watch the movie.” No spoilers, we won’t tell you how it ends.
Clayton: There’s something from that. I know from experience that I probably discount this in others. At some point in time I went through the pain and suffering of being very uncomfortable and changing in it. It worked out OK.
I’ve done that multiple times. I’ve got great results from that. I’m totally on board and I’m happy to do that.
Other people who have not gone through that experience, I don’t think I give enough credit to how hard that is. I know that I’m very willing to do lots of changing and maybe change very fast.
I get frustrated when other people aren’t willing to go. Not even the same space, I understand that. They’re not even, to me it feels like, willing to go half as fast or a quarter as fast.
Jade: Something I’ve noticed that’s interesting is people that are uncomfortable with change, they think of change as the change.
If we’re going to do something different or try something different, we’re moving from one state to another, then that’s it. I find myself being very comfortable with knowing that, the faster we change, the faster we’re going to change. If we change and it’s not working out, I know that we’re going to change quickly to something else.
Do you think that factors into people’s comfort level with being afraid to experience that change because they feel it’s going to be a permanent situation on the other side?
Clayton: I would say so, yeah, especially if you’ve been doing the same thing or something similar for a long time. That’s maybe how you got to where you are now. That makes it even harder.
I read a good article where people were talking about how in the Agile community, we can’t just go discounting managers and say that managers are stupid people, and they’re so dumb and why don’t they get it?
Obviously, they did something. They work inside some system and they’ve gone to some level in that system using whatever they had to do. That’s the world they know.
Obviously, they’re not dumb people. They didn’t just stumble upon being a manager, but they did something to get there, based on the rules in that context.
Roy: Like being born to the present.
Clayton: The management class?
Clayton: I guess I can’t talk about that. There’s a whole swath of people out there who are managers of Agile teams that got there somehow.
Maybe you disagree with that system and you think it’s an antiquated way to work. Whatever, but they did something. They’re not totally stupid.
To go in as an Agilest and say, “We’re going to change everything, and change is good, and you need to accept it,” blah, blah, blah, that’s so foreign. That’s not how everything has worked before and it’s like you’re discounting everything that these people have done so far as if it’s just throwaway.
Jade: The complexity of the reality that they live in.
Clayton: Right, exactly. I think that’s another factor that we don’t consider with change. That’s one of the reasons why people go slow, is that you’re having to do this whole context switch.
I think some of it’s a mindset thing, too. If you’re a fixed‑mindset person, the world is the way it is, for whatever reason. You shouldn’t change because it wouldn’t work. You’re not meant to be that person.
Roy: In fact, you desperately try to hold on to the old way because that’s the only world in which you can survive and thrive.
Clayton: Yeah, that’s the one that you’re good at. You want more of the thing you’re good at.
I would say that people that have more of a growth mindset are probably more willing to say, “OK, you want to do something that sounds totally radical? I’ll try that for a while,” because to them, it’s not the end state.
Jade: What happens if we turn this scenario around and say, we change as fast as the most aggressive person? What happens then?
Roy: All right, now we’re talking.
Clayton: I don’t know. Why does that appeal to you, Roy?
Roy: It goes fast.
Clayton: For the sake of going fast?
Roy: Well, you get there faster.
Jade: Do you?
Roy: I don’t know, maybe you don’t. I got a feeling that that would make the majority of people extremely uncomfortable, probably beyond whatever their limits are.
Jade: Would they be completely dysfunctional at that point?
Roy: I don’t know. They’d either be completely dysfunctional, or maybe just totally leave, or even mentally check out and just not be able to cope.
Jade: Just reject the reality that’s happening around them?
Roy: That’s what’s interesting. If you took an individual that worked for some backwards organization and threw them into a completely different organization, even if he didn’t choose that, I feel like that individual would adapt very quickly. There would be some uncomfortableness, but it would be relatively minor.
Now, if you were to do the opposite case, where you have one person going to an organization and radically changing that organization, everybody has to change. That is way more painful, if you try to do that at speed.
Clayton: I think going as fast as the most aggressive person, I would say there’s probably a good chance that you’re going to throw the baby out with the bath water.
Jade: It feels reckless, to me.
Clayton: Yeah, exactly. If I’m doing it just for the thrill of speed, I want to get to whatever the next state is, in my opinion, as fast as possible. I think you probably risk losing people, insights or whatever, that would be beneficial to the whole group, because you’re trying to go so fast.
I would also say it’s a two‑way street. The person that wants to go super slow and be comfortable, the Agile community is very good at trying to analyze that problem of why is this person wanting to go slow, what are they afraid of? Blah, blah, blah.
Then the people who want to go as fast as possible, there’s fears on that side, too, that we don’t address. I would say the people that want to go as fast as possible are probably not very common.
Roy: They’re probably afraid, too. They’re afraid that the change that they want will never happen, so if they don’t go fast enough…
Clayton: There’s some reason that they want to go so fast.
Roy: It would be like “Speed,” where if they drop below 50 miles per hour, the bus explodes.
Clayton: I haven’t seen that yet, Roy.
Jade: We’ll save you the trouble.
Clayton: I’m trying to go through Sandra Bullock’s entire catalog.
Clayton: I think we probably ignore the fact that there are a lot of reasons why people want to go super fast. I’ve seen that in organizations where people get the bug to change something and they say, “Oh, cool. This is an opportunity to change everything.”
For whatever reason, they’re unhappy with what the status quo is, and they want to change everything. I agree. It seems reckless. I’m not sure where we’re going, but we’re not here anymore.
Jade: We’re not stopping to find out.
Clayton: Yeah, exactly. We’re going as fast as we can.
Roy: Doesn’t that sound fun?
Jade: Sometimes, maybe.
Roy: You don’t know where you’re going to end up, that sounds like a great time.
Clayton: Yeah, I guess it depends where you end up.
Roy: No, it doesn’t. It’s not about the destination. It’s about how you get there.
Clayton: I would have a lot of fun going on some adventure, but then if we ended up in the middle of nowhere, I’d be like, “Hmm. The honeymoon’s over, I don’t want to be in the middle of nowhere any more.”
Jade: Yeah, I’m the same.
Roy: That makes you lame.
Jade: We have an interesting mix on our little group. Derek’s not here with us tonight, but Roy and Derek are much more on the aggressive side. I’m definitely on the more conservative side. I think you’re there with me, too, Clayton.
Clayton: I would say I’m more concerned about I want to go somewhere. I’d go on an adventure, as long as it’s the one I want to go on.
Roy: I’m the exact opposite. Your thing of, “I don’t know where I’m going to end up, but if I end up in the middle of nowhere, I’m going to be upset,” that’s every weekend for me and I’m not upset.
Clayton: Right, that is true.
Jade: Then we’ve had some good experience in our past of changing rapidly, trying new things, doing things. Why does it work for us?
Clayton: There is something about the fact that we really actually believe in iterative approach to things beyond building software. You had started out by saying we’re OK with changing because we know that’s not the end state. It’s just the next thing and it will help us change faster. I think that’s a big part of it.
Also, the fact that we’re willing to call a duck a duck and say, “Hey, look, we tried this thing and it failed. That doesn’t mean we’re failures.” Maybe the actions we took or the outcome we had was a failure. It wasn’t what we expected or what we wanted, but that’s OK. Let’s try a new thing.
Those are two things that have made it much easier for us to be successful, but I would argue that maybe starting out early on, it was super painful, probably had a lot of fallout and wasn’t as successful as maybe we remember it, so.
Jade: I remember the early days being terrible, going home so frustrated and upset every might. Yeah, it definitely wasn’t an overnight thing that happened. It took years for us to get to that point.
Clayton: I would say also, having multiple perspectives. Coaching a client that is going slow and watching it unfold at a certain pace, maybe a pace that you’ve already spent a lot of time going, it’s much easier to see it happen. To them, it’s happening at 80 miles an hour, but we’re watching it at 8 miles an hour and so it seems like a slow‑mo.
Roy: I’ve seen this racecourse. I know every turn. Let’s beat this up and get to the end.
Clayton: Well even if from a cooking perspective, you’re not really concerned about getting to the end, but you are interested. At least you have different perspectives on, “There’s this corner coming up. How are they going to handle that? I remember that and I remember it being precarious.”
Roy: It doesn’t strike me as, “Nobody cares, get over there.”
Jade: How would we help people who have realized that they need some level of change in their organization at some part of their organization? How are we going to help them find that right speed that they need to be going, not too fast, not too slow, being effective, but not reckless?
Clayton: I think there’s just course correction that probably has to happen. I don’t think that you’re ever going to get it right. It’s really hard to dial it in the first go.
Roy: It’s really hard to dial it in on any go.
Clayton: Right, so I would say chances are, if things seem like they’re going well, then maybe that means you’re going too slow. If things start feeling like they’re totally out of control, maybe you need to slow down a little bit.
There’s probably something. A big component is probably just having the self‑awareness of, “Am I being afraid or is this actually working?” Or, “Am I out of my comfort zone or am I just telling myself that?”
Roy: I think it’s like that, being wary of and aware of the idea of recoil, as well. Like that feeling you get when things are going successful and it’s almost creepily successful, where you want to back off because all of a sudden…
Jade: You start becoming negative about it, just because something in you is forcing you to deny it that it’s happening.
Roy: It’s almost like emotionally hedging your bet in case it doesn’t actually end up being as successful as you think it is.
Jade: Yeah, I’ve seen that a lot. We still do that a lot.
Clayton: I would say, for me, a phrase that I had read a long time ago that I like is, “If you want something that you don’t have, go do something that you haven’t done before.”
If I want some outcome where I think that my organization needs to change and this is the way we need to go, I probably can’t do that if I’m going to do the same thing I’ve always been doing. I’m going to have to do something different.
Chances are that something different means being uncomfortable to some degree. My rule of thumb is, I know I’m not improving or excelling, or maybe going as fast as I know I should be, if I’m not uncomfortable.
If I’m pretty comfortable every day, going into the office kind of thing, I’m probably not getting any better. That’s like a self‑awareness check of, “Am I uncomfortable today? No, not really.”
Jade: I think one of the key ingredients is getting a small group of people who trust each other, who have different perspectives to be able to work together. That’s one thing that’s worked very well for us is, we are very different and we look at things differently.
When things are happening, we’re all bringing a different way of perceiving what’s happening to the table. Then we can argue and yell at each other, and get passionate and emotional about those things, but it’s not personal because we trust each other. We know that we’re trying to do something together, something better.
Ultimately, the best ideas tend to surface out of that, because it’s not just one person’s idea or perspective that is being dictated out to everybody else. That’s a key ingredient, finding that right speed.
We can meter ourselves because some people are going to be pulling, some people are going to be pushing, some people are going to be holding back. We’ll find that right speed as we go.
Clayton: I agree with that.
Roy: Cool. Yeah.
Jade: All right, well, thanks for listening. We’ll catch you next time on the “Agile Weekly Podcast.”
Jade: If there’s something you’d like to hear in a future episode, head over to integrumtech.com/podcast, where you can suggest a topic or a guest.
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