In today’s world, the organizational lifespan is shrinking, and established organizations are trying to figure out how to remain relevant. Given today’s instant-gratification society, humans are wired to expect instant, or near-instant outcomes, when taking action.

To be more blunt, when leaders want to go Agile, they want some damn results in a week…even though deep-down they know it’ll take some time.

Often lost in the confusion of methods, tools and frameworks is a simple question: What don’t we want to change?

I recently spent some time with a startup that is a handful of people away from being a 100-person company. If you’ve worked for a startup, you know the feeling of actually being able to get work done. People are passionate, less focused on titles and roles and more focused on growing the organization. It’s not for the feint of heart, that’s for sure.

This organization wanted to figure out how they could keep the best of what was working, and their startup spirit, but also figure out how to know when to re-invent themselves and put enough process in place to prevent complete, utter chaos.

Lego to the rescue!

This organization is using The Rockefeller Habits, or as they refer it, annual and quarterly goals, to get a handle on their explosive growth so they already have a pretty good mindset when it comes to building an adaptable organization. I decided to  use Lego Serious Play to help them explore:

  • what will our organization look like 6 months from now?
  • what do we need to change now? next? later?
  • what don’t we want to change?
Building a shared understanding of the future.

Building a shared understanding of the future.

As we progressed through the exercises, the discussion seemed to centre around resiliency. There were 22 people in the session and each group had the chance to tell their story. It was that resiliency that they didn’t want to change. That meant not being afraid to re-platform, or re-build something when it needed to be re-built versus trying to over engineer something that would last for decades.

I asked them what were the biggest obstacles they’ve overcome so far and a couple of things stood out:

  • Credibility: breaking into the space they’re in was hard. I’m talking about a space where multi-billion dollar corporations rule the roost. They said it took a couple of years to build up enough credibility that they were capable of competing with the gorillas in the space.
  • Re-invention: they were proud that they were able to reinvent their organization when needed. That meant making difficult staffing, technology and process decisions in real time.

The highlight of the discussion seemed to be when they went around the room confirming that had I asked them these questions a year ago, they’d have had no idea how to answer them. Perhaps worse, they said there would be no way they’d be aligned on where they’re headed.

THAT is what they don’t want to change. The ability to have difficult conversations, and the sheer desire to build something great.

That said, they know they have some problems, like cross-functional communication, but they’re not afraid to work on it. All companies have problems, but odds are if you ask what you shouldn’t change, you’re going to find out that you’re probably a more awesome organization than you might think.

Jason Little
Author, Lean Change Management at Leanintuit
I began my career as a web developer when Cold Fusion roamed the earth. Over the following years, I moved into management, Agile Coaching and consulting. The bumps and bruises I collected along the way helped me realize that helping organizations adopt Agile practices was less about the practices, and all about change.
In 2008 I attended an experiential learning conference (AYE) about how people experience change and since then, I’ve been writing, and speaking, all over the world about helping organizations discover more effective practices for managing organizational change.