Everyone has their comfort zone—especially during an agile transformation.
Now that your agile transformation is underway, some cracks may be beginning to show. Maybe tasks aren’t getting done and are just being pushed from sprint to sprint. Or meetings are dragging on and they don’t yet feel productive. Or maybe some people are just uneasy, unsure if they are “doing it right.”
There are a lot of ways in which an organization can get “stuck” when transitioning to an agile mindset…and most of those are simply hold-overs that people have from doing things another way.
Luckily, you might already have just the right tool to diagnose the problem, right in your back pocket: An internal DiSC assessment.* Many companies already do these as part of their onboarding and development. If you have one of these assessments, you can use the data to pinpoint where teams could (or are) going astray. With that data in hand, you can then nudge the process back on track.
* Note that other employee assessments might work for the purpose as well. We discuss DiSC here both because it is widely used, and because it illustrates well what might make employees hesitant about a new framework or mindset. If your organization uses a different assessment, let us know!
A quick DiSC primer for the uninitiated
There are likely very few of you out there who aren’t familiar with DiSC. But, for the sake of context, here’s a brief intro.
DiSC is a personnel assessment tool that looks at how people interact in the workplace. In its essence, it is supposed to capture what people value in their work environment, how they communicate, what they struggle with, and so on. It’s a simplified way of defining personality types to maximize effective communication within your organization. Like Myers Briggs, DiSC uses archetypes and tests to determine which category individuals fall into.
How the four DiSC personality types can get stuck in an agile transformation
D folks are big-picture people who tend to be very direct, results oriented, and a little bit on the demanding side. Their decision-making can be quite binary, so they could break everything down into the two narrow categories of “win/lose.” The positive about Ds is that they have no issues being and staying in control. That’s also their weakness. People who want to win above all else can be highly demanding and so bottom-line focused, they forget about the people who get them those results.
Biggest challenge for D in an agile environment
In a word, control. They may not be willing to let go of the reins long enough to let the team do what agile teams do, and self manage. D team members can be extremely disruptive, for example, if they need to feel involved in steps in the process that don’t necessarily relate to them. Engineers can get very micromanage-y if another element of the project “touches” their code, so be on the lookout for leaders and staff who have a hard time letting the process work. Any micromanagement at any level can lead to disengagement, and that is a disruptive ingredient during the early stages of your agile transformation.
The i’s style starts (and sometimes ends) with their feelings. They want to feel included, and they want to share that feeling of inclusion with others. Because of this, they’re a little bullish on praise…and bearish on restraint. What’s good about that is that they love teamwork, they are highly social, and they tend to be well-liked. They also can be a bit of a strain on time management, especially when 15-minute stand-up meetings turn into 45-minute chats about the weekend. They’re fun and make great leaders, but it’s that very gregariousness and need for inclusion that can sometimes get in their way.
Biggest challenge for i in an agile environment
When they are in “friend” mode, they may need to be reminded how important the task is. So, your leaders just need some gentle pushes toward the importance of their steady hand (and they may need you to shower them with a little praise about how well-suited they are to deliver leadership). People in assigned roles often just need to hear from the boss that they are doing good work. With your i people, a little bit of praise and social interaction go a long, long way.
Of all of our four types here, the S is the one most motivated by cooperation, which should be a massive asset in an agile transformation. Collaboration is their number-one priority, as is a sense of connection and stability. They may favor that process so much that their own thoughts could get buried so that others feel heard.
Biggest challenge for S in an agile environment
The good thing, as we’ve pointed out, about your S people is that they love collaboration and team-building. Sometimes, though, they may be a little too trusting. Where Ds can be too heavy-handed, and i’s are powered by social interaction and recognition, a really basic word for a strong S during an agile transition is “pushover.” Because they’re overly focused on how they’re seen by others, confrontation can be challenging for them. It’s a bit difficult for a hard S to take initiative if they worry that they will be walking a plank solo. The best way to handle it? Tell them there’s no plank. “We’re all in this together” is their motto, so use that to your advantage.
Cs are the perfectionists in the bunch. The big drivers for them tend to be logic and order. Cs can often suffer from being single-minded, and are uncomfortable with ambiguity—indeed, they will be the ones calling for metrics and dashboards to measure your agile transition. On the plus side, you don’t have to worry about motivating them: They just do the right thing because it’s inherently obvious to them. Your Cs are driven, they live and die by schedules, and they don’t need to be reminded to do anything. Give them a task and a due date and they are in their element.
Biggest challenge for Cs in an agile environment
Because Cs love structure, the minute a project veers toward the unknown, they can become a bit insecure. And there are a lot of unknowns when it comes to creativity, not to mention change, which means that an agile environment will feel uncomfortable at first. They need to be reassured of the organization’s plans, and given data that shows exactly where they are, and what they can do. That way, you’re using their reliance on evidence as a way to reinforce their self-confidence.
Recognize and respond to the warning signs
Let’s say that you have, or will have, access to some DiSC information for the people on your team. Let’s further assume that you’ve started to identify which personality types are reacting in which ways to the change. What is the best way for you to intervene when the transformation is underway?
We recommend using the two “I’s”: Inventory the issues, and then apply your Influence.
Inventory the problems
First, make an ongoing inventory of what you hear, and look for patterns that could start to emerge.
Complaints about a D type: “Our meetings go off the rails because we have to take so much time to make them feel like we’re not screwing everything up.”
Complaints from D type: “There’s no way X is going to get done if we don’t have more oversight.”
D’s controlling nature isn’t letting the self-managing team do its thing.
D team members are hard-pressed to let other members of the team work in isolation to get the work done, undermining team trust.
Stress: the team starts to look worn down and demoralized.
Complaints about an i type: “I feel like I have to reassure them all the time.”
Complains from an i type: “Has so-and-so said anything to you about how X is going?”
i team members are trying too hard to “get everyone on board” before ever getting work done.
Or, if they feel work is getting done, they are giving too much time to making people feel comfortable.
Lack of progress, nothing is getting done, missed deadlines.
Complaints about and from a strong S: “People around me are starting to slack, and I feel like no one is pulling us together.”
S is leaving too much in the hands of everyone without owning a single piece of direction.
Every sprint starts to get messy; teams are not self-organizing as they should.
Complaints about a C type: “They get their work done but don’t pivot easily. They can’t see the forest for the trees.”
Complaints from a C type: “What data management tools did we invest in to measure our progress during this transformation? I feel like we’re flying blind.”
C team members need clear direction but don’t feel like they have it. They will also resist the pace of change in agile.
Work starts great but suffers once feedback is incorporated. Teams begging to revert to old ways of doing things.
Influence the culture
What do you do with this literal record of the problem? What’s the best way to approach leaders and talent?
That, of course, will vary with your own role within the organization. (How team leaders will handle problems will differ from how VPs handle them, or the HR department for that matter). But we can offer some ways in which, on a person-to-person basis, you can start influencing people for the better:
- Know what makes them uneasy. Each personality type has something that will make them feel uneasy during the transition. D-types will balk when they feel a loss of control. i-types will hesitate if they feel they can’t get people excited about the transformation. S-types want solidarity, and C-types get nervous when there isn’t clear direction and measurement. Try to imagine what you could do to make each type less uneasy.
- Focus on their strengths. A solid D-type might make a good product owner or Scrum master, for example, and a C-type will have that all-important attention to detail. Find ways to cater to those strengths when forming teams, assigning tasks, or simply when asking for help.
- Ask: Are they in the right roles? Sometimes, mismatch happens because a person gets a new role in the transformation, but that new role does not suit them. Think about ways in which your talent can explore other roles that might suit them better.
- Whisper in the ear of leadership. For all the change management books corporate leaders read every year, they still struggle with change sometimes. (Or fail to do it at all—am I right?) It’s not because they don’t want change, but because they are unsure of how to bring it about “at ground level.” That’s where you can be a big help. (For example, if your organization has a bunch of C-types, recommend that leadership invest in a dashboard for tracking the transformation. Heck, ask the C-types themselves to figure out how to build such a dashboard, then stand back and watch what happens!)
Is everyone playing from the same agile deck?
Often, everyone has their own ideas of how agile should work, and those different assumptions could be causing folks to work at cross-purposes. There’s no single way to “do” agile, but until everyone is adapting to the same mindset, and until they understand how each person is incorporating that into their workflows, the whole process could continue to falter.
Even if you’ve had trainings or coaching, investing in resources and facilitators to bring everyone together reduces tension, increases creativity, and empowers your teams to respond to your clients’ needs more effectively.
Matt is a recovering developer that still gets excited when hears the "Ribbit" of someone starting up Toad. After spending some time in the world of project management, Matt was convinced there had to be a better way to develop software. Once he attended his first agile boot camp he discovered that flowers smelled...
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