Organizational Agility: Leading Change from the Middle

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The nature of change is such that if we cannot create a critical mass, enough momentum to create inertia for continuation rather than against continuation, the change will (at best) slowly revert back to its original steady state, regardless of the need driving the change. The same is true with organizational agility and agile transformation efforts. Part of the key to making any change stick is enabling the “right” forces to move the ball off the saddle point in the downhill direction so it generates momentum of its own. Change Management 101.
Organizational agility requires the right forces moving the ball of the saddle point
Here at BigVisible, our typical approach to generating momentum is to introduce enterprise agile adoption at all levels, from delivery teams to executive leadership, and tailor the focus as needed on the ground. We call it the BV Way (you can read more about it here).

Organizational Agility in Action

Recently, I had the pleasure to help Michael Hamman apply this approach with a new client. We started with a pilot team and quickly began scaling the approach to over nine distributed teams in multiple US and India locations. Then, something unexpected (by us) happened. A strong group emerged as the lead enablement element for a critical, large, million-dollar program. That program began excitedly tailoring our approach to make it their own. This middle tier group was so influential and dedicated that it was contagious. Though I can’t say they have achieved enterprise adoption yet, the change effort has reached critical mass thanks to the leadership and enthusiasm of the middle.

The Middle’s Role in Organizational Agility

At first, I was surprised at the outcome. I thought it was an anomaly, but when I really started to analyze it, I realized that it really was not. Support from all levels of the organization is critical for the change to stick for the long haul, but support from the middle of the organization is critical to get any initiative off the ground with any kind of momentum. It is the middle’s simultaneous influence on both their own delivery teams and also executive leadership that really defines and drives the initial impetus of a transformation. I used to say that a change lives or dies in the middle but, more precisely, the success (and rate of adoption) of any change introduced in an enterprise depends heavily on how it is adopted at the middle levels of the organization. Without an actively involved and engaged middle tier the total cost of change is just too expensive.

A few things really helped this particular group gain momentum quickly. First, I was impressed by the level of freedom and trust the teams were granted in an environment not traditionally used to giving it. Second, the group of people we were working with did an awesome job of creating a safe and engaging environment for the teams to thrive, learn, and improve. Third, this influential group found ways to demonstrate to the larger organization (and leadership) that there was something there in this lightweight approach. Eventual success is not guaranteed but deterioration to a former status quo is less likely now. The ball is now rolling off the saddle point, and is on its way to a new one.

What has been your company’s experience with adopting any kind of change? I would love to hear about it!

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