Agile Culture Change

H ow do you change something as big as culture? Two weeks at a time. People say change is hard. People say that your employees will naturally resist change. And people will tell you that culture change, specifically, is hardest of all, and will take years to accomplish. Of course, not too long ago people were saying the world was flat. And to be honest, when we stand at the beach and look out at the horizon, it seems like they have a pretty good point. But thanks to science, we have busted the flat-earth myth, and thanks to some interesting developments in the software design world, we think we’re also about to bust the myth that culture change is hard and takes years. Many in the software world are switching to what is called agile software development. Instead of groups working in silos on their specific part (like coding or requirements development) and then handing it off to a different group to do their work (like design or testing), they are forming cross-functional teams that develop the software together, using short two-week sprints that combine everyone’s input, including the user, to create at least a small piece of the software that actually works. Then they move on to the next piece (or finish that first piece if they realize that it needs more work), having learned a lot in the process, which guides their work in the next sprint. People who use agile software development report great value

in the way the process improves quality, speed, and internal collaboration, all while reducing development costs. If you apply these lessons to internal culture change, we think you’ll start seeing similar results. We’re working on improving the workplace culture for a nonprofit organization with about fifty staff. In the first part of the project, we did some hard work on clarifying their cultural priorities. We say hard work because it required some tough conversations about patterns inside their organization that were getting in the way of their success. For example, the existing culture was built around the spirit thatWe Are All inThis Together. Everyone there had a voice, and that was important given the work they were doing. This was a deeply valued cultural norm, but it was based on the history of the organization that had once been dominated by a different group. One of the unintended results of that norm was that decision-making had become too slow. Everyone having a voice translated into too many people being involved in too many decisions, making speed impossible. And their stakeholders were starting to complain about it. They needed greater speed to deliver on their mission, but the culture was getting in the way. So after they completed our culture assessment, we helped them develop a set of cultural priorities

30 I Nonprofit Professional Performance Magazine

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