Written by Kevin Heisey
on November 15, 2022

To fully leverage the resources and effort devoted to Agile training, your teams need to have a work environment that allows them to apply and develop their Agile skills. Organizational leaders, however, can often underestimate the nature and impact of the culture change that accompanies Agile transformation. There can be a sense that the value and benefit of change is straightforward and that as soon as it is communicated, people will understand and buy-in.

Unfortunately, that is rarely the case. Agile ways of working change everything about how organizations operate. Organizations shift from working like a machine that executes clear-cut plans to working like a dynamic, living organism that experiments, tests, learns and adapts. For most organizations, that shift represents an enormous change in culture from management style to how team members interact with one another. Cultural hurdles, including resistance to change and lack of executive championship, are among the most common barriers that stall Agile transformations.

Executive leadership has a crucial role in the setting and promoting a culture for achieving Agile success. People naturally have questions when things change. Why is this better? Why do I have to change? What does this mean for me? Leaders are best positioned to make a clear and compelling case that the new ways are better, not just different. To do that effectively, leaders must understand what Agility means and they should be engaged in the transformation process focusing on how changes align with organization’s business outcomes and how new processes align with culture.

Preparing executive leaders to champion your Agile efforts works best when they are trained with an intentional focus on what Agile means for organizational culture and their key roles in promoting cultural change and new ways of working. Three ways to do that are learning from others, experience and apply Agile practices in their own work and learn the role of a leader in an Agile organization.

Learn From Others

Meeting with peers from other organizations who are having success with Agile can demonstrate how Agile works in practice and help leaders see how it can work in their organization. An executive field trip to another organization can be an effective way for leaders to explore and learn what Agile means in practice and to build peer relationships they can draw on for support and guidance through their Agile journey.

Apply Agile Practices

Experiencing Agility in practice helps leaders understand Agile beyond theory. You can run an immersive, hands-on simulation followed by a debriefing and discussion of potential cultural barriers and what needs to change for Agile to thrive. From there, leaders can visibly champion Agility by applying it to portfolio level activities and demonstrating that it is a safe way of working.

Learn Agile Leadership

Agile leaders are servant leaders who focus on removing roadblocks and facilitating the work of self-managed Agile teams to put them positions to succeed. Transparency and psychological safety are two cultural aspects that are essential for Agile to thrive and they both require executive leadership. These can be big changes for executives who must recognize where they need to change personally, experiment with new ways of leading, seek feedback and understand the crucial role they have in transforming their organization and its culture.

“It starts at the top” can sound like an overused expression, but it is usually true. You can train your teams in Agile, but if the overall organizational culture doesn’t change to support Agile ways of working your teams will struggle. For individuals, part of that struggle will be balancing new ways of working with old ways and trying to understand how committed the organization is to their Agile efforts. When they see the leaders championing the effort, not just through words, but actions that demonstrate commitment, the organizational dominoes of resistance and friction start to fall, people embrace the change and your Agile transformation will build momentum.

Download the Infographic, Optimizing Agile Training, Step 1, for more tips on Executive Championship’s key role in the success of Agile training.