Culture eats Agile for breakfast

sigi | 25. 09. 2013

What you can find in this article: why culture matters // a model to better understand organizational culture // how to apply this model to an Agile culture // two case studies on dealing with culture when introducing Agile // some observations & conclusions by Peter Hundermark & Sigi Kaltenecker


At the recent Scrum Gathering in Paris we, Peter Hundermark and Sigi Kaltenecker, facilitated a workshop on Agile and Culture. Building on our intercultural experience from being Lean-Agile experts working in both South Africa and Europe, we provided an interactive agenda that should lead to three major takeaways:

  1. a better understanding of culture by using a scientific model that helps us to nail the notorious jelly on the wall
  2. two case studies on introducing Scrum and Kanban into two organizations with a special focus on cultural issues.
  3. some pragmatic ideas for fostering Agile culture.

After a brief introduction we started with individual storytelling: “Share one experience you have had with organizational culture. The sharing was done in pairs and trios and raised both a high level of energy and some interesting starting points. Here are some keywords on what was shared in plenary:


The stories served as a powerful jumping board to a scientific model of organizational culture. This model was created by the former MIT professor Ed Schein who wrote two landmark books on the topic: “Organizational Culture and Leadership and  “Corporate Culture Survival Guide” Check out the following slides & a video to learn more about:

  • Ed Schein´s understanding of culture as a broad, deeply rooted and highly contradictory set of artifacts, espoused values and basic assumptions, consisting of both mental models and emotions,
  • the necessity to respect culture as both a huge resource and a potential impediment for Agile,
  • to detect contradictions between artifacts and values to unveil non-agile assumptions such as “we cannot let the monkeys run the zoo”, “trust is good, control is better” or “its individual performance that counts at the end of the day”,
  • to keep in mind that we have to find effective ways to increase the level of psychological safety and decrease the level of learning anxiety at all levels in order to found an Agile culture.

Our presentation was followed by another round of intense discussions in small groups: “What does resonate with you? What could you use?” Part of the following sharing process in the plenary brought up ideas such as:

We definitely enjoyed the session. Fortunately, as we learned during the closing feedback round, we were not the only ones ;-) . “Inspiring”,”refreshing”,  “making me more aware of the importance of culture” “good ideas to try out”, or “will pay more attention to assess culture at the very beginning of an Agile change process” were some of the highlights at the end of the session. Thanks to all the attendees for their energy and contributions!

1 Kommentar

1. Change Management mit Kanban | Hanser Update,  31. 10. 2013 um 17:31

[...] tatsächlich leitet. Die Unsichtbarkeit dieser kulturellen Leitlinien, wie wir sie zuletzt auch in “Culture eats Agile for breakfast” analysiert haben, ist ein zusätzliches Hindernis für viele Veränderungsvorhaben. Darauf wird [...]

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