Changing the Mind of the Organization - Building Agile Teams


Organizations have minds in the same sense that individuals have minds.


They chatter to themselves incessantly, sometimes audibly, sometimes without sound or in a whisper. This self-talk, or inner-voice, of the organization will determine its true direction…and its success or failure.


A couple of distinctions behind the main title: The brain is the biochemical/electrical ‘hardware’ that sits between our ears. The brain is made up of basic information processing building blocks called neurons. The mind is a configuration of neurons – every person has a unique configuration of neurons and therefore each person has a unique mind.


An organization is a unique configuration of people who come together to achieve some purpose. The mind of the organization is the configuration of the minds of the people in the organization.


Thanks to recent technological advances, such as functional magnetic resonance imagining (fMRI), we are beginning to get some understanding of how our brains and minds work. Neuroscience is a fascinating and rapidly developing area of scientific study which is unveiling new insights into how we function as human beings – and how we function in organizations of human beings.


Neuroscience does not provide simple ‘if A then B else C’ answers for business leaders, but the insights alone can change the way people behave in relation to each other. For rationally trained business minds, the insights from neuroscience may be more palatable than the, perhaps less tangible, principles and theories from psychology. What I offer here is an applied blend of both approaches to understanding human behaviour.


The subtitle of this book is Building Agile Teams. I introduced the concepts of agile leadership and the agile organization in Leadership Recharged![i] in 2004. I used the word agile in my first book to describe the type of organization and type of leader that is able to move fast, with ease, with minimum bureaucracy and maximum focus, with greater flexibility and, not least, with a more human approach to business.


Around the same time a new approach to software engineering, known (with remarkable simplicity for the industry) as Agile, was just getting off the ground.


Readers familiar with the agile software development movement will recognize the outline of this approach in the chapter on building agile organizations (Chapter 9). However, this book is about a broader application of agile thinking and I’ll discuss the concept both at an individual and an organizational level.


The book is divided into three main parts:


  • Part one (chapters 1 - 3) discusses the context for change, provides background as to what is happening in our organizations and looks at why change fails.


  • Part two (chapters 4 - 6) focuses on human change and development; on what makes people resist or embrace change.


  • Part three (chapters 7 - 11) looks at how we can enable change through leadership, processes, structures and frameworks.


The book was developed in an agile fashion and the chapters are loosely-coupled (see chapter 9 for a definition of what I mean by this); so it can be read cover-to-cover, or ‘dipped into’.


It’s probably got something to do with my early training in software engineering (or maybe it’s just how my brain prefers to work), but I like lists and models; I like to break things down into manageable chunks to make them understandable and doable. So this book contains a number of fundamental chunks that inform its structure:


  • Nine reasons why change fails.

  • Seven perspectives on human development and change.

  • A model of how we think.

  • How we can change our mind.

  • Six ways to create innovative solutions and new futures.

  • Four styles of (change) leadership (including a self assessment).

  • The essential characteristics of agile teams.

  • The five spiral dynamics of successful change.

  • The eight F’s of agile organizations.


At various points in the text I have included brief stories or anecdotes; all of these are true, though occasionally the names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

Some of the anecdotes are from personal experience; others are either a matter of public record or are used with kind permission of the originator or author. Some of these stories are astounding, but they are all true.

Not much of the future will be a linear extrapolation of the past, so we must determine our own paths through uncertainty and ambiguity and make new footprints in the sands of time.


You can't make footprints in the sands of time if you're sitting on your butt. And who wants to make buttprints in the sands of time?



[i]Chris Martlew, Leadership Recharged!, Troubadour Publishing, 2004.




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