Flip flop on the road to nowhere

Continuing with the same topic that I started last time, let’s consider another scenario: This time, the CEO was very enthusiastic in the beginning when I told him what an agile organization meant. He liked what I told him, and he wholeheartedly dived in to learn and take part. He marvelled at how teams collaborated and worked together. He encouraged the CTO and Chief Marketing Officer to take part. He went to the team room in some evenings and left comments for the team when he realized he could answer some of their questions on the post-it notes. One evening, he even grabbed the CFO to the team room to see the “amazing” team board. Afterwards, the CFO came to me and jokingly asked if he should add a line item in the budget for post-it notes. While the team was getting used to agile, I also trained management on how they needed to change. It went well; the teams were happy; they were delivering; they were collaborating for the first time in the company’s history… until… it hit a point where there was something in the CEO’s management style that he didn’t want to change. He secretly held a few executive staff meetings and concluded that I had too much power, that they (exec staff) should get the power back. He then told the teams they should continue with what they were doing, but this agile thing was not for management. He never went back to the team room again.

Have you ever experienced this flip-flop behavior from your executive? How did you and the rest of the company perceive and react to that kind of behavior? Do you wonder why they act that way? As I mentioned last time, these questions are important steps to figure out how to engage with the executives and even change their resistance to endorsement and active involvement. 

For this company, there are 3 stages of reactions. 

  1. In the beginning, the teams were uncertain about agile, but since the CEO was so enthusiastic, people felt they had to at least try, though some were reluctant. The marketing and sales folks were amazed at the change in CEO.
  2. As agile transformation went on, the teams got the hang of agile and liked where agile was taking them, especially when the executives were changing the way they managed.  
  3. However, it reached a point where the executives were required to change more than they could stomach, and they pulled the plug. At that point, engineering folks became upset, and a number of the most valued engineers left the company. There was an exodus. 

So, why would an executive behave this way, especially when it seems to be going so well? 

Last time, we mentioned power, status and empire building. Those definitely apply here and it doesn’t matter what ethnicity or nationality the person is or what geography the person is in. Some of them pursue those because that’s what they are conditioned to do. That’s what the schools taught them, and that’s what they have seen their predecessors did. They are to focus on competition instead of collaboration. They may say “the enemy is out there, not within the company, so stop fighting among ourselves”, but they don’t know how, and they are uncomfortable to admit they don’t know everything.

Before we figure out a solution, I’d like to hear from you. Have you experienced that scenario before? Do you agree with my assessment of why executives would behave that way? Drop me a note below.

On October 29, together with my colleagues in the UK and US, we’re doing an encore edition for the US. We’ll be sharing our stories about resistance to Agile that comes from senior executives. Are we going to find the problems divergent across the pond, or are they ubiquitous? Would we be able to find the same solutions to the senior management resistance problem? Come join in the discussion.


  1. Exactly! Let’s continue the scenario a bit: What if that CEO is also the founder of the company and there are some things that he just likes to be able to tell the company what to do regardless of what the rest of the company thinks? How would you propose to meet that kind of need?

  2. Treat the executive as a stakeholder, meet their needs under the constraints of different rules for authority and decision making which are appropriate in the domain. Ignoring the constraints will lead to dissatisfying other stakeholders, including other staff and customers.

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