There are more than fight or flight options, aren’t there?

Let’s consider a different scenario: the executive management team was excited about agile and actively encouraged the company to go agile. They had taken the company on an 18-month agile transformation journey. They focused on being agile and wanted to move to doing agile. But the company was still structured by departments (or functions). Some department managers gave competing goals, i.e. some department goals conflicted with the goals of the cross-functional teams. In fact, some managers told their team members that they needed to decrease the time spent with their cross-functional teams, otherwise they will not be promoted. When those team members refused to comply (because the team needed them, and it was at a critical juncture of the project), their managers threatened to pull them out of the team and put someone else in to finish the project.

Have you experienced this type of behavior from your managers before? Or did you react that way to your executive management who encouraged agile? If so, may I ask why you reacted that way? Did you wonder how the rest of the company and the teams perceive and react to this type of behavior? Understanding these questions is an important step to find out the actual reasons for this resistance and find solutions to help resolve those issues. Agile is usually not the issue.

For this company, the people on the team think agile is a joke. Sure, executive management wants it and promotes it, but those are high-level people. They really only have two choices: 

  1. be/do agile and stay at the same level for the rest of their managers’ lives, if they don’t get fired or transferred out first, or, 
  2. do what their managers want, even though it’s contrary to what the cross-functional team needs, but they get salary raises and career advancement.

Executive management is clueless of how the middle management feels and thinks, and why the people on the ground are not embracing it. They keep promoting agile to the individuals and cross-functional teams without changing the company structure and not explaining to the functions/departments on what agile means to them.

So, why would middle management act this way? It’s obviously going against achieving any company’s goals. Let me ask a different question, does anyone notice that no one really explained to middle management what agile really is, and what it means to them? No wonder they are resistant. They are worried that they are going to lose their jobs. It’s a fight or flight for them. Fight because they have worked hard to climb the ladder, and they’re not about to lose that. Flight if the company is indeed going agile, and they want that ladder, they’ll go elsewhere to find that ladder.

Before we figure out a solution, I’d like to hear from you. Have you experienced this kind of resistance before? Or have you reacted this way? Or perhaps you still react this way. Drop me a note below.

Also, join me and my colleagues in the UK and US on November 5, as we share our stories about resistance to agile that comes from middle management and teams. 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 middle management and team resistance problem? Hope to hear your thoughts live.

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