The 5 psychological barriers to agile transformation
I recently listened to an excellent “You are not so smart” podcast where Per Espen Stoknes talked about the psychological barriers to climate change action.
The messages within the podcast are very similar to the barriers i’ve faced helping individuals and teams be more agile
I’ve taken Per Espen Stoknes 5D’s model and applied it to my context:
Distance – “Agile is just for software development teams” Many see agile as a distant approach which doesn’t apply to them. This is particularly amplified when teams such as operations, HR and Legal are physically distant from development. Another example is that teams often feel an agile future is too far into the future. If as coaches we say that agile will be a “long journey” temporal discounting kicks in and teams think we’ll just wait for the trend to pass.
Doom – “70% of fortune 1000 companies have vanished in the last 10 years”. This is a common quote used to stir up urgency for change. Whilst this statement is factually true, we are psychologically wired to ignore these messages, known as Normalcy bias. Messages such as “The end is nigh” are sent straight to the trash bin in our brains.
Dissonance – If what we know conflicts with what we do then cognitive dissonance kicks in. A great example is when managers know that teams work best when they are self-organised but continue to adopt a command-and-control management style. A manager may explain this away by saying “This team are just not mature enough to be self-organising.”
Denial – Ask most teams and they are quick to say “We are already agile”. Teams often deny that they need to improve. Upon further discussion this is often because the change triggers fear and guilt. Many teams i’ve worked with fear that they will be found out as an underperforming team and thus punished. It’s not surprise that in these cases self-defence mechanisms often trigger.
iDentiy – Agile is a value based approach and requires people to examine their personal values. This triggers a deep identity crisis within many. For example a manager who is asked to give up their management role and become a development team member can trigger a serious identity crisis. It is also important to be aware that people are more likely to to listen to those who share their values. Therefore who delivers the change message can just as important than what is says.
Here are some coaching questions which might help you think of ways to overcome these barriers in your organisation:
How could you create a bridge to connect separate teams so that the feeling of distance is reduced? (Distance)
What would be a more positive way to phrase this? (Doom)
What success stories could i share? (Doom)
What systems can i put in place that allows people to behave in ways aligned to what they know? (Dissonance)
How can i be a mirror to reflect back the dissonance to people within the organisation when it occurs? (Dissonance)
How can i make teams feel safe when they work with me? (Denial)
Who could support me in sharing the message with the organisation? (iDentiy)
The biases mentioned in this blog are listed here:
I strongly recommend listening to the podcast here: