The Agile Mindset Blog

Blended (Agile) Families

Blended (Agile) Families

Being part of a company that merges with or, even more harrowing, is acquired by another company can be a nerve-wracking experience. You may have hard-won improvements in your work environment thanks to implementing agile practices and worry that the new company culture won't support them. Worse, the new company may profess to "do agile" too but what they do looks very different than anything you associated with true agility. How can this new blended corporate family learn to work together?

In fact, there are a number of things you can do to start to build bridges between the two disparate cultures. First, remember a tenant from Steven Covey's "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People": first seek to understand, then to be understood. If you go in telling the other side all the things they are doing wrong, or worse, tell them they are not doing "real" agile, you will trigger all their defense mechanisms and they will not be open to hearing anything else you have to say. Instead, ask questions and make observations. Ask them how they got started with agile, what they like best about it and where they still struggle. Listen to their answers without judgment. If there is something they do well and you admire them for it, say so. These kinds of conversations can open the way to sharing your own experiences and ideas as you and your new coworkers get to know one another better.

It is also important to connect with your new colleagues at a personal level. One of my clients whose much smaller organization was acquired by a larger company sponsored a series of after-work events to get to know one another. Part of those relaxed and friendly conversations, over hors d`oeuvres and drinks, was to talk about how they used agile practices like Scrum to vastly improve how they managed their technology projects. Another client created a short presentation on all the mistakes they made doing their agile transformation. They cheerfully reiterate their mess-ups to new teams looking to try agile in hopes that the newbies can learn from their mistakes. In each case, my clients took the time to get to know their new colleagues as people before they started offering suggestions. And even when advice did come, it was more in the form of "Here's what we did and how it worked for us" rather than "What you are doing is wrong and you should change."

Finally, resist the urge to wall yourself off. You have lots of trust in your current colleagues and it can be tempting to say "These new guys just don't understand us - we need to stick together!" This can create a siege-mentality culture, making you insular and not open to change or new ideas. Remember - that trust you have in your current colleagues didn't come overnight. It was the product of positive experiences over months and maybe years. But if you never give your new colleagues a chance to earn that trust, the relationship is doomed before it even gets started. Look for opportunities to work on projects with your new colleagues and note where conflicts or differences of approach exist. These can be openings for discussion. Do not discount that, even though you disagree with some of their practices, your new coworkers might have a few good ideas. But you will never know if you don’t at least hear them out.

Blended agile families can and do work out, even when the two cultures coming together start off very far apart. But like all good relationships they do not form overnight. A little patience and willingness to listen and learn will go a long ways towards building a future of mutual trust and respect.


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