Weaponised Agile?

“A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still” – Adapted from Samuel Butler’s Hudibras (1612-1680) and popularised again in Dale Carnegie’s book ‘How to win friends and influence people’ 1936. 

People over Process

Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools, is a value which can be summed up as People over Process.

It is my belief that most Agile Coaches know in their hearts what respect for people really means. Pretty much everyone I have ever asked why they came to be a change agent say the same thing. It usually goes along the lines of wanting to help people be the best that they can be.

However, much of the work I have seen in organisations barely touches upon respect, diversity, and equality. Most consultants don’t want to bring up this ‘elephant in the room’ as it challenges the way leaders (and employees) show up rather than what they need to do. These can be difficult conversations.

Self-organising teams

Another principle is ‘The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams’. The two main words here are ‘self-organizing’ and ‘emerge’.

The message is the same across all agile literature, the best teams are:

  • self-organising
  • cross functional

and have a high level of:

  • team emotional maturity
  • personal emotional maturity
  • psychological safety

With high levels of maturity and trust it is possible for teams to ‘..reflect on how to become more effective and then tune and adjust its behaviour accordingly.’ This implies that the team has autonomy to choose their own process. Which makes sense when you consider the value of ‘People over Process’.

Innovation, solutions, and good stuff emerges without having to force it. This happens as a result of teams being truly present with each other with good Emotional Intelligence (EI) in the moment.


We know from the world of professional coaching that the most powerful tool we have is to listen. In the world of clean language, non-violent communication, and powerful questions we actively remove our own content to allow our coachee(s) to hear their own voice(s) and to be empowered by it. We seek not to muddy the waters with our own agenda and ego. However, installing or forcing an agile framework on a group of people seems to defy all these principles. It is arrogant and defeats the goal of ownership and empowerment and is ultimately self-defeating.

Agile Industrial Complex

Through the need to placate clients, maintain the status quo, and to pay mortgages, Agile coaches, conference leaders, and consultancies, continue to install agile frameworks over the top of existing cultures, and to push agile and the processes around it, to people who don’t want it, don’t understand it, and maybe even don’t need it.

This is happening because organisations don’t know any better, and those who are able to exploit this lack of knowledge do so because they make a lot of money out of it.

The result is:

  • a lack of workforce engagement,
  • no shift in mindset,
  • and no better business results.

It takes around 14 months for the average Agile transformation to fail, and then the consultants blame the client for ‘not getting it’.

See http://newtechusa.net/aic/ for the definition of Agile Industrial Complex


I issue this post as a warning to organisations looking to improve the way they are working:

  • Agile is not about the process you choose. The process arises from a shift in the way employees think about their work and each other.
  • Agile cannot be installed. It arises from a shift in the way employees think about their work and each other.
  • Agile is not top down, bottom up, sideways, middle management or anything else led. It is a shift in the way employees think about their work and each other.


The shift in the way employees think about their work and each other can be defined as a change in mindset from single autonomous individuals who are progressing their own agenda, to an interdependent team of powerful people who are building something they believe in.

This is a fundamental shift in the way everyone sees themselves. Without this shift, everything else is meaningless and will revert to the status quo within 18 months.

Any work that does not include a shift from individual to self-organised powerful teams who choose how and what they are working on, maintains the long-term status quo.

Doing Agile to people in the name of teamwork and improvement and not changing the management culture of control, belittlement, and inequality, is to use agile as a weapon.

Most ‘Agile’ transformations I come across pretend to be something new but actually reinforce the same emotional and culturally damaging structures that already exist.

The agile manifesto doesn’t need more definition, despite some people trying to add more to it.

I invite coaches and consultancies to help their clients by listening to what the business problem is and helping to change the mindset to invite powerful people who can self-organise themselves to get better business results.

I also invite conference leaders, sponsored communities, other media to stop giving a voice to individuals, consultancies, and thought-leaders who continue to propose installation of frameworks that do not allow or promote self-organisation and powerful people.

We will be hosting and creating large scale facilitation events for participants to learn how to facilitate and be facilitated, from coercive and controlled cultures to self-organising and emotionally active teams. In typical AWA style, we will be bringing interesting people from around the world to help facilitate the move to self-organisation and powerful people. We will announce the program shortly.

In addition, we are going to be offering coaching spaces for anyone who wants to lead by coaching rather than telling.

We intend to shake up the mood around this topic and to evolve (or return) agile to mean something more than frameworks and process.

Thank you to Daniel Mezick for inspiration and to Tobias Mayer for feedback.

Reference and further reading:

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