Insights from Agile Australia

perspectives Jul 04, 2018

Last month, Adaptive Cultures attended our first Agile Australia conference.

Although we have worked with agile leaders, teams, coaches and organisations implementing agile, this was our first immersion in the Agile Community. One of the biggest opportunities we see in agile is its ability to help people to shift from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation and from internal to external (customer, community, world) orientation.

We were inspired by the depth of thinking, open minds and open hearts of all the people we encountered and look forward to co-creating more with community members to enable cultural and organisational evolution.

Some of our key insights were in the areas of:

  • Teams
  • Mindset and World View
  • Agile Methodologies
  • Customer and Community
  • Cultural and Organisational Evolution

The intention of this brief article is to share some of our key insights and an Adaptive Cultures perspective on them. Please note that where there are quotes, these were taken from our notes of what speakers shared and it is our intention to represent speaker perspectives accurately. As entire speeches have not been transcribed, there may be context missing and we trust this is able to be forgiven in the spirit of learning and thinking out loud.


“We should start treating our teams as complex living systems”
Peter Moran (REA)

Yes – this could make a profound difference to individuals, teams, organisations, customers and the world! From an Adaptive Cultures perspective, we also believe that it would be wise to start treating our organisations, and the individuals in them as complex living systems.

Conway’s law – Any organisation that designs a system (defined broadly) will produce a design whose structure is a copy of the organisation’s communication structure.

The premise shared at the conference was that the designs of an organisation’s systems are constrained by how teams are structured. From an Adaptive Cultures perspective, the structure of teams is limited by the capacity of people to design teams to solve customer and community challenges, create agility and adaptability and support independent and co-creative thinking.

Mindset and World View

Agile is about the human being, their relationships and having an agile mindset more than it is about processes and methods. There is no one size fits all to agile, or to creating an Adaptive Culture.

”If we started from scratch, how would we design for speed, learning and better customer experience?”
“Changing peoples frame of reference has been the hardest thing.”
Shayne Elliot (ANZ)

Our observation is that when you are not starting from scratch, to undo the millions of combined years of wiring that people have had in traditional organisations is an enormous (and worthy) undertaking. To enable people to upgrade their adaptive capacity requires a significantly deeper level of personal growth than most people realise.

For more on this you may like to read these articles:

Personal Growth – the key to effective culture and business transformation

Vulnerability and the deep dark cave called personal development

“Human nature – some people are up for change, some not.”
“How do you industrialise a growth mindset?“ Shayne Elliot (ANZ)

This is the focus of our work in the Adaptive Cultures community. From our experience, many people ARE up for change given the right support, opportunities and healing AND there are some who would prefer not to take the journey….yet.

Agile Methodologies

Refactoring is an agile methodology that means improving the internal quality of a system without impacting the external functionality or customer experience. Peter Moran from REA suggested that this can be used to continually evolve teams.

Martin Fowler (one of the original founders of the AGILE Manifesto) shared that for refactoring to work, it requires many releases. For humans to adapt and evolve often requires reflection and practice and testing different behaviours with multiple iterations.

Customer and Community

Steve Denning spoke about topics close to our heart such as the flaw in focussing on short-term profits and placing shareholder returns above creating customer value.

Simon Wardley spoke about maps. We appreciated his focus on the need for situational awareness which builds on having a strong external orientation. Simon said “organisations tend to be low on situational awareness and high on magic”. We inferred from this that organisations often apply external ideas without reference to internal context and the relevance of those ideas.

Low situational awareness and high magic in organisations have given us early 20th century structures such as organisational hierarchies that run on metaphors of stability and direction (implied lack of worker education or competency). It has given us flawed remuneration systems based on economic and human behaviour theories which have not been borne out in practice and ignore intrinsic motivation and personal agency.

From an Adaptive Cultures perspective, internal and external contexts in which an organisation exist are constantly changing. Thus organisations need to have a strong external lens, AND apply it intelligently (NOT blindly) to current context and what makes sense and connects to the purpose of the organisation. An example of this is organisations applying agile or cultural methods that are “trendy” without a thought to what is right or appropriate for their organisation.

Cultural and Organisational Evolution

Jirra from Kalinya shared how indigenous values such as Stewardship, Resilience and Connection enable abundance to create abundance. These are values that come to life in a collaborative growth and co-creation culture and in our view, are critical for organisational and human survival. She talked about these values creating greater resilience across the whole system. Question to consider: How do we bring greater levels of stewardship, resilience and connection into our work?

Steve Denning spoke of his long-term, patient and determined approach to create transformation in the World Bank. I am sure that many in the Adaptive Cultures community would relate to the need to build a coalition, prepare your story and wait for opportunity. Steve related work like this to Guerrilla Warfare.

Aubrey Blanche (Atlassian) “diversity is the outcome of high, consistently applied standards”. If people are recruited and placed in teams without bias to improve decisions and resilience, then diversity is a natural outcome of that.

Adam Boas continued on the diversity theme with “It’s not about having the most exceptional people, it’s about having diversity…slow thinkers who ask the bigger questions and fast thinkers who come up with the fast answers……we need to think about diversity in a much broader way.”

Jeff Smith observed that the role of team leadership is not to motivate people. Rather it is to create an inspiring environment where people can draw upon their intrinsic motivations. Throughout the conference, other speakers described how an Agile approach provides much greater opportunities for intrinsic motivations including purpose, mastery, autonomy and collaboration.

We would love to hear your thoughts on the concepts shared.

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