Support for Purpose: Situational Awareness for Change Leaders

Added to Mindset People Process

This entry was written as part of the Supporting Agile Adoption program, an Agile Alliance initiative dedicated to supporting organizations and their people become more Agile.

We have seen Agile transformations being disrupted by lack of awareness that the transformation is a journey that needs different support in each particular context and situation.


Change Management is an Art

Change “management” (if that exists) is an art. It is the art of being aware of the self-organization phenomena at play and being able to interact with those phenomena in order to influence them. Also, these phenomena are highly contextual and situational and thus unstable.

Effective change leaders are aware of both the situation and context and take the needs of these into account when guiding change and creating effective related interventions.

Now, you may think you are aware of your situation, but, in fact, you probably aren’t! A telling sign might be that things start to happen you did not expect.

For example, you have your change strategy laid out, and you are progressing in executing change initiatives. You have worked hard to get feedback loops and measurements in place to see the progress. And somehow on your dashboards and in your obeya rooms you see progress, but you sense something isn’t right.

Is your confirmation bias allowing you to see only what you expect?

You might begin to wonder: What do I not see? How can I break through this potential veiled perception?

So, how can you grow your awareness of the context and situation?

First Step – Become Aware

The first step is to become aware that there is “something” and trust yourself that this “something” provides you an important signal.

What might you learn–either about yourself and/or the organization–by allowing the signal and not pushing it away? What might you learn embracing it and assessing what might be learned when you observe the situation from a different perspective?

Second Step  – Begin to Understand

The next step is to try to understand what that “something” is that you might become aware of. Intellectually, you can’t fully grasp it yet. You might feel you need and want to shift perspectives, but you seem locked in your current perspective.

In order to shift perspective and create a deeper understanding of your context and situation, what can you do?

Here are some concrete suggestions by looking both inward or outward.

Looking Outward

Look outward and learn from others: explicitly invite different perspectives.

  • Ensure that you use organizational retrospectives to listen and detect patterns to implement a discipline that allows spending time with emergent feelings, patterns, and sentiments.
  • Run a world café to use the “wisdom of the crowd.” Invite people with diverse backgrounds and views to share and discuss their perspectives.
  • In a workshop, gain a different view by using, for example, DeBono’s six thinking hats or the three different perspectives by the Disney method.

Looking Inward

Look inward and explore your own reactions. Understand your (limiting) beliefs and biases by interacting with other people who will challenge your own perspective.

  • Feel the friction. Things are happening that are not desirable. Friction will signal what is “not yet right” and where systemic attention needs to be directed. Feeling friction is, first of all, inside you! For example, when you feel disturbed by something somebody is saying or something that is happening, try to not get upset, but rather examine where this disturbance comes from: might it be, that your ego is at play? Sometimes, when you are completely honest to yourself, your feelings of being disturbed might make your (limiting) belief transparent.
  • Learn how to listen attentively. Repeat back to others what you are hearing without judging. Be as precise as possible in repeating back and also be open for corrections. Listen to what they have to offer and only ask clarifying questions.
  • When bringing different perspectives together, don’t look for sameness, seek differences. Establishing cross-functional teams is a good start.
  • Listen and be open to your inner voice by allowing this phase of “not knowing.” Allowing this phase of “non-judgmental awareness” will provide you with a more inclusive perspective.

Learn to Trust Yourself

The above suggestions will enable you to see and collect different perspectives and discuss them with other people, so you make more sense of your context and situation. Based on that understanding, you will become able to derive what kind of intervention could help to effectively lead the change. This way, you will have a better idea of what your next steps on your change journey need to be.

Over time, after having practiced increasing your awareness, allow yourself to trust that you have gained enough insights to take the next step. And this next step will be to initiate suitable interventions.

Awareness and sharpening your senses with the help of others helps you to grow to the next level of your change leader maturity.

About the Authors

Growing up in the 1980s I was a passionate computer game developer during my school and study times. After getting my diploma in Electrical engineering I started at Ericsson in 1994 as aSW developer. From 1996 I worked in project management roles. Since 2000 I am working as a manager, first heading a Project Office, later Systems- and Technology Management and since2009 the Portfolio and Technology Management for Mobile Core. In 2008 I was a key contributor to the agile transition of our organization. I am supporting the enterprise transition to lean and agile by consulting and teaming up with other parts of Ericsson.I am an active speaker at conferences, both Ericsson internal as well as public (Agile 2012, 2013, XP2013, Agile Executive forum, XP2014, Bosnia Agile Day 2014). I am a member of the Agile Alliance and the Program Director of the Agile Alliance's "Supporting Agile Adoption" Program.

No bio currently available.

Jutta Eckstein works as an independent coach, consultant, and trainer. She has helped many teams and organizations worldwide to make an Agile transition. She has unique experience in applying Agile processes within medium-sized to large-distributed mission-critical projects. Jutta has recently co-created an assessment for (agile) teams to gauge the environmental, social, and economic impact of their products and services. Besides that, she has published her experience in her books Company-wide Agility with Beyond Budgeting, Open Space & Sociocracy (dubbed BOSSA nova and pair-written with John Buck), Agile Software Development in the Large, Agile Software Development with Distributed Teams, Retrospectives for Organizational Change, and together with Johanna Rothman Diving for Hidden Treasures: Uncovering the Cost of Delay in your Project Portfolio.
Jutta is a member of the Agile Alliance (having served the board of directors from 2003-2007) and a member of the program committee of many different American, Asian, and European conferences, where she has also presented her work. She holds an M.A. in Business Coaching & Change Management, a Dipl.Eng. (MSc.) in Product-Engineering, a B.A. in Education, and is trained as a pollution control commissioner on ecological environmentalism.

This is an Agile Alliance community blog post. Opinions represented are personal and belong solely to the author. They do not represent opinion or policy of Agile Alliance.

Agile2023 Registration

Stay Up-to-Date!

Get updates on Agile events, programs, and more by subscribing to the Agile Alliance Newsletter.

Agile MiniCon Basics

Recent Posts

BYOC Member Lean Coffee