So Different…Yet Very Much the Same

I’m writing this in near total darkness during a planned power outage (called load shedding) in a time zone 7 hours ahead of my home in Chicago. Hang on battery…hang on!

It’s been almost 8 weeks since I landed abroad to start an Agile coaching assignment. Admittedly, I was nervous. Would I be able to make a difference? Would I be able to resonate with the people here? How different could things really be?

Well…things are different. From driving on the left hand side of the road (just a couple of near misses) to the dry weather as the country moves from fall into winter (just a few drops of rain since I’ve been here) there is much for a foreigner to get accustomed to.

During this time abroad, I have learned a bit about different but popular sports here including rugby and cricket. On my first day, when someone said to “Put on your scrum cap and gum guard!” I knew this was going to be an adventure right from the start. And I think I almost have the scoring for cricket figured out. Innings…both singular and plural. Interesting.

I am also learning more about the history and complexities of this stunningly beautiful country. The people here are dealing with significant and daunting issues touching the sensitive core of their culture. While I will never be able to empathize with their struggles, I’ve heard stories of how demoralized some people are. They have come a long way since 1994 but it’s clear there is more work to do. Not throwing stones as we are clearly a work in progress ourselves.

Even though there are differences, I have discovered an overwhelming sense of just how much we have in common. On most days it feels like I’m just a few blocks from home instead of 9,000 miles away. Everyone I have met has been warm and welcoming and I’m sure I’ve connected with people who will become lasting friends.

From an organizational transformation perspective, it seems no matter where one is in the world, everyone is being challenged with many of the same things.

People are consistently under pressure. Because there is a focus is on “results at all cost”, people are overwhelmed and under tremendous stress. The number of people who have shared this sentiment with me from both continents are staggering. Many are dealing with physical ailments directly related to stress and overwork from their work environment.

Organizations are carrying a tremendous amount of process baggage. The volume of complex systems and defensive processes are heavy and burdensome, weighing down the best of intentions for improvement. There seems to be an unwillingness to let go of old paradigms and keeping meaningful and lasting change completely out of reach. Systems and processes are not aligned with the needs of people, putting even more pressure on them.

There is a real struggle to transform organizations attempting to thrive in an increasingly fast-paced and ever-changing world. Just overlaying or implementing “Agile” into a culture unwilling to address core, systemic issues will cause any attempt at agility to become just another failed change initiative.

As part of my work, my passion is to become a catalyst for change within these organizations crying out for greater agility. In some small way, I hope to guide companies to find the balance between delivering results while fostering a culture which embraces and appreciates what most leaders would claim is their most valuable “resource”, people.

Are you attempting to be a catalyst for change in your organization? Are you feeling overwhelmed and unsure where to start? Are you hitting brick wall after brick wall? Are people just “not getting it?” Remember, change is messy and never a straight line. You are not alone. Reach out to other catalysts around the world. Then start with one person, one team, and one leader at a time.

More to come…

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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3 thoughts on “So Different…Yet Very Much the Same

  1. Len – you are the man. You have a unique ability to articulate (in words) how I feel – impressive!. I can not wait until we get an opportunity to collaborate again. Congratulations on your success in South Africa!

  2. Good article – until (Senior) Management realise that introducing ‘Agile’ requires an organisational/culture change prior to any project deliveries the shift to agility will be slow and troublesome. The change strategy needs to put in place the building blocks before any mention of Agile !