Agile transitions: how communication can make them, or break them.

19 Oct 2016 Annelies De Meyere Agile & ScrumLeadership & Management

We all communicate and we all know it’s important. And culture is important. So important, in fact, that without the right one a company runs the risk of not achieving any of its goals. One of Larman's Laws of Organisation Behaviour also painfully shows the importance of culture and how difficult it is to nurture: Culture follows structure. Or, Culture/behavior/mindset follows system & organizational design.

The way communication is organised in a company plays a crucial role in having any influence on culture during a transition. Without timely, clear and face-to-face communication during key transition moments, the change in your system will take longer to break through Larman's Law and get to a new company culture that fits the structure you are trying to transition to.

Our own experience in helping companies through a transition process has taught us that there are specific steps management can take to create a culture that embraces the transition towards this new organisation and a new way of working and interacting. Change is difficult, but change without the right communication strategy is destined for failure.

I’ve never met a company that doesn’t believe in the importance of communication, througout the company. All levels of people I've interacted with point to communication as a potential single point of failure to make a change iniative fail.

Lack of communication is always bad, but where management runs into serious trouble is when they fail to communicate on the important things going on within a company. For example, when in an agile environment the organisation fails to communicate where the constraints lie, the whole of the transition will become a lot more difficult because the teams either still feel limited by old structures, or feel so lost in the new structure they remain frozen, as if on the edge of an enourmous cliff.

Improving communication is not as simple as pushing out a bunch of company-wide emails every week. Doing it right requires a comprehensive, top down communication strategy be put in place for discussing the scope of the change, why the organisation felt it was necessary, and how the changes will affect the company and especially employees, from whom we expect the actual change to grow.

When putting together a communication strategy, we need to include different messages and, especially, messengers. The most general messages can be delivered by senior management. The communications that the entire company needs to receive. Delivering these messages as senior management demonstrates their openness about the change at hand, and their commitment to it. But this is not enough. 

An agile change will in the end affect each department in different ways and to different degrees. The specifics should be addressed at the department level by the manager who is closest to those who will be impacted by the changes. This persion should also be aware of all possible impact on their department, so they are able to answer any questions and address any concerns in a group or individual setting.

Very important in both levels of communication is that it must provide clarity. Muddled communication will allow multiple interpretations of the change at hand, create confusion and in the end make it more difficult to actually reach the change you have envisioned, because individuals will not feel compelled to contribute to the company's cause. 

In addition to clarity, every communication must be consistent. When different people need to communicate the same message, each messenger will deliver the message slightly differently. And that's ok. But it's important to be certain that when the same question is asked to 2 different managers (or coaches, for that matter), that the answers given are along the same lines. Avoiding confusion will again create more clarity in the whole of the organisation, and get more individuals involved in the changes at hand, maybe even create a broader support for the desired changes, throughout the organisation. 

Regularly deliverd communication by the right people will keep everyone open to change, keep them willing to face the change together, as a community, and will help them feel encouraged to ask questions, find their own solutions, deliver proposals they would like to see become a reality and basically help your change along the path of success.