Agile Organizational Change: Three Levels of Resistance: The Group

When we as coaches come into an organization to try to transform it, we are often met with resistance. For us, it is a matter of “take the lumps because its good for you”, Do you wonder why sometimes, even in the face of a changing environment, or an existential threat, companies still don’t change? Even when they say they want to, they still do not. We can look at companies like Nokia or Blackberry to see examples of companies that resisted change, and when change did come it was too slow and too late. So where does this resistance come from?

This is a part 2 of a 3 part series on Agile Organizational Change and the Levels of Resistance (The Organization, The Group, The Individual).

Group Level Resistance to Change

Group Norms. Groups develop strong informal norms that specify behavior and govern interactions between group members. We like to call these “the unwritten rules.” These are especially damaging because you can break one and be punished, but not understand why. One of the reasons Scrum works well, but is disruptive, is because it makes the rules, the values, and the principles well known and understood. These changes disrupt group norms and may increase resistance, especially for those groups that have optimized themselves toward the hidden ruleset.

Group Cohesiveness. Some level of cohesiveness promotes group performance, too much reduces performance if it makes a group slow to recognize opportunities and adapt. A highly cohesive group resists changes to what it does or even to who its members are, and group members may unite to protect their interests. Have you ever had a team you were coaching and just couldn’t get any breakthroughs with them? Standoffish till the end? Group cohesiveness at work!

Group-think and Escalation of Commitment. Group-think is a pattern of faulty decision making that happens in groups when members ignore negative information to make it easier to conform to each others views. Escalation of commitment makes it worse because group members can recognize their course of action is wrong but continue to pursue it, regardless of the

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consequences. This can make adoption impossible.

An extreme example of escalation of commitment would be the Scrum team refusing to write one line of code until all the requirements are written down and signed off on, thus delaying the project.

Counteracting Group Level Resistance to Change. One of the most effective ways to counteract group level resistance to change is to break up or reconfigure the group. If a company is organized functionally and you create cross-functional teams, there is a certain amount of this that will happen naturally. Another way to counteract group level resistance is to enforce a new set of “norms” in the way of Agile values, principles, and practices. Lastly, the organizational leadership should be continually beating the drum and evangelizing the future vision as a way to provide you “air cover” for your change efforts.

This is an excerpt from my upcoming book Agile Organizational Change Management. If you are interested in getting free chapters, sneak peeks, and the ability to give us feedback as we write the book, Check it out: Agile Organizational Change Management, Facilitating Large Scale Organizational Change with Agile Transformations.


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