Agile’s Higher Purpose

What is all the fuss about? Why are more and more business leaders being drawn in by the gravitational pull of the Agile movement? Why are more and more organizations finding value in actively promoting cultures where change is welcome, customers morph into stakeholder-collaborators, and workers self-organize, self-manage, play and have fun, meditate, and routinely experiment with bold new ideas—even with the expectation of frequent failures? And why do Agile’s ‘servant leaders’ evoke images of Yoda?

Answer these questions, we will try. Yes, mmmm.

Perhaps ‘the force’ that is behind the current migration to Agile has something to do with the elevated levels of initiative, energy, productivity, fun, and creativity witnessed in mature Agile teams pursuing a worthy goal.

What’s really going on here?

Agile projects are intensely collaborative and customer focused by design and encourage strong, frequent customer guidance—even direct participation. Agile recognizes the innate human desire to be ‘of service’ to others; the closer and more direct, the better. This feeds motivation. ‘Individuals and interactions over processes and tools’ and ‘customer collaboration over contract negotiation’ are two of the four core values of the Agile movement. These values recognize the important role of meaningful collaborative relationships in producing meaningful results.

Teams engaged in meaningful work with meaningful relationships and worthy goals take on the character of tribes. These purpose-driven groups, characteristic of high performing Agile teams, bring together diverse, dynamic, and distinct talents to produce the ‘alchemy of synergy’—that special magic available only to a cohesive group of motivated, empowered, engaged collaborators.

Agile’s Yoda-like ‘servant leaders’ are catalytic, insightful, and inspirational rather than directive. Their allegiance is to the group and the goal, rather than to themselves. They wield their superior emotional intelligence and psychological maturity to create a rich and generous ‘culture of character’ necessary for optimal trust, communication, cooperation, and creativity. Deeply and inherently rewarding, they gladly pass on their skills, knowledge, and wisdom to others so that they too may flourish. True servant leaders feel no need or desire to stand out, dominate, intimidate, or control others.

Agile team members are fueled by their innate desire to learn and to grow together through missteps and mistakes. They don’t wither when projects derail from ill-fated plans or when a zig really called for a zag. Instead, they regroup, reflect, and respond. They are motivated by a worthy challenge. They know that the faint, scattered clues to new possibilities are only detected by the observant and the determined. They look ahead (not too far), navigate (not too close), and learn to adjust their sails (not too late) in a changing, shifting sea of unforeseen obstacles and unparalleled opportunities.

What, then, does all this suggest about Agile’s higher purpose?

Perhaps it is to awaken the dormant passion, purpose, and possibility within each of us through meaningful work, creative collaboration, and empowering relationships. In doing so, we satisfy our deepest yearnings to learn, to grow, to connect, to serve, and to thrive. How else could we go forward in this rapidly evolving and shifting world of perpetual novelty?

Rich Leon and Anjali Leon