Written by Lyn Bayley Paxman, People engagement specialist

You maybe wondering what personal purpose or life purpose has to do with business improvement? Some believe that the environment you find yourself in is integral to the ease with which you will be able to fulfil your purpose.

What if your life purpose is to just be you? To come as you are and be enough? To bring your unique package of personality, skills, experience and values and to find a way to use and express that package?

Purpose becomes about ‘being’ rather than about ‘doing’. About evolving as you learn, rather than reaching a final destination.

Your environment will either enhance or stifle your ability to express your authentic self – to ‘be’ you and to evolve. Think of a time when you have worked or played in a team where everyone felt ‘in tune’, it was easy and fun. Were you able to bring more of yourself to the situation? Were you more effective? Did you feel appreciated, recognised, valued? Did you learn stuff about yourself? Was there perhaps an ease, even whilst being challenged?

“Your life’s work sits in the intersection of your talents, skills/expertise, passions and deepest values’. Margie Warrell, Stop Playing Safe.

A new wave of organisations are beginning to understand that the environment – the system within which people work impacts upon both well-being and performance. On our ability to ‘be’ ourselves and bring our full package to the workplace.

According to Peter Senge, founder of the Society for Organisational Learning our behaviours are driven by a complex web of interdependencies. He says that whenever he’s trying to help people understand what the word ‘system’ means he starts by asking – ‘are you part of a family?’ Consider how people produce consequences within a family. How they act, how people feel, things happen that aren’t what anyone intended. Families are a great example of the web of interdependence that makes up a system.

In the ‘old world’ system of command and control, organisations predict what they need to do to outsmart the competition. Control delivery by setting objectives and KPIs and through measurement and review. This ‘old world’ approach influenced the ‘waterfall’ approach to project management; predict and plan milestones, tasks etc. and control delivery.

This creates an environment where people learn to behave in ways which earn them reward and recognition. For instance, those who consistently demonstrate their competence through delivery of set objectives get a bonus, pay-rise or promotion. (Even if those objectives further down the line fail to deliver value for the organisation).

The impact is that people wear a professional mask. They feel they must always look the part; rationality is valued above emotions, doubts and dreams. Our identity is established through our need to be seen as busy, competent and successful, ready for the next promotion. Feelings are hidden and unexpressed, causing underlying disruption or negativity.

So, perhaps you’re asking – what’s the alternative and what does this have to do with Agile teams?

As our approach to organisational development has evolved it has been recognised that relationship and creating a sense of belonging is important to the success and well-being of individuals, teams and organisations. Terms like ‘empowerment’ and the creation of company values have followed.

However, many of us will have experienced organisations where merely lip-service is paid to the implementation of these approaches. Empowerment being another term for abdication and getting more work for less pay. Company values being nothing more than a poster on the wall and website.

Truly evolved organisations according to Frederic Laloux in his book ‘Re-inventing Organisations, fully embrace what it means to enable people to bring their whole selves to the workplace. They implement a system where self-managed teams enable co-operative peer relationships, without the need for hierarchy and encourage people to work with emerging strategies and plans.

This emergent approach enables organisations to be ‘agile’ – to be responsive to change as their people and teams are constantly evolving in response to what’s going on around them. Rather than in a position of being reactive to change.

A common misconception of self-managed teams is that there is no structure, management or leadership. It is also a misconception that they are run by consensus. Instead, it works through an “interlocking set of structures, processes and practices, these inform how teams are set up, how decisions get made, how roles are defined and distributed.” (Re-inventing Organisations).

The Agile approach provides a fully formed structure, including a Manifesto, 12 Principles, values and processes for implementing and managing this way.

From the Agile Manifesto:

We have come to value………

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software (replace with product/service/relationship) over comprehensive documentation.
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

This shift toward a more ‘Agile’ way of working, isn’t just about software development (it’s original purpose). By replacing the word ‘software’ in the manifesto and the 12 Principles it is possible to integrate Agile practices into many different organisations. Creating a vision, rather than a set goal, mapping out only the first steps, building in frequent review practices, which enable learning to be understood and applied to the next few steps. The plan begins to emerge, rather than being set out in predicted steps and fancy GANTT charts.

“When one holds onto a plan so tightly, one must keep reality at bay, or at least ‘solve for it’”. Lyssa Adkins, Coaching Agile Teams

Where this is done really effectively it requires a more mindful approach to leadership. The leader as coach and facilitator, rather than decision maker and solver of problems. The leader as observer of team dynamics and facilitator of team relationships.

Goals need to be at multiple levels ‘What’s in it for me? What’s in it for us as a team? What’s in it for my company? What’s in it for the world?’ A shared vision encompassing these varied and rich dimensions will survive the shifting winds of conflict and change, which are sure to blow as the team works together.” Lyssa Adkins, Coaching Agile Teams

When an issue emerges leaders ‘take it to the team’ in the belief that they are closer to the problem and will therefore develop a better answer. Understanding that when the team solves a problem this presents an opportunity for further learning and development and evolution of the team, creating greater agility. “Truly agile teams are the unending quest to be better than we are today.” (Lyssa Adkins)

“Problems represent a chance for the team to overcome, grow and become stronger together.” Theodore Rubin, psychiatrist and author.

Teams are encouraged to find ways of working which enable co-operative peer relationships, without the need for hierarchy. They become multi-disciplinary where short-term plans are evolved together, in a way which co-ordinates activities and avoids waiting times and dropped balls.

“There is a tipping point when an individuals self interest shifts to alignment with the behaviours that support team achievement.” Ellen Braun, accomplished agile manager (Coaching Agile Teams).

Working in this way team members are more likely to understand where they can add value and utilise their particular strengths. Enabling them to ‘be’ themselves – to be ‘on purpose’.

People are more likely to ask themselves the question ‘do I fit here?’ and ‘am I part of something I can relate to?’ It’s important to individuals that they have the ability to contribute, innovate and enjoy the people they work with.

“People are not motivated by the company’s bottom line – they want to feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves”. (Joey Reiman in the Story of Purpose).

Agile teams done where only the process is followed will not be the answer to finding your personal purpose. However, where the principles of agile teams are done well, with talented coaches and team facilitators the opportunity for people to ‘be’ themselves, to bring their whole self to the workplace, with the whole bag of skills, talents, passions and values means you are more likely to feel aligned and ‘on purpose’ and continue to evolve than in any other work environment.