A Legacy of Butterflies

 “If nothing ever changed, there’d be no butterflies.”

– Author Unknown

As Agile coaches and change agents, we often chat about what it takes for an Agile transformation to succeed and scale in an organization. At a macro level, culture change and management support are often cited as key enablers. Changing culture and management mindset takes a long time. If we were to look underneath that, what would we see at a micro level? At the level of each individual making up the culture of an organization?

My friend and fellow Agile Coach, Susan Lin presented a great talk, “Sustaining Agility After the Consultants Leave” at the 2018 Regional Scrum Gathering in Toronto. In her talk, she referred to the need for “butterflies” in an organization. A “butterfly” is an employee who has embraced and demonstrates consistently the new behaviors, habits and ultimately the Agile mindset needed to support the change.

In nature, the metamorphosis from hungry, sleepy caterpillar to fluttering butterfly is an oft-used metaphor for change at large. In nature, caterpillars evolve into butterflies in order to lay eggs and sustain the cycle of life. In organizations, individuals evolve into butterflies in order to sustain and continue the cycle of change. What triggers the metamorphosis? In nature, the trigger is a hormone called ecdysone.

Organizational Ecdysone

What’s the equivalent of ecdysone in an organization’s Agile transformation? Agile transformations would not be as hard as they are if organizational ecdysone were present in every individual. But it isn’t. What’s common place and easy to spot in nature is in short supply and invisible in organizations. A change in mindset is not as visible as a change in physiology. Furthermore, what triggers that change will vary from individual to individual – everyone has a different trigger.

  • Some respond to the marketing Rule of 7 and need to hear a message at least 7 times before deciding to act
  • Others may be triggered by a word or phrase such as “autonomy” or “self-organizing” or “delivering business value every day”
  • The best are those that are frustrated with the status quo. They have waited for the rest of the organization to catch up. They celebrate change with a visceral hallelujah!

On the other hand, there are those who won’t make the change.  They fear more to lose than to gain. They will resist change preferring to remain a caterpillar.

Organizational Butterflies

Those that do embrace change are a thing of beauty to behold. Here’s a sample of butterfly qualities I’ve observed in organizations:

  • An eagerness to treat everyone and everything as a learning opportunity
  • Curiosity to try new things and quickly apply their learnings
  • When they speak, there’s a fire in their belly and eyes
  • When they act, it is with deep sincerity and caring for their colleagues
  • They don’t wait for direction – they set the pace

A single monarch butterfly can lay up to 1000 eggs. What legacy will organizational butterflies leave behind? Chaos theory suggests the flutter of a single butterfly’s wings can change the course of events on the other side of the world.

I love observing the beauty of butterflies – it is why I do what I do.

Let’s continue to find and nurture our organizational butterflies. The future of our Agile transformations depends on it.

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