schedule Mar 19th 05:30 - 06:15 PM place Grand Ball Room 2 people 72 Interested

While Agile organization started to appear in last 20 years, the key principles for how we organize is nothing new and have been with us for thousands of years. In this session, I am taking a martial art "Aikido" (Japanese: 合気道) as example and going through the key principles in leadership, learning and transformation approaches. In these principles, learning Aikido are very similar to build Agile organization. Leaders are practitioners and teachers. Learning is via practices and peer learning. Changes are done in people body and mindset. We need to learn the rules, break away from the rules and ultimately create our own rules fitting ourselves and organization (Shu-Ha-Ri). Aikido is a way of life, so Agile is.

 
 

Outline/Structure of the Talk

"Everyone has a spirit that can be refined. A body that can be trained in some manner, a suitable path to follow" - O'Sensei, Morihei Ueshiba, Founder of Aikido

Aikido (Japanese: 合気道) is a modern Japanese martial art developed to defend individuals while also protecting their attacker from injury. Aikido is often translated as "the way of unifying (with) life energy" or as "the way of harmonious spirit".

I have been practicing Aikido for the last 4 years and am currently working towards black belt. Through years of practice, I have realized the similarities between Aikido and an Agile Organization. Here are some commonalities:

Lesson 1: Leaders are Teachers and Practitioners

Like many martial arts, the teachers are also the leaders in the organization. To become a teacher of the art form, one must undergo an arduous journey that requires changes in how they act as well as how they think. These are conducted within series of trainings for the new student. Only a few of these students, those that are the most passionate and talented students, are selected as teacher candidates. Once a candidate, only with further training will a student progress to an assistant coach position. Only after assistant coach is approved, will they become the formal teacher and be recognized as a leader of the dojo. However, all this effort and the recognition of mastery of the leader does not result in gaining hierarchical control over the students. Rather, their goal is to continue to teach others become better.

Within agile, the concept of a servant leader is one who recognizes the importance of working through others, engaging and empowering others to use and improve their own capabilities. An agile leader is not one who dictates what others should do, but rather creates a system and culture where the teams learn by themselves with an emphasis of ensuring safe working environment for the teams to inevitably fail and learn.

Lesson 2: Improve through Practices and Learn from Peers

There is very little class room training for Aikido. The learning is mostly via practicing. Typical training routine starts with a short demo of teacher and assistant coach. After the brief demonstration, students are then grouped as pair (“Uke” the Receiver” and “Nage” the thrower). Thrower and receiver need to work seamlessly, as it is important that receiver willingly falls so that the thrower can learn and practice the technique. On the other side, the thrower protects the receiver via giving him or her the space to fall and ensure his or her safety. In this practice there is no differentiation of old or young, junior or senior, student or assistant coach. Everyone can learn and can teach. Without the teamwork, there is no practice and improvement in Aikido.

In Agile organization, we focus at team and whole organization success. There is limit impact for individual agile. The ecosystem work together, by practicing, improving and taking care each other. The team and organization grow together. The ultimate form of Agile is high performance teams which deliver superior business outcomes. We are “in” it together to bring the organization to next level (generative culture). Teams are empowered to learn the rules and practices from the community and peers, not simply the coaches or teachers.

Lesson 3: Shi-Ha-Ri or Embracing – Diverging - Discarding

Aikido is a martial art which can be a lifetime practice. It is generally following 3 stages.

  • Stage 1 Shu – Embracing the kata (technique). Students starts with white belt, generally progress in the next few years studying the principles, techniques and how to work with their bodies.
  • Stage 2 Ha – Diverging from the kata (technique). Black belt is a good achievement after several years and however a new start too. After mastering the foundation, the students can now find out which techniques work best for themselves. Everyone is different with height, muscle power, their preferences. This is a stage to find own self, experiment and identify what is best which works for individual.
  • Stage 3 Ri – Discarding the kata (technique). Very few people can reach out this stage and are only the true master of this art. The ultimate mastery has reached and new technique can be created

It is same for the Agile organization. We learn and apply the basic principles and organization structure so that we can start. There is no end state, however a vision to get close. Lay the foundation, practice over and over, team work. Over time we can be faster, better and feel more contented

Agile, a way of life..

Learning Outcome

I see these three lessons of learning Aikido are very similar to Agile transformations.

- Lesson 1 Leader are teachers and practitioners

- Lesson 2: Improve through Practices and Learn from Peers

- Lesson 3: Shi-Ha-Ri or Embracing – Diverging - Discarding

Agile transformation is a mindset and behaviour change which requires no only knowledge, but also self-awareness and regular practicing. The important part is to master the foundation (with patience) and know when it is time to diverge and create, which is taking time. With a right vision and determination, we will progress forward, step by step.

Target Audience

Agile Practitioner, Coach, Business/Technical Leaders, Agile Team Member

schedule Submitted 8 months ago

Public Feedback

comment Suggest improvements to the Speaker
  • Tathagat Varma
    By Tathagat Varma  ~  8 months ago
    reply Reply

    Marc, thanks for your proposal. I think it will be a very good conceptual framework for agile coaches, and even though most of the coaches claim that they *know* shu-ha-ri, the reality is quite different. So, I think your session could help in clarifying some of these longheld ideas.

    Do you have a video from a past talk that you could link us to?


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