Culture eats strategy for breakfast

Lean coffee Gent affords me unique access to a group of highly skilled agile experts. Lean coffee itself is our monthly meetup where we discuss all things agile following the lean coffee principle. Other than participation, attendance also offers access to our invite-only slack channel. The lean coffee gent slack is invite only and at the end of each evening, we offer everyone present the opportunity to get invited to the group chat. We’ve started a couple of years ago and by now it’s a veritable who’s who of the Belgian Agile world.

And that gets us into some pretty interesting conversations! This week, Peter seeded an inspiring topic that spurred me into a monologue and resulted in an inspiring conversation.

I will publish some of those excerpts here.

I ‘m not sure if I’m right, but I prefer bottom up culture over top down strategies. Not all strategies are top down, I do see that. A group can decide on strategy for themselves too, but I’ll only believe in its value if the entire group or a vast majority including key influence group members support and foster the decision. Under those circumstances (and some other prerequisites) I can see the strategy enter into their culture and take hold.

As such, it feels to me that culture eats strategy is very apt. But I’m not sure it’s the original meaning.
As for if strategy is worth while, I’m sure we need a definition of strategy before we continue down that discussion.
That being said. Blindly pushed strategy that is too different from a groups culture has no way of succeeding without carefully building group support.

Checked out the origin and apparently, yes, Fields had that in mind.
Apparently tho, some people consider replacing culture with agile in that quote.. To then consider “agile eats..”, it feels like a dangerous mistake to confuse culture there with agile.
Agile is a strategy that is often easily adopted and has a better chance of succeeding than some old-fashioned strategies..
But bad culture also eats agile for breakfast. Which is why big scale agile transformations take long and are painful and difficult. (And interesting and deff my next career interest)

Then to ultimately zone in on the .. is strategy bad and is there a problem..
I agree that artificially imposing incompatible strategies is a bad practice. That being said, I do believe that strategies being delegated to a strategic few that then set a course for the group is a good business practice (see also sociocracy) Imposing those blindly though, to a culture that is at odds with it, is painful at best and often simply a disaster. The best way to stop change is saying yes and then ignoring doing it.

Strategy should be decided and then not imposed but grown into the culture.


A lot of this coincided with my experience in large companies and organisations, and with my recent interest in S3. Once you’re familiar with the s3 patterns, it’s easy to recognize what’s happening and to start facilitating solutions. My interests tend to materialize around me, so I’m glad to say, our first experimenting with Sociocracy 3.0 is later this month. Join us, if that’s what you’re into.

Special thanks to Peter, Erwin & Bert.
Peter Janssens is agile catalyst, you can find out more about him on in/peterblogs
Erwin Tollenaere is agile coach, meet him at in/erwintollenaere
Bert is business analyst, check him out at in/bertheymans

Find all about Lean Coffee Gent at https://www.meetup.com/Gent-Lean-Coffee/events/
Join our first S3 experiment meetup, later this October 2019, at https://www.meetup.com/Gent-Lean-Coffee/events/265484988/

Published by Gert

Person-at-large.

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