Agile and Organisational Resilience – Part 2: Beyond Agile & Lean

This series of articles examines how organisations can create opportunity following a crisis. I will argue that as the world becomes more complex and undiscernable, how organisations prepare and deal with inevitable failure can give them a competitive advantage. So much so that intentional failure can provide more upside than the downside.

Many readers will be from the fields of Agile and Lean. Following on from my introduction to this series, this article will consider the maturity of these ways of working, but then put them to one-side until the end of this article series.

Why put them to one-side, especially considering I’m an Agile Coach? Well, to be frank, their current application is becoming commoditised. Their essence and original intent are being over-shadowed by large consultancies, large-scale change initiatives, sheep-dip training programmes and certification one-upmanship. Such organisations and initiatives often pay little more than lip-service to Agile’s and Lean’s simple yet powerful approach.

Using Geoffrey Moore’s Adoption Curve, there’s a lot to suggest Agile application is travelling across Early Majority. My opinion isn’t unique; Dave Snowden and many in the agile community recognise this trend.

Where would you place the maturity of agile and lean the adoption curve?

If we consider ourselves as change-agents, co-developing new emerging ways of working to help our clients and colleagues, we need to look beyond Agile and Lean – particularly in its current commodified application. This is my intent for this series of articles.

Another reason why I shan’t dwell on Agile and Lean is that I believe they have little application during an organisation’s crisis. However, later I will argue they play an important role once a crisis has been stabilised.

There’s a great deal of literature on how Agile and Lean deliver customer value at pace in a complex environment. I’m not going to repeat it here other than to say these approaches are particularly useful when dealing with known problems and opportunities. The challenge is that knowledge and understanding do not exist during shock events and crises that will inevitably engulf an organisation.

There’s a degree of overlap and complementarity between Scrum, Lean and Lean Startup, yet each has distinct emphasis.

Putting Agile and Lean to one-side, in my next article I’ll be returning to organisational resilience. I’ll be telling the story of Nokia, a company that has fallen out of favour yet has an impressive history of resilience.


Agile and Organisational Resilience – Part 1: Introduction

Only a crisis produces real change.
When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.

Milton Friedman

When last have you listened to Maurice Ravel’s Boléro? It’s a beautiful piece built on a steady crescendo which leads to a sudden finale of collapsing flutes, trumpets, cellos and violas. This crescendo and finale is a wonderful musical metaphor that is facing many organisations.

These are crescendos that lead to profound alterations in an organisation’s existence and direction. They end in a sudden cascade of chaos, disorientation and bewilderment. Often they lead to deep changes which cannot be anticipated or rehearsed.

Such cascades are unforeseen shock events. These events trigger a crisis. How organisations deal with these crises depend on their awareness, preparedness, experience and adaptability. These intangible factors cannot be directly engineered or copied from another organisation.

The management of a crisis, if done poorly, can lead to an organisation’s demise. If handled well they can lead to recovery and a return to normal.

However, if and when the situation has been stabilised, I believe these crises are opportunities to grow beyond normality. This is important because, in a fast-changing competitive market, returning to “business-as-usual” is likely to lead to more undesirable failure.

The Agile and Organisational Resilience article series

In this series of articles, I will examine how organisations can create opportunity following a crisis. I will argue that as the world becomes more complex and undiscernable, how organisations prepare and deal with inevitable failure can give them a competitive advantage. So much so that intentional failure can provide more upside than the downside from the moments of chaos and confusion.

This is an illustration which I’ll be returning to throughout this series of articles.

Many readers will be from the fields of Agile or Lean. For other readers, they may be new. In the next article, I will be explaining the current maturity of these concepts and then set them aside to return to the theme of organisational resilience. Towards the end of these series, I will explain how Agile and Lean can provide competitive advantage immediately following a crisis.

There will be about ten articles in this series. To help keep your attention, I will be keeping each article to no more than about 500 words.

Shares, comments and considered counter-arguments are always welcome.

Lastly, listen again to Ravel’s Boléro:

Circles of influence and control – An issue management technique

The problem

Teams often find it hard to capture and visualise risks and issues in a way which allows the team, their stakeholders and leaders to clearly understand who needs to provide help.

The team’s goals will be threatened if captured risks and issues are inaccessible and hard to decipher.

The solution

To help teams communicate with stakeholders and leaders where the team needs specific help, I’ve created a technique called Circles of Influence & Control.

The technique uses visual management to show the degree of influence and control the team has over each risk or issue. Stakeholders and leaders can easily see where the team needs support.

It also encourages the team to understand what they have control over and immediately take steps to resolve the risk or issue.

This technique is inspired by an approach by Stephen Covey described in his classic book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.



  1. Draw three concentric circles
  2. Label the inner circle “In our control”
  3. Label the middle circle “Some influence”
  4. Label the outer circle “No, or very little, influence


Using post-it notes, the team should add risks, issues, blockers into the appropriate circles

Actions and responsibilities

The team should plan how to resolve, own, accept, mitigate or escalate each item. This should be done with the appropriate stakeholders and leaders so they know how to help the team.

Once populated the team should focus energy on the inner circle of items since they have control of those items. The team should also focus attention on the middle circle of items since they have a degree of influence.

The sponsors, stakeholders and the leadership team should pay particular focus on the outer circle since these are items the team have little or no influence to address.


  • Team members can update these circles at any time
  • The team can review, manage and escalate items on a regular basis
  • Different colour post-it notes can be used to denote how long items have been present


Red Team technique – strengthen ideas through challenge & criticism

The problem

We sometimes find it hard to challenge and critique an idea or a way of working. Many of us are naturally hesitant and would rather not upset someone or undermine someone else’s work.

However, this avoidance misses opportunities to strengthen our colleague’s work before unquestioned commitments are made.

The solution

Often used in the military, here’s my light-weight formulation of the Red Team technique which evolved independently of developments elsewhere. It’s been adopted in a number of settings.

The technique gives individuals permission to criticise and pull-apart their colleague’s idea. Here’s how I’ve coached teams to use the practice.

Red Team members are temporarily given this permission to act in this manner – typically for 10 to 15 minutes.

It should not be imposed upon an individual or team who has work that may need critiquing; they should instigate it.

A Red Team is typically between 2 and 5 people.

How to do it

  1. Sit those proposing the idea with the Red Team members
  2. Ideally, there should also be a facilitator
  3. Those proposing the idea should present their idea succinctly
  4. The Red Team members should then respond stating their questions, challenges, and criticisms


1. How to respond to the Red Team

Those presenting their idea should state their proposal, answer any clarifying questions, listen to the criticism, but not respond in any other way.

The Red Team’s criticisms should be noted and later used to strengthen the proposal. The proposing team could then have their improved proposal challenged by a different Red Team.

2. Things the Red Team should consider when criticising

As well as using SMART criteria, the Red Team should consider criticising an idea based on the values of their team or organisation, such as the value of action before perfection.

3. When to form a Red Team

The proposing team could schedule the Red Team exercise, or they can be more impromptu and seek volunteers to form a Red Team with little notice.

4. Who should be on the Red Team

Obviously, the Red Team shouldn’t include those working on the idea.

So the Red Team can have a degree of naivety and curiosity, I recommend they don’t know too much about the idea. Neither should the Red Team have the same understanding of the problem domain as those presenting the idea.

Red Team members should act like a critical friend.

A critical friend can be defined as a trusted person who asks provocative questions, provides data to be examined through another lens, and offers critiques of a person’s work as a friend. A critical friend takes the time to fully understand the context of the work presented and the outcomes that the person or group is working toward. The friend is an advocate for the success of that work. – Desmond Nuttall

In summary

What is a Red Team

An independent group formed temporarily to challenge an idea, approach or an understanding.

Why use the Red Team technique

It helps to strengthen propositions by testing assumptions and exploring alternatives.

Related Reading

  • A powerful method, but needs more set-up and facilitation: Ritual Dissent from Cognitive Edge
  • Thoughtful Disagreement developed by Ray Dalio
  • Troika Consulting: A Liberating Structures technique which helps people gain insight on issues they face and unleash local wisdom for addressing them

Training exercise

I have a training exercise that can be used to introduce the Red Team technique. Contact me if you’d like to learn about it.