Thawing the Frozen Middle to Create a Self-organizing Transformation
Jeremy Braden

I bought in to the Agile fantasy that managers go away, or are at least less destructive than before a transformation occurs. But here I am, in the middle of a large scale agile transformation at the fourth largest bank in the world – and there are managers EVERYWHERE. They are at best confused about how the change affects them, at worst openly resistant. They are the frozen middle. We’ve learned the agile fantasy is not true, and the frozen middle will be a much more potent force than expected. But there are more teams to stand up – so we move on to new teams in new areas of the organization. We have responded to this challenge with more coaches. More teams, more coaches. This leads to another problem: The thought that Coaches own the transformation and are responsible for the results. Coaching becomes a constraint (and excuse) for a stalled transformation. In reality, for a transformation to succeed the organization itself has to own and be responsible for its success. The organization itself has to become a self-organizing group focused on transformational goals. The Frozen Middle must be thawed to unlock this possibility. I learned these lessons years into our transformation, and we’ve taken steps to give managers the space and structures to be empowered to create the environment needed for long-term and sustainable team success.

Learning Objectives
• Coaches can’t force transformation – it needs to be embraced by all levels of management
o I learned how managers are the critical element in creating an environment for long-term team success and the importance of leaders applying transformation change to themselves
• Talking about change can be paralyzing or overwhelming
o We learned how debilitating it can feel when faced with the daunting tasks of transformational change. It is a challenge to prioritize ideas let alone finding time to pursue them. The managers and leaders needed guidance in their agile journey just as much as agile teams.
• Invest coaching in managers and create structures biased towards action
o We learned how important (and sometimes difficult) it is for managers and leaders to embrace their changing role in creating healthy environments for teams. The managers need just as much education and coaching to learn their role as well as new structures and leadership routines to spur management action.
• Coaches - Get out of the way!
o We learned how important it is for the coach to get out from between teams and their leaders. At the heart of a long term and self-organizing transformation is the direct managers embracing their changing role in the transformation coupled with frequent connection between teams and their managers.
Learning Level
Session Type
Experience Report