Enterprise Agile Coaching: The Ivory Tower Syndrome

The Ivory Tower Syndrome happens when top management decisions are disconnected from the reality of the organization. Enterprise Agile Coaches are in the Ivory Tower when they are dealing with agile transformation decisions without spending time in the Gemba.

Gemba means factory flood in Lean manufacturing, which means where the Value Stream are really happening. If you are not looking into the place where the root problem is happening, it’s not easy to find a proper solution. Otherwise, are you working on plans and presentations? Thinking about process and tools? Hum…

I have been working as an agile coach since 2013. So in 2018, I worked as an Enterprise Agile Coach for six months. I was happy in the beginning, very hopeful to make impact in the organization. In the midst of it, I realized I was working mostly with managers, leadership, surveys, organizational assessments, that I was in the Ivory Tower. Ouch. That hurts. I was not happy, but hopeful. So when I perceived all that plans were not really happening, I felt being like a failure, then I had to ask to leave.

To avoid the the Ivory Tower Syndrome, the Enterprise Agile Coach must go to the Gemba. Not just going, but working on there with individuals and teams.

I believe the name Enterprise Agile Coach is wrong. Agile is about individuals and interactions. Coaching is about unleashing the best version of individuals and teams. It is a kind of contradictory having this name when the role is working far away from the value stream. Maybe the name Agile Transformation Consultant/Mentor/Specialist can be much better.

So there on the top where the Enterprise Agile Coach most works, in the Ivory Tower. Unless they are going to the Gemba.

There’s a Zen quote I remember about it.

“From the pine tree, learn of the pine tree; And from the bamboo, of the bamboo.”

Matsuo Bashō, Japanese poet

From the teams, learn of the teams. It doesn’t matter how much assessments, surveys, the Enterprise Agile Coach works on.There is no better assessment than going to listen to the teams and understand things that cold assessments would never tell.

Go to the Gemba everyday.