Three Organisational Transformation Modes

I have been thinking about the different ways I see organisations approach change and have decided to lump them into three main approaches. Whilst of course I have my favourite, I wanted to think about the benefits and costs of each mode.


I used to see and hear about this but not so often these days. This is where one team decides to try doing some new things – may be transparently and with full support of the organisation, or may be covertly. Over time, others become aware of the new things the team are doing. Their successes are visible and their ideas adopted by others. Change spreads organically throughout the organisation.


  • Each team decides what to do.
  • Each team decides when to do it and drive their own change at the right pace for them.
  • Home-grown therefore likely to be most appropriate for each team.
  • Self-organised straight from the off.
  • Can be done without full buy-in from the organisation (at least initially).
  • Further change can be based on empirical evidence.
  • Drives an early need to de-couple dependent teams and align to product areas / value streams if teams are taking different approaches (OPINION ALERT – I think that may well be a good thing).


  • Can seem patchy and disjointed.
  • Change can hit a ceiling when management have not been involved from the start.
  • Can be challenging when different teams are taking radically different approaches.

Big bang

I see this when a whole organisation is at risk or feeling so much pain that a total initial change is considered necessary. This need for speed of change may be real or perceived.


  • Can get to novice (“shu”) very quickly.
  • Can provide the ‘training wheels’ for evolutionary change.
  • Easy to track, understand and explain (although cultural change not so).
  • Even getting to novice can feel a big and amazing change in a large, traditional organisation.


  • High-risk.
  • High cost – lots of initial training and support needed.
  • Driven by process rather than people’s needs.
  • Increased risk of back-sliding.
  • Command-and-control approach to change rather than deep cultural change.
  • Slows the whole organisation down whilst learning.
  • May understand mechanics but not the underlying values (example – a team is holding Scrum meetings but not focusing on delivering value fast).


Where a transformation team is formed, a transparent backlog of things to do is created and can be contributed to by anyone.  The organisation reflects regularly on where they are and what to do next, guided by the teams (and everyone).


  • Transparent list of things to that anyone can add to.
  • The transformation team learn and do (as visibly as possible).
  • Cultural change is lead by example – the team learn to fail fast and publicly and inspect and adapt according to what is learned.
  • Adaptable (both the things we are doing and how fast we go).
  • More inclusive.
  • Possibly cheaper as organisation can evolve a community of experts as they go.


  • Slower than Big Bang, often faster than organic.
  • Dependencies need to be drawn out and considered (Does it make sense to do this before that?).
  • Needs more time, dedication and a deeper understanding from the transformation team (OPINION – I think that might not be a bad thing).
  • Less (perceived) surety of outcome / speed.


Have you seen others or recognised additional benefits or down-sides from doing these? I would love to hear from you with any additional thoughts.


      1. The book ‘Maverick!: The Success Story Behind the World’s Most Unusual Workplace’ is Ricardo’s warts and all account of the Semco story. Not a experience report but still worth reading is Stephen Denning’s ‘The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management’ in which Denning puts forward his ideas of new organisational models formed from his experience’s working at the World Bank. For contemporary stories WorldBlu is a global network of organisations committed to democracy and freedom in the workplace.

  1. Reblogged this on jonjorgensen and commented:
    This is an interesting perspective on the taxonomy of organization transformation modes. I would have said they have 2 polarities each: Imposed vs. Invited. I wonder if we can find patterns of longevity and resilience among the 3 or 6 patterns we have here. I wonder if there is a website were participant/targets of agile transformation can give an evaluation of their experience over time; a sort of Net Promoter Score of the Agile Transformation Initiative. -Something to consider.

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