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What agility has to do with socialism and why both (so far) fail in the long run on a large scale.

Last updated: 01.07.21
What agility has to do with socialism and why both (so far) fail in the long run on a large scale.

Agility and socialism are, to putting it bluntly, the two ends of my life. Born in the GDR, I grew up with pioneer songs and the ideals of Marxism-Leninism, and now I am the managing director of trendig, a Berlin-based company that focuses on digitalisation and agile transition - above all on the well-being and cooperation in teams and the individual skills of the people behind the products and work processes. But does my CV alone justify this bold statement? Of course not, so here is my food for thought on the topic:


1. A manifesto and its interpretations

Anyone who wants to make a well-founded statement on the topic of agility cannot avoid the Agile Manifesto. Originally, there were 4 guiding principles to prefer the one over the other, whereby it was made clear in the postscript that the other was not entirely bad, just not quite as valuable. 12 guiding principles followed a little later, as there was still a lot of room for interpretation of what the Manifesto meant for the practical implementation. The situation is similar with socialism: those who propagate it cannot argue without the world view put forward by Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto; for a long time, the socialist movement's interpretative sovereignty lay with their work. Here, too, decisive foundations were theoretically formulated, and their interpretations for social coexistence in this sense were, well, let's call it succinctly diverse, so as not to become politically judgmental here.  


2. Emotionality and followers

Which brings us to my second point: Where there is so much interpretable space that can be filled, where guiding principles call for an individual change of one's own actions in this sense, there is a lot of emotionality of the individual. If something is to be "changed for the better" - and that is the intention of both manifestos - then this presupposes the individual positioning against the existing and thus an identification for a new good cause. One becomes a follower of the new propagated thing, one has to convince others, one becomes emotionally involved. It is not far from the desired reform to the proclaimed revolution. Now or never. For or against. 


3. The knowledgeable workers against the dominant powers

And who is against whom here? Again, the class struggles are similar for agil advocates and socialism supporters. While for the latter it is the working class that should revolt against the capitalist class (a class struggle at the end of which the abolition of private property should put an end to the exploitation of workers, in favour of a classless society), in agile projects it is also the "workers" who should be nurtured, supported and motivated and individually valued as personalities with their own needs and skills. Not as a human capital mass whose participants remain arbitrarily interchangeable. No one "from above" should determine, but the team should organise itself, reflect. Appreciative communication at eye level between all participants is an essential part of agile working: a classless working life, to stay in the picture.

4. Homogeneity and human individuality as guarantors of success and failure

Classless, however, means in real implementation that each and everyone must be satisfied with what the group achieves. It presupposes - both in the socialist and in the agile way of thinking - that each individual member of society or team acknowledges the contribution of the others in the uncritical assumption that this contribution was also the best possible that each and everyone could give. And can live with the fact that even if he or she might have achieved or accomplished even more with another team, in favour of the togetherness of all, he or she can do without this advancement. If the sacrifices are not too great, the togetherness is not yet endangered on a human level. Ambitious members of the group, however, encounter limits here that they may not be prepared to accept if they recur repeatedly. 

It becomes particularly difficult when not only the high achievers cut back, but team or society members lie down in the hammock and quite consciously spare their own resources in the cosy atmosphere of togetherness, not giving the best they can, but only what is necessary or not even that. For then the classless all-for-all begins to tailspin. The successes become smaller, the dissatisfaction of the majority greater and the gap to what is possible becomes unbearable for some members of the team or society. Neither socialism nor agility are made for individual withdrawal and letting others do the work. Success depends crucially on the above-mentioned will for teamwork and tolerance, an approximate performance homogeneity of the group and the social competence of the individual group members. Therefore, it can be simplified: The smaller the agile team or the social structure, the better agility and socialism can be implemented and filled with life, since performance and goal homogeneity become increasingly difficult to establish as the size of the interacting group increases. This also explains why hardly any large corporations have so far managed the conversion to agility at all levels and why there is no genuine social state functioning out of the organisation of its citizens: It is the individuality of the people. The more members participate, the more difficult it is to create homogeneity. And the faster the development after the promising good start of a few agile teams or social communities goes in the direction of top-down corporate management or even one-party dictatorship in socialist states - the latter, of course, stated only in grossly simplified and striking terms.


5. Homogeneity vs. diversity of teams

A large number of studies have already empirically proven that it is not homogeneous but diverse teams in companies that make better decisions, perform best in achieving goals in comparison and make projects more profitable. In view of these facts, how can the above analysis be sustained? It fits in seamlessly! The diversity so positively evaluated in the studies is a factual one: age, gender, education, professional experience, origin, etc. make people individually very different. The homogeneity described above, however, is a strongly emotionally value-oriented one: If a team or a society succeeds in motivating precisely these very many factually different individuals for a common cause and in synchronising them in their common striving in the above sense, then the togetherness is based on a very broad sense of belonging right from the start. One could say: harmonious homogeneity despite diversity. Due to its diverse horizons of experience, the harmoniously acting group then has decisive advantages in problem-solving competence on the factual level. In cooperation, the differences do not weigh heavily because they are subordinated to a common (higher) goal.


6. What does this mean for everyday work?

Thus, it can be deduced when agility can easily succeed in practice and when it is more likely to fail like a socialist utopia: as a team, it is important to find the way for ALL. The holistic approach of the self-organising team is not the result of agile cooperation, but its basic prerequisite. Everyone must be taken along and everyone must be able to synchronise themselves again and again. A very conscious reflection of the individual and the team. Are we really a team? Do all team members really stand behind the goals that have been set? Is everyone really prepared to give their best for the next sprint? Can everyone really live with the fact that one or more members are currently delivering less than they could because they have other things to do in their lives? Do we appreciate each other? Can we honestly tell each other what we think without hurting each other? 

Orientation is provided by the five values of Scrum, which are often ridiculed as sentimental accessories, but which are essentially the direct key to success:

1 Openness/transparency: Everyone is allowed to and must be able to say everything and be given the opportunity to do so often enough. This applies to the team itself as well as to the team's communication with other stakeholders. The latter is usually the even greater challenge.

2 Courage: Honesty is not always pleasant, facing mistakes and criticism requires courage from every single team member.

3 Respect: Even difficult challenges need to be overcome. This can only be achieved through dialogue on a factual level in respectful cooperation.

4 Focus: The more goal-oriented the joint work is, the fewer sideshows arise that distract from the common goals.

5 Commitment: As mentioned above, sustainable success can only be achieved through genuine dedication and intrinsic motivation. Commitment also has another dimension beyond the team level: management must also commit to this kind of cooperation and reliably provide the resources and freedoms for this kind of working together. 

It demands a lot from a team on a small scale and the company on a large scale to establish homogeneity as a focus on the same values and goals. Communication at eye level is something that also and first and foremost requires insight into one's own actions and shortcomings, the reflection of one's own person in the team structure. Company leaders and managing directors included. For all those who want to work agile, this means: only those who know themselves well and can take a step back can take a respectful look at the team and make agile social decisions in cooperation. Only those who are willing to go this social-emotional extra mile every single working day will be able to work agile. For everyone else, agility remains a beautiful but unattainable utopia.


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