This week I learned something new in my work as an Agile Coach. I’ve learned the technique of XM as a means to install the Agile. It works like this …

  • Using the Powerpoint tell your people how Agile will work in your department. Make sure to include the important parts such as how their team wall must be structured, how to estimate and work will flow between the people
  • Get an Agile ‘expert’ who can install the Agile for you. This will make it easier on you in many ways
  • Make sure all your teams are doing the Agile the exact same way, and displaying their work on the wall exactly the same as every other team. After all it’s the only way you’ll know they’re actually doing Agile right?
  • Finally you’ve heard co-locating is such an important part of Agile. So book a meeting room and make your people bring their laptops and work in there half days. They don’t really need those big monitors so don’t worry about anything difficult. I’m sure the ergonomics of the meeting rooms are great so they can leave all their chairs, etc at their regular desk.

There’s a lot more to XM but you can likely get a feel for XM from these few points. It’s a very powerful management technique.

XM stands for “Extreme Meddling”. It’s a tried and true management approach in which the manager tells people how to do their job. This must be the best approach as it’s roots can be traced back to ancient kingdoms, slavery and even the roman empire. If someone questions the word of the manager, the best approach is to reprimand them severely.

Wait a minute!

Obviously I’m pitching XM as the right way to approach change on a team. The truth is if you want to help change die and fizzle at your organization XM is a great tool for doing so.

Extreme Meddling takes many forms but here’s a few examples:

  • Telling teams how to organize their work and team structure at the detailed task level
  • Constraining teams in how they manage their work all in the name of consistency of reporting. 
  • Force them to make their work visible, then use this visibility to micro manage and reprimand them when things are seemingly going slow
  • Just as people are starting to work more collaboratively and share their work, force them to co-locate in a meeting room daily
  • Tie their performance review/bonus to an unrealistic target based on your estimate of how long it should take to build an extreme amount of work

Here’s an idea … Stop it

The truth is XM is very damaging to any hope you have of leading change successfully in your teams. What I know for sure is when managers use XM the outcomes are not very pretty. When you use XM here’s how people will respond:

Blame – when things fall apart the people will be very quick to point to external factors for what is happening. They may point to you, the culture, other team members, or even the technical environment. They are simply trying to deflect the cause of failure in another direction.

Justify – in this state they will agree with you things are falling apart, and they will point to something to explain it. They may talk about having too much work in progress, or their lack of understanding of something, or even how they cannot concentrate when working in the team room. The team may even be pointing to you as a way to explain the failure.

Shame – you’ll know this one when employing XM. You’ll be in their team room to find out what’s happening or to provide some new direction. Look around the room. Likely their heads are hung low, they’re not saying anything and they’re not making eye contact. Truthfully they’ve checked out on you to protect themselves, and they are just waiting for you to leave so they can get back to what they were doing.

Obligation – if you’re a fan of XM you’ll like this one because you’ll likely get what you’re asking for. For example, you decree all their team walls will look exactly the same and according to your vision. So with a sigh they tell their team how the guy in the corner office has decided how we will make our work visible. To ensure you don’t get upset at them they will follow your directions and provide what you’re looking for. Isn’t that great?  You get the consistency you so badly want. The truth is they don’t really care about their team wall anymore but will do it just to keep you off their back. This means the information on the wall may not be an accurate depiction of reality

Responsibility – this one is my favourite, however if you’re employing XM you may not be seeing a whole lot of it. It’s when people look at the situation to see what is true for them self. When they have this clarity it makes it easy for them to decide what action to take next and trust them self to move forward. Simply put they take charge of their life and career. Some will stay and some will leave. It’s been my experience when the good people hit this mental state they are likely to go find a new job.

Leading for change

It’s time to stop the meddling. Traditional management approaches are outdated and flawed in so many ways. Perhaps they worked at one time but if we keep going down this path we will continue to struggle to invoke any kind of real change.

If you’re a leader it’s not too late to change your approach. Unfortunately there’s no easy formula for this. You need to start by leading yourself. This means getting in touch with your own values, aligning to them and bringing your most authentic and powerful self.

Next you need to change how you lead your people. Start by printing the org chart of team and hanging it upside down on your wall. You’ll be at the bottom of the image and will have the important job of supporting everyone on the team.

Finally learn what it means to lead a system. Your team is a system that takes in requests for work and produces some type of valuable outcome. Unlike some systems though it has one variable making it infinitely complex and beautiful at the same time … humans.

“Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.” –


posterLetter_optimizedCredit: In this post I use The Responsibility Process® as a structure for illustrating how people might respond to extreme meddling. If you want to learn more about responsibility you can find more information at

Building Great Teams

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