Daniel Mezick on Agile as an Invitation to a Game


On today's episode I talk to Daniel Mezick, author of the Culture Game and the founder of Open Space Agility. He’s is also the co-author of Inviting Leadership.

Daniel has a really unique perspective on culture, self management and how to make agile really work. At the core, agile believes that a team doing work is the authority on what needs to be done for that work, since they're closest to the work. This is self management at the team level.

In trying to make a switch to agile ways of working, organizations often dictate new frameworks, patterns and procedures. To dictate a new way for how work is to be done is basically the opposite of self management...and a clear limit on how an externally generated conversation design can really work: Change from the outside is going to get push back.

That Agile is implemented in a non-agile way is an irony not lost on him!

In Daniel's view, culture is a game, how work is done is a game, meetings are games, with rules, ways progress is measured...some of the rules are implicit, some are explicit, but it's kind of annoying to play a game with no rules, or with rules unevenly applied, or with rules that change without notice. If you're a reader of "Calvin and Hobbes" you've heard of CalvinBall, and you know how frustrating it is!

Whoever *must* play, can't really play... (that's from james carse's excellent book on Finite and Infinite games)

Daniel suggests that agile be *invite only*, pull, not push, and that that "pull" invitation be in the form of an Open Space meeting. People that opt in, step into the circle, decide what to talk about, and leave with proceedings, outputs. That starts a new game, with new rules, written by those who want to play.

His Open Space Agility process is an answer to the question of how to change the rules of a work culture in a clear and fair way, without hemorrhaging people in the process. Open Space dictates that whoever responds to the invitation are the right people, what conclusions they come to are the right conclusions, worthy of an experimental test, at the very least.

Open space meeting philosophy has infected my own conversation design practice. I feel particularly uneasy when a facilitator I'm working with tries to massage or shift the decisions a group is coming to....it's one of the reasons I say a facilitator should ask better questions instead of giving answers. A great question is an invitation. An invitation is the start of a new conversation. This episode has me rethinking all the invitations I send out, for all my meetings, and all my conversations, moment by moment. Are my invitations inviting? Are people hearing an invitation to the game I want them to play?

Check out the a bonus track where Daniel and I talk about Holocracy and his work with Zappos....enjoy the episode!

The Agile Manifesto: 12 values and 4 principles

Jeff Sutherland

Scrum: rules, roles, artifacts

Planning Poker

User Stories

The Alpha Geek and the pecking order

meetings as games

Open Space Agility

Open Space four principles and the law of two feet

Butterfly and the Bumblebee

Waterfall vs Agile Culture

Pull vs Push Culture

Triggering Self management


four variables in software development: cost, delivery date, features, quality

client's changing their mind is a feature, not a bug

Pareto's Principle is the opposite of what you think

90% syndrome

Code gets brittle

The Big Picture Diagram of Open Space Agility

Signal Events in Culture

Buying into a process vs. Authoring a process

Proceedings of an Open Space Meeting

Organizational Cadence

The Agile Imposition

Beware the man of one book

SaFE Framework



The Mandate of Holocracy at Zappos

Holocracy or Quit