Involvement vs. Commitment: To execute plans by self-organized teams effectively, we need an organizational culture of mutual accountability.

One day a chicken says to the pig: “You know what, I was thinking we should open a restaurant.” What sounds like the beginning of a pretty lame joke is actually an often-used metaphor in agile management. The pig replies: “I’m not sure. What would we call it?” After careful considerations, the chicken suggests: “How about a name like HAM-N-EGGS?” The pig is shaken and replies: “No, thanks. I’d be committed, but you’d only be involved.”

The key message of this story is that the pig has to sacrifice itself if they want to offer ham in their restaurant. The Chicken, on the other hand, just has to provide the eggs, which does not require to give up life. Thus, the pig is fully committed to the project, while the chicken is only involved. When it comes to producing ham and eggs, you need both chicken and pigs to contribute to the end result.

However, between the two, there are distinct differences in their contributions. The pig had to lay down its very life to provide the ham for the meal. It is more than involved in the task – it is committed. The chicken? The chicken doesn’t make nearly the same sacrifice. The chicken is involved in the meal, it’s not entirely committed to it.

In agile management, ‘pigs’ are those who are fully committed to the outcome and results of the organization and take full responsibility for successes and failure. ‘Chickens’ are those who provide input and feedback, who might make suggestions in four different working groups and committees but are not actively working on results or being accountable for the outcome and thus, are only involved, but not committed.


Many organizations, which are in the process of establishing agile operations or agile project management, face obstacles on the way. Often, their actual organizational culture doesn’t match the requirements. Agile methods like Scrum, Kanban or agile SPACE strongly depend on an organizational culture that promotes, fosters and demands self-organization. The teams have to work autonomously with mutual accountability to make these approaches work. If a company struggles at this point, this is because of the organizational culture being shaped and dominated by chickens. Overly participatory decision processes, too many people getting involved, the topics are discussed at various committees – so a very high level of involvement, but just the same few people who are actually committed, demonstrating ownership and accountability.

However, between the two, there are distinct differences in their contributions. The pig had to lay down its very life to provide the ham for the meal. It is more than involved in the task – it is committed. The chicken? The chicken doesn’t make nearly the same sacrifice. The chicken is involved in the meal, it’s not entirely committed to it.

In agile management, ‘pigs’ are those who are fully committed to the outcome and results of the organization and take full responsibility for successes and failure. ‘Chickens’ are those who provide input and feedback, who might make suggestions in four different working groups and committees but are not actively working on results or being accountable for the outcome and thus, are only involved, but not committed.


Many organizations, which are in the process of establishing agile operations or agile project management, face obstacles on the way. Often, their actual organizational culture doesn’t match the requirements. Agile methods like Scrum, Kanban or agile SPACE strongly depend on an organizational culture that promotes, fosters and demands self-organization. The teams have to work autonomously with mutual accountability to make these approaches work. If a company struggles at this point, this is because of the organizational culture being shaped and dominated by chickens. Overly participatory decision processes, too many people getting involved, the topics are discussed at various committees – so a very high level of involvement, but just the same few people who are actually committed, demonstrating ownership and accountability.

THE BACON STARTS AT THE TOP

When we’re talking to executives about their most important strategic projects, it’s not unusual for us to hear: “Yes, our projects really need some guidance. As for me, I don’t need the help because I’ve done such projects for decades, so this won’t help me. But them? They definitely need support and coaching. Keep me posted!” Well, with all due respect, it starts at the very top of the organization. A „THEM“ and „US“ mentality surely doesn’t demonstrate commitment from the top. If the rest of the team gets the message — “I’m too important to get my hands dirty, but I want to know what’s going on.” — from an executive, don’t expect 100% buy-in to the task or project. That’s involvement. Not commitment.

…WHERE NO ONE HAS GONE BEFORE

If your organization is about to test or establish an agile approach like SCRUM, KANBAN or agile SPACE, you might explore new territory. Don’t just rely on running a few trainings, procuring the latest agile software applications or nominating / hiring an “agile champion” –

consider organizational culture as a critical success factor for change. What exactly is the behavior that you want to see within your teams and across the organization? How does the working environment promote and demands this behavior? What are the obstacles which are hindering people to demonstrate self-organization? We recommend reflecting on the organization’s culture. Our tool „Culture“ supports a self-diagnoses of the cultural environment. We can help you and your team to identify root causes for „chicken“ behavior and facilitate the change process towards a successful implementation of agile management. Contact us for more information.