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Covid Hack – Intention Versus Strategy

Small, cross-functional teams working closely together to frequently and consistently deliver features that delight customers are a cornerstone foundation of Agile.

For some, a question arises as to how teams can work closely together given that our Covid-19 response requires social distancing.

Great question.

Working together as a team, and connecting frequently to identify the most important work that needs doing, is more important now than ever before.

As far as Social Distancing goes. Contact and Connection aren’t the same things.

Teams can connect frequently and effectively. They just don’t need to do so in the same physical location.

There are heaps of tools to facilitate those connections, from Slack to Zoom to one of our favourite ‘old school’ solutions. A Telephone.

When the world’s wheels fall off, the philosophy and principles of Agile remain the same. It’s simply the medium that differs.

How do we focus on the most important work?

As we adapt to the new normal of working remotely, we’re finding that there’s heaps of distractions and problems that simply didn’t exist a few months ago.

Things like anxiety, financial stress, and dealing with all the social issues that come with having entire families cooped up in a house over extended periods of time.

Stuff like kids and pets battling to adapt to something beyond all our comprehension, and needing special care and attention as they navigate their own baptisms of fire.

In these circumstances, you may need to balance understanding and compassion with the commercial requirements of your business units.

This is where leading with Intention becomes critical.

There’s simply too much complexity in play right now to think in terms of strategy.

It doesn’t mean that strategy gets tossed to the wolves, it simply means that there are too many variables and too many moving parts to effectively lead with ‘strategy’ on a daily basis.

Strategy versus Intention

Strategy is defined as ‘the art of planning and directing overall military operations and movements in a war or battle’. – Oxford Dictionary

Intention is defined as ‘A thing intended; an aim or plan …’


Intention is a powerful word because it is self-command. It empowers us to focus on what needs doing, and our commitment to doing so, without getting caught up in the ‘how’ upfront.

The self-command compels us to employ all of our creativity and resourcefulness to achieve that intention, yet gives us the freedom to design and create the roadmap from here to there.

When it comes to teams, Intention becomes even more powerful than self-command. Why? Because there are infinite ways to achieve an intention, and teams are great at solving problems.

Stating the intention immediately crystalises all of the barriers and ‘problems’ that stand in the way of an intention, without making those barriers explicit.

Your team now have the opportunity to bring their creativity and resourcefulness to bear on making the intention manifest. Individually and collectively.


Intention-based leadership is a gem that gets airtime in our Certified Agile Leadership workshop.

It is a concept engineered by David Marquet, Commander of the nuclear submarine Sante Fe, when he realised that having one point of command was not only limiting to the efficiency of a submarine, it was also downright dangerous.

As leaders, we simply cannot see all the moving parts nor do we have the deep domain expertise and experience that matches the collective expertise and experience of the individuals in our teams.

In moments of crises, complexity escalates and we can get caught up in the quicksand that surrounds the concept of strategy and strategic execution. In times of stress, it can be incredibly difficult to communicate in terms of ‘strategy’ in a way that resonates and inspires.

We have teams of qualified, creative and experienced people who are chomping at the bit to unleash their creativity and passion.

Speaking intention and purpose breaks the shackles that bind them to the old ways of working and empowers them to focus on the best way to achieve collective and individual intentions.

Covid-19 has shattered the old ways of working. Industrial-era style processes and belief structures that absolutely crush peoples’ spirit, passion and creativity. It may also have left us a cure in the wake of its destructive passage through our lives.

‘Intention’ is also defined by Oxford as a medical term that describes ‘the healing process of a wound’.

Intention-based leadership with a culture of Business Agility unleashes people’s passion and creativity. It transforms workplaces into the kinds of places that we want our kids to work in.

The kinds of places we desperately want to work in.

Covid-19 may have forced us to adopt Agility, in our businesses and in our personal lives, in order to survive the unimaginable. In that creative freedom, the crucible that is 2020, we may well find that it is exactly what we need in order to thrive in 2020 and beyond.

Intention caters for that. Embraces that. Empowers that.

Strategy doesn’t because Strategy can’t.

author avatar
John McFadyen Managing Partner
John McFadyen is an Executive and Enterprise Agile Coach with proven experience working on some of the UK and Europe’s largest, most complex Agile Transformations. As a Certified Scrum Trainer, John brings a wealth of experience as an Agile coach, Agile practitioner and software developer into each of the four core courses he provides. The war stories, the insights into successful Agile transformations and everything he has learned from coaching high-performance Agile teams combine to provide course delegates with a unique, compelling training experience that transforms as much as it empowers.

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