Implementing Scrum does not stop with implementing practices. Sometimes we underestimate that an Agile transition is a real organizational and cultural change which has a big impact on the employees of the company. What you see is that we expect from the people within the organization that they will also change alongside the organizational change. But it will not happen overnight.

A while back I was confronted with a movie from a speech from professor Sumantra Ghoshal called ‘The Smell of the Place’. In this speech he explains that the context in which he is in has a huge impact on his behavior. He uses the example that when he is in downtown Calcutta in summer he is always tired and lazy but when he walks in Fontainebleau forest in springtime he is energized and feels like running.


By this speech he made me aware that changing people’s behavior is not about changing people but changing the context which they are in. Ghoshal calls this ‘The smell of the place’.

I got very inspired by this speech and was really curious what the current ‘Smell of the Place’ was in the company where I was coaching at that moment, but struggled a bit how to make this transparent and actionable.

After some brainstorming with a fellow coach we came up with the ‘Smell -O-Meter’. The outcome you can see below on the picture.

How does it work?

Make the Smell of the Place Transparent

We wanted to have all the input from the people working in the department so we asked to them to put a post- it with their name on the meter. A 1 for a very bad smell and a 10 for a great smell. We also asked to add comments why they felt like that underneath the pictures (For a bad smell underneath the left picture and for a great smell underneath the right picture).This information is crucial to get insight in the cause of the current smell-status!

Examples of comments on the left side on the board were: ‘Dull office space’,’ Not sitting next to the colleagues I’m working with’, ‘do not have the right authorities’, ‘a lot of pressure on the team’. On the right side there were things like: ‘Great colleagues’, ‘openness from management’, ‘team events’ and ‘freedom to pick own tools’. Besides the fact everyone was able to put their own comments, they could also dot-vote on topics which were already addressed.

So the first part, making the current smell status transparent, was done. But like all KPI’s if you make them transparent you have to do something with it as well. You can’t ask input and just leave it with that.

Make it Actionable

The goal was of course to improve the smell of the place of the department. Therefore we had to think of something to make this actionable.

To get clarification on the mentioned topics underneath the pictures we introduced a sort of Lean coffee every week to discuss them and to make the remarks SMART. This way we are able to define actions to boost the smell. See for more information on Lean Coffee.

Off course over time we would like to see movement on the meter towards Fontainebleau. so everyone is asked to update their personal Smell of the Place whenever they feel like it.

It is always important to look at the trend.By creating a smell graph which visualizes the smell trend over time we are able to see if the actions result in a better smell of our place!


Using the Smell-o-Meter really helped in several ways:

  • Gather data (on personal level)
  • Get people involved in the change (everybody gives input)
  • Create focus and set priorities (voting mechanism)
  • Make things actionable (lean coffee)

Besides the advantages named above it created a buzz within the department and evenly important….is was just good fun!

So I am wondering what the smell is in your organization? What do you do to make it smell better? Please contact me, and I would like to discuss it further!


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