Agile leadership & decision making – new patterns, new questions

Brain - Chris White - Flickr Commons.jpg

Brain, Chris White, Flikr Commons

What are the questions great Agile leaders ask about themselves decision making?

My previous blog explained how Agile leaders of today understand themselves to be coaches, business drivers, purveyors of purpose and enablers. How do these four roles shape how leaders approach decision making?

Applying a coaching lens to decision making and problem solving, great leaders ask: Do I teach my teams a model of delegated decision making?

Jurgen Appelo explains that “we can only escape [the] typical management trap and increase the quality of work when we distribute control in our organisation.” Comparing an organisation to a brain, Appelo continues that “all around us (and inside us) complex systems self-organise successfully because control is rarely centralised.”

The level of delegation will of course depend on the maturity of the team, the status of its work and the impact of decisions on the organisation.

Drawing on Reinertson’s work in Managing the Design Factory Appelo encourages teams to create delegation boards that clarify what level of authority teams have across different activities.

The seven levels of delegation that Appelo defines are:

  1. Tell – making the decision as the manager
  2. Sell – convincing people of the decision
  3. Consult – getting input from the team before decision
  4. Agree – making the decision together with team
  5. Advise – influencing the decision made by team
  6. Inquire – seeking feedback after decision by the team
  7. Delegate – no influencing, just letting the team work it out

Applying a business lens to decision making and problem solving, great leaders ask: Do I delegate enough control to allow my people to maximise product lifecycle profits?

A Product Owner, responsible for defining the features for a new app, needs the right level of authority to make decisions about which features should be built first second or not at all.

A Scrum Master shaping people and processes within a team needs authority to ensure folks in the team have the right equipment to build profitable products.

Applying a purpose lens to decision making and problem solving, great leaders ask: Have I conveyed the organisation’s strategy to my people, so that they have the right information for decision making?

I think about one organisation in which I worked where strategy visualisation happened on walls in a glass meeting room, but where those walls were covered in brown paper to prevent people outside the room seeing the information.

How different is this from the strategy boards on full view at companies like REA Group, Carsales and Envato. Where strategic conversations happen behind closed doors, teams simply won’t have the information they need to produce the right output.

Applying an enablement lens to decision making and problem solving, great leaders ask: Does my team have a delegation board that encourages them to make decisions and solve problems as appropriate?

David Marquet’s Turn the Ship Around talks about shifting the psychological ownership of problems and solutions using a simple change in language from a “Leader-Follower” pattern to a “Leader-Leader” pattern. Marquet, a former U.S. Navy Submarine Commander, achieved in the leadership and productivity guru Stephen Covey’s words, “the most empowered organisation he’d ever experienced.”

Marquet describes a conversation in the traditional Leader-Follower language sounding like this:
Captain: “Submerge the ship”
Subordinate: “Submerge the ship, aye”

In the Leader-Leader language it would sound like this:
Subordinate: “Captain, I intend to submerge the ship. All crew are below decks, the hatches are shut, the ship is rigged for dive, and we’ve checked the bottom depth.”
Captain: “Is it the right thing to do?”
Subordinate: “Yes sir, our mission requires that we submerge now in order to complete this exercise”
Captain: “Very Well”

An ability to appropriately delegate decision making and problem solving characterises Agile leadership. Do your Agile leaders ask themselves these questions?

Read on to learn the communication questions great Agile leaders ask.

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