Tag Archives: Leadership

Who is the new Agile leader?

Into the Unknown - Thomas Hawk - Flickr Commons

Into the Unknown, Thomas Hawk, Flikr Commons

My previous blog put a case for why we need a new style of Agile leadership. To enable self-managing teams to contribute and thrive within the complex ecosystem that is the organisation of today, Agile leaders need to understand their role as fourfold:

  1. As a coach; to share knowledge, skills and perspectives to development people
  2. As business driver; to maximise product lifecycle profits
  3. As purveyor of purpose; to connect people with the purpose of what they do
  4. As an enabler; to support  people to thrive within their environment

Even for traditional managers, there’s probably nothing controversial about these four roles, inspired loosely by the thinking of Michael Hamman and Michael Spayd. In fact to varying degrees, traditional managers might even feel that they fulfil these four roles now.

Traditional managers may perceive themselves as coach, in that they expect individuals to develop a learning plan, and if time and budget permit, they support an employee achieving it.

Nigel Dalton, CIO of REA Group, described in an ITNews interview online as, the Godfather of Agile in Australia, describes the role of Agile leader as coach:

“The company is divided into a set of teams focused on a kind of consumer ecosystem where each one is discreet from the others. Commercial property owners is mine; which is the smallest one. [The others are residential property owners and property developers]. We have understood that [there] is a kind of …‘unique customer experience’ in each one of these ecosystems.

[We asked] what if we put a full multidisciplinary team on those, and we chose a collective group to manage it?

Thus, I am not the general manager of commercial real estate – there isn’t one. I am the steward or coach of a group of seven people who are IT, sales, marketing, product, legal, finance, and human resources. Young managers in their thirties, who’ve got every competency to work as a team, and run that 40 million dollar business. I am there as their coach and all the Agile techniques come in under that. It is pretty self-contained and self-directed. It has its purpose and goal that flow down from the main company purpose. We have replicated that across the company – this is the primary structure.”

In traditional management the focus will largely be on the business role. The narrative on this would be “I reward individuals and teams who do whatever it takes to get over the line”.

The purpose role is a tricky one. Barely a middle to large sized enterprise today exists without some sort of mission statement. In traditional management, the existence of this mission statement and some resultant values might be perceived as bringing purpose to people working in an organisation. I can tell you from experience though, that the yearly exercise of requesting folks shoehorn their performance into the predetermined values of the company doesn’t yield much sense of purpose.

And finally to the enablement role. Traditional managers no doubt perceive themselves as enablers. They want their teams to succeed and would do pretty much everything to ensure this happens. I question though whether traditional managers would always take a holistic approach to enabling, seeing their team’s role in success of the whole organisation, rather than just success of the individual team.

Lisa Frazier, in her talk on Agile leadership at Agile Australia 2016, described how an Agile leader enables, by adopting a “follower-centred leadership style”. She cites three behaviours associated with this:

  1. Working for success of your team members above yourself
  2. Actively listening to your team
  3. Being a good follower

My favourite quote ever is from Nigel Dalton, at the same conference: “Leadership is not boss-ship, it’s servant leadership. Don’t ever mistake not being at the front with not being the leader”.

Jeff Smith, CIO of IBM, in the keynote address at Agile Australia 2016, said that “people come to work because they are ambitious and share the mission. The leaders’ job is to remove the obstacles”. Throughout this series of blogs, I’ll explore how great Agile leaders fulfil on their role as enabler.

Throughout this series of posts, I’ll contrast the role of Traditional Managers with Agile Leaders. What happens, when we ask great Agile leaders to reflect on these four roles in relation to the following leadership activities?

  • Decision making & problem solving
  • Communication
  • Delivery
  • Learning
  • Acknowledging success & rewarding right behaviour
  • Continuous improvement
  • Innovation

Read on to discover the questions great Agile leaders ask themselves in realtion to these activities.

 

Why Agile leaders need to ask themselves new questions

steampunk

We know that organisational culture can be shaped by the worst behaviours leaders are willing to tolerate, but can culture be shaped by the best behaviours that leaders are willing to amplify? This was a question I asked myself after hearing Dipesh Pala, IBM Agile Capability Leader for Asia Pacific, speak at Agile Australia 2016.

Last year’s VersionOne State of Agile Survey identified that four of the five top impediments for Agile adoption relate to management. Over a third of respondents cited:

  • Lack of management support
  • Company philosophy or culture at odds with core Agile values
  • External pressure to follow traditional Waterfall processes
  • Lack of support for cultural transition

The first impediment, lack of management support, needs no further comment, but when you think about it, managers also have accountability for company philosophy, pressure to follow Waterfall processes and lack of support for cultural transition.

Let’s start at the beginning, and the beginning is the most dominant style of management today, commonly described as command and control, or traditional.

Command and control was considered effective because our understanding of organisations was that they work something like the picture in this blog post.

Jurgen Appelo, author of Management 3.0 would describe this as complicated. There are many moving parts in this machine. There is also cause and effect. If one part isn’t working, it affects another part of the machine.  It almost certainly takes some time to learn all there is to learn about this machine, but, ultimately it is knowable.

Command and control was considered a way for managers to keep the machine in working order. So complicated means not simple, but ultimately knowable.

Appelo, on the other hand, describes what we know to be true of organisations today – that rather than them being complicated, they are in fact complex.

What is the difference between complicated and complex? Well, picture a rainforest and you can imagine complex.

A good friend of mine’s parents had a holiday house smack bang in the middle of a forest east of Melbourne. I found it a restful place – the river, the bird life and the amazing towering trees. This couple found it less so. So relentless was their weekend activity of cleaning bird poop off the veranda and sweeping the forest floor free of leaves, that they eventually sold the property.

A forest is a complex system. Complex systems exhibit:

  • Feedback loops – part of an output is used for new input
  • Spontaneous order
  • Hierarchical organisation
  • Emergent organisation
  • Numerosity – or an indefinite quantity of individuals

Other examples of complex systems are ecosystems, the universe, Earth’s global climate, the human brain, the stock market, a living cell and even organisations. Appelo describes complex as not simple and never fully knowable, given that too many variables interact.

The current thinking on organisations is that they are in fact complex adaptive systems. A complex adaptive system is a dynamic network of interactions. It is a system in which individual and collective behaviour mutates and self-organises, corresponding to a change-initiating event or collection of events.

Steve Denning also regards organisations as complex systems, but he remarks that it is the shift from semi-skilled to knowledge work, that means we need to re-examine the “unspoken assumptions…of the inevitability of … the practices of traditional management” such as command and control.

The management expert Peter Drucker notes that “Workers throughout history could be ‘supervised’. They could be told what to do, how to do it, how fast to do it and so on. Knowledge workers cannot, in effect, be supervised”

Perhaps the relentless bird poop cleaners and forest floor sweepers were a bit like command and control managers trying in vain to control an ever changing complex adaptive system.

How then can leaders of today enable self-organising teams to contribute and thrive within such an ecosystem? This introduction is the first of an eight part blog that tackles leadership for an Agile organisation.

Read on to understand the new four-fold role of Agile Leaders.

Easy Peasy Agile Leadership

Easy Peasy Agile Leadership

Photo: D Sharon Pruitt, Flikr

I work in Agile transformation, and the truth is, it’s not so easy peasy teaching leaders to change their style. The thing is, the effort to change leaders’ mindsets is worthwhile – it enables Agile teams to thrive.

Traditional managers think like this…

  • I am the manager of my people
  • My team looks to me to solve their problems
  • I shape how individuals and teams work
  • I reward individuals and teams who do whatever it takes to get over the line
  • I expect individuals to develop a learning plan, and if time and budget permit, I support them achieving it
  • I endeavour to reward team achievement at the end of a project, and individual achievement at performance reviews
  • I encourage individuals and teams to innovate, but there’s rarely time to do so

 Agile leaders think like this…

  • I lead through vision, but support as a servant
  • I set the mission, but decentralise problem solving
  • I trust individuals and teams to shape how they work
  • I reward individuals and teams who work at a constant sustainable development pace
  • I am a driver for development of learning opportunities, and make time for my people to achieve their goals
  • I acknowledge the achievements of individuals and teams spontaneously, and encourage celebration of success
  • I foster an innovation culture of cooperation, risk sharing and acceptance of failure in order to learn

What case do you put to leaders to make their mindset Agile?

Agile Leadership:

  • Supports teams working Agile, so we build better products and release more frequently
  • Emphasises continuous improvement, so teams become more productive
  • Increases sharing of best practice, so we keep upskilling our teams
  • Gets teams working at a sustainable pace, so there are fewer absences
  • Enables happier, more autonomous humans, so we retain our people
  • Builds an engaging workplace, so potential employees choose to work for us

If leaders in your organisation still aren’t convinced, then think about quantifying the benefit of better products more frequently, more productive skilled teams and retaining great people!