How to lead agile teams ?
In a nutshell, Agile Management or Management 3.0 empowers teams. Specifically, it refers to what is perhaps the best way, at least at present, for getting the most out of agile teams. The premise behind Management 3.0 is to redefine leadership to where management becomes a group responsibility, where everyone works together to find the most profitable and efficient ways for a business or organization to reach its objectives, while prioritizing employee happiness, which everyone seems to be finally realizing is the key to a productive work environment. What began in 2010 with a book by Jurgen Appelo has, as yet another innovation in the world of managing software development, become the gold standard in Agile management. It encourages treating teams as complex and living systems, rather than as input – output production machines.
Management 3.0 empowers teams. Instead of teams always waiting for input and instructions from managers, they are given a degree of autonomy, based on their known abilities, competence and dependability. Teams are aligned according to the constraints of these qualities, the tasks to be accomplished and the time frame required.
Teams are encouraged to grow, to develop their competence together, rather than individually. In turn, this helps to grow structure, rather than sticking to the status quo. This refers, at least in part, to the direction of the organization. What this means is that as the world, business in the world, innovation in business and specifically the software that everything runs with and on evolves, the structure that works in this changing environment also changes (or dies).
Structure is a complex subject in itself, requiring more than a paragraph or two in one article to cover! Simply put, structures cannot be independent of time or context. Therefore, since neither time nor context are static, neither can structure be static. It must grow and change. A key characteristic of Management 3.0 is the encouragement of this growth in structure.
People are energized under this style of team management. Rather than being stifled by heavy-handed, “top-down” management schemes where individuals are told to focus on completing
the tasks given to them the way the company or organization dictates, teams are encouraged to think, to collaborate, to come up with new and innovative ways to accomplish things, as well as new and innovative products.
In short, they are encouraged to improve everything, and in fact, such a system naturally produces improvements faster and better than traditional management systems. It is said that two can do better than one, but it is also true that two collaborating with each other can accomplish more than three working separately.
The key to the success of Agile systems is the use of self-organizing teams for software development. Self-organizing teams are complex, but they are an autonomous organism. They require a small amount of management to avoid chaos, but it is much less push than gentle steering toward valuable results.
Agile systems are distributed systems and sometimes even distributed teams. They are more than the sum of their parts (again, two together can do more than three independently). The added value of such a system does not come from a single authority (the boss). Instead, it is controlled mainly from the bottom up. Problems that arise are dealt with quickly at the local level, rather than first going to management, then perhaps to committee, then back to management, then back to the team.
For this to work, control must be spread out among all parts of the system. This is accomplished by empowering individuals at the team level with authority delegated to them for the purpose of dealing with issues the moment they arise. When members of the team are empowered by managers who distribute control, rather than hoarding it, the system, rather than breaking down when difficulty and challenges arise, continues to thrive.
This is what is referred to as a “non-zero-sum” system, but built on mutual trust, where everybody wins (note that in a strictly non-zero-sum system, it is also possible for individuals or everyone to lose). Over time, this creates powerful teams, which in turn, make the manager more powerful.
For this kind of system to work, the manager must begin by clearly laying out the ground rules for key decision-making areas. Possibly the least constructive error is to leave anyone guessing about how to deal with situations as they arise.
This speaks directly to something called called situational leadership, which is defined as where the manager adjusts his style to fit the development level of the people on his team he is trying to influence. The leader must necessarily change his style to adapt to those who he is leading, rather than the other way around.
The goal of situational leadership is to delegate authority for every situation. While this rarely happens for every situation, it should be the overall goal. Moving in this direction carries with it the wisdom of the truth that delegating authority requires less effort than making every decision. By letting people know in advance what is expected of them, they are able to make decisions at the team level where appropriate and are also able to decide to refer a decision to their manager where that is appropriate.
Out of this has arisen something called Situational Authority Theory, out of which has arisen the Seven Levels of Authority:
- Tell: just make the decisions and tell everyone what to do. You’re the manager.
- Sell: you still make the decisions, but then you try to get the team on side by selling the idea to them. Let them know what motivated your decision.
- Consult: ask for input from members from the people you manage. Make your decision after consulting with them.
- Agree: ask for input and discussion from workers and work toward consensus. Give their voices equal weight to yours.
- Advise: Give employees advice, but leave the decision on what to do with your input up to them.
- Inquire: Leave the decision up to your team, and ask to be kept informed. You may also want to ask them how they arrived at their decision.
- Delegate: You give the team total responsibility for a particular matter and leave everything up to them, without requiring any information or updates on their decisions.
This last stage is the ultimate goal of Agile Management 3.0. It is dependent on the overall competence of the team, as well as the impact that decisions can have on the health and bottom line of the company or organization.
Obviously, this ultimate goal cannot be reached in every organization, and it cannot be reached immediately with a new team. It is a process, an investment. Indeed, delegating authority, while it carries with it certain risks, much like when you put your money into the stock market, is an investment that when wisely and carefully undertaken, can bring very valuable returns, especially if you finally arrive at a team that is fully self-directed.
For a business owner, there is perhaps nothing else quite as valuable as a self-directed team. It often takes years to develop such a team, but the payoff is enormous. Not only does it make the company more profitable with better ideas, fewer quality control issues and faster, continuous delivery, but it also gives the owner the opportunity many who go into business are looking for, to be able to get away and really enjoy the payoff of all the hard work that goes into being an owner.
For managers, developing a self-directed team also has real benefit. As mentioned above, Management 3.0 strategies create a powerful team, which in turn, increases the power of the manager. To explain the value of this increased power to the manager is simple. Increased power increases value. When the power that a manager has increases, his value to the organization is increased. This means increased salary and benefits, more (paid) time off, freer scheduling, and potentially other perks.
For team members, the benefits are very similar to their manager’s benefits (non-zero-sum), in that when the power of the team (value to the organization) increases, they also naturally earn more and have more benefits. In fact, it would be counterproductive to the company or organization not to do everything possible to keep members of a great team happy (look at how much fun Google makes sure to provide at their facilities!)
Management 3.0 is innovative, but more than that, it works! Furthermore, it’s not necessary to be a pioneer. There are workshops and training courses that cover all aspects of this productive development in Agile management.
Has your company implemented these ideas? If not, do you think this will work for you? Will it solve some of the challenges your organization is facing? I welcome your comments, below!