Why is leadership so important when adopting or scaling Agile?
In organizations, we expect teams to become or be agile without doing anything to assist and support them. In some cases, it’s an expectation of waving a magic wand and hoping that the team will adopt agile and achieve authentic business agility on their own.
Sometimes, the belief from executives and leadership teams is that the team simply need to become faster at building and delivering products because they have adopted a new style of working.
The consequences of ineffective leadership
We need leadership to address organizational impediments, dysfunctions, and cultural issues to help our teams achieve the highest degree of agility and performance possible.
A great team can adopt Agile and evolve into a high-performing team yet still hit a ceiling, particularly if they work with other teams across the organization, and that can cause chaos as well as a significant drop in morale because dependencies and problems arise that are outside of their sphere of influence or control.
This is known as Delta Stress.
Even if the team are working on their own with no dependencies on other teams, they will eventually still hit a ceiling where the problems they encounter are outside of their control and influence.
In some organizations where a mindset of command and control exists, combined with high levels of competition for rewards and promotions, it can be very difficult for a team to achieve true, authentic agility.
In an organization that rewards and promotes based on individual performance or contribution, it incentivises competition amongst individuals whilst discouraging collaboration and teamwork.
In many cases, this style of incentive program goes way up to senior leadership and executive level resulting in less collaboration across departments and in some cases, sabotage or deliberate delays because it is not in the personal interest of that executive to support teams from competing departments.
In large, enterprise organizations it can be incredibly difficult to resolve a systemic issue or problem. It requires multiple committees and high-ranking executives to authorize change and often that can take several months, if not years, to achieve.
This can be incredibly tough for a high-performing agile team, especially if a problem persists for a significant length of time without being addressed, amended, or corrected.
If that problem exists for a significant length of time, and the team accept that this is how it will remain in the future, I find that apathy often results from this dysfunction.
Apathy combined with unresolved frustration leads to poor performing teams, at best, and great people leaving the organization, at worst.
How can leaders contribute?
We need agile leaders to address problems that are outside of the influence and control of the team.
A great scrum master or agile coach will certainly attempt to remove impediments or work with people within the organization to address any problems or impediments, but ultimately, they have a limited degree of authority, control, and influence so we need leaders and managers to get involved.
We often find that managers within the organization tend to be more operations focused and have a line of reporting to senior leaders and executives, which empowers them to tackle systemic and organizational issues more effectively than a scrum master or individual on the team.
It is also incredibly important to develop leadership capabilities throughout the organization. Leadership without title, if you like, that grows leadership traits and characteristics without that person necessarily needing the title or management position to act as a powerful leader.
Executives and leadership teams can also explore how to become a powerful influencer and force for good whilst operating behind the scenes. Working closely with teams, rather than parading from an ivory tower, to get things done and remove impediments that block agility.
So, there are a number of ways in which leadership play an important role in the adoption, growth and development of business agility within the organization.
About John Coleman
John Coleman has deep experience and expertise working with executives, #leadership teams and product development teams to achieve increased #businessagility and create environments where creativity and collaboration produce high-performance teams.
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