Hierarchy

I recently posted a quote from a conference saying that “Removing hierarchy and cross-team dependencies made space for strong collaborative teams.” Interestingly, I got many comments and questions about it. So let’s talk about hierarchy and why we don’t need it in Agile space.

But before we dive deeper… What is the hierarchy? – using dictionary definition: “Noun – a system in which members of an organization or society are ranked according to relative status or authority.”

Traditional Organizations Need Hierarchy

Organizations where employees are ‘ranked according to relative status or authority’ is what we inherited from the traditional organizational paradigm which is built on top of the belief that hierarchy is the key – every organization needs to have an org chart, we have to have a clear line of reporting and decision making. And I’m not saying it’s wrong, you can keep all the traditional practices like a career path, positions, performance reviews, KPIs, etc. however such organizational design is not what I’m interested in and has nothing to do with ‘being agile’. Traditional organizations might be still well functioning, applying some frameworks and ‘do agile’, but the mindset at the organizational level is just not there yet.

Agile Organizations Are Flat

What I’m interested in is applying an agile mindset at the organizational level. Help not only individuals to ‘be agile’, but the organization as well. Agile is fundamentally changing the way organizations operate. Agile organizations are built on a new paradigm. They have a team as the key building block and are forming collaborative, creative, and adaptive networks from them. In a team, we don’t have status, and we have no ranking either. All team members are peers, with no positional hierarchy and power. Indeed, you can gain respect from the other team members in a team, but you can also lose it if you don’t bring value to the people around you anymore. It’s flexible and dynamic. All you need is radical transparency, peer feedback, and honest culture with implicit trust. You might say it’s a lot, and I’m far from saying it’s easy. However, once you experience it, you never want back to the traditional world.

Who decides on the process? Teams. In a flat organization, they are not only self-organized, but self-managed (so they are responsible for the processes), self-designing (so they are designing teams), and self-governing (so they are setting overall direction). To get more insights on those terms, see how LeSS defines them. All over, you don’t need much more than what I already mentioned – transparency, feedback, and trust. If that’s too abstract, you can get inspired by Sociocracy 3.0. It will give you more ideas on how to get there.

Who set’s the goals and objectives? No one. They are co-created by the teams, reviewed through radical transparency, and inspected and adapted via frequent feedback to flexibly address the business challenges. At the end of the day, fixed goals are useless in the VUCA world. VUCA stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. In other words, we speak about the world which is not predictable anymore. The cascading goals neither unify nor motivate. The more decentralized and autonomous the organizations are, the higher need is there for a strong evolutionary purpose. Co-created and owned by all. Transparent. You can get inspired by Frederic Laloux’s work.

What about budgets? Who says we need to have a budget in the first place. Again, you don’t need much more than what I already mentioned – transparency, feedback, and trust. Make all the finances transparent, and use instant peer feedback to review it. If that is too radical, you can get inspired by Beyond Budgeting.

All over, I guess you got the pattern. In an agile flat organization, we don’t need most of the traditional practices. All we need is radical transparency, peer feedback, and honest culture with implicit trust. No one is saying that you have to turn your organization into a flat structure and an agile mindset. But if you want to do that, be ready to redesign the way you work entirely.

Agile HR: Shape the Culture

I already wrote here that during the agile journey, the Agile HR changes the entire focus from being compliant driven to focus on overall employee experience. Agile HR is about leadership, system coaching, and large groups facilitation. And there is another layer. Agile HR should shape the culture. Yes, that’s right. There is an interesting framework of Competing Values which is in a very simple way describing culture as a tension between control and creative quadrants and competing and collaborative quadrants. The traditional organizations were grounded in the control and competition hemisphere, having the fixed processes, hierarchy and competition at the both individual and organizational level, while the agile organizations are more leaning towards the collaboration and creativity hemisphere changing the focus from individuals to the teams and networks, having higher level of autonomy and empowerment, forming partnerships instead of fighting with competitors.

As organizations continue on their agile journey, the culture is shifting and sooner or later the practices need to follow. For example, having a very hierarchical narrow position structure becomes an obstacle of a higher level of collaboration and self-organization. The silos are in the way of the cross-functional teams so the first step is to get rid of traditional positions i.e. Developer, Analyst, Tester and create a team member position as in the cross-functional team that’s all we need. The steep carrier path gets in the way of collaboration from the other side so organizations usually descale and become (more) flat as they rely more on intrinsic over extrinsic motivation. Speaking about motivation, how many of you are motivated by performance review and KPIs? None? That’s right. So what’s the other option? When we remove the individual goals and KPIs together with the performance review, how can we assure people get actionable feedback? So instead of artificial annual performance conversation, we invest into creating a learning environment where people learn from failures, get frequent peer feedback and mentoring from their colleagues so they can co-create their journey and grow as individuals and teams together. It’s not that much about any magical practices, but more about coaching and facilitation skills – that’s where ScrumMasters could be quite helpful. And I guess I can continue.

And keep in mind, it’s not about practices, processes, and tools, those can only support or make your journey harder. It’s about having a strong sense of purpose, common values, and joined identity. Once you have it, the practices will follow in a very natural way. So where to start? Think about your organization, where your culture is right now, and then think about where you need to be to keep up with nowadays business challenges and stay competitive. Only then, you are ready to assess individual practices. Are they supporting that shift? Are they indifferent? Or are they in the way of the desired culture shift?

Agile HR: Leadership, System Coaching, and Large Groups Facilitation

Finally, as the last blog about the Agile HR in this series or talent management if you like, is focusing on the skills and experiences of good HR. Primarily it’s about the understanding of Agile mindset and ability to create an environment where Agile culture can flourish. Environments supporting collaboration, transparency, open peer feedback, trust, team spirit, ownership, empowerment, and responsibility. The more Agile your organization is, the higher the need for coaching and facilitation skills it creates. The role of HR is critically important to grow coaching and facilitation skills in the organization and support individuals and teams with education on coaching, facilitation and guide them on their journey.

Another fundamental shift is from management which is based on decision making and delegation into leadership which is not given by any position but is a state of the mind. Anyone can become a leader. It’s only your decision if you are ready to take over the ownership and responsibility and lead an initiative, team, or product. The peer feedback will take care of enough self-awareness so leaders can emerge through the organization. Very often we speak about emergent leadership as one person can act as a leader of one initiative while at the same time being a team member of another one. As the evaluations transform into regular peer feedback and coaching for development, the key goal of the leaders is to help other leaders to grow where again, the need for good coaching and facilitation skills is inevitable. 

The fact that HR changes the focus in Agile organization to the overall employee experience is only the beginning. So let me suggest another idea. The good HR shall act as an organizational ScrumMaster or agile coach if you like, operating at the third level of the #ScrumMasterWay concept, focusing on the overall system. At this level it’s not that much about coaching individuals but coaching teams and organizations as a system, leveraging tools from system coaching like ORSC. It’s not that much about team facilitation but the ability to facilitate large groups with 100’s people, leveraging tools like world-cafe and Open Space. It’s about being a model of an Agile leader growing the ‘we-culture’ and mentoring other leaders to grow to Agile leaders. In short, Agile HR is Agile leadership, system coaching, and large groups facilitation. 

Agile HR = Agile leadership + system coaching + large groups facilitation.

Five books every Agile leader should read before they start Agile transformation

To continue my with my book recommendations (check Five books every ScrumMaster should read and Five books every Product Owner should read), I have several books here, I would recommend every Agile Leader and manager in Agile Organization to read before they start Agile transformation. It’s a mix which will help you to understand Agile Leadership, Agile Organization, it’s structure, design, and culture and allow you to adapt to the different leadership style. Enjoy reading 🙂

  1. Niels Pflaeging – Organize for Complexity: How to Get Life Back Into Work to Build the High-Performance Organization is about complexity and work – and about how to deal productively with both. A condensed introduction to the theory and practice of organizational high performance. A manifesto for contemporary leadership and profound transformation in organizations of all kinds. It is “practically theoretic”, featuring cutting-edge insight. It proposes new language and thinking for a new way of work and organizations.
  2. Frederic Laloux – Reinventing Organizations is a must. The way we manage organizations seems increasingly out of date. Survey after survey shows that a majority of employees feel disengaged from their companies. The epidemic of organizational disillusionment goes way beyond Corporate America-teachers, doctors, and nurses are leaving their professions in record numbers because the way we run schools and hospitals kills their vocation. Government agencies and nonprofits have a noble purpose, but working for these entities often feels soulless and lifeless just the same. All these organizations suffer from power games played at the top and powerlessness at lower levels, from infighting and bureaucracy, from endless meetings and a seemingly never-ending succession of change and cost-cutting programs.
  3. Large-Scale Scrum: More with LeSS is looking at the organizational design from a different perspective. Rather than asking, “How can we do agile at scale in our big complex organization?” a different and deeper question is, “How can we have the same simple structure that Scrum offers for the organization, and be agile at scale rather than do agile?” This profound insight is at the heart of LeSS. In Large-Scale Scrum: More with LeSS, Craig Larman and Bas Vodde have distilled over a decade of experience in large-scale LeSS adoptions towards a simpler organization that delivers more flexibility with less complexity, more value with less waste, and more purpose with less prescription.
  4. The Responsibility Process: Unlocking Your Natural Ability to Live and Lead with Power is about FREEDOM, POWER, and CHOICE. Leadership is innate. The Responsibility Process proves it. The Responsibility Process is a natural mental pattern that helps you process thoughts about taking or avoiding responsibility. How you navigate it determines whether you are leading toward meaningful results or just marking time. This book gives you precision tools, practices, and leadership truths to navigate The Responsibility Process and lead yourself and others to freedom, power, and choice.
  5. Leadership and Self Deceptions shows how most personal and organizational problems are the result of a little-known problem called self-deception. Through an entertaining and highly instructive story, Leadership and Self-Deception shows what self-deception is, how people get trapped in it, how it undermines personal achievement and organizational performance, and- most importantly the surprising way to solve it.

BONUS:

Finally, there is a bonus book which I wrote a few years after this blogpost 🙂 The Agile Leader: Leveraging the Power of Influence Book published in December 2020 will help you to unleash your agile leadership potential and guide your entire organization toward agility. It’s a great overview of concepts for managers, directors, executives, and entrepreneurs―anyone, regardless of position, who’s ready to take ownership, challenge the status quo, and become a true agile leader. See more at https://greatagileleader.com.

What is Agile Leadership

What is agile leadership about? How would you define it, how would you explain it? Those are just a few questions people are asking these days.

Agile leaders are able to inspire others, creates and communicate an appealing vision or a higher purpose which motivates organization and would constantly be looking for better ways of working through feedback. It’s about being inclusive, support others on their leadership journey. Being open to new ideas, experiments and innovations. Support creativity. Be able to garden the right mindset and creates cultures based on collaboration. Agile leader is a coach and good listener.

Agile leadership is not about tools, practices or methodologies. It’s an ability to look at the organization from the system perspective, understand system dynamics, be able to get awareness about what’s happening, embrace it, understand it and become an integral part of the system and finally be able to act upon and influence it with coaching, and initiate a change.

Agile Leadership Model

New management paradigm is about collaboration and trust, decentralization, continuous adaptation and flexibility, cooperation and teamwork. From the static management in the industrial era, we shifted to strategic management in last twenty years of the last century and moved quickly into the dynamic management which tries to keep up the speed with modern constantly changing, complex world. That’s the world which critically needs agile leadership as anything else is not flexible enough to deal with nowadays challenges. Companies need more creativity, collaboration, and innovations – simply agility. That’s the way how to be successful. That’s the way how to achieve their goals. That’s the way how to survive and don’t become new dinosaurs who are so huge, slow and inflexible that they eventually disappear from the world.

Agile Leader Competence Map

The more Agile Leadership is popular, people are asking for more description. Who is the Agile Leader, what makes him different from a traditional manager, and which competencies and skills they have to have. So I created this Agile Leader Wheel so you can map the competencies and skills.

Great Agile Leaders have four core competencies in which they can create a vision, enhance motivation, get feedback, and implement change. Vision is the driving engine. It’s not necessarily related to the product and business but the organization itself. The second segment is motivation. Agile Leaders understand the nature of motivation, are familiar with the power of intrinsic motivation of autonomy and purpose. The third one from the top section of the Agile Leader Wheel is feedback. For Agile Organizations feedback is crucial, it makes the team and product feedback part of their DNA, it becomes an integral part of their culture. The same for Agile Leaders, the regular feedback from the system is the key to their success. The last piece is the ability to implement change. For Agile Leaders, the change is happening at three levels. Firstly there is a change in myself, my own beliefs, reactions, the way I work. Secondly, there is the ability to influence others. Make them part of my team, get supports who will help me to lead the change. Finally, the third element of change is a change at the system level, the whole organization level.

Agile Leader Wheel

In addition to the mentioned competencies, Agile leaders will need to balance the time when they need to make a decision and when it’s better to collaborate and empower others to take a responsibility for that. Finally, on the right side, Agile Leaders are facilitators and coaches. We are not speaking here about one-one coaching. Great Agile Leaders use coaching as a spice to address the complexity at the system level and coach the organization as a whole. Great Agile Leaders are not born this way but constantly develop those competencies and skills. This concept is part of my Agile Leadership program where I help leaders to understand the complexity of nowadays organizations and be successful in their roles. Looking forward to seeing you at some of my Agile Leadership workshops.

Leadership – Myself Dimension – #ScrumMasterWay concept

Let’s continue with the last element of ‘Myself’ dimension. As we already said in the previous blog posts, each element of this dimension is represented by a dice which you can roll every day of Sprint and choose the aspect you are going to take. The fourth dice stands for leadership. If you want to transform the organization, your leadership style shall change first. In this element, we talk about being a servant leader, creating the culture, feedback, motivation, collaboration, and leader-leader style.

Servant Leader

ScrumMaster is a leadership role. One of the aims of ScrumMaster is to make others work better, they are servant leaders. They can heal relationships, create communities, listen to others, have empathy, and think beyond day-to-day tasks and short-term goals. Only when you become servant leader you can be the great ScrumMaster.

We Culture

Agile needs the right culture. It’s all about us, how we work as a team. Be collaborative, support each other, take over responsibility and ownership for the team. ScrumMasters shall be using their leadership skills to create such culture because without it Agile and Scrum can never be successful.

Feedback

Give and receive feedback is critical for every leader. It’s important prerequisite to inspect and adapt. ScrumMasters shall be actively searching for feedback and find creative ways to allow people to learn from it.

Motivation

Part of the motivation is coming from the environment and culture. ScrumMasters support intrinsic motivation factors as they are aligned with their goal to create a self-organized team. Motivate through an understanding of the purpose and clear goals, safe to fail learning environment, and open and transparent culture.

Collaboration

Collaboration is written in the Scrum DNA. Scrum is all about teams and collaboration. There is no individual work important in real Scrum, no individual goals. We do our best to achieve the goal – deliver value to the customer.

Leader-leader

The leader-leader model helps you to change the traditional leadership style of leader–follower where people are expected to follow orders into the leader-leader concept of servant leadership where leaders are here to help the other people to grow and become leaders themselves.

Agile Leadership

As the world is getting more complex, organizations has to change to keep competitive. They must become more flexible, team oriented, self-organized. And as a consequence, the leaders shall adopt another approach to motivate people and lead the organizations to keep up the speed. Agile Leadership concept was created to help the leaders to understand the nature of the change which is happening in the business right now, and be able to react to the challenges which modern organizations brought in its all complexity. Agile Leadership concept is not about how to implement Agile, Scrum, Kanban, Extreme Programming, or Lean. You have people in your organization who can do that. The Leadership model is here for leaders, managers, directors, entrepreneurs, and owners to help them to sustain the change and be able to create Agile organization or become effective in it.

Modern world is complex

Organization is a complex system by itself as it deals with people and their behavior. There is no clear link between cause and effect.  It’s a network of interdependent elements. It’s not predictable so the traditional approaches which expect predictability and consistency fail. It all worked until about 1970 as the world had been only complicated at that time. Nonetheless, a lot changed from that time. Globalization and Internet allows businesses to grow fast so the density of nowadays businesses is so huge and communication so fast that they involve each other all the time and cause doesn’t link to any predictable effect anymore.

Cynefin framework - Complexity

The first step of the Agile Leadership model is “Get Awareness”. Awareness of the current reality, understanding of what’s happening around us, be mindful about the surrounding. Organization is a system which constantly sends signals. All we have to do is to be aware of them, notice them, and listen to them. The second step is “Embrace It”. It helps us to accept whatever is happening in the system without the urge to evaluate. Who knows what is good and what is bad. Our self-power is coming from our ability to gain enough clarity so it builds trust in the whole system. The third step is “Act Upon”. It uses the power gained in the previous step to influence things and change the system behavior.

To make it simple, in our Agile Leadership Program we guide you through those steps. Every change is difficult, and the change of ourselves is usually the toughest. However, the result will definitely pay off.

Agile Leadership Model