In most of the surveys about barriers of agility in organizations, you learn that the top three places are culture, structure, and leadership. There is no surprise. Organizations were designed for a different world where you can analyze the situation, plan what you are going to do, cascade the goals through the organization, and deliver it accordingly with minimum change requests, simply for the predictable world. The problem is that in the last decades the world has become less predictable and changes were more frequent, the VUCA challenges overtake our everyday life reality and the organizations realized they are too slow to respond. Like dinosaurs thousands of years ago. Change is inevitable. Analyzing, planning, and following the plan is not an option anymore.
Innovations, creativity, and flexibility are new norm and organizations which can create environments where teams are self-organized, collaborate on maximizing the business value, and co-creating the organizational goals are taking over positions in the Fortune 100 list. Most of the big corporations are still in the cage of the old-world reality. They optimize for speed. But speed is not that important asset anymore as going fast in the wrong direction doesn’t lead anywhere. Instead, we need flexible environments optimized for creativity. Thinking about flexibility, the organizational structure needs to change to allow it. Departments focused on competences or components, not business value, is meaningless. They kill creativity. Hierarchy keeps responsibility by the managers and prevents people from taking ownership and decide themselves. Again, it kills creativity.
Culturally the traditional organizations are leaning towards competing over collaborating, and controlling over creating. The practices of detailed positions, reward systems, performance reviews, and individual goals and objectives are keeping the organizations in competing and controlling quadrants.
Finally, the leadership needs to change significantly. Traditional organizations were expecting leaders to be Experts or Achievers. Agile organizations need Catalysts. They need leaders who are visionary, purpose-driven, are able to see the business and organizations from different perspectives. They enhance collaboration and are good at building teams and networks. They search for win-win solutions, are good coaches, and helping others to grow. They support running experiments and use failure as learning.
All over we can say that Agile Organization needs different leaders, cultures, and structures. You don’t have to start with changing all of them at once, but sooner or later such change is inevitable. The fewer barriers you give agility on the way, the more likely the frameworks, methods, and practices make a difference and help you to be successful in the VUCA world.
Autonomy is a topic that is in my mind for a while. How come that in some environments it’s so simple to let it grow and some others are so much struggling with it. The more I think about it, the more I feel it’s about trust or fear of losing position, power, or comfort. And environments with no trust are not places where agile is much successful. In order to allow autonomy in even a small group as a development team, the trust must be there. I’ve seen the companies which were struggling to allow teams to choose their own name. “What if they choose something offending?” Like really? Now if you deal with such low trust, there is no way Scrum can work. I’ve seen organizations where they track when people are in the office and have so many restrictions that their computers become useless. “What if they don’t work and play games? Or not coming to work?” Isn’t that funny? The more restrictions you create, the more time people spend on breaking them or the more demotivated they are. Neither will help you to create successful products.
“Trust is prerequisite, transparency enabler, and purpose of the driving force for autonomy.”
Building trust takes time. Start small, don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. Ask yourself what is the worth thing which can happen. Ask what are those people around you scared and how can you help them to feel more confident. The second ingredient in the mix is transparency. Being transparent about what needs to be done, what the success looks like, and what are the things we want to avoid is crucial. People learn by doing. Be transparent with the feedback. Perfection is not useful, it’s all about learning from small failures. Finally, the third ingredient in the mix is a purpose. Autonomy without a purpose only creates chaos. The higher the autonomy, the stronger the purpose needs to be to glue it together. To give everyone the same goal, belonging, identity, the reason for why they are there.
Imagine a kid’s camp. The Red group is defending the castle, the Blues are trying the take it over. Kids are naturally forming small autonomous teams, making their own decisions on the fly. They share information as they move forward. They don’t need any detailed instructions, any KPIs, any manager to give them process. All they have is a strong purpose. Your organization is not any different. Trust is a prerequisite, transparency enabler, and purpose of the driving force for autonomy. Building such an environment requires a portion of agile leadership.
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 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Leader and manager, what is the difference? Is there any? People are often mixing these terms up so let’s make it more clear.
Firstly, managers shall be leaders. That’s where the confusion is most likely coming from. But leaders are not just managers, leader is not a position, anyone can be a leader. In an Agile organization where hierarchy is becoming less important, we take more focus on leadership than management. There is no authority given to a leader. They gain it by their actions and behaviors and by their service to the people around them. Leaders could be anywhere in your organization and their power grows by respect of others. Managers, on the other hand, are often associated with decision making, and certain power which must be given to them.
Leaders are key to any Agile organization. The more leadership is in the organization, the more likely the mindset will change and the Agile transformation will become successful.
“Leaders need to change first. The organization will follow. “
Don’t wait for anyone, you are the leader you can change today. Agile is not about practices, rules, or processes. Agile is about the different way of thinking, different way of approaching things, different mindset. And it’s all in your hands. You are the leader.
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.
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.
In order to achieve success at the organizational level, we need to start management talent development program to create leaders who will help to grow a company, make quick decisions and stay ahead of others. Modern leadership style is no longer applying the traditional model of the “leader-follower”, i.e. one decides and the other executes orders. Nowadays, when most employees are from the category of creative workers and the company is looking for innovation and creative ideas to stay competitive, the leader-leader model is a more effective one, where the leaders’ main goal is to help others to be successful leaders. What is modern Agile management or Agile leadership about?
Excellent Agile Leader has four core competencies: Ability to define the vision, motivate, gain feedback, and ability to influence through themselves, others and system.
The ability to formulate a vision is the engine of change and motivation. A vision is not necessarily linked to product and business but should be focused on the organization and its purpose. The second competency is the ability to motivate and give the energy. It is a competence closely related to the vision. If you have a good vision, it motivates itself. Agile leadership builds on so-called internal motivation to strengthen the autonomy of individuals and teams. The third of Agile leader’s competences is feedback. Feedback is DNA component for Agile Organization together with openness and transparency. The art of getting system-level feedback is critical for the leader. The last is the art of influencing complex environments. Change things, people and their behavior, support and consolidate culture. Agile leadership begins with a change of self, your judgments, values, and behavior, style of work. Great leaders start with themselves as a role model, to change the way they show up, how they interact with others, and how they can inspire people around them to collaborate, create a team spirit, and become leaders. They are capable of working with the entire system and influence the whole organization and its culture.
Agile Leader Wheel also defines four supporting competencies to help leaders define the right approach. When is it better to decide and when decisions can be delegated and it’s better to collaborate. At the same time, when it’s better to take a role of facilitator and when start coaching. We do not talk that much about coaching individuals, which of course may be useful, but coaching the whole system – teams and organizations as a whole. Excellent Agile Leaders have not been born as Agile Leaders, but they are constantly looking for new ways to get better and to gain and strengthen the above-mentioned competencies.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Organizations are constantly evolving. In the 1970’s the most common organizational structure was the pyramid structure. It was deep, hierarchical, and full of power. Companies got strong bosses who lead such structure. Internally their approach was full of command and control, bureaucracy, and standardization.
Those pyramid hierarchical structures were not wrong in any way. They were the perfect solution to world industrialization and to the dynamics of business at that time. Most of the companies followed the best practices for a simple world, where problems can be classified as obvious, and applied a simple structure to address it. And it worked. Bosses got results. Companies started growing and became more successful.
The most common management tool was a carrot and a stick, because organizations believed that their employees are lazy slackers who can’t work without it. Most of the people were in a mood of tribal leadership 2 where the motto is “my life sucks”. Complaining all the time. Not happy, not motivated. Their only motivation to do something was driven by getting some bonus – a carrot, or because they were forced to – a stick.
Twenty years later, Organization 2.0 was here addressing the difficulty of the business world focusing on specialization, processes, and structure. Companies realized that the world is not simple any more, and the majority of problems can be classified as complicated.
As a result, they adopted complicated processes, focused on deep analysis, and invested in experts.
The belief in Organization 2.0 is that complicated problems need experienced individuals and detailed analysis. As a result, companies invested in learning and specialization. They began to grow. The work which used to be done by one person, now needed specific and dedicated positions. We’ve got a specialized department to deal with java, database, testing, architecture, analysis, documentation, customers, accounts, plans, and chair purchases.
Organizations are trying to create a process to describe everything, to have every possibility thought over. Companies create career paths and talk about motivation. They have spent months describing KPIs, but the more processes and specializations they had, the less responsibility and goal driven individuals they had. They were starving. They tried to cut on expenses, but that did not bring any long term success either.
So they dream about the previous stage, where it was much easier to manage resources. At that time, managers had real power. They could make decisions. They could force people to work. They could use the carrot and the stick. It was so simple – no need for committees, no need to call a meeting for every single detail. At that time, allocation of individual resources did not cost most of their time.
The pressure on individuals to make themselves more successful, better, and smarter than others was huge. “What if my colleague is be better in the performance review?” “What if I am not promoted in two years?” It leads to a culture that emphasizes own goals over the organizational ones. Most of the managers and experts live in the third level of the tribal leadership model, where they believe that “I’m great, but you are not.” So they treat their employees and colleagues with little respect or trust. This leads to the leadership style of “leader-follower”, where the managers decide, and the people below them just do the job. No initiative is expected. People just follow the process and do what is ordered.
Nowadays, when the world is not complicated anymore, neither Organization 1.0 nor Organization 2.0 can address its full complexity. We have realized that such complexity needs a very different approach that can keep up with business dynamics. The Agile environment brings Organization, 3.0 which builds on teams instead of individuals, on different styles of leadership, and on intensive collaboration through the dynamic network structure. We need to completely change the leadership style, create partnerships, enforce self-organization, enforce real responsibility and ownership, enforce trust and transparency, and build the organization as a network structure which is flexible enough so that it can effectively respond to change. Decentralization is taking over, and is bringing a certain level of autonomy to self-organized systems.
Instead of being a huge tanker, you can imagine the Organization 3.0 as a flotilla of smaller boats, going into the same direction, living in the same context, having the same values, but making some decisions differently based on the situation.
The Organization 3.0 is a true Agile organization. In order to build it, you need to apply a different leadership style of “leader-leader”, which supports growth of people, instead of “leader-follower” which is so common in Organization 1.0 and Organization 2.0. Hand in hand with this new leadership style, you need to create a culture of tribal leadership “We are great!” where the focus is not on the individuals but on the systems and teams.
Organizations are complex, as they have to deal with people’s behavior. People are not predictable. Every time we tried to make them behave in a predictable way, we failed. A modern Agile organization is built from people. It is a collaborative, creative, and adaptive network. It’s a sphere built from autonomous systems which are connected to each other, so they influence themselves but still keep consistent. Such a change of mindset is a huge mental challenge for most organizations.
So how to start?
– Help all people to become better leaders by applying the “leader-leader” leadership style, and build a culture of tribal leadership: “We are great!”
– Decentralize, build networks and communities.
– Allow autonomy in a well-defined context.
– Read my book The Great ScrumMaster, which is a guidebook not only for ScrumMasters, but also for leaders of any organization who want to become an Organization 3.0.
You can see my talk Agile Organization – Organization 3.0 at AGILEEE Conference 2016:
Great ScrumMasters are rare. Not because it is too difficult to become a great ScrumMaster, but because there is not enough advises on how to become one. Here are a few tips on how to become a great ScrumMaster. If you find this interesting, I’ve just finished a book, The Great ScrumMaster on Amazon.
Great ScrumMasters are leaders. They know how to create leaders from others. They believe in others and help them to become successful. They can create active communities and heal relationships. Don’t make them team assistants. They are coaches and facilitators.
The attitude you should bring along is curiosity and respect. Be a cultural anthropologist. Your role has never been to tell others what to do, but to understand them. Be able to see them as people. Don’t be judgmental. Being a ScrumMaster is like playing a strategic game. Be creative in searching different ways to approach teams and organizations.
Being a ScrumMaster, you are never done with learning. Attend Agile conferences, watch videos, read books and blogs. But there is more than that. Most ScrumMasters are missing any experiences in coaching, facilitation and change management. You can start with a book, but you need to experience it and practice it. So find one class per year to attend, and continuously improve your skills in the mentioned areas.
The goal of ScrumMaster is to build self-organized teams around them. Keep it in mind when you are working with a team. ScrumMaster is not any team assistant, nor their mother to do the work instead of them and prevent them from failing. In order to learn, teams must fail sometimes. They must grow up and become self-confident, take over responsibility and ownership.
Work at all three levels of the #ScrumMasterWay concept. Especially the last one – ‘Entire System’ is critical to your successful great ScrumMaster journey. In order to succeed here, you need to understand the system thinking and be able to approach the entire organization as a system. A systems view makes your role more interesting and fun.
The book contains many practical examples, tips, and exercises. It’s a guidebook on how to become a great ScrumMaster. You can get the book at Amazon. I hope you will enjoy it.