From Good to Great: Radical Transparency

I started the series From Good to Great by advising you to find your own way of being Agile. The next blog focuses on radical transparency. Let’s be truthful for a moment, how many organizations you worked for have real transparency, and how many are hiding information behind the teams or department walls, encourage by processes and claimed necessity of being compliant. Lack of transparency is a strong weapon which eventually can kill any Agile transformation as it makes collaboration and self-organization almost impossible. Lack of transparency is a great friend of hierarchical structures supported by fear and politics. “If I’m the only one who has the information, no one can jeopardize my position, and I’m safe being manager… All I need to do to be promoted is wait and make sure that no big mistake happens.”  Sound familiar?

Once you really mean it with your Agile journey, radical transparency is the key enabler. Together with the empowerment raising from the self-organization, it brings the energy and people start to take over the responsibility and ownership. They don’t wait until someone promote them to any function, they don’t wait for any orders. They take it over and collaborate on the solution.

Radical transparency is the key enabler of agility

Understand the Purpose

To understand the organizational vision and have a clear evolutionary purpose is crucial to successful collaboration and self-organization. In order to take over any initiative, people have to understand where are we heading, who are we, and who we don’t want to be. There is a very simple test. All you need to do is to take a random employee and ask him/her what is the vision/purpose/uniqueness of this organization. For simplicity, you can start with the executive leadership team to see if they didn’t lose the track of why they are there. 🙂 The good news is they usually know exactly what is the vision and can explain it in a very clear and engaging way. But when you do a cross-check across the organization, very likely there is a disconnect (usually several or even too many) which results in a very disruptive chaotic way of working. To fix it, storytelling is your best friend. Nothing can set up the stage better. Using serious of collaborative workshops like worldcafe, openspace, etc. involve people in co-creating the vision and help them to be part of it. Storytelling will set the directions. They need to own it, they need to believe it, they need to feel a need to be part of it. That’s the energy you need to begin. It brings innovative thinking, creativity, and empowerment, when people start offering help, ideas, and are ready to sacrifice personal goals in exchange for being part of something bigger.

Experiment, Inspect, Adapt

The next step is run experiments. At every level, you need to be transparent and openly share experiments at the early stage, and last but not least be ready to adapt through feedback. The downside is that before you learn how to collaborate and pass a test that you have the same understanding of the vision, it’s going to be very inefficient, and frustrating. “If we can just do it our way”, “they don’t understand it”, and “we know what to do so why shall we ask for feedback” people often say. But if you are strong enough and sustain the need for shortcut pre-baked solutions, very soon you see the results in higher collaboration, better understanding and some kind of harmony, which all over results in a high-performing environment.

Together with that, you need to run regular retrospectives and be transparent about the action steps. Share the backlog internally and externally. Simply there is no or very few information which needs to be hidden. If you believe you find any, try to double-check it by playing the “Five Why” and make sure you have a plan on what needs to be done so you can make it fully transparent.

Be Inclusive

The last necessary step on the radical transparency journey is to be inclusive. There is no such thing as a closed meeting. They shall be publicly visible with an open invitation so people can join if they are interested and have something to say. If there are many people, the facilitator can use some diverge and merge facilitation techniques, but no restriction shall be applied for the sake of efficiency.

It’s not about being fast without alignment, it’s about building alignment so you can be even faster.

Radical transparency is hard. You first need to have the courage to say things how they are, don’t be afraid to hear difficult feedback, have trust people will help you, and be ready to help others because after all, you all have the same vision, the same evolutionary purpose to achieve. It’s not easy but is a great investment and it will pay back in forming a highly adaptive (agile) high-performing organizations – the organizations which are formed to crack the challenges of the nowadays complex world.

Agile Leaders are the beginning of modern management

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

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.