What is Agile Leadership And How To Adopt It
One continuing problem we see with many of today’s business leaders is that they rarely adopt Agile at the leadership level.
It’s not that they are resistant to the idea of creating an Agile organisation. Most understand the value of agility at the level of the project/delivery teams, but all too often they don’t see how it applies to them or feel that they are exempt.
For those that do recognise a need to change they tend to perceive Agile leadership as a set of tools that is limited to personal changes to their style of management, instead of grasping the real value of transforming loose groups of directors and executive managers into dynamic, collaborative teams.
What is Agile Leadership?
When bringing agility to business leaders we get them to focus on the value of incrementally applying Agile principles and practices as a collaborative team at the most senior level of the organisation. Not just as a siloed individual (or a group of individuals) issuing one-way commands downwards to a project team (or to groups of project teams) elsewhere in the business.
At the very top level of an organisation, we create an open environment where senior leaders work as a team and are able to raise problems and any potential business vulnerabilities with their peers, based on high levels of trust in each other and commitment to the same shared goals.
How to Adopt Agile Leadership
Our incremental approach involves bringing in those events that make the most sense, both for the organisation and for that team at that particular time. Then, as they resolve each other’s problems, keep each other’s promises, measurably and meaningfully help each other, we see engagement and trust rise.
The real value, in our experience, of shifting the leadership culture in this way, and gradually, pragmatically promoting structured team collaboration at the top level, is that it successfully enables leaders to overcome organisation-wide problems or impediments in a matter of hours, as opposed to weeks or months.
For our executive teams, collaboration means being able to identify risks faster, aggressively manage them and mitigate them. Nothing gets forgotten. Everything is on a visible backlog, all the work is transparent, and teams manage risks, maintain transparency and – most importantly – support each other during difficult times.
Creating a Team of Teams
Which often raises the question: why weren’t leaders collaborating in this way previously? After all, we all know that collaboration is key in organisations. But the question is how? And when? And what are they supposed to do when they do collaborate? We use agile frameworks to answer these questions, structure collaboration and generate momentum.
By becoming team players, they magnify each other’s resources, support each other and the entire top team begins to grow together. They become force-multipliers because when they eliminate impediments, they fix problems that affect many teams. When a problem surfaces at the top level, the issue is usually something that is causing an impediment to multiple teams and numerous members of staff. An Agile team at the top rapidly resolving organisational problems and working collaboratively operates to make the entire business a fast and flexible learning organisation. Which also means that they can better manage risks along the way, they can amplify things that are working, and they can dampen the problems that are affecting the wider organisation
The power of structured collaboration for leaders
Collaboration doesn’t just happen by getting a team of directors and executive managers in the same room at the same time. That’s why we carefully structure the collaboration using scrum master courses, and we ensure that it is deliberate, intentional and purposeful.
The real work of change in today’s organisations happens not through isolated heroic acts but within teams of people who each have a critical contribution to make.
In our experience, to encourage senior leaders within large asset management firms to properly start to engage as an agile team we teach them that every collaboration event is really a risk management event.
In this way, they understand that they are coming together to manage risk. And when we put it in these terms, senior leaders not only understand the critical contribution they each have to make, they also understand the value of being involved in those events.
Gone are the days when large firms beat smaller firms. Now, success goes to the faster firms: it’s about special forces, not dad’s army! Fast, collaborative top teams create speed, embody pragmatic risk management and lead from the front. These leadership teams go first and inspire action from the delivery teams that see them collaborate every day for the good of their clients, their people and their firm.
Through helping, supporting, being mindful and owning both their own problems and their teammates’ problems, they are able to catch risks, manage issues and even share their budgets to help their teammates.
Which is the real power of an Agile leadership team structured to collaborate.
Jay is co-founder of Fractal Systems Consulting, an agile consultancy run by a group of Professional Scrum Trainers, change agents and agile delivery coaches who have deep experience and know-how in creating behavioural change, come and find us at Fractal Systems
Additionally, if you’re interested in learning in a fun application rich environment that focuses on real world applied approaches, come along to one our training sessions – Scrum Training Courses.