Many Agile evangelists would completely dispense with the idea of a formal leader and instead promote self-organising and empowered teams. These teams would be focused on delivering value quickly for the end client or customer, but for so many organisations this is a huge shift in approach… “sounds risky” they say, “who is in control?”
Employing such radical changes might seem a lifetime away, but there are some valuable leadership lessons you can lean on in the short term. We believe every leader would benefit from implementing these Agile principles, no matter how far along the Agile adoption curve you are.
- Agile leadership is not down to just one person
The Agile Manifesto endorses self-organising teams, promoting the leadership potential at every level of an organisation. This means that part of being an Agile leader is about engineering opportunities for other people to take on leadership roles within your organisation. This is done by creating clear roles and empowering individuals to make decisions. It is not all down to just one person.
This might sound daunting. It might necessitate a new understanding of leadership, challenging yourself to let go and watch others make mistakes along the way. Agile teams have leaders who display trust and empower their people to step up. What tends to happen when teams are afforded the opportunity to take responsibility, the environment for innovation swiftly follows1.
However, teams require different degrees of autonomy depending on where they fall on the maturity matrix. We should not just give free reign to a team who are not yet equipped to steer. As a leader, you should look to understand the maturity level of your team and adjust your leadership style accordingly. Create boundaries for autonomy and control that are appropriate to your team at that time. To lead an Agile team, you need to be Agile yourself.
- Make sure everything is visible
Agile leaders do not micromanage or deliver everything. Consequently they must form a clear understanding on delivery status through communication and high-quality reporting. Some up-front work should be done to establish communication routes and develop tools that are low effort to report into and easily turn out reports at the click of a button. Physical or digital Kanban boards might work well for your team, likewise other team collaboration hubs might be best to make current information widely available. With greater transparency of progress or outcomes, teams will provide more timely and accurate information for faster and better decision making, underpinning leadership at all levels.
Visibility is not just important within your teams, but also for your customers. If they are to help co-create the final solution with you, they need transparency and clear communications right from the off. Though you will not want to share everything with them, having simple communications channels where information can be quickly relayed is incredibly valuable and will save your teams huge amounts of time.
- Encourage cross-functional collaboration
A common thread across all successful Agile teams is their commitment to working within cross-functional teams. Your role as an Agile leader is to identify people from across your business who possess the different skills and expertise to deliver the work required. Ensure they can collaborate too. Reduce email where possible and encourage face to face communication. Team members who update their teams on progress and blockers daily will manage their own tasks more effectively, clarifying who is responsible for each component, and ensuring issues like handovers, task switching, and duplication of work are avoided.
Going to this effort to form cross-functional teams also supports the spread of communication about the product or output within your business. People will be able to share updates with those within their functional area, which leads to buy-in and engagement across the company. Understanding how you can best support this process is vital.
If you’d like to know more about the Agile methodology, we would encourage you to have a read of our blog, The Agile Manifesto Explained in Five Minutes. Next in this series, we will cover SAFe Agile: Scaling Agile for large portfolios. For more information about tips for Agile leaders contact EstherM@Ninefeettall.com
1 – Fawcett, S. E., Jones, S. L., & Fawcett, A. M. (2012). Supply chain trust: The catalyst for collaborative innovation. Business Horizons, 55(2), 163-178.