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911 – “I need help! I’m a people manager and my team is going Agile…”

Image by Michael RansburgIn line with a few posts I recently published (this one and this one) and following conversations with people (and managers) around me, I decided to take another stab at helping people managers transform into agile leaders. Contrary to popular beliefs, people managers in an agile context are not doomed to buy pizza for their team and getting out of their way…

One of the underlying principles of Agile is to help organizations become more adaptive and flexible in order to (more) quickly react to changes in their environment. In this context, the agile manager has an important role, despite the fact that his traditional responsibilities can greatly change.

In his new role the agile manager needs to acquire or develop these abilities:

  • Adapt your leadership style: Every team reaches a certain level of maturity and the agile manager’s leadership style needs to be adapted to the context of his group.
  • Make yourself available: Your team members will need help and they will need to turn to someone they trust. Make yourself available and keep an open mind when problems arise so you can actually do something useful for them.
  • Help your team remain focused: Well jelled teams tend to become enthusiastic about what they can accomplish and sometime lose focus and get distracted by shinny objects – this is especially true with software development teams. In his role, the agile manager can greatly help his team members keep their focus in order to achieve their objectives.
  • Secure resources: In every traditional organization, departments are typically assigned a budget to provide a certain level of service and as such, the self-organized team rarely has the maturity and visibility to obtain the budget it needs to protect and grow the unit. The manager remains the best spoke person for his team since he has developed the political abilities to influence people around him.
  • Become a consultant to the team: Develop your credibility as an expert in certain areas and make sure to bring that value to your team members. As a rule of thumb, you shouldn’t show up at their meetings unless you are invited.
  • Guard the team from disruption: Once the self-organized team demonstrates a high level of performance, others around will notice and are likely to request activities, tasks or special projects from the highly performing team. The manager must then block disruptions and maintain the team’s focus in order to remain productive.
  • Be a spoke-person and do marketing: The team will want to achieve a high level of performance and once it does, recognition from others is a likely contributor to their motivation. The manager is an position to promote the success of his team – and indirectly his own as the manager of a highly performing team. If you believe “marketing” to be inappropriate, think again. After all, the manager delegated some of his authority to the team and as such deserves to get recognition.
  • Increase communication and visibility: A lot happens outside the team. The manager has to bring the information about the organizational threats and opportunities back to his team. Sometime even gossips can be useful information for the team.
  • Prepare the team for the future: As the team undertakes some of the traditional management responsibilities, the manager can spend some time actually preparing the team members for the career development, especially if some of the members are interested in developing their management expertise.
  • Offer to help with retrospection: The team is typically very focused on their activities in order to achieve the objectives that were defined for them. As a consequence their retrospection are likely to focus on short term, immediate challenges they are facing and much less about the long term. The manager may offer to facilitate meetings geared toward the future.
  • Grow the team members: Observe the team in action. In collaboration with the individual team members, determine which area they wish to develop in order to achieve their career goals and support them by coaching them.

Overall, in such a context the agile manager needs to start focusing on a strategic perspective as opposed to a very tactical one which is often what managers do despite their many promotions over the years.

The change is likely to be positive not only for the team but also for the manager himself – only if he develops enough self-confidence and courage to start operating this way.


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