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Posts from the ‘Audacium’ Category

Adapting your leadership style to the maturity level of your self-organizing team

Unless they are adopting Agile for the wrong reasons, people managers find themselves facing an interesting decision – “Am I willing to let go some control in order to take advantage of the benefits associated with Agile?”.

Being human, it is difficult not to resist change unless we know what to expect from the future and clearly understand the implications for us. Once the future becomes clearer, we can start to appreciate the need to change. That’s just the beginning… Change for what?

In his book, Jurgen Appelo presents various levels of decision making and manager involvement in the context of Agile adoption. I took the liberty to build a matrix (see below) to match Jurgen’s various leadership styles to the 7 stances of a self-organized team [a pdf version of this matrix is available for download].

(1) Taken from: Agile self-organized teams – is the team self-organized or not?

(2) Taken from: Management 3.0: Leading Agile Developers, Developing Agile Leaders

The matrix presents which leadership style the manager should be using based on the level of maturity of your team. Hope you will find it useful!

Agile managers do not act like cowboys

Image by anyjazz65

Managers are expected to get their teams to deliver on the objectives that are established. Managers are also expected to keep their people happy and motivated. How can one accomplish these two seemingly incompatible expectations?

Let’s first distinguish management from leadership.

Management books often make a distinction between managers and leaders, depicting leadership as if it is more about heroics than management. […] Managers are then advised to transform themselves to leaders, turning employees into willing followers, instead of herding them like sheep. […] Separating leadership from management is like comparing women to humans. It doesn’t make sense. […] Comparing women to men seems more logical to me. – Management 3.0: Leading Agile Developers, Developing Agile Leaders

I agree with Jurgen that leadership is one of the ways to accomplish a manager’s role.

Along the same lines, I hear from time to time conversations within Agile circles and read Agile related blog posts promoting soft leadership, leading without authority and laissez-faire [The latter is sometime mistakenly perceived to be self-organization. Self-organization is something else and requires clear boundaries, but that’s for another post] as the answer to the management conundrum. Is that really the silver-bullet?

In almost all organizations, the manager’s role is fairly similar.

Management in all business and organizational activities is the act of getting people together to accomplish desired goals and objectives using available resources efficiently and effectively. Management comprises planning, organizing, staffing, leading or directing, and controlling an organization (a group of one or more people or entities) or effort for the purpose of accomplishing a goal. […] Since organizations can be viewed as systems, management can also be defined as human action, including design, to facilitate the production of useful outcomes from a system. This view opens the opportunity to ‘manage’ oneself, a pre-requisite to attempting to manage others. – wikipedia

For a large number of individuals in management responsibility, authority is perceived to be the most effective tool to ensure compliance and to get people to do with is expected. Please bear with me, the analogy isn’t perfect but the image is powerful. For me, authority is similar to carrying a gun [or whatever your preferred weapon happens to be].

It is easy to obtain compliance and get people to do what we tell them to do when we – the managers – are the only people carrying a weapon. It is especially true if the weapon is constantly out of the holster and pointing directly at the team [figuratively speaking, of course]. So authority gets us compliance (for most part) and may allow us to meet our objectives (some of the time) but authority doesn’t bring the best out of people. Authority certainly doesn’t make people happy and motivated.

On the other hand, if we aim to keep people happy and motivated first, we are more likely to adopt a laissez-faire approach.

Lewin often characterized organizational management styles and cultures in terms of leadership climates defined by (1) authoritarian, (2) democratic and (3) laissez-faire work environments. Authoritarian environments are characterized where the leader determines policy with techniques and steps for work tasks dictated by the leader in the division of labor. The leader is not necessarily hostile but is aloof from participation in work and commonly offers personal praise and criticism for the work done. Democratic climates are characterized where policy is determined through collective processes with decisions assisted by the leader. Before accomplishing tasks, perspectives are gained from group discussion and technical advice from a leader. Members are given choices and collectively decide the division of labor. Praise and criticism in such an environment are objective, fact minded and given by a group member without necessarily having participated extensively in the actual work. Laissez-faire Environments give freedom to the group for policy determination without any participation from the leader. The leader remains uninvolved in work decisions unless asked, does not participate in the division of labor, and very infrequently gives praise. – wikipedia

When nobody carries a weapon, such as in the case of laissez-faire leadership style, people are freer to select goals that appeal to them and are more likely to be successful at reaching their objectives. Unfortunately, managing people (as in the wikipedia definition “getting people together to accomplish desired goals and objectives”) becomes extremely difficult and maybe impossible in a business context (trust me, we have tried that unsuccessfully).

To be an agile manager doesn’t mean to avoid using authority and to strictly rely on our influencing capabilities. It doesn’t mean to let people determine the business orientation that the organization will be taking either. As in many fruitless debates, taking an “either or” perspective doesn’t lead to the best answer. Agile managers need to be able to use authority, but not as their primary tool.

Let me explain.

Agile managers need to take the time to explain the objectives they aim to achieve and get people to follow them (leadership) into attempting to reach the objectives. Just like good diplomats, agile managers should begin with good listening skills, influence, and negotiation when they are faced with people resistance and challenges. Only in extreme cases should we turn to authority to get people to do what we need them to do. Like many things in life, using authority comes at a cost (diminished commitment from the team, reduced motivation) and as such, should be used wisely.

This leads me to my last point. In addition to management skills, people’s tolerance to stress needs to determine if they should be entitled to manage a team. As most psychometric tests can tell, we – humans – tend to operate differently when we are within our comfort zone (low stress) or outside our comfort zone (high stress). While in our comfort zone, we usually take advantage of many of our built-in or acquired skills which doesn’t increase one’s anxiety level. By contrast, stepping too much outside our comfort zone leads to decreased performance and substantially increased anxiety levels. People for who management is within their comfort zone or people who have better abilities to deal with stress are less likely to use authority as their primary tool. As such, agile managers are more likely to wait until the situation is critical before they even think of going “Clint Eastwood” on people.

So next time you are thinking of promoting someone in a management position, do not simply look for their skills. Assess their ability to manage their stress level.

Tribal Leadership – What level of leadership are you at?

There are many perspectives about what leadership is and how it should be done. Contrary to many recipe books on this topic, Tribal Leadership is a useful tool to assess the stage of your personal leadership style and evaluate the impact and the consequences of each stage. Although the backdrop of the book is that a higher leadership stage is better, the real value for me was as a tool to understand the culture and more importantly the people we deal with as part of Agile transitions.

While the majority of leaders in the work place are at stages 2 and 3, Tribal Leadership shares tools and insights to help individuals and organizations break through to the next evolutionary stages – which are usually much easier for a transition.

To help you get a gist of where you may stand as a leader and possibly help you determine at what level people you work with are, the authors provided on their web site a quick map (below).

As Agile coaches, we must often work with teams and their leaders. Understanding the behaviours of the leaders and their motivation is extremely useful. As such, the book presents a model allowing the transformation of Level 1 leaders to higher levels – granted most people start at level 2 or 3.

The book provides rich insights into human behaviour, group dynamics and individual motivation. Overall, it provides a good framework to understand people’s behaviors and with some clear thinking, can lead into actionable strategies to help support an agile transition.

Tribal Leadership is available in audio book [285 Mb zipped file] and in a traditional book format (Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization).

See Dave Logan’s presentation at TED.

http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf

Cracking the Code for Standout Performance (part II)

image by shadaringtonAs Agile team coaches or organizational coaches, we aim to increase the teams’ performance in an attempt to deliver better results. We improve quality, help the team work more efficiently, and have fun while delivering increased business value. Interestingly, many of the observations presented in Great Business Teams: Cracking the Code for Standout Performance (this is the second part of the book review) are in line with the Agile values and principles. Here are some of the keys points to remember:

THE LEADERS

The leaders have an important role in developing high performance teams. Their actions and behaviors will be closely observed and people will modify their own behaviors based on those of their leaders. Guttman highlights some of the leader imperatives to achieve high performance.

Develop and drive the horizontal vision

An horizontal organization means moving to an organizaton in which everyone operates according to a clearly defined set of decision-making protocols, where people understand what they are accountable for and then own the results.

For an organization to raise its level of performance every team, on every level, must be a great team. That is to say, it must be aligned in five key areas:

  1. business strategy
  2. business deliverables coming from the strategy
  3. roles and responsibilities at individual and business unit or functional levels
  4. protocols, or ground rules, for decision making and conflict resolution (see a recent post on this topic)
  5. business/interpersonal relationships and interdependencies

Create the right mindset

  • Being candid from “wary, closed with hidden agendas” to “candid, open, relaxed, easy to speak your mind” – from “no tolerance for confrontation, conflicts suppressed” to “tensions surfaced, confronted, and resolved”
  • Accentuating accountability: putting equal emphasis on cross functional, peer-to-peer accountability, as well as peer-to-leader acountability.

Provide the right skills

Such as influencing, active listening, assertion, giving and receiving feedback, conflict management, decision making and leadership.

Keep the game and guard the rules

Everyone is clear about and committed to the business strategy and the operational goals that flow from it; undertsands his or her roles and responsibilities, and adheres to agreed-upon protocols, or ground rules for decisions making and for interpersonal behavior, especially those relating to conflict management.

Here’s how great teams make decisions:

  • Identify the decisions that need to be made
  • Identify decision subteams
  • Assign accountability
  • Set objectives and timelines
  • Select the decision making mode
  • Identify information sources
  • Determine the shelf life of the decision

Raise the bar

Keep challenging the status quo, revisit the targets and get the team involved in the process.

Be player centered

Leadership is in large part about power – about how it is exercised, shared, delegated, and used. High performance leaders seek to leverage power, not monopolize – to put it to use to drive up their team’s or organization’s performance. Putting the power in the hands of the teams members provides the right conditions to deliver maximum payoffs.

THE PLAYERS

The road to a great team begins with two nuclear elements of team reality: the leader and the team members. Consequently, team members must show four very obvious characteristics.

Think like a director

Keep their eye on overarching goals and the need to stay on top of their competition.

Put team first, function second

They are team members first and functional representatives second.

Embrace accountability

Slowly move from an individual accountability for their own results toward accountability toward the success of the entire organization.

Become comfortable with discomfort

People need to be or become comfortable with the changes required of them and their leader.

Building an outstanding team requires time and energy and is achievable once people agree to work together and pull in the same direction.

Expected behaviors of a self-organized team

Picture by Creative DonkeyFollowing a recent post on the topic of self-organization, I’m offering a few examples of how people react / should react when a team is self-organized.

 

Not self-organized Self-organized
  • Waits to be told what to do
  • Figures out what needs to be done
  • Is a victim of circumstances
  • Is responsible for his actions
  • Gossips about the motives
  • Seeks information to understand
  • Whines about the constraints
  • Attempts to operate within the constraints
  • Complains about his colleagues’ performance
  • Holds his colleagues accountable
  • Waits for rules to be defined
  • Defines the rules of operations
  • Reactive
  • Proactive

What other behaviours have you noticed?

Agile teams – What people managers can learn from parents

image by candrewsBefore I explain what people managers can learn from parents, I feel the need to defuse what some readers may have in mind. I am not suggesting that employees and team members are children or act like babies [although, sometimes … – sorry, I’m digressing].

The Art of Parenting

If you have children, you should quickly relate to the fact that nothing really prepares us to be good parents. Sure, while growing up we assimilate patterns, behaviours, and skills from our environment – including and often to a large extent from our own parents. At a later stage in our children-free life, some of our friends start to have kids and we observe them – sometimes with curiosity, sometimes out of sheer voyeurism, and sometimes with envy – and that’s when we contemplate the idea of having kids of our own.

Then, one day out of the blue, the kind doctor tells your spouse that she is pregnant – in our case with twins! But that’s an entirely different story 😉

Then comes the next stage of learning to become a parent, we spent countless hours on amazon.com previewing and ordering books, lot’s of books. Except for a few best sellers, the others titles vary based on our perceived areas of weakness and the bad pattern we noticed from our parents when they raised us.

And one day, a beautiful baby boy is born and/or a pretty baby girl – once again, in our case we got one of each.

Once the sleepless nights are over and the baby is capable of learning, parents slowly transfer increasingly complex tasks to their child: holding the milk-bottle, feeding themselves, walking without holding mommy’s hand, abandoning the diaper, selecting how much ketchup to put on their food, picking their own clothes, walking to school by themselves, deciding what time to go to bed, going to a movie without supervision, and so on up to the point when the child moves out of the house to start their own independent life.

What people managers can learn from parents

It is obvious that parenting is very different from managing people, no doubt about that. On the other hand, their are some similarities.

Nothing prepares people to become good managers. Sure, while growing up in our professional career we assimilate patterns, behaviours, and skills from our environment – including and often to a large extent from our own managers. Granted, some people had the opportunity to learn about management during their school years and that could be an added bonus.

As with parenting, once we decide to get into management we spend countless hours on amazon.com previewing and ordering books, lot’s of books. Except for a few best sellers, the others titles vary based on our perceived areas of weakness and the bad pattern we noticed from our previous managers.

How that applies to Agile teams

Agile management is somewhat similar to the art of parenting with the manager transferring to its team increasingly complex tasks and responsibilities. Helping the team self-organize doesn’t mean to abandon the team to itself without help or some supervision. Along the same lines as parenting, there comes a time when the manager must determine how much responsibility to transfer and what level of support to provide.

Similar to the role of the parent, the agile manager is there to support the team’s development and make it successful and autonomous until one day – maybe – the team is highly performing and can become independent.

The myths of self-organized teams

Image by Lauren_MillerMany Agile practitioners will push forward the concept of self-organized teams as a first step towards an Agile transition. Unfortunately, self-organization is often mis-understood and many become frustrated with the concept. Below are myths taken from real life situations – including the inner workings of our organization.

  • Self-organized teams can only work with experienced people. Although more experienced individuals may make it easier to self-organize, they can also make it much more difficult due to their old work habits. Overall, the age of the team members or their actual experience doesn’t impact their ability to self-organize. Self-organization has more to do with the people’s willingness to self-organize and the support they get from their manager than it has with age or experience.
  • Self-organized teams don’t need a leader. Wrong, self-organized teams still need a leader to move them through the various stages and toward their end goal. This being said, it doesn’t mean that the leader has to be a manager or a person in authority. Quite the contrary. Emerging leadership is a much better way to achieve self-organization but management needs to be patient because self-organization takes time.
  • Self-organized teams don’t need managers. Why not? Managers are a key success factor to support self-organization. Once again, this doesn’t mean that the manager is included in the self-organized team or that the manager will be leading the team. As Jurgen puts it – “Agile managers work the system around the team, not the people in the team”.
  • Self-organized teams are for everyone. Not necessarily, some people may not be ready for self organization or they may not be willing. Everybody has the capacity to be part of a self-organized team, it is simply a matter of wanting to be part of such a team because it is demanding and requires people to become responsible and accountable.
  • Self-organized teams are easy to implement. Really? If it was easy, why wouldn’t everyone adopt self-organization? The fact is that starting at a young age, we keep being told what to do (brush your teeth, go to bed, pick up your clothes, do your homework, show up at the office at 9am, finish the report for your boss, go on vacation in July, retire at 65, etc.) Wanting to be self-organized and taking control of your life is counter-intuitive and difficult. People in self-organized teams often act as victims of circumstances during the early stages (I can’t do this because the system won’t allow me) and then start to notice the opportunity the freedom of choice brings.
  • Self-organized teams quickly increase the team’s performance. No, it won’t. The team’s performance will indeed increase and for the long run but self-organization requires time, energy and much efforts to deliver results. If you are interested in quick-wins with minimal investments (time and/or money), I would suggest the Agile magic pill.

Autonomy or self-organization is a strong contributing factor for motivation and motivated individuals lead to improved performance and better results. Attempting to implement self-organized teams without understanding the risks and the energy required isn’t a good idea.

Don’t tell me you really want to increase your team’s performance – I won’t believe you

Image by Trucker TomI bet you $50 that even if I told you the way to boost your team’s performance without increasing your costs – you wouldn’t do it. The situation is actually worst than that! I’ll add another $50 that I even know what you will tell me once I tell you. You will say “We can’t do that in our organization“.

Ready to find out?

Stop assigning people to projects and let them pick the project they wish to work on – that’s it!

I can hear you – “We can’t do that in our organization” – there, I just saved $100.

Seriously, it is that simple. Think back to a project you worked on – were you assigned or did you select it yourself? Now do this exercise. Think back to something you enjoy, I mean you truly enjoy – were you assigned or did you pick it yourself?

Have you ever heard of Tom Sawyer withewashing the fence? As Mark Twain once said, “Work is something you are forced to do while leisure is something you choose to do”.

I don’t mean to pretend that work is a hobby but many organizations ignore people’s intrinsic motivation and personal drive when they (i.e. the managers) assign people to projects. No matter what the project is about, there will always be people interested in working on such a project. Ever heard of Crowdsourcing?

In most organizations, it may not be easy to let people select their own project, but it is feasible. Some organizational constraints may need to be modified, project assignment may need to be done differently, some resource planning may be required but all of this is feasible.

As one of the participant highlighted “I used to be bored to death in my normal job until one day, I asked (begged) to be part of a specific project. I’m so glad they granted my wish. I now work 55 hours a week! I am super motivated and nothing is going to make me want to leave that project”. Still think letting people select their project is a bad idea? – Analytical-Mind.

Go ahead, give it a try and see the results for yourself. I have tried this approach on many occasions and the results always impress me.

The strength of a real team is under-estimated

Image by Dawn (Willis) ManserProject kick-offs have been used for years as a way to launch a new project. It is assumed that bringing people together in a room where the project sponsor presents the project’s objectives and time-lines is a good way to get things going. To be sure that the newly formed team will perform well, some organizations even order sandwiches or sushi and add diet software drinks or beer, and so the project begins.

I really don’t have a strong opinion about project kick-offs but I do see a great opportunity to start building a real-high-performing-team from day one is often missed.

Having been part of great (and not so great) teams over the years, I’m obsessed about creating real teams – the ones we remember forever because we delivered outstanding results while being highly energized, and had a great time doing it. It is similar to the concept of Flow proposed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi.

Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity. […]

According to Csíkszentmihályi, flow is completely focused motivation. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand. To be caught in the ennui of depression or the agitation of anxiety is to be barred from flow. The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task[2] although flow is also described (below) as a deep focus on nothing but the activity – not even oneself or one’s emotions.

Colloquial terms for this or similar mental states include: to be on the ball, in the moment, present, in the zone, wired in, in the groove, or keeping your head in the game. Wikipedia.

So back to creating a real strong project team (The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High-Performance Organization). Why not start with something simple, real simple? Establishing rules and protocols of operation for the team.

As a first step in launching a new team, I usually start with an initial meeting (the duration varies based on the size of the team and the project being undertaken) during which I ask the team members to establish their working protocol – how they wish to work together.

Here are some of the questions the team members need to answer prior to doing anything else – including actually starting the project:

  • What do we wish to accomplish together?
  • What ground rules will we play by?
  • How do we make decisions?
  • How long can discussions and debates go on for? Do we use time-boxes in meetings? For decision making?
  • How do we resolve disagreements?
  • How often do we need to meet? For how long?
  • How will we communicate with each other?
  • How do we keep track of our action items?
  • How do we deal with team members who do not live up to the team’s expectations?
  • What rules do we have to include new team members? To expel existing team members?
  • How will we know if we are successful as a team?

Some of these questions may appear to be trivial. While establishing a team protocol doesn’t need to take a lot of time (and can easily be combined with a team building activity), not establishing such a protocol will quickly lead to inefficiencies, waste of time, and increased frustration for the team members. Want a few examples?

  • Did you ever find out that some project team members’ personal objectives had nothing to do with the project? Trying to motivate those people will drain your energy and your focus.
  • Has a detailed technical decision ever been taken by a senior manager with weird consequences? Guidelines may have prevented the decision from being escalated in the first place.
  • Have you participated in meetings where key people didn’t show up or showed up late with the consequence of having some decisions over-ruled? Determining up front the rules around meeting attendance and decision making will greatly alleviate such frustrations.

These are only a handful of examples but time and again, I have had the privilege to launch teams on the right foot. The consequences are positive and the cost is minimal. It may not be as cheap as buying sandwiches for the team during the project kick-off but the investment will last much longer.

Self-organization and independence aren’t the same thing

Picture by Frédéric EsplandiuAgile relies and promotes the concept of self-organized teams but the concept is still misunderstood – except maybe for Jurgen who explains it very well in his book.

Even within Pyxis where we push the concept of self-organization to the entire organization, people often mistake independence and self-organization.

Here’s an attempt at distinguishing the two perspectives.

Independence is a condition of a nation, country, or state in which its residents and population, or some portion thereof, exercise self-government, and usually sovereignty, over its territory. – wikipedia

Independence is strongly tied to self-governance which is defined as:

(…) an abstract concept that refers to several scales of organization. (…) It can be used to describe a people or group being able to exercise all of the necessary functions of power without intervention from any authority which they cannot themselves alter. – wikipedia

On the other hand, self-organization is defined as:

the process where a structure or pattern appears in a system without a central authority or external element imposing it through planning. This globally coherent pattern appears from the local interaction of the elements that make up the system, thus the organization is achieved in a way that is parallel (all the elements act at the same time) and distributed (no element is a coordinator). – wikipedia

Although in both cases, no authority interferes with the organization of the people, self-organization emerges when there is no planning of how people will work together. In addition, the notion of imposed constraints appears when discussing self-organization.

As such, while independence could mean “We can do what we want, how and when we want”, self-organization means “We are free to operate how we wish within the defined constraints in order to achieve the established objectives”.

As I recently described, immature self-organized teams are often selfish and irresponsible:

Team members are happy to take advantage of being self-organized but only as long as it benefits them and that there are no increased responsibilities. Once a situation negatively impacts them (while benefiting the team), they aren’t willing to cooperate and when they are asked to take accountability for something, they shy away from the responsibility. In a nutshell, these individuals want the best of both worlds. To successfully transition to self-organization, it is critical to explain that they will need to make a decision and pick self-organization with responsibility or freedom outside the self-organized team.

Consequently, true self-organization means that people take full accountability for their actions and do what ever it takes to get organized as a group in order to operate within the imposed constraints.

Once presented with self-organization, people and teams quickly assume that they now fully control their destiny – which is incorrect. The additional detail that needs to be added is “within the imposed constraints” which means resources are limited and an objective has been established. So unless you are in control of the resources or have officially been delegated authority for the resources, you have the option of self-organizing, not becoming independent.