Are you working as a manager of an Agile team? Are you the director of a department or an executive looking to better understand your role in an Agile organization? If so, this post is for you!
I hear many debates in Agile conferences about the role of managers in organizations adopting Agile practices. I see many organizations struggling with the concept of self-organizing teams and the role the management teams needs to play. Let me share some of my experiences from the last few years.
The new reality of the business world
Peter Drucker once said: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”, and he is absolutely right! Many organizational cultures focus mainly on results and see their organizations as machines they need to tweak for optimal performance and efficiency.
While this was great in the industrial age, business has gotten a lot more complicated. Innovation is going up rapidly, so is diversification, globalization, and democratization of the workplace. This creates a lot of uncertainty because in the world running at the speed of the internet, we know less and less about what will happen tomorrow.
In this new age of limited headcounts, the new organizational challenge is creating workplaces that maximizes the use of the leadership potential of employees, as well as values and encourages their contributions. Every day, in my work as an organizational coach, I meet leaders that struggle with how they need to act and how they need to change their way of being in order to meet this challenge.
I empathize a lot with leaders, because it is not an easy problem for them to solve. Being in the same organization for many years trained them to act in a certain way. In result-driven companies, managers are seen as leaders and, as such, they feel they need to act in certain ways. It is definitely not easy to become aware of these habits and to replace them with new ones.
Why is change so hard?
According to the Annual state of Agile report of 2014, here are some of the key barriers to further Agile adoption in organizations:
- 44%—inability to change the organizational culture
- 34%—general resistance to change
- 29%—lack of management support.
So, is change hopeless? Certainly not! The biggest problem is that what many organizations actually need is a **transformation**, but what they often attempt to do is an **adoption**. A transformation involves changing the DNA of the organization. It requires creating an alignment with an inspiring vision. The big challenge of doing this transformation is getting everyone to share a common vision when everybody has a different perception of what the organization should be.
One of the big challenges I personally see with many clients as we embark new teams and new people in a transformation journey, is that I often hear these questions: “Why are we doing this? Are we doing this for us (as a team) or to please the management team?” To me, this is often a sign that we are not engaging people properly in the conversation, and they do not understand the vision and how they can contribute to it.
I recognize there is validity to these questions and, from experience, they often come from teams that did not experience any kind of empowerment before or that are more comfortable when their managers make decisions because they will not be blamed if anything goes wrong. While the role of managers is to take care of the various living systems, we need to educate everyone that management tasks (such as planning, estimating, leading, organizing among others) are not limited to managers. Self-organization requires a certain degree of self-management as well. For example, Scrum teams generally manage their own projects.
Seventy-five percent of the time, first-line managers are the ones initiating change. One of their biggest challenges is when the current systemic forces at work in the organization push back and resist the change they try to bring about.
Management is a key piece of any healthy organization, and managers have an important role to play in helping cultivate living systems that allow their people to flourish. Overall management in an organization is way too important though to leave only in the hands of the managers.
As a Management 3.0 facilitator, I create a safe container where participants can explore and reflect on their role as managers in the organization they work for. I also create a safe place where participants can reflect on their personal leadership styles and experience a shift in their perspectives around leadership.
I not only teach the various Management 3.0 tools during the course, I also find myself using many of them when I am working with my own clients. The more I use these tools, the more I realize that using them frames discussions in a useful and productive way between management and employees. Although the conversations these tools create are much more constructive and meaningful, it is important to remember that they must remain ongoing and are never truly over.