Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Path from Command and Control to Agility

Have you ever noticed a team where little engagement, a lack of ownership, and team decisions are scarce?  One reason could be the amount of command-and-control from management that is occurring.  Often times this is one of those unspoken elephants in the middle of the room.   Command-and-control bosses and leaders are a sure way to kill the feeling of ownership, engagement, and empowerment in team members. 

Agile comes along and promotes self-organizing teams, transparency, and team decision-making.  It also helps companies bring more value to customers and adapt to the market conditions, ultimately leading to making more money.  Within an Agile culture, it no longer requires a manager to tell a team what to do.  The number of organizations following Agile continues to increase. They realize that they no longer need directive managers but leaders who act more as coach and mentor, then the traditional boss.  So what is a command-and-control manager to do?   
  • If they feel they have command-and-control traits and are willing to make that move to Agile, they can test their comfort level with collaboration first.  When a team decision is needed, consider an experiment.  Ask the team for their thoughts.  See if the command-and-control manager can be just one voice of the many that are on the team instead of forcing a direction.  Better yet, see if the manger can remain quiet and let the team arrive at a decision.  If this works, next they can test their comfort level with self-organizing teams.  The next time there is a decision that impacts the team, ask they can ask the team to discuss it amongst themselves and decide the course of action.  Stand back and let them decide. 
  • If the manager is inquisitive about Agile, provide them some education on the Agile values and principles.  They should consider what they think each of the principles mean and if they believe in them.  A bolder move is having them share the Agile principles with their team and ask them what they think it means.  Also they can ask the team members how it can be exhibited on a team.  Ask the team members if they think we would be a good idea to exercise some of the principles. 
  • If they have directive tendency and their current role has them interacting with customers to understand customer needs, then they may consider becoming a Product Owner (PO) for the team.  While they should no longer be manager, a PO helps shape the product through the collection and grooming of the requirements.  The PO also shares the need with team members during the Agile-related planning events (e.g., Sprint Planning).   
  • Learn about the concept of bounded authority.  This is where the team can make their own decisions, organize, and commit to their own work.  It does not mean that teams can do whatever they want.  The balance is that the manager keeps limited responsibilities to provide vision and support for their staff while allowing the team the ownership to self-organize around the work.  
So I will leave you with this question.  Which approach will lead to more productive and high-performing teams?   Is it a culture where managers tell employees what to do or is it a culture where employees are self-organizing, feel ownership of the work, and are able to use much more brain power?   If managers exhibit command-and-control tendencies, it is in their best interest in the long run to adapt toward and Agile mindset and allow for self-organizing teams.  Since Agile is pervasive in many companies, it is an opportunity to adapt and help the organization toward better business results.