Reviewing the 'Scrum Guide' by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland recently, it's clear that – despite the predictable misuse as the new silver bullet – the 'Agile' framework presents a promising early view of an empowered organisation.
But instead we witness a gradual fading of the initial impetus and enthusiasm of most 'Agile' efforts, with a return to apathy and low engagement that characterised the pre-Agile organisation. Never mind the consequent disillusionment and loss of trust between teams and management.
The success of an agile transformation is grounded in culture
That's because the real success of an agile transformation is grounded in culture, not processes, structures and practices. These latter are the relics of the industrial age and command-control structures... the antithesis of 'agility'.
Once leadership convinces their teams to work the 'Agile' way, a bigger stumbling block is encountered: leaders remain tethered to old paradigms. Understandably so: these old frameworks brought both personal and organisational success. So the instinctual reaction is to control the transformation process and measure success with old yardsticks. But leadership styles that brought success in the past are now diametrically opposed to the transformed 'agile' organisation which places authority and accountability at the level of teams. While at senior levels, remuneration, tenure and - yes, let's say it - personal power, is firmly rooted in conformance, predictability and profitability.
The move to true agility necessitates surrender of control: a superb fear-generator, guaranteed to put the brakes on any level of meaningful short- to medium-term transformation as envisaged by the Scrum Guide, unless the executive is either highly emotionally mature or recognises it as the only way out of obsolescence.
Old drivers of success must be weeded out
So, what happens instead? Beyond the foothills of resistance and the oasis of enthusiasm, Agile practices are given lip service. Even with restructuring, role changes and new reward/incentive systems, somehow the old measures of performance survive. Productivity is measured by how fast things get done, ROI is measured by uptake and immediate profits, and teams that work smarter just get pushed to fill the space and deliver more. Teams recognise they don't really have authority or autonomy, and fall into apathy, with the most dominant individual taking a suspiciously project manager-like role and wondering why no one really tries anymore.
The key ingredient driving transformation to an ‘Agile’ culture is the complete paradigm shift as to leadership… and self-powered teams.
The role of leadership will be envisioning, inspiring and integrating
A leader's role is no longer rounding 'em up and herding 'em but envisioning, inspiring and integrating. Driven by social changes and improved work methods, this new role is already emerging, and companies would be well advised to nurture those who show promise in this space. In fact, the concept of 'leadership' may gradually fade, to be replaced by 'envisioning'. And the power of this role will no longer come from formal authority but from the ability to paint with a clear and inspirational picture, and to enable teams to achieve it.
So if you think you're leading, check if others are following; you may just be out for a walk.
But teams must step up and hold themselves accountable
But wait, that’s not all, folks! Teams, who execute strategy, and define and effect daily tactics and recalibration, need to step up to the plate too. Being empowered entails not only taking authority, but holding ourselves accountable. In an agile organisation, where the vision is clear and inspiring, and leaders get out of the way of those doing the delivering, we have no excuse for not taking full responsibility for our own performance, our decisions, and our circumstances. Real ‘Agile’ practices mean no more hiding places.
And there, I believe, lies the secret to the truly transformed organisation of the future. Personal power, not at the expense of others, but in the service of all.
Originally published on LinkedIn on 21st October 2019
I have interest in a broad range of subjects relating to business and life.