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Leaders: 4 key behaviours to help improve business agility

All leaders know that an agile mindset is critical to building a team culture that can adapt faster to change, deliver with high quality, and produce more with less. What key behaviours should you be encouraging to create these outcomes?

 

Self-Organisation

Decades of team science demonstrates that self-organising teams are superior to management-led teams. Leaders in agile organisations deliberatively move from handing out tasks and managing individual performance to supporting teams to self-organise by setting guardrails.

What is self-organisation?

Self-organisation doesn’t mean chaos or that teams don’t need managers. Self-organisation requires managers to set guardrails for what teams can and can’t do, the decisions they are permitted to make themselves, and the rules for doing so.

what does self-managing mean in scrum

Benefits of Self-Organisation

  • More effective.
  • Faster decision-making.
  • Increased productivity 15-20%.
  • Higher quality.
  • Achieve goals more often.
  • Feel more useful.
  • Feel more challenged.
  • Have greater trust.
self-organisation vs manager-led-2021-05-17
Above: B. Loerakker, Kirsten van de Grift (2015)

What kinds of guardrails should leaders set?

  • Deliver an Increment of Done work every Sprint.
  • Work from the Product Backlog and not from any other list of priorities.
  • Make work transparent and up-to-date in the Sprint Backlog.
  • Inspect and adapt progress daily.
  • Work within the rules of the agile framework given to the team, e.g. Kanban, XP or Scrum.
  • Hold each other to account for a commitment to quality.
  • Work as a single team, with a single goal, not as a group of individuals.

Agile Values

More than just thinking one is agile, an agile mindset manifests itself as a specific set of behaviours that align to concepts like that Agile Manifesto, its 12 Principles, Lean, and even Systems Thinking.

Agile values takes organisations beyond the symbols of agility and changes their mindset to create improvements in speed to market, reduced costs, and ability to rapidly pivot to change.

Agile Values managers should be encouraging

  • Empiricism – Working in a fact-based, experience-based, and evidence-based manner. Scrum implements an empirical process where progress is based on observations of reality, not assumptions about plans and future tasks.
  • Self-improvement – People develop as ‘T-shaped people’. They build a breadth of knowledge in multiple disciplines for efficient collaboration and deep expertise aligned with their interests and skills. T-shaped people are a critical foundation of agile teams.
  • Decentralised decision-making – Delivering value in the shortest sustainable lead time requires decentralized decision-making. It is a key tenet of Lean thinking.
  • Shared purpose – Finding a sense of purpose in either the work itself or the output is important for team effectiveness. While the meaning of work is personal, helping the team succeed is an expression of a shared purpose.
  • Servant leadership – Servant leadership is a philosophy where the goal of the leader is to serve. This is different from traditional leadership where the leader’s main focus is managing and delegating tasks to optimise for utilisation and efficiency.
  • Connectedness – Connected team members demonstrate trustworthiness by caring about each other’s wellbeing. They have a meaningful sense of team community that supports honesty, respect, and psychological safety

Continuous Learning Culture

Ability to innovate requires acknowledging there is always room to improve and to be active in learning and taking time out for experimentation.

Behaviours to encourage learning

  • Metrics-driven – Metrics-driven improvement leads to changes guided by the data surrounding the problem and informed solutions, not by opinions and conjecture. Importantly, metrics-driven outcomes are repeatable and scalable.
  • Value focussed – A focus on value optimises the impacts and outcomes for customers over seeking improvements solely through traditional management activities of individual efficiency and utilisation.
  • Management commitment – Teams are more effective when managers shift to supporting teams by establishing guardrails for self-organisation over task management. Managers should lead by example and use agile themselves for executive and leadership work.
  • Systems thinking – Systems thinking People think about their work as part of a wider ecosystem of people, process and tools. People see the larger picture and recognizes that optimising individual components does not optimise the system.
  • Team commitment – Committing to the team plans gives the team a strong focus on succeeding and highlights the steps necessary to succeed
  • Collaboration – People must work with other team members to achieve team goals. This means plan together, and execute together, over sitting in isolation in their cubicle.

Sprinting

Working in a cadence of rapid, short work cycles, is key to receiving fast feedback to learn, innovate, and pivot to change.

Behaviours to encourage learning

  • Organisational agility – Traditional organisations are often structured hierarchies. Complex problems require a different way of organising. The fundamental differences of an agile organisation are in its network structure, culture, and design. A practitioner will understand what an agile enterprise looks like and approaches for implementing the agile enterprise in a traditional organisation. They will understand how to balance the needs for agility with the existing reality of traditional organizational structures.
  • Agile planning cadence – Agile portfolios operate on quarterly cycles. Every quarter, new planning cycles considers investment to fund new value development and invests in operational support for its products, value streams, supply chains, and scaled agile programs.
  • Product Backlog management – The Product Backlog, whether at portfolio, program, or team-level, must be transparent and prioritised by value. A healthy backlog is transparent and radiates with clarity regarding leadership decisions on goals, value and delivery priorities.
  • Evolving the Agile Organisation – In agile organisations, managers participate in agile leadership teams that establish guardrails for decision-making and optimise the work-environment around them.
  • Optimising flow – From investments top-down from Lean-Agile portfolio through to team-level delivery and releases, an organization must understand its value stream end-to-end to optimise the flow of work and the flow of value.

Encouraging Behaviour

When managers reward a team’s behaviour it’s more likely to happen again. Reward can be extrinsic (e.g. financial, gifts, vouchers) or intrinsic (praise). Certain things can be self-reinforcing. When transparency leads to obvious risk reduction and an increase in trust from stakeholders, this can be (for some teams) a type of reward. When managers use punishment (e.g. take privileges away), it only serves to decrease a behaviour. Punishment only works when the threat of punishment is ever present. 

operant conditioning 2021-05-17

Measuring Behaviour

Measuring behaviour isn’t as difficult as it sounds, it’s what psychologists do when understanding human systems, diagnosing developmental delay in children, or even  problems like depression and anxiety in adults.

Agile IQ® is a tool that takes the guesswork out of assessing and reporting on behaviour. It shows managers the strength of the four key agile behaviours, reports on improvement trends, and what actions can be undertaken to further strengthen agile behaviours.

screens 02 - dashboard
Above: Agile IQ Dashboard

Agile IQ® helps with reporting on agile behaviour

Agile IQ ® creates a data-driven culture of agility. It tracks every part of your agile culture to help you improve productivity, reduce costs, stay motivated, and see how small steps make a big impact in your ability to pivot to changing market and stakeholder needs.

Conclusions

As agile behaviours strengthen, outcomes like ability to pivot, cost savings, and improved throughput of delivery increase. After studying over 100 teams over 10 years, we have empirical evidence that shows a clear link between cost savings and reduced time to market can be gained from self-organisation, agile values, learning culture, and sprinting. As a manager and leader in the agile organisation, your job is to encourage these behaviours. If you do, your business agility till only increase.

Download the Whitepaper

How do you know if your organisation is agile? Download our whitepaper and learn about:

  • The empirical evidence and data on what makes an enterprise agile.
  • How you measure an agile culture.
  • The antecedents of agile leadership.
  • How to grow and sustain an agile culture across the enterprise.

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