Agile leadership – why does it matter?
Agile ideas are no longer restricted to software development teams but have become ubiquitous in other fields of business and industry too.
Agile processes were born out of the recognition that far too often employees were being held back by managers rather than by managers facilitating their success.
We have been familiar with the concept of leadership for a long time. History classes at school were littered with examples of great leaders. But with organizations adopting agile ways of working, and seeking greater business agility, do traditional leadership concepts still apply?
This article is going to discuss the concept of agile leadership, and what agile leadership looks like in practice?
Why agile leadership matters
Anyone who understands the Scrum concept of servant leader, will immediately grasp the core features of agile leadership. An agile leader is one who removes obstacles faced by his/her team members so they can on with doing their jobs effectively and efficiently.
Agile leaders empower their team members by giving them the authority to make decisions and manage projects on their own. They help their employees become self-sufficient so they can be effective at whatever task they’re doing.
In a post-pandemic business environment, with huge uncertainties over the economy, global shortages and climate crisis, business agility is essential for an organization to be successful. By adopting an agile mindset, business leaders can envision improvements at a granular scale by enabling their teams to experiment with new ideas and approaches.
An agile organization vs. non-agile organization
Traditionally, large organizations are slow to adapt to new technologies and business models. They often resist changes because they fear being disrupted. However, by failing to keep pace with changing customer demands, they risk becoming irrelevant. To stay competitive, traditional businesses must continually reinvent themselves.
Agile organisations depend less on out-dated rules and processes because they are continuously updating and improving processes. Agile organisations listen to their employees who are assigned forms of decentralized power. When changes occur, agile organisations can respond quickly.
Even if some projects don’t turn out well, they will likely teach organizations valuable lessons. Iterative approaches allow employees to experiment when enables them to understand what adjustments improve things.
Agile leadership in organizations
Before your organization can embark on agile transformation, you first need to identify the characteristics that describe an effective agile leader.
Traditional leaders are typically chosen for their past performance. However, if you want to select someone with the skills needed to adapt to change, be curious about new ideas, and be able to collaborate with others, look for people who exhibit these traits.
You can assist people who possess the required skills and abilities to become effective agile managers by providing them with the tools they need to develop their skills and abilities. Human resources departments can collaborate with learning and development departments to design courses that teach these skills.
One way to develop agile leaders is to give them opportunities to shadow more experienced agile leaders in real projects. By observing agile practices in real life situations, leadership hopefuls can better understand what makes an agile leader effective.
Agile leadership in action
Agile leadership focuses on building effective cross-functional groups rather than individual contributors. They recognize the strengths of each team member and ensure they work together effectively. They also understand how to foster high-performing groups so they can continue to perform at the highest level possible. When one member fails to meet his/her goals, agile managers take steps to help him/her improve.
As they avoid putting individuals above groups, agile leaders don’t place themselves above teams. Instead, they seek to create an environment where everyone works together toward achieving desired results for the company.
Sometimes, agile team members may require a little help to help them better understand agile ways of working, agile techniques, or methods. These can be learned through a combination of appropriate agile training, coaching, and mentoring.
Focus on improvements
However, agile leaders may still perform bold actions more typically associated with traditional leaders. Agile leaders understand that sometimes it is better to reward individuals that address failing systems Agile leaders don’t accept the current state of things; if there is a better approach, an agile leader will focus on improving it. Agile leaders also know that employees are sources of innovation, so they listen when employees present ideas.
An agile team operates with high degrees of autonomy. In an agile environment, leaders shift the focus of authority from a centralized position to distributed throughout the whole team. Employees are given greater freedom to determine how they spend their time, and what tasks they complete. This allows them to work effectively without having to ask permission every step of the way.
A culture of agility strives to improve processes through experimentation and adaptation. New ideas are constantly tested and improved upon to make them fit into the existing workflow.
In agile organizations, this freedom means that leadership is more dispersed. Decision-making relies upon factual, accurate information. Agile leaders focus on establishing the facts and performing the necessary analyses. In this way decision-making based on quantitative data is essential. When something doesn’t go according to plan, agile leaders look at the facts and use what they learn to improve things. They never blame individuals.
An agile approach encourages teams to take responsibility for their work. The team itself plans what work to do and how to do it. In addition, communication is open and honest. Team members know where they stand and what others think about their work. This helps them move quickly toward solutions and avoid unnecessary delays.
Vision and strategy
Agile leadership also requires a vision and strategic thinking to use as a guide. An agile organisation will regularly review its strategy, and adapt it based upon changing circumstances. The strategy can help a team stay focused and achieve results. Transparency is essential. For a vision to succeed, it must be clearly communicated to all staff so they understand how they can contribute to it.
The core tenets of agile leadership should now be coming clear. Agile concepts of experimentation, iteration, continuous improvement and transparency are at the heart of agile leadership. Consequently, there are inevitably going to be some risks. Whilst these risks cannot be avoided, they can be mitigated. Utilizing iterative experimentation processes, documenting the results, and transparently reviewing the results enables agile leaders to draw clear conclusions and can help ensure improvements are achieved even amidst the flux.
Effective and transparent communication helps teams overcome obstacles so they can accomplish their daily goals. By anticipating and removing roadblocks, effective project managers can help teams succeed.
An agile leader listens intensely and observes closely. When teams face problems, agile leaders seek out opinions from stakeholders to help with innovative improvements. Practical solutions to common problems are most likely to come directly from the people who work on them daily. Agile leaders understand that effective problem-solving comes from the people closest to the problem.
Agile leaders pay attention not just to their own goals but also to the external environment. They keep an eye out for changing trends and shifts in the marketplace and adapt accordingly. They’re always ready to shift gears if necessary.
As a result, organizations led by agile leaders are better able to adapt to a changing environment, in ways that more traditional organizations struggle to achieve.
agileKRC has helped shape agile thinking by leading the teams that developed AgilePM® and PRINCE2 Agile®. We take a practical, success-oriented approach. We begin by taking the time to listen and understand your needs, before offering our real-world experience and expert guidance.