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Agile leadership

Leading agile teams – are you making the classic mistake?

by Keith Richards
Learn to lead agile teams effectively — avoid the common pitfalls and strengthen your leadership.
Leading agile teams

Over the past 2 decades helping organizations become more agile, I have spent a lot of time consultingcoaching and training.

I have helped hundreds of Scrum Masters, team leaders and project managers over the years. And there is one classic mistake I see so often. It’s one I have concluded is the BIGGEST mistake but is the EASIEST to correct.

The irony about this mistake is that even those who are good at leading teams make this mistake! I would guess that two in every three ‘good ones’ fall into this trap.

What are your instincts?

Before I explain the mistake, I want you to answer a simple question and I want you to answer it instinctively and quickly.

Imagine a scenario where you are on an aeroplane and you are sitting next to a young child. This child is very important to you, perhaps a son or daughter, or a niece or nephew.

Suddenly, the cabin loses air pressure and oxygen masks fall from the panels above you. Everyone is panicking. There is chaos. What is the first thing you are going to do, IMMEDIATELY?

So… what did you do? Did you help yourself first or the child first?

When I am coaching and helping people, I often ask this question and the most common reply is that they would put the mask on the child first. Even when I explain that this is a very big mistake and that their actions are decreasing the chances of the child surviving, many people still stick with this option. A familiar comment is: ‘I know it is wrong, but that is the way I am!’

What about in a team context?

So how does this relate to leading a team?

Well, does this sentiment sound familiar – “I always want to be there for the team – 24:7”?

Do you always try and sit with your team, where everyone knows that you are ‘at their disposal’ anytime?

Do you always try and sit with your team so that you can keep ‘your finger on the pulse’ as to what is going on and quickly detect problems?

Many people who lead teams do this but there is a problem with this.

Who is looking after YOU?

What are the side effects of always being available?

Always being available can have disadvantages. Ask yourself these questions:

Are you creating a ‘dependency culture’ where problems are escalated to you more often and more quickly than they should be?

Are you able to concentrate on things YOU need to get right …or is there so much ‘comms traffic’ going on that your brain is jumping between many things?

Are you showing trust and confidence in your team?

You may think you are being a hero and setting a great example – but are you? I am not convinced.

Take timeouts – have ‘me time’.

My advice is to deliberately take ‘timeouts’ from the team environment and go somewhere alone so that you can review that document, check that plan or write that appraisal.

By having a bit of ‘me time’ you will make sure that you are in the best shape to help everyone else, if and when they need it. Surely your team is good enough to survive for one hour a day on their own!

Worth a try …or do you do this anyway?

Many people reading this will already be doing this, but my experiences tell me that most readers will not be. The irony for me is that many of the ‘good ones’ are often the worst offenders!

It is probably because it feels counter-intuitive to deliberately remove yourself from the action. Just like trying to help the child first with their oxygen mask.

But the truth is that you MUST get your oxygen mask on first – in this way you can help those that need help.

Just try it for a week or two. I think you will be amazed!

…and by the way, achieving this ‘me time’ by getting in early and working late is working HARD, not working SMART!

Learn from agile leaders

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.

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