October 28, 2020

cedric-lachat

education gives you strength

The importance of leadership development skills in an Agile world

5 min read
This article was written for our sponsor, Vaco. Workplace culture is more than just a...

This article was written for our sponsor, Vaco.

Workplace culture is more than just a buzzword on job listings. In a professional world often plagued by stress, a positive workplace can lead to healthier employees, higher productivity, and extended employee tenures.

And now, with many companies navigating a more virtual workplace, a strong leader is more important than ever in establishing a positive company culture.

All leadership styles are different, and thus produce different results, but as the world and the technology in it continues to change and become more Agile, the workplace — and those who lead it — need to adopt an Agile mindset as well.

“I used to think that success was about me. It wasn’t that I was selfish or self-centered, but from a leadership point of view, I would pick project plans, I would drive technology decisions, I would tell people what to do,” said Bob Galen, an Agile coach at Vaco, a Raleigh-based business consulting management firm. “I suddenly made a pivot, and I understood that the success wasn’t about me, it was about the teams. It was about the people doing the work. That doesn’t mean that leadership isn’t important, but it tries to flip it around and bring the leader closer to the team and the team closer to the customers and stakeholders.”

At Vaco, Galen helps coach companies on how to enhance their mindset and culture in order to build a strong workplace foundation, and Agile plays a major role in that coaching.

Agile isn’t just an adjective for the ideal workplace, however; it’s also an official manifesto. Principles behind the mindset include welcoming and harnessing change, frequent collaboration, regular service offering updates, and honest self-evaluation and reflection. While the Agile Manifesto was initially created for software development companies, the flexibility of the core principles has made it popular across all sectors.

“What we’ve come to learn over the last decade is that Agile can be applied in a lot of other places beyond software. It can be applied beyond even what the original founders intended, since it really is about a cultural shift to empower teams and have leadership understand command and control,” said Arjay Hinek, an Agile coach and process program manager at Red Hat. “So many business schools are still pumping out managers who think that they need to follow a command and control approach. That just doesn’t work — particularly in software, but even in today’s changing world and economy, it doesn’t hold up very well. Putting people in groups and teams requires even greater focus from a leader’s perspective and magnifies the importance of giving people the room and encouragement they need to work and make mistakes.”

As the workforce becomes younger and more flexible, workplace culture can be a make or break factor in accepting a job. Employees may not have a name for the type of workplace they’re seeking out, but with an emphasis on flexibility, independence, and collaboration, Agile ticks off most of the boxes, giving workplaces that utilize it a competitive edge over other employers.

In order to successfully execute and maintain an Agile workplace that attracts this new workforce, company leadership will need to develop the skills to help it grow, thinking from less of a top-down approach and encouraging self-awareness and individual initiative.

“Leaders provide vision and direction and support teams. There’s this notion of servant leadership, and it’s about getting things out of the team’s way so that they can be successful. Really, that’s the essence of Agile — reestablishing that balance. If you can do that, you get genuinely good results,” Galen said. “It’s empowerment, it’s leaders establishing the right balance, getting diverse teams, then creating the space where teams can be self-led.”

As Galen emphasizes, there are many moving parts that contribute to an Agile workplace, not just team balance. Throughout the 12 principles, other elements include customer satisfaction, face-to-face teamwork, self-organizing teams, and regular reflections on efficiency and culture.

With an Agile work environment becoming a hot topic of conversation in the corporate world, it falls to team leaders and management to ensure they’re taking steps to make their workplace functional and desirable.

Oftentimes, those steps can’t be taken without creating a diverse team in the first place.

“There’s this example in a book from England back in the 1800s, where people were guessing the weight of things. You would have the loan expert guess, then you would have the crowd guess. If you aggregated their scores, then [the crowd’s] number would always be more accurate. So, in decision making and discovery, they’ll level out,” said Galen.” There’s this notion in Agile of creating high-performing, cross-functional, diverse teams then leaving them alone, so getting that recipe right is fundamental. It’s racial diversity and gender diversity, but it’s also technology diversity and skillset diversity.”

Echoed Hinek, “We try to coach the leaders like their job is to create and grow new leaders. You’re trying to remove this mindset of hierarchy and asking permission, and transform it instead to pushing decision making and leadership down to the team level, because everyone on the team has leadership potential.”

Both Hinek and Galen agree the Agile concept doesn’t always come naturally to some leaders since it’s less about checking off boxes and more about changing habits and mindsets, but in their role as coaches, they hope to see leaders allow themselves flexibility to grow into the process.

Of course, workplaces aren’t one size fits all, but in order to bend the rules of Agile to fit individual companies, it’s important to understand each of the 12 principles in the first place. Agile coaches can help lay down the groundwork, then allow leaders to step in and find the best way to modify it to their own workplace.

In doing so, they can create a strong foundation for building future leaders within their own organizations and beyond, creating a ripple effect in the professional world.

“In an Agile organization, people see that they’re valued, and their thoughts, actions and work as a team member are valued, then it just continues to magnify down the line. If that person becomes a leader, they’re even more attuned to make sure teams work and are more transparent,” said Hinek. “Leaders who have experience being trusted by another leader will continue to grow on those skills and reach new levels of transparency and efficiency. It all fans out and becomes a flattened organizational chart that ultimately spreads throughout the whole company.”

“It’s a social explosion,” Hinek finished. “I think in a good way, we needed an explosion like this.”

This article was written for our sponsor, Vaco.

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