What is Agile Leadership and why to embrace it?

What is Agile leadership? Digital transformation has changed the way many organizations work. Markets are more volatile, product life cycles are becoming shorter, and customers and users are demanding more sophisticated products and services tailored to their needs.

In this changing environment, a change in the company’s management mentality is absolutely essential for enterprises if they do not want to lose competitiveness in their market and being more agile when it comes to providing solutions that represent value in the market. And it is here, in the management of both teams and companies, where Agile leadership emerges. What does it consist of? Is it a passing fad?

Agile methodologies and the need to adapt to change

Companies have had to face many changes over the last 10-15 years as a result of digital transformation. Internet and cloud technologies have brought with it new and disruptive business opportunities previously unthinkable. And an environment in which the sustainability of companies and their competitiveness in the market is a matter, in many cases, of launching a product or service that does not meet the needs that customers demand at that time.

As a result, teams and organizations have been forced to change. Delivering value in the form of products and services tailored to users’ needs as soon as possible has become the top priority for enterprises. And, for this purpose, methodologies such as Agile and Lean have served to put on the table different frameworks on which the different work teams in charge of the design, development and production of products and services can deliver them in the shortest possible time.

The teams have also had to change their physiognomy and ways of working. Continuous learning based on experimentation and trial error has become indispensable in Agile teams not only for the development of products and services but also for the optimization of processes and workflows, which is indispensable for delivering value efficiently and in the shortest possible time.

And all this in a context in which collaboration between the different work areas of the organization is increasingly necessary to achieve business objectives, where methodologies such as OKR, where the different initiatives of the company’s project portfolio must be created and prioritized in pursuit of the achievement of a series of objectives and key results, make it necessary to implement a business culture where agility, knowledge, the motivation of the workers and working by objectives play a fundamental role.

Command&Control vs Agile leadership

And, in this scenario, what is the role of managers? Before the digital transformation era, the responsibilities of team managers, commonly referred to as ‘Bosses’, were basically limited to:

  • Command: in the sense of being the only authorized voice within the team to decide which projects and initiatives are implemented, as well as to allocate the necessary resources, and to determine delivery dates, already established in advance by his superior or Top Management.
  • Control, i.e., making sure that team members are doing the assigned projects and tasks, monitoring their progress and indicating any modifications that need to be made at their sole discretion.

In contrast to this highly hierarchical management, the digital transformation brought with it departments and organizations that need to work in an agile and iterative way. Agile teams must be able to adapt to change, be made up of people from different backgrounds and with totally different ways of thinking and working, who must be motivated and made aware of the importance and value of their work for the company as a whole.

Managers and resistance to change

A paradigm shift in which traditional leadership is struggling to find its space. While in many corporations the word ‘Boss’ has evolved to other terms such as ‘Manager Or ‘Team Leader’, which may denote an expansion of their competencies within this role, focused on ensuring efficient management of people and roles within the team, The truth is that in the Agile era a different way of approaching management is required.

One of the main reasons why many organizations fail when trying to implement Agile or Lean is precisely because of their leaders’ resistance to change in this new context. Instilling in these people the importance of embracing this new form of agile leadership is essential for the success of the organization and the teams and people they manage.

What is Agile leadership?

Now, what is Agile Leadership? Contrary to the personalism and hierarchical approach of traditional management, Agile Leadership seeks to enable teams to reach their full potential by focusing on professional development and continuous learning, in participation in decision making, and in using failures as a source of strengthening the competencies of the teams and the people who compose them.

In an increasingly competitive market, where users, due to the infinite range of products and services available to them, are becoming more and more demanding. the Agile approach helps companies to focus on what really adds value.

In this context, Agile leaders, unlike traditional hierarchical management based on the chain of command and control, must act as facilitators, so that their teams can develop their full potential and deliver value to the organization in the shortest possible time.

For this, and leaving aside the tasks of Command and Control mentioned before, Agile leadership is sustained by a series of functions that will make it possible for all team members to focus on their projects, initiatives, tasks, etc … in an efficient way.

A leader beyond the Agile team

Whether you are a Scrum Master, PMO manager, Product Owner… Agile leaders must serve as an inspiration, both for their team members and the entire organization, and act as a reference for change and Agile practices.

There is no point in leading an Agile team if, for example, the Scrum Master is reluctant to cooperate with other teams, or hinders the professional development and learning of his employees. Agile leaders must lead by example by promoting these good practices. Not with words, but with deeds, and thus be a reference and that others follow the path.

Continuous learning as the key to being more agile

Agile teams often have to work with complex projects that require learning new skills that not all team members have. In the Agile methodology itself, there are events, such as the retrospective at the end of each Sprint, in which, after analyzing the progress made in that Sprint, the Scrum Master or other team members can detect knowledge deficits to carry out certain tasks.

In these situations, Agile leaders, if they detect the need that one or more people need training in a particular area, instead of approaching it as an impediment to the completion of certain tasks and projects, should see it as an opportunity to improve the team and be more efficient in delivering value to the organization.

Therefore, Agile leadership, instead of hindering their teams from acquiring knowledge for fear that they may leave the organization, should encourage continuous training in their teams so that they develop more skills that, in the end, will represent a differential value for the organization.

Motivated teams and people

A leader alone cannot keep everyone in the organization motivated. The challenge for Agile leaders here is not to keep all staff happy, satisfying the individual interests of each of them. The challenge for Agile leaders here is not to keep all the staff happy by satisfying the individual interests of each of them but to eliminate those factors that can be a demotivating element for people, such as:

  • Lack of a training plan for employees.
  • The impossibility of being able to carry out a professional career in the company.
  • Not being able to be part of the decision-making within the team.
  • Lack of autonomy to be able to perform your tasks
  • Etc.

Eliminate obstacles and bottlenecks

In project management or product or service development, different teams may encounter blocking points that prevent them from moving forward or bottlenecks that make progress along some of the tasks slower than desirable.

Agile leaders must act as facilitators. That is, if the members of an Agile team encounter blocking elements when developing a project, product, etc., it is the Scrum Master’s task to take control and do everything in its power to unlock it.

Decentralization of decision-making

Unlike in more traditional companies, where managers ultimately have the last word in all decisions, Agile leadership encourages the delegation of decisions to other people within the organization. For an agile delivery of products and services, hierarchical decision-making will only create bottlenecks and delay delivery dates.

Decentralizing decision-making will make the workflow of Agile teams more efficient. This does not mean that all decisions can be delegated since certain decisions of a strategic nature for the team or the organization cannot be decentralized. But you can delegate certain decisions to those people who, due to their role or experience, are qualified to take them.

Benefits of Agile leadership

Agile leaders, thanks to these new functions that they have to perform in this new business context, become a key element in achieving the strategic objectives of organizations. This new type of leadership inspires people to give their best, to get involved in what they are doing, and to feel fulfilled once the team and the organization have achieved the goals they have set.

Companies that continue to refuse to accept this new reality and delay this new type of management will see how their strategic objectives and market positioning will suffer. There are countless benefits that Agile leadership brings to the organization, but we can summarize them in five.

Teams focused on delivering value

Agile leadership encourages teams to focus on what really matters and brings value to the organization, being efficiency and excellence the guiding principles that light the way for Agile teams. By focusing only on initiatives and processes that really add value to the organization, Agile leaders make their teams more efficient.

Teamwork as the basis for the achievement of objectives

With Agile leadership, there is no more personalism or organizational silos. The new management focuses on teams and the value they provide to the organization. Teams should be made up of people from different backgrounds so that each person can learn from everyone else and there is no room for egocentrism. And they must also be open to constantly cooperate with other areas of the organization so that, together, the strategic objectives of the organization are achieved.

Resilience and strength in the face of adversity

Agile teams are resilient to change. The work of many Agile teams in areas like development, hardware, software, engineering, IT, etc., is based on experimentation and trial-and-error testing. Agile leaders want their teams not to fear failure and adversity, but to use them as an opportunity for improvement.

Today’s changing environment requires solid leaders and teams that are capable of using failure not as a pretext to point fingers and purge responsibilities but to improve and become stronger as a team.

Process and workflow optimization

Agile focuses on delivering value in the shortest possible time. Agile leaders have to eliminate all those elements that can be an obstacle for their teams to work efficiently. Therefore, companies that adopt this approach focus on optimizing their processes and workflows so that teams can deliver value in a timely manner.

Increased commitment to the organization

The good practices promoted by Agile leadership make people feel identified with their team and with the mission and vision of the organization. By involving them in the success of the company, allowing them to fully develop professionally by encouraging continuous training, and allowing them to participate in decision-making in the organization, you achieve a higher rate of employee commitment to the organization and, therefore, a lower turnover of staff in the company.

Conclusion: Agile Leadership, the path to your organization’s success

Thanks to this new Agile leadership approach, companies can focus on what really brings value to the organization. They are more flexible to change, thanks in large part to the possibility for individuals and teams to develop their competencies, and to extend the decision-making core to more elements within the teams and the company.

If you are already implementing an Agile approach in your department but there are certain managers who are reluctant to see the advantages of the change, don’t worry, follow the Agile practices themselves so that they join this new approach. Train them, make them participate in a greater number of decisions and, ultimately, lead by example so that Agile practices end up prevailing throughout the organization.

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