PuppetsHave you heard a manager say this about his or her team? As I have started agile adoptions in various organizations I’ve heard it pretty frequently, and I heard it again just last week. It is a common and understandable lament from the first layers of management that surround delivery teams. Oddly enough though, I think it is well intentioned.


The statement is really not so much "My team cannot be self-organizing" as it is "I don't know how to lead a self-organizing team". In technology organizations people are often promoted into management roles not because of visible management skills, but because they are good technologists. That's fair enough, but then these people are largely left to their own devices to grow as managers without sufficient training, guidance or mentoring. As a result they are very tactically focused and over stressed just to get through the daily demands and urgencies placed on them. So when someone like me comes around promoting a seemingly unreachable promise of organizational growth and productivity, it is natural for them to raise some level of apprehension that their world is about to be disrupted.

This is exactly why I strongly believe that agile adoptions have to look beyond teams to the broader organization.  Leadership is a key success factor in an agile adoption, and many times it is the hardest mindset to change. Much of today's management mindset and technique is firmly anchored in the nineteenth century when management strived to improve productivity by providing instructions and enforcing compliance. This is at the root of "my team cannot be self-organizing". Rod Collins of Optimity Advisors has penned an insightful series of articles that pose a future picture of management and present evidence that it is already in today's business world, even if not widely practiced.

A resource I would cite in addition to those he mentions is the Leadership Agility framework from Bill Joiner and Stephen Josephs. This pragmatic roadmap for leadership development describes a stepwise approach to learning to lead with the intent of control as well as the intent to influence. Combine this with Collin’s thoughts and references and you well on your way

You can learn to lead and grow self-organizing teams, and your organization will thrive as a result. Why wait? Start today!