A compelling vision is in place, agile teams have been established, hopefully filled with amazing and fully dedicated agile teammates. Using an Agile methodology, the teams begin to build product roadmaps and backlogs geared towards delivering on the organizational vision and meeting customer needs.
From my experience, the relationship between agile teams and leaders (both senior and mid-level) often start from a tenuous position. The agile teams are trying something new, cool, and exciting. They are building strong relationships within their team and will often become self-healing through retrospectives and continuous improvement. We often bring in Agile coaches to guide them on their transformation journey.
Have we given the same attention to our managers and leaders? Many times the answer is no.
Our teams have been supplied a flashy new methodology but we have not provided our leaders and managers an approach to contribute and support this new agile environment. We expect managers to continue to use existing HR processes, goal setting templates, and performance management practices – most of which do not feel very agile.
How do we begin to harmonize the relationship between leaders/managers and agile teams? Here are a few topics to start the conversation:
Remember leaders are humans too. People are often thought of and treated differently when they are in a leadership position. I have experienced this in the past. As hard as this may seem, learn how to interact with your leaders at a personal level. I realize this may be a touchy subject but I have covered this in a post called “How to Interact with Leaders.”
Establish an approach to performance feedback. Managers are typically expected to perform semi-annual performance reviews for their direct reports but their people are now working in a cross-functional and highly collaborative environment. This often occurs without the manager close enough to observe and gather performance information themselves. Further complicating things, it is often hard for team members on an agile team to openly share feedback to a manager when someone on the team is under-performing.
My suggestion would be to establish a performance feedback approach soon after a team has been created and do this collaboratively with the entire team. Will everyone give 360 feedback on the other members of the team? Should Scrum Masters give feedback on underperforming team mates? Who will supply feedback on the quality of the code being developed? Testers? Other developers? Answering these types of questions early should make the performance management process a little more tolerable and transparent.
Test and experiment with frequent releases. Many leaders will need to adapt to “failure is an option” and “we need to test this theory” thinking. This will require a significant amount of trust between leaders and the product owner and team. Share “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries with your organization if some are struggling with this concept.
Be transparent. Establish team spaces as an open house and invite anyone and everyone to see the team in action. Leaders often come to expect status reports but start setting a “pull” mentality so progress and team health are visible at a glance with minimal effort.
Escalate big impediments quickly. In the next post, we will address how leaders should remove big impediments from a team. Ideally, a Scrum Master will be able to shepherd team impediments to resolution but every so often, a big impediment will emerge. When this happens, bring the impediment to your leaders quickly.