Snips and Snails, and Puppy Dog Tails, is that what Agile Leadership is made of?

Let’s face it, we are all doomed. But it’ll take some time before this madness ends. And during that time the world is becoming increasingly complex. The speed of change is faster than ever and more and more is demanded from the leaders. Managing actions and expecting results won’t get you there. Leaders who affect on experiences and beliefs are creating culture that welcomes change. It is quite easy to change those in present and in the future. Have an open mind, search for positive exceptions and find positive explanations. You will create more positive culture for learning and creativity. And by using techniques from NLP it is possible to even change the meanings of one’s experiences and beliefs in the past.
And this is why Agile Leadership is needed. These are some of the topics we went through on our two and a half day course of Certified Agile Leadership by Agile42.

Cynefin – Embrace the Suck

complexity-cynefin.jpgI’d like to return on one word from the past chapter: complex. It is the most interesting domains of the Cynefin Framework. The field of unknown unknowns is where one can

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deduce cause and effect only in retrospect. There are no right answers. Thus we as leaders need to create safe to fail experiments. We cannot solve complex problems with best practices. Software development is very much in the complex domain. Agile offers many tools for solving problems in that domain: reflection and improving, collaboration and continuous delivery. If you’re good, you will push many problems to complicated or even obvious domain for example by utilizing automation. Welcome the complex and do some magic!

Giving Your Team the AMP up

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Motivating your team is sometimes difficult. Relying on extrinsic motivators such as money or using the good-old carrot and stick approach does not work when your tasks call for even rudimentary cognitive skill. And even when they do work – the mechanical tasks – you are using a shrinking pie. Offering teams the AMP – Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose – utilizes intrinsic motivators. And they do work! And yet again Agile has tricks for this one too. It introduces pull and self-organization for autonomy. It offers collaboration, feedback, and trial & error for mastery. And it gives you holistic responsibility for purpose. And there are many factors in this growing pie of motivators. Listen to your team and you will learn what will make them tick!

All Hands on DECK!

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Self-Organization is extremely important. The more responsibility the team has the more flexible, robust and innovative the team will be. As a leader one should make sure that the teams has a right direction and suitable environment. Removing unnecessary constraints is equally vital. The team will increase it’s own knowledge base as it goes on. And this will speed up the development. Aiming to Self-Designing Teams should be a standard in any agile organization. This means for example that team itself designs who belongs to the team and who does not. Of course those teams also manage their progress and process. And execute their tasks.

When Your Heart and Brain Are Happy Together

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To be a successful leader in an agile context one needs to have emotional intelligence. It falls into self- and social oriented parts. It also splits into how aware one is of oneself and how one handles things. So, emotional intelligence consists of self and social awareness, self management and social skills. Does things like self-confidence, empathy, self-control, initiative, visionary and good communication skills sound like the qualities of a great leader? Another wonderful thing is that one can develop each of these attributes.

Agile Meets Antifragile

Let’s step onwards from the team level to consider the whole organization. We should think more on what happens to the organization when risks realize or some crisis emerge. A fragile organization worries nothing and acts in a naive way. In an emergency it breaks, even in a catastrophic way. A robust organization can resist known stressors, and it should be a minimal level for any company. In a contrast, a resilient system reforms itself during disturbances. Finally it retains the same identity than before. Antifragile systems are the sovereign champions in the organizational map. They can increase their capabilities and grow stronger in response to stress. They are the truest of agile and learning organizations!

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To achieve this, there are some things one could experiment. Engage people more. Be empirical and apply local validation. Introduce teams to iterative & incremental development. Have some defined metrics. Create emergent standardization when you can. And this is basically what Agile Leadership is made of.

But Wait! There’s More!

Ok, say that you agree on all the above. But to shine and thrive as an agile leader you need good knowledge and understanding of agile values and principles. You need to deal less with things that are going wrong and help things go right more. Systems thinking will be useful. You should:
“Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.”
You should know at least three different leadership styles and be able to choose the right one for each occasion. Practice Benjamin Franklin’s Thirteen Virtues. Follow simple advice of Michelle Eileen McNamara “It’s chaos. Be kind.”

 

12 Crucial Skills for Remote Leadership

I participated in Remote Forever Summit last week. There were many good sessions. But Charlie Birch’s (@BurnoutBunisher) talk about Celebrating Human Connection in a Digital World ticked the most boxes for me . In this session she listed 12 skills needed for successful remote leadership. I spent few days thinking them from my perspective and decided to share my thoughts.

Remote Mindset

Working remote is not about location. It doesn’t have to hinder collaboration, instead offices hinder independent work. Of course, you need to collaborate but collaboration tends to happen in short bursts. Then it’s time for independent work such as writing this article. To be a great tribal lead for 20 remote working people I need to trust them. Which is quite easy since they’re all such professionals.

Overcoming Obstacles

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Yes, there will be obstacles in remote work. How do I maintain my focus? How can I be sure that I’m productive? As a leader one of my biggest goals is to inspire my tribe members. If I want to work remotely more often, I need to find a way to be an inspiration without constant face-to-face communication. Using Slack and mobile phone are good ways of reaching out. And most of them work at the customer offices so for me they are always “remote”.

Company Culture

Company needs to understand the value of remote work. It has proven to increase productivity and satisfaction. Open communication and feedback are key elements to foster culture that enables remote work. I value transparency high and luckily so does my employer. Leader who wants to encourage remote work needs also to set clear goals and manage expectations.

Cultural Competency

Effective interaction with people who have different cultural influences is necessity also for remote leader. That’s because you’re not working only with your hypothetical identical twin. So you need tolerance to difference. Only then can you match your coaching with the person you are serving as a leader. Same applies also when your people are working remotely. There might be even more variance in their needs. And I see great opportunities in this. I can gain cultural competence by traveling. And I love to travel. So it’s a win-win-win situation!

Social Support

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Socially supporting remote workers at least the same level as those working colocated is hard. It is one of the biggest challenge I’ve faced as a leader. I’ve solved this by paying extra attention to people online. I have also used enablers such as technical solutions to strengthen social interactions. Also, making sure that everybody gets enough 1-on-1 time from the leader is very important in creating trust.

Role Clarity

Making sure that everybody knows their role is one important task for the leader of a remote team. This does not mean that the leader should tell them how to organize. It means supporting them in their self-organization by communicating goals and targets clear. My tribe members don’t work in a single team or even at the same customer. But what I can offer them is coaching and mentoring in their obstacles. And many time it’s about how to bring the most of their competence in to use in a challenging environment. To me, that is clarifying their consultant role.

Communication

There is one thing that rises up many times when discussing communication in remote teams: asynchronous communication. It’s the backbone of effective remote leadership. But people need synchronous communication as well. So yes, I do use Slack or mail to send messages but I try to concentrate on phone calls or meeting face-to-face. The more important thing it is, the more “live and present” way of communication I use. Making sure that each conversation has a purpose is important, because people don’t want to be bother for nothing when they are working remotely.

Technical Management

Coaching and being an example. Those are my main tools as a leader and manager. Coordinating my tribe members and sales activities is closest to the actual managing I need in my work. This is due to the fact that our company is very Lean and trusts it’s employees. Finding ways to plan and design activities that makes the company go

Collective Knowledge

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” – Benjamin Franklin

Developing the whole group is important. In my tribe we share experiences and learnings in our projects time to time. We also try to generate insights and generalisations which can be again applied to other projects as well. And after such sessions we put those findings available so people can read them whenever they have the time. This way they are available also to those who were not online or at the same location. Investing in life long learning is something held in great value here at Siili. Enhancing collective knowledge enhances collaboration – especially with remote teams

Self-Management

Each person should take responsibility in one’s own behaviour and well-being. And encouraging this is one crucial task and mindset for a leader. Remote leadership underlines this need mightily. I see coaching as a good approach. Setting goals and helping tribe member achieve those goals is a process where the coachee learns self-management.

Self Care

This is very close to self-management in my perspective. One needs to have a healthy body and mind to succeed. And to be a good leader for remote people you need to be in shape both physically and mentally to be there for your team. One thing you can do this is to go to the woods with your team – remotely! Using modern technologies you could all go in the nearest trees and have a walk. Calm down and meditate a bit, if you like. Keep on finding ways to look for the heal and cure.

Lifestyle

Remote mindset tends to go together with a lifestyle supporting remote work. But the correlation is not clear to me. But I see that making time for your close ones and yourself is very important. People with both personal and professional goals have been the most enthusiastic folks I have been coaching. So balance is the key.

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So, I will continue coaching people to take responsibility in their own goals and to find meaningful ways of working and learning aside.

Winning the Competive Edge with Learning Organizations

A learning organization encourages individuals and teams to continuous learning and improvement. Strong values and clear vision head those organizations. And their direction is to work closer to the customer and responding to the change quicker. They tend to learn from others and question their own behaviour. Learning organizations also tolerate flaws and even learn from them. This should be the reality for any agile team and organisztion.

Learning is the lifeblood of organization

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People face change all kinds of changes in their work life all the time. This means that learning continues in different forms through out the whole career. Also the life cycle of an organization include constant learning. They face new things, operating models, situations and so forth which needs adaptation. And that requires learning. Changes in information technology has increased the need to react faster to change. Real competitive edge comes from that the organization learns faster than its competitors. Thus importance of competence and know-how to success has increased.
Succeeding in fast changing and unpredictable environment demands constant change and recurrence, learning. Only innovative organization can produce better services and end up beating its rivals. Organization’s results must improve all the time. And so the performance of organization and its employee must get better. So effectiveness is dependent on learning. Learning faster than competitors wins you the Competitive edge!

Learning within the team and the organization

Learning is a process where individual gains new skills, competences, experiences and contacts. Learning is in fact creating knowledge by shaping experiences. The process starts from the will to learn from experiences. Then, one should have time to ponder different opinions and facts to gain knowledge. Finally one should understand and apply new knowledge to generate new experiences. And so the learning process starts again.
Let’s look all this from the organization point of view. By following this process, it has the ability to renew itself. This happens by transforming its values, processes and ways of working. In practice this happens by acquiring new competence and make use of it immediately. Organizational learning is also a process that integrates individual and team level learning. Individual learning is often intuitive and interacted to team level as shared knowledge. This can again solidify as practices within the organization.
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The learning objectives must derive from the strategy. This ensures that organizational learning is more than the sum of individuals’ learning. The organization should encourage and support employees to experiment outside their job description. It should also increase supportive interaction. This can happen by removing focus on single department results and hastiness. Making small everyday insights and improvements beats big radical inventions!
Good contact networks between individuals and teams contributes to whole organization’s learning capabilities. Individuals facilitates continuous learning. Teams enable sharing knowledge. Shared vision and values of the organization guides learning towards something great.

Is the Learning Organization too much asked for?

Every organization learns. But successful organization learns, adapts and changes faster than its competitors. It also allows mistakes. Learning organization guides itself: reduce, crystallize, simplify, focus and see the whole. It balances efficiency, learning and wellbeing.
Learning organization has ten theses:
  1. Learning organization is a whole
  2. Learning organization needs values that support learning
  3. Goal-oriented action requires goal-oriented learning
  4. Learner crafts own motives to learn along the the organizations goals
  5. Knowing and mastering are important. Learning and learning to learn are more important
  6. Give people opportunity to engage – change will succeed better
  7. Management’s mission is to build frames and to support learning in organization
  8. Value the past, but help abandon it
  9. Training is important, but one requires other means too
  10. Don’t start changes if you can’t finish them
The learning organization has many definitions:
It is an undivided whole, led consciously. It’s key organization and individual level factors affiliates into common direction. It focuses on identifying impediments, applying and evaluating means.
A learning organization is one that seeks to create its own future. That assumes learning is an ongoing and creative process for its members. A process that develops, adapts, and transforms itself. It responses to the needs and aspirations of people, both inside and outside itself.
What should we learn within the learning organization? Learning to learn is in the essence. And that leads to reflection, using retrospectives to gain insight on improvement actions. Every task should appear as an opportunity to learn and improve. Learning from everyday tasks links new insights into concrete actions. Ten most valuable learning skills for organizational learning are:
  1. Systems thinking
  2. Models leading internal action
  3. Strategic learning
  4. Feedback systems on individual, team and organization level
  5. Self-management
  6. Team learning
  7. Dialog
  8. Shared vision
  9. Benefiting from information systems
  10. Sharing of knowledge

Mental-model

Want your organization to rock at learning?

Superstar learning organization needs new dimensions to leadership. You need builders and trendsetters. Questioners and facilitators. Provokers and assessors of whole. You need to enable cooperation and collaboration to create lean and progressive organization.
So as a leader introduce principles from Lean to your organization. Remind individuals and teams about relentless reflection (Hansei) – even daily. Show them secrets of continuous improvement (Kaizen) on small steps. Create pattern of retrospectives to support both of these. Consider applying Shu-Ha-Ri into your organization. We in Siili Solutions have done this for example with our Master & Apprentice programs.
Remember to learn daily and that learning should be fun.

Employee Engagement – Towards Great Success

Jobs and tasks are now more demanding and challenging than before. Also changes are more intense and rapid. Additionally to this people feel they are in constant hurry and increased uncertainty. No wonder coping at work has become even more important! And coping is not only lack of symptoms of burnout or work stress. It is also not reasonable to describe people’s wellbeing unilaterally from the problem-oriented point of view. Measuring the lack of “badness” doesn’t often lead into actions that increases “goodness”. Thus looking from the flip side of the issue – the employee engagement – is the way towards success.

Burnout in few words

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To make the vocabulary clear, some words from the “dark side”. Burnout’s origins are in the interaction between work environment and individual. The needs and requirements and the person’s requirements are often imbalanced. It often means that the person’s expectations and available opportunities are also lopsided. Typical to burnout are excessive workload, low opportunities of influence, insufficient rewards, lacking the community and justice and conflicting values.

Ok, what about Employee Engagement?

Employee engagement is a state which is general, permanent, positive and affective-motivational. It’s typical qualities are energy, dedication and immersion. Employee engagement doesn’t focus on single point, event, person or act. One can say that employee engagement is enjoying, loving and being proud of the work! People engaged to their job wants to invest in it more, they are persistent and eager to push it even when facing obstacles. They feel their work meaningful and even inspire themselves in challenging situations. So instead of cynicism where temporary experiences of high one feels like being in a constant flow!
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How can employee engagement be increased within an organisation? One way is to offer them more autonomy so that they seek for meaningful challenges that stretch themselves the right amount at the right time. As Ayala Pines has said:
“To be able to burn out, person must first be in fire.”
It is possible to feel stress and exhaustion without the lacking of autonomy. But I’d like to agree with professor Pines that burnout requires the phase of being engaged. Challenge is to keep the flame of engagement burning at a sustainable pace.
Also certainty in matching expectations and opportunities facilitates the feeling of employee engagement. Constant constructive feedback empowers one to improving oneself. This enables the positive and dedicated state which is the cornerstone of employee engagement. Combining work and personal life gives inspiration and energy.

This all is very interesting… but what next?

So, it is clear that we would like our colleagues and employees to feel engagement to their jobs. Studies states that it’ll lead to higher productivity and increased profitability.

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Giving software artisans and craftspersons the means to reach mastery, purpose and autonomy is way to make us motivated. Daniel Pink elaborates this in his TED talk and RSA AnimationAgile teams with enough autonomy tends to seek the purpose (common goal) and develop mastery (ways of working) in their journey.
But solely bolstering teams in the expense of the individual needs does no quite cut it. Yes, the team is the main unit in agile development, but some attention should give to personal expectations, needs and motivations. Good coaches do this to enable the personal engagement.
So, don’t focus on only removing the things causing burnout. Strengthen things that makes people feel more engagement to their jobs.