One of my first exercises as a Team Leader was to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the team members of my department. For team analysis I reviewed literature and tools for team assessments. One of the most popular theories of team development procedures is of Bruce Tuckman’s which are described in the “forming–storming–norming–performing” model. This model is very helpful when forming a new team, however it fails somehow to help managers in my situation: where no new team members are recruited but existing team member’s roles are reorganized.
Don´t fool yourself: The reason why you are in a management position is simply that your organization believes you are able to run your tasks within the existing circumstances and with the existing personal and mostly you will not be able to hire and fire people – this is life! And I understand this as a big advantage as the knowledge and experience of the existing employees is the most valueable capability that organizations have. It is for a reason that it is referred to as “human capital”. It is my job as a leader to build on and protect the existing human capital and cocreate the frame for further growth and development.
One of the “management handbooks” I studied for doing the team assessment had one “interesting” advice for the team assessment: Talk to the People! And that is the only advice that I should share from this expert. Other chapters included insights about how to prepare for “interviews”: In preparation, a good manager fills-out a matrix of needed resources and know-how, describes characters and skills required by specific positions and compare the respective team members using the predefined checklist within the interview. At the end, one should choose the best match for a specific position. Isn´t that simple?
To put it mildly: Who seriously believes that team processes and compositions can be steered and managed successfully with checklists and theoretical assessments without extensive dialogs and involving the people should stop reading this post! A conversation with a predefined checklist is by all means not a dialog at all.
I would suggest to apply the following principles when facing an organizational change – regardless if you are aiming towards an agile organization or not. Why? Because a change in an organization is always a complex transition since there are so many unpredictable influences that will just come up after you have started your transitional journey.
“It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out nor more doubtful of success nor more dangerous to handle than to initiate a new order of Things” – Machiavelli
Why am I confident that those four principles provide a good start to assess your team’s transformation? Because of the failures we went through during our transition: When we started the change, I collected abundant information, evaluated and checked it for possible application. I decided that we are going to implement the Scrum framework and prepared a 92 pages slide deck in order to present the department changes to my team.
After 4 hours of intensively treating them with my “agile medicine” I looked into my team members exhausted eyes – knowing that doing something for the best and doing something well are two complete different things.
So we reached out again for help and structured our next attempt somewhat closer to the ideas below.
Put the Teams Needs in the center of your personal Transformation
As already mentioned, I absolutely believe that modern teams must be lead by common sense meaningful work and extended transparent dialogues not by extrinsic motivation! Guided by a clear vision, Team members should intend to perform well and archive outstanding results for businesses customer(s). Two types of transformations are guided by seminal questions: For business transformation the main question must be: “How can we satisfy our customer the most by delivering fast and high quality product value”. However, for the organizational Transformation the guiding question is: “How do we organize ourselves in order to efficiently create value for our customer”. It might be necessary to start the application of this principle with small teams and then extend it further, however don’t forget to always ask for members involvement.
Your team is the center of your personal Transition
For you as the Leader the Basic question is: “How can I serve my Team the best in order to support them create customer value?” In your role you are not the “man of action” – there are no natural born geniuses that can rearrange the organization by simply looking at people and processes and be highly productive. If such transformation succeeds: lucky you. In order to enhance your chance of success, act as a communication facilitator and use all kinds of sources that is at your proposal: Team experiences, customer feedback and peers opinions. Instead of having series of one-to-one conversations, don´t fear to bring team members together and help them visualize and understand the main strengths and weaknesses with an outside-in perspective.
Use inspect and adapt techniques
Too many times I have observed senior managers making the decision about to be introduced management frameworks as a prelude decision – including myself at the beginning of my journey. Instead of making big plans about how a position can be staffed with your own personal ideas: work, share and consult the team step by step in order to develop a new organizational structure.
Many agile coaches will sell you a kind of “framework coaching” where they offer the key basics of Scrum or Kanban. But guess what: If these frameworks are not simple, they will not prove effective! Frameworks, principles and rules are so easily understood and they do not need your focus in the first place. It is the tailoring of theoretical frameworks to your personal situation; organization and team that needs you full attention!
The fundamental idea of agile is to receive early and continuous feedback, learn fast and adapt to future decisions according to the information gained in the Progress of your transition. Regardless of your approach (Kanban, Scrum or others) for your transition, keep a regular cadence for iterative planning, content wise reviews and transition-retrospectives!
Use agile Tools to lead your transformation
As always: start with the vision. Although other people may have input it is your personal responsibility as the Leader to clearly provide a vision of the future picture of your organization after the transition. The vision shall explain how your transition supports the organization’s strategies and focus on customer value. It summarizes what your team is trying to achieve and will be referred to over and over throughout the transition.
Once the vision is clear, start to fill your “Transition Backlog”. A good and structured method to derive backlog items is the Agile Strategy Map™ . If you apply this technique (or a different method if you wish) you will create numerous potential activities and measures. You should always ask yourself what is the one measure that will have the biggest influence to customer value chain and position that at first position of your transition backlog (again, whenever possible use the network-intelligence of your teams to support you). Or you identify the one measure that has the best ratio between value and implementation effort. In many cases it is sufficient and in all cases advisable to concentrate on this first transition activity for the first iteration. I would always advise you to just concentrate on one change at the time. Groom and reprioritize your transition backlog continuously within the iteration period, add or delete activities according to your progress, leaving the measures “in Action” untouched for the implementing team.
Be prepared for the unexpected
As a personal hint for your Transition: Always be prepared for the unexpected. There are people involved in the transition – with all their fears, expectations, experiences, career plans, whishes, conflicts, failures, strength, and values. You and your team members will react differently and departure from the expected behaviors. Especially at the beginning of your transition they are going to mistrust every measure, since they know from the past that each gain has its cost. Your major responsibilities within the transition are your patience and tireless efforts to gain trust within your team. Without trust there is simply no transition that will succeed – especially no agile transition.
However, you will have to face the fact that the transition will probably not end with all man or board. Not every member of your department might be mature and willing for self-organization and team collaboration. And it is important to respect this and value the needs of thouse employees as well. This is true for a variety of activities your department currently does as well, but this will be a different Story!
“There are people involved in the transition – with all their fears, expectations, experiences, career plans, whishes, conflicts, failures, strength, and values. Knowing this, your major responsibilities within the Transition are your patience and tireless efforts to gain trust within your Team” – #EMPOWERING.TEAM