Agile Is More Than a Set of Methods — It’s a Leadership Mindset

Most still think of agility as a set of skills and methods as opposed to an astonishingly effective and high-performing mindset, culture, and approach to leadership.

A friend of mine condemns many IT organizations as “team ghettos.” Designing a team ghetto is easy: organize developers into teams and organize management into silos over the teams, then watch the predictable inversion layer form between the two environments so that nothing ever gets across whole and unscathed. Fear, uncertainty, and doubt about the other group will rule both environments, and when the pain threshold is exceeded, the “whole team thing” will be declared an disaster and undone.

During my 20 years of consulting and coaching business leaders, I have learned the hard way that you can’t successfully “install” agile skills and methods in an essentially nonagile culture where traditional leadership mindsets prevail. Sure, you can successfully run an agile project or two in such an environment as long as you have the sponsorship and leadership to buffer the project and team from the organization’s attempts to inoculate itself against invasion by agilists.

All over the world, agile skills and methods succeed on a project or two, but then the proponents of this success meet numbing resistance as they attempt to expand agile disciplines into other teams.

Should you wish to work in an agile enterprise, invest in asking and answering a simple question at the enterprise leadership level: How can we operate as an agile leadership team creating and supporting a culture and operating environment of agility for the entire organization? Answer it by studying visionary value statements such as the Agile Manifesto and the Declaration of Interdependence. The Declaration of Interdependence especially is focused on agility as an approach to leadership.

Use these value statements to pose straightforward questions about implementing the Agile mindset:

  • What are our greatest sources of organizational uncertainty, change, or complexity, and how can we welcome instead of fear them?
  • What is the continuous flow of value we are providing to our customers?
  • Are our customers present in our leadership team?
  • How are we actually valuing people, creativity, teams, and innovation?
  • What will be the length of iterations for our leadership team?
  • How will our leaders pair on assignments?
  • What questions will we ask in leadership retrospectives as we end each leadership team iteration?

Agile isn’t just for methods and skills anymore. Agile methods and skills are necessary but not nearly sufficient elements for creating the agile enterprise. Instead, we need to think about agile as a leadership mindset and culture that creates one agile operating context throughout the organization, supporting the rapid and effective movement of people, information, trust, honesty, and information about projects, operations, and results.

Christopher Avery, PhD, is a popular agilist and expert in the only how-to approach for taking and teaching personal responsibility. He is an advisor to leaders worldwide. Find additional resources for mastering agility and leadership or building a responsible team at The Leadership Gift.

Posted in Agile, Coaching, Collaboration, Leadership, Responsibility on 10/12/2010 09:38 am
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