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Agile, and yet successful?

How supposedly "old" leadership tools may help that modern methods do not end in self-locking


"Are you agile yet, or are you still leading?" Do you ask yourself that from time to time? In a time of digital change, there is no way around agile ways of working, right? No matter if team boards, Kanban or stand-up meetings: you just have to do that and promote it if you want to be a modern boss. All teams are then highly motivated, define their own direction, deliver great results at every sprint, and all we bosses have left is the task of coaching our employees and counting the money that all the new business models will produce. Wonderful new world. I am really looking forward to it, because then I will have much more time for my life-work balance. Beautiful dream. However, back to reality.


Agile working methods are nothing new. Companies always start out agile because they are in an environment of great uncertainty and therefore have to feel their way forward. An incremental approach is indispensable because the big plan does not yet exist. Experiment and keep moving. Always check progress. Small teams sit or stand together and talk. Think. Discuss. Reflect. Develop new ideas and decide: who does what until next Monday? Nowadays process-loving companies try to break up their homemade silos and structures with these start-up methods. Countless "agile teams" in all possible areas work cross-functionally and accelerate tankers like speedboats? Do you really believe that something like this can succeed?


I think you can make a difference with such new methods. However, provided you consider a few supposedly old-fashioned leadership elements. First and foremost: a powerful strategy. My forecast: Companies that set out into the agile world and send teams off without having a powerful strategy on which the teams can orient themselves will fail. However, perhaps on their way towards the agility chaos the teams will experience a lot of fun. In the beginning. Leaders who don't understand and reflect where agile methods actually help will find themselves in the midst of frustrated people. After countless workshops, teams may find out that they can't even detach their agile team from the existing organization because there may be too many interdependencies that need to be considered. Or maybe at some point they will notice that you are dependent on the input of other teams, who in turn do not care about them.Value streams need to be thought through from beginning to end. Even in agile organizations: teams in dependencies must be coordinated with each other. Ultimately, what counts is the agility of the company as a whole, not the agility of a single team. A single fidgety fish helps little. The formation of the entire swarm makes the difference.


Maybe teams will just banally find out that the team board doesn't help them because there is simply too much work for too few people. Colorful, agile cards are no magic wand. If you're about to embark on the agile transformation of your company, I'd like to ask you a question that can perhaps produce a valuable thought-provoking impulse: how many executives do you have in the company who can make strategy? And I'm not talking about a sales growth curve. Rather the description of a direction and a playing field on which the agile teams can cavort and work creatively. What do we want to do, what not? Why is this question relevant? If we don't manage to describe the playing fields, then our agile teams will think and develop in all kinds of different directions. That does not have to be a problem with a singular team. It may even be desired. But if several parallel teams move, without mutual coordination and without the clearly described framework of what is permissible and what is not, sooner or later the transformation ends in chaos. Similar to a children's birthday party, where no frame and no limits are set. That can be fun, but it does not necessarily have to be.


In this sense I would like to encourage you: define the sandbox and its limits, define the common strategy and make the interdependencies transparent, before you send agile teams to improve the world! Your employees will be grateful.


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