I find myself navigating an exciting stage in my life as an Agile Coach between new clients and new horizons. This will be a month where I might write less on this blog, and I have a reason that I'll tell you later, but I didn't want to let the week go by without at least one new post. And today, I want to talk to you about a situation that happened to me yesterday while I was accompanying a team of servant leaders in an organization. In the middle of a conversation about continuous improvement, they asked me to enter a mentoring space… where they openly told me: "Jaime, if you had to summarize the four things that every team must work on to be and do Agile, what would they be?" I will summarize the answer I gave you in this post (Thank you, Anne, for also allowing me to share them with the general public in this space 😄):
1. Lay the foundation of purpose, and then move fast.
Teams must have a clear purpose. It is the purpose that makes a group of humans a team. Therefore, each of us should know why we exist as a team in the first place.
The team's purpose is fundamental because it guides and helps understand everything. In particular, it shows situations in which things change (and always do). Team purpose helps us answer the what, when, where, how, and why questions of the value we add.
When we talk about change, we refer to changes in the environment, the value, the interaction, the ecosystem, the system, and changes within the team itself. Changes in the environment include changes in customer or stakeholder perceptions of value, changes in the technologies we use, budgeting and finances, or changes in infrastructure or facilities. Changes within a team can include:
- The addition or departure of new members.
- The creation or removal of new leadership roles.
- Even a change in team location.
Often these types of changes occur without anyone realizing that they are happening. But they are important because they affect all team members and can have a significant impact.
The objective of the teams is to create value in this changing environment. And since the value is increased by solving problems, we will need to move quickly, having understood the purpose and, above all, understanding that change is constant.
This is the purpose of agility: to create value by solving problems as quickly as possible. The principles behind the Agile Manifesto are designed to help agile teams understand and solve issues to create value more effectively.
2. Inspire a growth mindset or Growth Mindset
The idea of a growth mindset is often associated with the work of Carol Dweck, a Stanford University psychologist who has written about it in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Dweck found that people who believe their intelligence and abilities can change are more motivated to learn and improve.
This growth mindset is often contrasted with the fixed mindset. You believe your intelligence and abilities are fixed, making you less likely to learn and improve.
The key to adopting the growth mindset is to remember that you have the ability and resources to succeed. The scariest part of this realization is that you have to find a way to do things differently than in the past. That different way will involve new skills, processes, and new ways of approaching challenges, all of which will require a certain amount of learning, practice, and improvement.
To embrace change and learn from it, we need to have this Growth Mindset. But also servant leaders who inspire this growth mindset.
Many people have a fixed view of themselves or their organization. They believe that success or failure is predetermined. A good example is a notion that if you weren't born with talent or intelligence or are not in the right industry, it's all over for you. Or like when a Head of Agile of an organization that I met at some point told the whole team that you couldn't talk to "the strategic layer" because that job only corresponded to the Head of Agile.
A growth strategy inspires employees to believe in themselves and their organization enough to take risks and innovate. Suppose that the Head of Agile had had enough emotional intelligence to inspire others. In that case, I'm sure the response would have been different.
3. Foster autonomy, understanding of value and purpose
The team must understand that active self-organization increases value. Still, it must also understand that value is constantly changing and that the team's purpose holds us together.
"Encouraging autonomy, understanding of value and purpose" is a great way to describe the three most important things an Agile Coach can do for a team.
A team aligned by purpose is an unstoppable force. A team that understands value and meaning can self-organize to create the innovation needed to serve their customers better.
Value is not always understood and does not have a single definition. Value is a concept that changes over time, making it difficult for teams to align on something that changes.
One solution to this problem is an organizational structure that encourages autonomy and allows teams to organize around a common purpose (Adaptive Organizational Design).
What we want to do as leaders is foster an environment in which active self-organization can take place. If a team doesn't know what they're working on and we don't have a shared understanding of why it's valuable, we're not going to get very far.
When the value is understood, autonomy can be fostered through education and practice. Autonomy is the freedom to choose individual approaches and the power to make changes within a system. More autonomy comes with more responsibility, but more responsibility also comes with more opportunities to learn new skills and create more value.
4. Accept failure as an opportunity to improve everything
It's easy to get carried away with the idea that you can't make mistakes and learn from them. But in fact, failing is a great way to improve. Failing gives you a chance to discover what didn't work, which tells you what to focus on when you try again.
It all comes down to the team and their culture. The team must have a culture of continuous improvement in an environment of psychological safety. Psychological safety means that team members feel safe offering ideas, admitting mistakes, and accepting that failure is okay as long as we learn from it.
Continuous improvement comes from the idea that we are always trying to get better at whatever we do. So, for example, if we are building software to deliver a particular solution, we might say that the design is not up to our standards or that the solution's performance is not meeting expectations. What to do from there?
Most people keep trying or blame others for not delivering what they expect. But amazing things can happen when failure is accepted as a learning opportunity, and improvements are made based on the lessons learned.
And this is the most important lesson that I have learned in my career and that I can share with you right now: "Failure and invention are inseparable."
After sharing these 4 points with the people at the meeting, we made a space for reflection… If they are focusing on this… Or on, for example, building tribes by departmentalizing agility because the giant consulting firm ABC has just told us this or… Create a hierarchical career line for agilists where some are bosses of others because the consultant put it in the model.
The answer was obvious (I think you also just had the exact "Eureka moment"). Today, many things are already changing in that company.