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People managers may be the biggest impediment for increased performance

Image by tibchris

Since the introduction of the PC in the workplace, dramatic performance improvements have been few and far between. In an age where there are more jobs in services than in manufacturing in Canada and where the employees are highly educated, we can wonder why there isn’t any dramatic performance improvements. There certainly isn’t a lack of innovation in organizations, so could it be that something else needs to change?

It is true that the people entering the workforce refuse to be managed like their parents were. They expect to be treated fairly, be given a challenging position where they can learn and apply their skills, and manage their schedule. In this context, standardized work practices and traditional management styles no longer help increase employee performance, it can actually reduce the teams’ performance. Traditional work methods also have the negative impact of driving people away or making it difficult to attract new talent.

Very few people would debate that it takes time to develop highly performing teams and once you have the team on the road to success, you wish to retain your employees. It is these high performing teams that are often the source of innovation within an organization. As long as the organization creates the right environment for people to generate new ideas.

Ever since the 1900’s with Fayol‘s – Plan, Organize, Direct, and Control – managers have been following a traditional approach to people management and we believe that changing the leadership style – to become Agile leaders – is likely to deliver better results and performance.

Why Scrum increases team performance?

As I recently mentioned, traditional managers are used to

  • Assigning work to team members
  • Determining priorities of the tasks
  • Monitoring progress of the activities
  • Making decisions for the team

Whereas Scrum transfers the authority to the self-0rganized team. The underlying concept being that the best solutions will emerge from the team itself.

  • While the manager determines the objective to be reached (the WHAT?), the team determines the means to achieve it (the HOW?)
  • Once the goals is established, management (aka The Product Owner) determines a budget and time lines under which the team will operate
  • Management maintains responsibility to prioritize the activities but without assigning the work
  • Commitments are negotiated between the manager and the team, as opposed to being imposed by the manager – negotiated agreement greatly increases commitment
  • The team is responsible to deliver on its commitment and the Scrum Master is there to support the team in doing so
  • Peer pressure is more effective than authority at getting people to work collaboratively
  • The people closest to the work are in a better position to determine the best way to accomplish their tasks and to potentially introduce innovation in their work methods
  • Frequent inspection and retrospection of the work accomplished creates visibility on the deliverable and prevents faulty results from being delivered
  • The iterative process allows the team to learn from their experience and improve the process
  • People are more motivated when they manage their own work
  • People are more committed when they make their own commitments
  • Teams and individuals are more productive when they are not interrupted
  • Teams are improving when they solve their problems by themselves
  • Productivity is compromised when changes are made to the team composition
  • Face-to-face communication is the most productive way for a team to work and exchange

Seeing how Scrum positively impact productivity and team performance, it becomes critical to determine how the managers must behave to support such progress. As such, managers must:

  • Transfer authority and responsibility to the team so it can do its work adequately
  • Avoid interference and micromanagement
  • Promote collaboration and teamwork
  • Support learning and not systematically penalize failures
  • Review best practices in order to adapt them to changing realities
  • Make adjustments to the facilities so the environment facilitates the execution of Agile projects
  • Adapt the management style to the context of the team

Instead of consequence delivery, managers should focus on making sure the team has learned from their mistakes and have taken appropriate means to fix the issues in the future. In addition, peer pressure is a much stronger motivator and intrinsic motivations are stronger than external motivators.

I believe there is still a lot of value with having managers as long as the new Agile Managers adapt their leadership style and activities to their team. What do you think?

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