Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Autonomy and accountability’ Category

Adapting your leadership style to the maturity level of your self-organizing team

Unless they are adopting Agile for the wrong reasons, people managers find themselves facing an interesting decision – “Am I willing to let go some control in order to take advantage of the benefits associated with Agile?”.

Being human, it is difficult not to resist change unless we know what to expect from the future and clearly understand the implications for us. Once the future becomes clearer, we can start to appreciate the need to change. That’s just the beginning… Change for what?

In his book, Jurgen Appelo presents various levels of decision making and manager involvement in the context of Agile adoption. I took the liberty to build a matrix (see below) to match Jurgen’s various leadership styles to the 7 stances of a self-organized team [a pdf version of this matrix is available for download].

(1) Taken from: Agile self-organized teams – is the team self-organized or not?

(2) Taken from: Management 3.0: Leading Agile Developers, Developing Agile Leaders

The matrix presents which leadership style the manager should be using based on the level of maturity of your team. Hope you will find it useful!

Agile teams – What people managers can learn from parents

image by candrewsBefore I explain what people managers can learn from parents, I feel the need to defuse what some readers may have in mind. I am not suggesting that employees and team members are children or act like babies [although, sometimes ... - sorry, I'm digressing].

The Art of Parenting

If you have children, you should quickly relate to the fact that nothing really prepares us to be good parents. Sure, while growing up we assimilate patterns, behaviours, and skills from our environment – including and often to a large extent from our own parents. At a later stage in our children-free life, some of our friends start to have kids and we observe them – sometimes with curiosity, sometimes out of sheer voyeurism, and sometimes with envy – and that’s when we contemplate the idea of having kids of our own.

Then, one day out of the blue, the kind doctor tells your spouse that she is pregnant – in our case with twins! But that’s an entirely different story ;)

Then comes the next stage of learning to become a parent, we spent countless hours on amazon.com previewing and ordering books, lot’s of books. Except for a few best sellers, the others titles vary based on our perceived areas of weakness and the bad pattern we noticed from our parents when they raised us.

And one day, a beautiful baby boy is born and/or a pretty baby girl – once again, in our case we got one of each.

Once the sleepless nights are over and the baby is capable of learning, parents slowly transfer increasingly complex tasks to their child: holding the milk-bottle, feeding themselves, walking without holding mommy’s hand, abandoning the diaper, selecting how much ketchup to put on their food, picking their own clothes, walking to school by themselves, deciding what time to go to bed, going to a movie without supervision, and so on up to the point when the child moves out of the house to start their own independent life.

What people managers can learn from parents

It is obvious that parenting is very different from managing people, no doubt about that. On the other hand, their are some similarities.

Nothing prepares people to become good managers. Sure, while growing up in our professional career we assimilate patterns, behaviours, and skills from our environment – including and often to a large extent from our own managers. Granted, some people had the opportunity to learn about management during their school years and that could be an added bonus.

As with parenting, once we decide to get into management we spend countless hours on amazon.com previewing and ordering books, lot’s of books. Except for a few best sellers, the others titles vary based on our perceived areas of weakness and the bad pattern we noticed from our previous managers.

How that applies to Agile teams

Agile management is somewhat similar to the art of parenting with the manager transferring to its team increasingly complex tasks and responsibilities. Helping the team self-organize doesn’t mean to abandon the team to itself without help or some supervision. Along the same lines as parenting, there comes a time when the manager must determine how much responsibility to transfer and what level of support to provide.

Similar to the role of the parent, the agile manager is there to support the team’s development and make it successful and autonomous until one day – maybe – the team is highly performing and can become independent.

The myths of self-organized teams

Image by Lauren_MillerMany Agile practitioners will push forward the concept of self-organized teams as a first step towards an Agile transition. Unfortunately, self-organization is often mis-understood and many become frustrated with the concept. Below are myths taken from real life situations – including the inner workings of our organization.

  • Self-organized teams can only work with experienced people. Although more experienced individuals may make it easier to self-organize, they can also make it much more difficult due to their old work habits. Overall, the age of the team members or their actual experience doesn’t impact their ability to self-organize. Self-organization has more to do with the people’s willingness to self-organize and the support they get from their manager than it has with age or experience.
  • Self-organized teams don’t need a leader. Wrong, self-organized teams still need a leader to move them through the various stages and toward their end goal. This being said, it doesn’t mean that the leader has to be a manager or a person in authority. Quite the contrary. Emerging leadership is a much better way to achieve self-organization but management needs to be patient because self-organization takes time.
  • Self-organized teams don’t need managers. Why not? Managers are a key success factor to support self-organization. Once again, this doesn’t mean that the manager is included in the self-organized team or that the manager will be leading the team. As Jurgen puts it – “Agile managers work the system around the team, not the people in the team”.
  • Self-organized teams are for everyone. Not necessarily, some people may not be ready for self organization or they may not be willing. Everybody has the capacity to be part of a self-organized team, it is simply a matter of wanting to be part of such a team because it is demanding and requires people to become responsible and accountable.
  • Self-organized teams are easy to implement. Really? If it was easy, why wouldn’t everyone adopt self-organization? The fact is that starting at a young age, we keep being told what to do (brush your teeth, go to bed, pick up your clothes, do your homework, show up at the office at 9am, finish the report for your boss, go on vacation in July, retire at 65, etc.) Wanting to be self-organized and taking control of your life is counter-intuitive and difficult. People in self-organized teams often act as victims of circumstances during the early stages (I can’t do this because the system won’t allow me) and then start to notice the opportunity the freedom of choice brings.
  • Self-organized teams quickly increase the team’s performance. No, it won’t. The team’s performance will indeed increase and for the long run but self-organization requires time, energy and much efforts to deliver results. If you are interested in quick-wins with minimal investments (time and/or money), I would suggest the Agile magic pill.

Autonomy or self-organization is a strong contributing factor for motivation and motivated individuals lead to improved performance and better results. Attempting to implement self-organized teams without understanding the risks and the energy required isn’t a good idea.

Don’t tell me you really want to increase your team’s performance – I won’t believe you

Image by Trucker TomI bet you $50 that even if I told you the way to boost your team’s performance without increasing your costs – you wouldn’t do it. The situation is actually worst than that! I’ll add another $50 that I even know what you will tell me once I tell you. You will say “We can’t do that in our organization“.

Ready to find out?

Stop assigning people to projects and let them pick the project they wish to work on – that’s it!

I can hear you - “We can’t do that in our organization” – there, I just saved $100.

Seriously, it is that simple. Think back to a project you worked on – were you assigned or did you select it yourself? Now do this exercise. Think back to something you enjoy, I mean you truly enjoy - were you assigned or did you pick it yourself?

Have you ever heard of Tom Sawyer withewashing the fence? As Mark Twain once said, “Work is something you are forced to do while leisure is something you choose to do”.

I don’t mean to pretend that work is a hobby but many organizations ignore people’s intrinsic motivation and personal drive when they (i.e. the managers) assign people to projects. No matter what the project is about, there will always be people interested in working on such a project. Ever heard of Crowdsourcing?

In most organizations, it may not be easy to let people select their own project, but it is feasible. Some organizational constraints may need to be modified, project assignment may need to be done differently, some resource planning may be required but all of this is feasible.

As one of the participant highlighted “I used to be bored to death in my normal job until one day, I asked (begged) to be part of a specific project. I’m so glad they granted my wish. I now work 55 hours a week! I am super motivated and nothing is going to make me want to leave that project”. Still think letting people select their project is a bad idea? - Analytical-Mind.

Go ahead, give it a try and see the results for yourself. I have tried this approach on many occasions and the results always impress me.

From team self-organization to enterprise self-organization

I had the opportunity to facilitate a discussion table at the “Déjeuner-Causerie” in Montreal (last week) and in Quebec City (this week) where over 50 people gathered in each city to share their experience with Agile adoption.

From team self-organization to enterprise self-organization

Before I get into the main topic covered during the 3 hour breakfast, the participants shared with the group their topics of interest. Though the participants were at various stages of their Agile transformation and had different experiences with Agile, they shared common interests and as such asked interesting questions:

  • What is self-organization and what does it really mean?
  • Can self-organization really work?
  • How far can you push self-organization?
  • How do you get management on board?
  • Can this work in any culture?
  • How can people be motivated to work together?
  • We are only starting with Agile, what do you recommend I read?
  • and many more!

This post is a quick summary of the various conversations. Since most of these topics require further explanation, I will expand on some of them in upcoming posts (and conferences). For now, I wanted to share some of the discussions.

What is self-organization and what does it really mean?

Self-organization is one of the basic pillars of Scrum and is often misunderstood. People (and in particular managers) assume that letting a team self-organize is the equivalent of complete chaos. To avoid getting into such a situation, self-organization requires some constraints.

Self-organization is the process where a structure or pattern appears in a system without a central authority or external element imposing it through planning. This globally coherent pattern appears from the local interaction of the elements that make up the system, thus the organization is achieved in a way that is parallel (all the elements act at the same time) and distributed (no element is a coordinator). - Wikipedia

In his book, Jurgen Appelo wrote,

No self-organizing system exists without context. And the context constrains and directs the organization of the system. - Management 3.0: Leading Agile Developers, Developing Agile Leaders

As I already mentioned, Pyxis is an experimental laboratory and as such we have attempted to let people self-organize without (or with very minimal) constraints. In an upcoming post I can share some of the conclusions of that experiment but for the sake of this post, I’ll leave it as a “failed experiment”.

So back to constraints. In our context, the constraints are as follows:

Though we apply it at an organizational level, the concept of constraints can be applied at an Agile project team level where the Vision is the equivalent of the Agile project charter, the Finance is the equivalent of the project budget, the Strategies can be replaced with the project’s objectives or outcomes, while the Culture remains.

Can self-organization really work?

Yes, it can but it isn’t easy. Self-organized teams tend to go through various stages and success isn’t immediately achieved. Unless an organization is willing to invest into building a successful team, self-organization won’t really work.

How far can you push self-organization?

That’s really up to each organization. For instance, we have successfully pushed the concept as far as letting employees determine their own salary. Sounds crazy? Sure does, but that’s only because you haven’t factored in the organizational constraints.

You have probably imagined people getting together and giving each other huge raises. That’s what would happen if there were no organizational constraints. Once the constraints are well determined and understood, the team members can determine who deserves what as long as they fit within their team’s budget.

How do you get management on board?

That’s a difficult one to answer. The first question managers typically ask is “What will my job be?”. People managers are used to controlling what their team does, when they do it and even how they will be delivering the work. As Dan Pink mentioned:

  • People are more motivated when they are self-organized;
  • People take their own commitments more seriously than the commitments made by others on their behalf;
  • Teams and individuals are more productive when they are not interrupted;
  • Teams improve when they can settle their own issues;
  • Changes in the composition of the team affect the productivity of the team members;
  • Face-to-face communication is the most productive way to share information. - Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

That’s the reason why Agile managers need to alter their leadership style in order to success in an Agile context.

Can this work in any culture?

Probably not. Well, not without some organizational commitment. During last year’s Agile Conference, Michael K. Spayd explained that some cultures are more likely to adopt Agile than others. As such, true self-organization is more likely to succeed in a Collaboration culture or in a Cultivation culture. William E. Schneider’s book (The Reengineering Alternative: A Plan for Making Your Current Culture Work) is very useful to help determine the 4 different types of cultures. Fortunately for us, Pyxis is a cultivation / collaboration culture.

How can people be motivated to work together?

Unfortunately, they can’t! Contrary to popular beliefs, people can’t be motivated – only they can motivate themselves.

To improve the team’s performance and the project’s results, we suggest that Agile project teams be staffed by asking people to volunteer for a project. Projects are typically staffed when project managers or people managers select the people who will take part of a specific project. Although that might seem like a good idea, it is much more powerful to seek volunteers. As one of the participant highlighted “I used to be bored to death in my normal job until one day, I asked (begged) to be part of a specific project. I’m so glad they granted my wish. I now work 55 hours a week! I am super motivated and nothing is going to make me want to leave that project”. Still think letting people select their project is a bad idea?

We are only starting with Agile, what do you recommend I read?

There are so many great books and blogs to help you get started with Agile. A while back, I published a getting started guide. I also read the following blogs:

I referred to the following books during my presentation

Upcoming events

If you wish to be notified of upcoming events, send an email to metrempe@pyxis-tech.com.

Self-organization and independence aren’t the same thing

Picture by Frédéric EsplandiuAgile relies and promotes the concept of self-organized teams but the concept is still misunderstood – except maybe for Jurgen who explains it very well in his book.

Even within Pyxis where we push the concept of self-organization to the entire organization, people often mistake independence and self-organization.

Here’s an attempt at distinguishing the two perspectives.

Independence is a condition of a nation, country, or state in which its residents and population, or some portion thereof, exercise self-government, and usually sovereignty, over its territory. – wikipedia

Independence is strongly tied to self-governance which is defined as:

(…) an abstract concept that refers to several scales of organization. (…) It can be used to describe a people or group being able to exercise all of the necessary functions of power without intervention from any authority which they cannot themselves alter. – wikipedia

On the other hand, self-organization is defined as:

the process where a structure or pattern appears in a system without a central authority or external element imposing it through planning. This globally coherent pattern appears from the local interaction of the elements that make up the system, thus the organization is achieved in a way that is parallel (all the elements act at the same time) and distributed (no element is a coordinator). – wikipedia

Although in both cases, no authority interferes with the organization of the people, self-organization emerges when there is no planning of how people will work together. In addition, the notion of imposed constraints appears when discussing self-organization.

As such, while independence could mean “We can do what we want, how and when we want”, self-organization means “We are free to operate how we wish within the defined constraints in order to achieve the established objectives”.

As I recently described, immature self-organized teams are often selfish and irresponsible:

Team members are happy to take advantage of being self-organized but only as long as it benefits them and that there are no increased responsibilities. Once a situation negatively impacts them (while benefiting the team), they aren’t willing to cooperate and when they are asked to take accountability for something, they shy away from the responsibility. In a nutshell, these individuals want the best of both worlds. To successfully transition to self-organization, it is critical to explain that they will need to make a decision and pick self-organization with responsibility or freedom outside the self-organized team.

Consequently, true self-organization means that people take full accountability for their actions and do what ever it takes to get organized as a group in order to operate within the imposed constraints.

Once presented with self-organization, people and teams quickly assume that they now fully control their destiny – which is incorrect. The additional detail that needs to be added is “within the imposed constraints” which means resources are limited and an objective has been established. So unless you are in control of the resources or have officially been delegated authority for the resources, you have the option of self-organizing, not becoming independent.

Agile self-organized teams – is the team self-organized or not?

Image by Cyndie@smilebig!Where ever we read about self-organized teams, it often seems to be a binary thing – either the team is self-organized or it isn’t.

When people suggest that the team should become self-organized, the suggested process is presented as fairly easy and straight forward.

If you are amongst the people who believe these previous two statements, I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news. In exchange, I will offer you a free reality check. Team self-organization is neither binary nor straight forward – self-organization is an evolutionary process that takes time.

We have been helping customers implement self-organizations for years and we have been pushing the limits within our organization. Based on that experience, I am sharing 7 levels of self-organized teams.

  1. No opinion: Team members follow the direction of their manager. Not to be confused with Zombies or Living-Deads, these individuals are neither happy nor upset about being directed in their tasks – things are the way they are, period. These team members do not pay much attention to the organizational structure or who the actual leader is. They are strictly interested in “doing their job”. Although they may express an opinion with regards to the current structure, they don’t necessarily believe that self-organization is a better alternative. If you are moving towards self-organization, you shouldn’t spend much time convincing these people since they will gladly follow the official structure.
  2. Status quo: Team members have benefited from the current structure in the past and wish to preserve it. They are un-likely to want to change to any other team structure (including self-organization) until they clearly see the benefits of transitioning. To move towards self-organization, you will need to spend time demonstrating what the new structure will bring them specifically and gaining their trust so they are willing to experiment with what you are proposing.
  3. Selfish and irresponsible: Team members are happy to take advantage of being self-organized but only as long as it benefits them and that there are no increased responsibilities. Once a situation negatively impacts them (while benefiting the team), they aren’t willing to cooperate and when they are asked to take accountability for something, they shy away from the responsibility. In a nutshell, these individuals want the best of both worlds. To successfully transition to self-organization, it is critical to explain that they will need to make a decision and pick self-organization with responsibility or freedom outside the self-organized team.
  4. Interested and learning: Team members are very interested in being self-organized but aren’t familiar with the changes required for them to become autonomous. They are ready and willing to learn and fully embrace the proposed structure. These are key people in a transformation, they are the ones who will pull the others forward as long as you take the time to explain what they need to do.
  5. Self-organized: Team members are fully accountable and play by the rules of the team. They recognize their strengths and weaknesses and work on improving the organization of the team in order to become fully autonomous and self-supported. They deliver great results and need minimum involvement to remain in their current state. This is where you want your teams to be.
  6. Leading a self-organized team: Although the team is self-organized, leadership is always required. These individuals will willingly take responsibility to organize the existing teams (they are team members and not managers) or the new teams you are hoping to transition to the new model. In a transition, you will want to work with these individuals to spread the new model and increase the number of self-organized teams.
  7. Independent: Team members are too much self-organized. As a consequence, they no longer wish to be part of the organization and wish to go on their own. Although rare, in the event that self-organization transforms into full-autonomy, it may be necessary to break down the team and use some of the team members to help lead other self-organized teams.

The road to self-organization is long but very rewarding. Each organization needs to determine how far they are willing to push the model and how fast they wish to move.

You may also be interested in this post: I don’t believe in self-organized teams…

Real-life laboratory for human experiments – The case of an Agile organization

Our organization is well known in Canada, France, and other French speaking countries around the world as a leader with the Agile approaches. We are one of the few organizations in North America with over 20 full-time agile coaches (employees).  For most part, our governance model relies on self-organization, the absence of hierarchy, and transparency in our decisions. This is what is well known from customers who have worked with Pyxis and potential employees who wish to join the organization, but what is much-less known is how Pyxis is a real-life laboratory for management, organizational behaviours, and team dynamics.

Most of the people who come in contact with people at Pyxis or who have worked with us will agree that the organization is different and throughout this year, I will share some of the inner working of our organization.

Pyxis helps software development companies to become places where results, quality of life, and fun coexist sustainably by being first and foremost an example of what it proposes to its clients and by coaching them.

We help our customers transition to Agile because we know it works – not because it is written in books but because we have been living the Agile way for 10 years now.

As the first post on the inner working of our Agile organization, I will explain the root cause of this difference. More posts will follow on self-organization, agile management, governance models, and growing a profitable organization by leveraging people’s inner motivation (remember autonomy, mastery and purpose?).

The fundamental reasons why Pyxis is different

After observing the organization from the inside for over two years, I have had the opportunity to appreciate that we are fortunate (and one of very few organizations) to have a real-life laboratory for human experiments – no, not the kind usually reserved to white rats. Our structure allows us to experiments with governance models (the way people are managed) and observe first hand the organizational behaviors that arise and the impact on team dynamics. We pride ourselves as being an incubator for highly performing teams and as such, we often experiment new concepts within our organization before trying them out on our clients – which is not often the case in consulting, but I digress…

The first reason behind our uniqueness is the philosophy of the founder. François sees the world differently from most people and although he has an opinion on many topics, his real contribution is that Pyxis is not a profit-maximizing organization. Like every organization, Pyxis wishes to generate a yearly profit but that is not the reason why Pyxis was originally created. Pyxis was born with a purpose to improve how software development is made and more importantly to improve the quality of life of people within those organizations.

This is critical to understand the organization because it leaves rooms for experiments (making mistakes is a critical part of learning), for employee satisfaction (people truly enjoy working at Pyxis), and deliver great results (highly motivated employees deliver better results).

There are other reasons why the organization is different but in my opinion, this one is fundamental.

As an Agile Leader, I believe that …

Image by Robert GoodwinAs a leader, I believe it is important for people I work with to know my beliefs. As the leader of a self-organized company, I want to share those beliefs.

I personally believe that:

  • people are good in nature and wish to accomplish meaningful goals;
  • people truly wish to be successful and should be trusted to achieve success;
  • collective intelligence leads to better decisions;
  • individuals working together will find the solution to their problems, they know more about their skills, competences and environment than anyone else outside the team;
  • long lasting knowledge is best learn through hands-on experience;
  • as long as we learn something from the experience, failure is an investment, not an expense;
  • true success is achieved when people are in it for the long run;
  • a systemic perspective is useful to understand the entire system;
  • short term goals are rarely optimal and tend to maximize locally and not globally;
  • motivation comes from within, external factor do not really motivate people;
  • motivated people deliver better results and are highly contagious;
  • no single individual can (and should) be attributed success;
  • success attracts successful people;
  • you should judge people by their intention not their actions.

What are your beliefs?

We are surrounded by Zombies! We better do something…

I finally finished writing this post that I started just after Halloween – not because it is long or complex but simply because other things were more of a priority. Anyhow, back in October and in the spirit of Halloween, we had decided to rent a Halloween movie that was somewhat kid-friendly. Our selection ended up being Shaun of the Dead, a 2004 movie. Don’t worry, I haven’t turned into a movie critics and I won’t pretend this movie ranks anywhere in my top 3,000 favorite movies – that’s not the point here – but the movie made me realize how many (most?) employees are zombies.

“What the heck are you talking about?”, you ask.

I’ll spare you the gory details but there’s a scene at the end of the movie were the zombies end up being captured and turned into normal workers. The scene is great as it portrays the zombies perform mindless (and numbing) tasks while people around them don’t seem to notice them or even mind them at all.

[You may also be interested to read what Derek has been publishing on the topic of zombies in the workplace]

To simplify things and explain the analogy I came up with after watching this silly movie, I will start by explaining that in my opinion people (employees) fit into one of three categories.

The LIVINGS

Although at first, we may believe that everyone fits into this category you may be surprised to find out that it isn’t so. LIVING people are those who take full responsibility of their life while they don’t necessarily travel the path the most followed. LIVINGS do a lot of introspection to make sure they are living the life they truly want and they aren’t afraid to step outside their comfort zone.

In organizations, the LIVINGS aren’t afraid to look for a better way to do things and challenge the status quo. They aren’t happy just mechanically doing their job and they look for challenges that will make them grow professionally. You can find LIVINGS at every levels of an organization.

Although not measured scientifically, I believe there is only 20% to 30% of the working population that are real LIVINGS.

The ZOMBIES

At the other end of the spectrum are the ZOMBIES. Contrary to the LIVINGS, the ZOMBIES are dead workers. They perform routine tasks without getting intellectually and/or emotionally involved. No matter how old they biological body actually is, the ZOMBIES are counting the days ’til retirement – or if retirement is more than 5 years away, they are counting the days until their next vacation, until next week-end, and sometimes the hours until the end of the day.

In industrial times, ZOMBIES were seen punching in and punching out of their day job. With the advent of modern technology and the disappearance of the punch clocks, ZOMBIES can pass their time updating their Facebook page, sending useless emails and performing tasks on their computer to keep their body active since their soul has died.

Although not measured scientifically, I believe there is between 20% to 30% of the working population that are dead ZOMBIES.

The LIVING-DEADS

Somewhere between the LIVINGS and the ZOMBIES is the majority of the working population. The LIVING-DEAD are very difficult to distinguish from the LIVINGS as they seem to perform their tasks with some interest. The main difference between the LIVINGS and the LIVING-DEAD is that the latter were once part of the LIVING population but at some point in their career, their brain has been captured by ZOMBIES – just like in the Shaun of the Dead movie, once a living is bitten by a zombie, there is a gradual decline toward becoming a full-fledged zombie.

Although not measured scientifically, I believe the majority of the working population (between 40% and 60%) are LIVING-DEAD.

Can ZOMBIES and LIVING-DEAD transform back into LIVINGS?

Contrary to the movie, the LIVING-DEAD and the ZOMBIES can come back to becoming LIVING individuals but the road back is difficult. The sad news is that most large organizations are based on rules, on controls and on structures that help breed ZOMBIES by converting LIVINGS into LIVING-DEAD. The good news is that there are ways out – I know, I used to be a ZOMBIE myself…

What category do you fit into?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.