Sometimes Agile is thought of as a way to fix teams. I like to call this spray-on transformation.  That is, management reads an article about how Agile helps teams go faster, while increasing quality for less cost, and then they decide they need to spray some of that onto their teams.

Agile hasn’t been very nice to management, so I’m not surprised how many times I’ve see this pattern. Management simply doesn’t understand what the effect will be when Agile is introduced. Making it worse is how Agile preaches about self-organization and self-management. Today’s managers have been groomed in a system based on management practices created during the industrial and manufacturing eras, and those practices aren’t relevant for managing teams who are primarily doing creative work.

This is why I like to live by this statement:

Management goes first. Always.

But how do they do that? They aren’t producing software so how can they get the benefits from applying Agile to management? I like Jurgen Appelo’s comment about self-organizing teams: Experts say that managers should stand back from the team and let them self-organize. Jurgen responds with ‘how far back should they stand? 3 meters?

I worked with a manager who had inherited a team that had been victimized by a re-org and were basically shoved aside for a few months without a purpose or direction. He had heard about a practice from Management 3.0 called Happiness Index and asked how he could do that with his new team.

Long story short, he simply posted a piece of flipchart paper on the wall, and encouraged the team to track their level of happiness each week. They used that data as input into a weekly retrospective so he could figure out what was making the team happy and what was making them un-happy.


You can see how their happiness increased over the course of 6 weeks. He never once commented about how he could increase his team’s motivation. His approach was always about being a servant leader and making it ok for his team to give open, honest feedback about how their work was going.

How Can We Support the Team?

I recently lifted off another management team that wanted their group to ‘go Agile’. I sat down with the leadership team consisting of about 12 people and we started by exploring what ‘going Agile’ meant to them. They wrote ideas on stickies and grouped them together. 70% of the sticky notes were questions about how they could help and support their staff!

I was blown away! We talked about what they could do to change their behaviour and practices to encourage their staff to figure out new ways of working.

You may have heard the quote about change which reads something like this: Everyone wants change, but people don’t want to start with themselves.

This team of managers decided to go first, and that’s the most powerful thing managers can do in order to allow an Agile culture to emerge.

As a matter of fact, I finished a phone call this morning with one of the managers who wanted help setting up her own personal kanban board so she could lead by example, and make her work visible. She wants to experiment with it, and then tell her story about how managing her work differently is helping. She’s not demanding her team visualize their work, she’s starting with her own!

These are a couple, of many, practices you can learn more about in our upcoming 2-day Management 3.0 courses. This workshop will give managers practical activities they can do the next day to improve their system of work. One is scheduled in Chicago, the other in Toronto.

If you want to learn how to grow an Agile organization, this 2-day workshop will give you concrete practices you can use right away.