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The People Leader Role in an Agile World


I had the opportunity to facilitate an interactive session about The People Leader Role in an Agile World. The session was only an hour long, but with lots of great conversation and input from the audience.

This is a topic that I am particularly passionate about, and one often forgotten by organizations in their pursuit of Agile.

The idea is that Leaders in an Agile World must undergo a MINDSET shift to effectively support Self-Organizing Teams and an Agile Culture. This is essential to sustainable success of Agile Transformations.


As a Leader, it is important for you to begin your MINDSET SHIFT by understanding what this "Agile World" looks like… and where YOU fit in it.


An Agile Team is brought together to deliver Business Value

  • The Agile team includes the Scrum Master, Product Owner and Development Team (developers, testers, analysts)
  • For an Agile team to become effective they need to do more than just follow Agile practices and patterns:  Effective Agile Teams are SELF ORGANIZING!

There are many external factors that can impact that team's ability to deliver Business Value.

Surrounding the team, there is a "layer" of Leadership & Management – this layer includes Project Management, Application Owners, QA Leaders, and any role that has responsibilities and/or influence over the team.

This is the People Leader we're referring to… anyone, not part of the Agile team, but whose decision and/or actions can impact the team's ability to deliver value.


Self-Organizing Teams work differently than Command-and-Control Teams

Self-Organizing Teams have different Values

Your Role as a Leader is to BUILD a safe environment where these values are CULTIVATED & RESPECTED!

"Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it's amazing what they can accomplish."  – Sam Walton


So How Do You Do It?

There are three main areas to focus on as you work on becoming an EFFECTIVE AGILE LEADER:

  • Understanding & Supporting your Team's Values
  • Connecting Your Team to the Organization
  • Becoming a Servant Leader

Let's expand on these sessions


1. Understanding and Supporting your Team's Values

How do you, as a Leader support the following Values?

Commitment – Everyone is committed to the goals

  • Delegate authority
  • Trust
  • Coach
  • Allow safe failures
  • Hire the right people! (So Important!)


Respect – Team members have mutual respect and they are able to trust each other

  • Believe in them
  • Listen to them
  • Respect their time
  • Respect their knowledge


Openess – Everyone is aware of each other's work and how together they will deliver the value

  • Balance Openness & Distractions
  • Leverage it – Don't misuse it!
  • Go to where the work is being done!
  • Respect it
  • Exude Transparency!


Focus – Everyone is focused on the work and able to reorganize and redirect as needed

  • Step out and let them focus
  • Respect their focus
  • Remove road blocks
  • Protect the team from distractions
  • Empower the team to remain focused!


Courage – Everyone has the courage to stand up for the team, the project and their goals (and their values)

  • Inspire
  • Acknowledge
  • Coach
  • Support
  • Demonstrate courage


2. Connecting Your Team to the Organization

Self-organizing teams are not teams gone wild!

Just like any other team, they need compelling goals, skills, information, context and they need to understand how the work they do ultimately contributes towards the organization's goals.

Your role as a leader is not to focus on the details of how the work is going to get done –the team can figure that out, they are self-organized!

Your role is to provide the team with the Vision and Goals that the team can go back to as they deal with changes and redirect in their day-to-day activities.


3. Becoming a Servant Leader

Last, but certainly not least, becoming a Servant Leader is one of the key things you can do to become an EFFECTIVE AGILE LEADER!

"Servant leadership is both a leadership philosophy and set of leadership practices. Traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the "top of the pyramid." By comparison, the servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible."  Wikipedia

The idea is that, as a Leader, your focus shifts from what the team can do for you, to what you can do for the team.

An effective, self-organizing team, will have a leader that is focused on removing roadblocks and building their people by listening, empathizing, bringing awareness, conceptualizing and having foresight.

REMEMBER: You cannot expect your team to change how they do their work, but continue to manage them the same way!