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The foundations and building blocks to successful teams and organisations

“The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organising teams”, the Agile Manifesto

I am staunch believer in Agile methodology not just for software development but as the essence of a company and leadership.

A while ago I attended a Certified Agile Leadership course run by Karim Harbott

Now I do not agree with all what Karim says but the benefits of a self-organising team, which is clear on what the intent of the product or organisation is, I have personally experienced over the last 18 years of leading product and development teams.

In my previous article ‘Why Servant Leadership matters in modern world?” it focuses on the aspect of self-organisation that is as much about the management as it is about the team.

The need for more agility is also nurtured by the fact that traditional command-and-control management turned out to be dysfunctional. Stifling bureaucracy, suffocating control systems and the empty rituals of planning and performance management are just a few symptoms of this dysfunctionality.

Having many people adopt leadership for different aspects of work makes it very strong team. Clarity of what is needed which is best served with intent-based leadership which in my view is one of the most powerful tools to create successful teams. This video illustrates this very well

Some may call this type of leadership ‘empowerment’ but its more than that.

Equally important but a foundational element is Trust, Transparency and Psychological safety as illustrated in the house of high performing self-organising teams.

So how to you build trust? Why do so many C-Level executives need to trust in Policies and Rules and approvals?

How do you get trust between team members and with leaders of the organisation?

You aim for psychological safety. To get this you need to build trust by being transparent, clear, with candid feedback but allow mistakes to be made. Do NOT punish or even publize mistakes. Where others do it by mistake or from an emotional reaction discuss the goal of psychological safety and their leadership in this goal.

Here is great quick explanation The google study found:

“(…) the safer team members feel with one another, the more likely they are to admit mistakes, to partner, and to take on new roles. (…) Individuals on teams with higher psychological safety are less likely to leave Google, they’re more likely to harness the power of diverse ideas from their teammates, they bring in more revenue, and they’re rated as effective twice as often by executives.”

Often when interacting or setting goals you work with the team member so they

a.) understand the meaning of what they are doing (I often call this context) and b.) the impact of that they will have.

Those that use command & control method see this as making threats or creating pressure, but they really do not understand that every human wants to have meaning in what they do at work and in life. Not just follow commands and see a revenue number as the outcome at the All-Hands meeting.

Active Listening as a leader is key — showing that to others in the team encourages them to be open to ideas, perspectives, and thoughts. It is a important element if you want a innovative organisation. Even if you know the answer (or think you do) and your conclusion is much faster — give feedback and ask questions. From my experience it can at times take interesting twists and turns.

Sarcasm and other judgmental behaviour (quick to criticize for example) does not foster a mindset that allow people to freely express their views or ideas. Create a environment of learning which a again can be shown as a leading example by asking questions. Questions show curiosity, show you are listening and that you are interested in their opinion. The worst which often is displayed by leaders that gravitate to command and control is to say nothing even when it is crying out for comment or feedback.

Another area of feedback to instil in team members is that feedback is NOT personal. It is not questioning you as person or your ability. It is feeding back on the idea or the task. Best way to show this is again by example. Your reaction to feedback from anyone shows the way and sets the tone of your organisation.

The best feedback I had from a direct report was that he does not think of me as boss but as member of the team. That was music to my ears because at no time while being viewed like this, was I NOT managing the team and reaching our business objectives.

Humour often helps to remove the last vestiges of blame culture. It allows the sensitive things to be said in candid feedback. If you look at many comedians like Ricky Gervais use of humour to say things that would otherwise be offensive. Also casting mistakes as history and that as leader you are not interested in history to create environment of no blame is important. Respectful introspection at later point makes sure we don’t repeat them. But acknowledging it as mistake is often enough.

Now I have never overtly done this, but with larger teams measuring psychological safety through surveys allows you to see where you are creating a high performing team.

Further Reading material: Harvard Business School professor Amy C. Edmondson

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