Agile is Great at Team-making

Scrum is one of the best technologies yet discovered to create high performing teams. The Agile community knows how to do this. There is ample research about the characteristics of high performing teams, for example:

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Five-Keys-to-Successful-Google-Team

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While using Scrum or another Agile approach to create these characteristics is still a challenge, it is fairly common these days to see it in practice. Sadly, in nearly every organization, the feeling you get on a great Agile team dissipates as soon as you walk outside of the team room.

Building trust and psychological safety among 5-9 people is a challenge. Building it among 5,000 is another altogether. There are multiple frameworks currently available to scale the Agile team-based practices. We have found no examples of these frameworks leading to an organization-wide level of Agility that matches what we can accomplish at the team level.

Principles, not Practices

We have seen multiple examples of Organization-wide Agility amongst our own clients. We have also observed organizations outside of the Agile community that exhibit the same characteristics. Many published case studies are available in books like Reinventing Organizations and An Everyone Culture. We are working with some of our own clients to share their stories.

Through helping these clients and observing others, we have noticed a set of principles that they all tend to adhere to. We describe these principles below. In most cases, the organization has moved from one approach towards another, so we have labeled them in a way that describes that motion. In each case, the goal has been to better thrive in complexity, uncertainty, and ambiguity. Adherence to the principles has led to greater adaptability, higher engagement, and better opportunity to serve the organization’s purpose.

Welcoming Complexity Newsletter

We are exploring each of the principles in our Welcoming Complexity Newsletter. You can read existing articles here, and sign up to receive future ones at the bottom of this page.

1. From Shareholder Value to Customer Delight and Shared Purpose

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A primary focus on shareholder value (profit) consistently leads to short-term thinking, sub-optimization, and low engagement. Agile Organizations clearly define their customer(s) and focus on delighting them by continually delivering value. Agile Organizations do not view profit as a goal, but as the means to continue to deliver on the organization’s purpose. Profits are the natural result of adding value and delighting customers.

2. From Predicting and Controlling to Embracing Complexity

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The world has become less predictable. Reductionist management models of predicting and controlling are incompatible with complexity, which presents a fundamentally different set of conditions from the complicated challenges of the past. Agile Organizations create structures that embrace complexity to gain competitive advantages in the 21st century.

3. From Efficiency to Engagement and Adaptability

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Efficiency is not the only approach to management; resilience and anti-fragility are more effective ways to confront complexity. Agile Organizations create space for teams to discover new opportunities and effectively respond to change. Additionally, Agile Organizations recognize that low engagement has a huge impact on the capability to deliver value and innovation. They focus on creating a human-centric, productive workplace by amplifying the five engagement factors: 1) a strong connection to the purpose of the work, 2) individual and team autonomy, 3) opportunity to pursue mastery, 4) strong social connections, and 5) daily small wins.

4.  From Directed Groups to Autonomous Teams

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High performing teams have a clearly defined membership, are cross-functional, trust each other to deliver on commitments, have autonomy within their area of focus, and have strong shared purpose. They move adaptively towards refining and executing against the overall team mission. Agile Organizations recognize that properly structured teams are their best tool to succeed in a complex environment.

5.  From Rigid Hierarchies to Human Systems

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Traditional organizations view themselves as machines, where humans are resources to be deployed as interchangeable cogs, leaders pull levers to create desired outcomes, and efficiency is the primary goal. Agile Organizations resemble living systems, where people self-organize around a shared purpose, making new connections in evolving structures to address emergent opportunities.

6. From Structured Communication to Radical Transparency

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Agile Organizations make all information readily available to help individuals and teams make informed decisions. This level of Radical Transparency provides the clearest possible picture of the larger complex system, and enables the organization to adapt to change, maintain flexibility, and continuously improve. Agile Organizations are mindful of using this information in a non-judgmental way, so that people feel safe to share and consume it freely.

7. From Complicated Processes to Simple Rules

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Agile Organizations recognize that a shared understanding of how members collaborate on work is critical to success. It is impossible to create policies and procedures to address every issue that will arise. Agile Organizations create Simple Rules that define broad parameters for decision making, problem solving, and establishing expectations.

8. From Heroic Leadership to Transformational Leadership

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Complex systems can never fully be understood by even the most effective leader. Transformational leaders create an environment where everyone focuses on delighting customers, removing friction from the system, and developing their own leadership effectiveness. In an Agile Organization, every voice is engaged in addressing complexity in creative and innovative ways.

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