The big white elephant in the Agile room (the problem isn’t your teams)

Art attribution: Photo by marfis75 on / CC BY

In Sam’s article here, he hits the nail on the head. 

Leaders, The Problem Is Not Your Agile Teams — It’s You.
(by Sam McAfee)

A well-articulated article about how Agile can offer so much but fails to deliver anything but pain. Enough to trigger me to share my thoughts (welcomed or not 🙂 lol)

Apportioning blame (it’s their fault)

And why does Agile fail in many cases? Well if you ask the leaders that expect Agile to be some kind of cool word and a magic wand that will solve all their problems. They will say it’s the team’s fault. Yes, that’s right! The incredibly smart and motivated boys and girls that work hard to deliver what’s needed in a confusing and complex environment are the ones that make Agile fail. I think that’s rubbish (to put it politely). Total BS. They want to deliver value and want to be lead, supported and inspired. They don’t want to be whipped, berated, told what to do (by leaders that have little clue as to what needs to be done), or be put under pressure to keep delivering more poor quality outputs under relentless pressure. Yes, there are problems at the team level. There always will be. Its the nature of the work and people to throw spanners into the work. For me, the biggest problem is elsewhere. The uncomfortable truth that very few people are willing to address, listen to or even contemplate.

The big elephant in the Agile room

For me and for many, poor-leadership is the big elephant in the room. Its that big, its arse is pushing ones face up against the wall for lack of space. It’s that obvious.

How many leaders do you know that sit back and actually reflect on what part they play in the failure, or contemplate what they can change in their way of being to actually support the mindset shift change to become more Agile? Not many I can tell you. The failure is endemic in the way leadership operates right now. It’s ego-based and incentivised to do the opposite. From my own experience its focus on the delivery of outputs (whether they help the business or not), and BS powerpoint reports and meeting minutes polished to the point that you’d think they were being aired on national television. Also, one of the bugbears that I see too often is the focus on dubious data they abstract out, layer on layer to make big decisions. A poor direction or suggestion at the leadership level creates a torrent of crap lower down in the organisation.

Be impeccable with your word

The words of Don Miguel Ruiz in The Four Agreements, ring very true here. In the first agreement, he outlines the words “Be impeccable with your word”. At the leadership level, the smallest behaviour or word sets off whole chains of events and actions. Many, if not most, unindented. Leaders set the culture in their behaviour and words they use. If you want people to embrace Agile, demonstrate it by honouring one or many of the Agile values and principles authentically, and then share how it went (good or bad). Its all a learning point, and if done right, it’s shared learning.

Agile at the leadership level

So let me get to my point instead of just making this a rant. Agile is just not for the teams. Agile is for the whole. The whole organisational system. Leadership cannot continue to operate the way it does in the VUCA world. It’s like a handbrake on the changes that want to happen and needs to happen.

I get it. It’s hard to change It’s new and unknown. But embarrassing Agile (or whatever you want to call it) will benefit you, your people and your organisation. 

I work with business owners and leaders that want to make the mindset change alongside their Agile teams. It is possible. Its been proven to work. You just need to have the guts to step into the arena and embrace change with welcoming arms. The future is easier, more fun and fulfilling for all. Truly join us and let the fun and change, and let’s get that elephant out of the room (it’s starting to smell the place out).

TC Gill

TC is a Co-active Agile Coach and leader, specializing in helping businesses ‘being’ more Agile in a VUCA world. Simply delivering business transformation through the power of their own people. He is a challenger and a fighter for what clients want, and to create a culture of change that serves you, your people and the business itself. e: [email protected]