10 useful tips for agile leadership

Agile leadership

10 useful tips for agile leadership

Studies assume that more than 90% of German companies are already dealing with the topics of agility and cultural transformation.

This usually means the operational team level; for long-term success, however, the topics of agile leadership and scaling are just as important. For managers in an agile environment, we have put together 10 tips on how agility can be established, promoted and scaled from a management perspective.

The 10 tips for agile leadership at a glance:

  1. Accept alternative solutions
  2. Include all perspectives
  3. Trust your team
  4. Testing is above studying
  5. Evolution, not revolution
  6. Create transparency
  7. Develop a feedback culture
  8. Evaluate mistakes positively
  9. Lead your team to independence
  10. Use agile leadership methods

Tip number 1: Accept alternative solutions

A fundamental success factor of agility is the promotion of self-organized teams that take responsibility for their decisions and results. In practice, this leads to better solutions or faster adjustments during operation.

In order for team members to be actively, continuously and responsibly involved in processes and improvements, you have to make your employees involved. Accept and welcome the fact that your employees may have different solutions or experiences than you do - and that the team may make different decisions than you would make yourself.

Allow alternative solutions and be patient. This is the only way to strengthen personal responsibility and self-learning in your teams.

This paradigm shift is difficult for many executives; Therefore, use a coach for your own attitude and leadership change, for example, and train yourself to let go.

Tip #2: Include all perspectives

You need a point of view to make decisions and make progress, because without an accurate assessment of a situation you cannot draw the right conclusions.

But as the word point of view suggests, it's just your own perspective, from your individual position. It is based solely on your experience, learning curve, interests, and what you personally think or believe.

Consciously and actively include other perspectives of your employees, teams, customers or other sources of information. Learn and accept that in a world that is becoming ever more complex and faster, you can no longer know and judge everything on your own; and no longer need it.

Harness collective intelligence and encourage consensus-based decision making. Methodically merge decentralized knowledge, create a 360° view and lead yourself and your teams to better decisions.

Advancing digitization has forced companies to rethink. Even companies that have dominated their market segment for over a hundred years have realized that customer requirements can change from one day to the next and that a "digital first" approach is therefore essential for survival.

Successful start-ups have shown us again and again in recent years how you can discard entire business models due to targeted customer orientation. This flexibility is now becoming a prerequisite for surviving in our globalized world. Agile transformation is intended to enable companies to achieve this versatility and thus master market developments that threaten their existence.

Due to the ever faster developing markets and innovative strength as well as the fact that a structural change in a company can take a long time, the urgency to start an agile transformation is higher than ever.

Tip number 3: Trust your team

Teams are self-organized and engaged when they have ownership of processes and content that stems from their own development.

The best results are achieved when employees identify with their topic so much that they are happy to take responsibility.

This requires three success factors:

  1. your trust in the team,
  2. the necessary freedom and
  3. a corresponding level of maturity of the team.

Give your team the chance to develop and the appropriate trust so that they can grow and learn for themselves - when in doubt, it's better to have a little more freedom than too little.

The higher the level of maturity of your teams, the more continuously they will independently optimize processes, support and develop each other, or deliver high-quality software or products.

Tip number 4: the proof of the pudding is in the eating

Even the best plan can fail. And almost every plan changes. Therefore, in the past, the greatest possible effort was put into the prediction; to make the plan as good as possible and not have to change it.

In an agile environment, you choose a different approach:

"Every plan will change and every assumption can be wrong.”

For agile managers, this means: define goals together with your team, but only plan roughly and for the short term. Leave room for innovation. Develop products and services iteratively, conduct experiments and regularly evaluate your partial progress.

Use agile methods, such as design thinking, feedback, tests, retros, canvas or barcamps, all of which aim to get better information for further development.

Tip number 5: Evolution instead of revolution

What applies to modern agile application development should also apply to your leadership style:
Develop and moderate your teams based on timely feedback, innovative experiments, positive rituals and a step-by-step philosophy.

Increase quality, commitment, self-organization and satisfaction in your teams through evolutionary methods.

For example, regularly use retrospectives to determine how past events worked. "Keep, Drop, Try" is a popular format for this; what should your team continue, what should be better and what should try new?

Evolution also means letting things happen, allowing for tolerance for mistakes, looking closely again and again, and amplifying the beneficial outcomes. Incidentally, evolution also includes methods for rearranging, principles of randomness, mixing, and much more.

Tip number 6: Create transparency

Transparency is an essential, supporting pillar in every agile team and has the following meanings in particular:

Each team member must know and be able to understand exactly who the client is, what his goals are, what the general conditions are and what details are behind decisions. This is the only way team members can work in a goal-oriented manner and on a common basis.

Transparency also applies to topics in your own team: who is working on what, what know-how is available, what strengths and weaknesses need to be taken into account, what feedback can be used, etc.

Transparency also includes, for example, which terms are used in the collaboration, in the service or in the product and why. That improves communication.

Above all, make all project knowledge transparent, update important documents and plans regularly and publish them.

Always make your own thoughts and decisions transparent. Although you promote the self-organization of your teams, you will always come across situations in which you have to decide or moderate.

Tip number 7: Develop a feedback culture

Feedback is not a new topic. But there is often a lack of trust, the right tools, or feedback is not obtained systematically

Agile working is unthinkable without feedback. It is not only about the dialogue between you and your employees, but also about feedback from your customers or stakeholders.

Agility is the ability to adapt to rapidly changing conditions. Systematic feedback is the basis for decisions. An appreciative and change-affirming culture is the framework that you as an agile leader must shape and promote.

Also, accept feedback yourself. Train your teams in feedback methods, establish fixed deadlines, matrices and evaluations. Motivate your teams to actively seek feedback themselves to improve themselves and the project they are working on.

There are many methods: 5-finger feedback, questionnaires, start-stop-continue, usage data and many more.

Tip number 8: Evaluate mistakes positively

Mistakes are the basis for further development in an agile team. What is meant is that incorrect assumptions or decisions based on evaluation and feedback are quickly recognized and corrected dynamically.

It is assumed that all things and processes initially contain errors; also people. So the problem would not be the mistakes themselves, but rather not looking for them, not discovering them, or not acting on them.

Some new perspectives follow from this error culture:

  • Not everything has to be error-free right away, but it has to develop quickly.
  • Most errors can only be found through trial and error and feedback.
  • Experiments are important and part of an error culture.

By the way: a culture of mistakes does not mean that you can unabashedly misbehave.

Motivate your teams to look for mistakes and celebrate every find - as well as its resolution. As a result, you get better products faster, bolder and more committed teams, and a modern, solution-oriented culture.

Tip number 9: Lead your team to independence

Teams that work independently, make good decisions and have a clear goal achieve significantly better results.

Align your management consistently with the needs and interests of your employees; called Servant Leadership.

As a Servant Leader, you will encourage development by:

  • Coach your employees to develop strengths and skills.
  • Encourage the creativity and innovative skills of your employees.
  • Increase motivation: Show what is worth investing time and energy in.
  • Encourage your employees to work together.
  • Support your teams to achieve common goals and learn from each other.
  • Support active and individual feedback.
  • Create a positive error culture.

In teams that work independently, each team member knows who still needs support or who can support. This develops a networked and dynamic way of thinking as well as distributed knowledge. This means that unexpected failures in the team can be better absorbed and compensated for.

Tip number 10: Use agile leadership methods

The simplest and most important method for good agile leadership is: Be agile yourself! Apply the previous tips and standards for agile leadership to yourself and your management team.

Plan the agile transformation very precisely together with your teams; Being agile doesn't mean being haphazard.

Establish and promote appropriate principles and ceremonies, such as feedback, sprints, design & lean thinking, standups, retros, backlogs, events, etc.

For larger environments and multiple teams, use individualized frameworks such as SAFe, regularly determine the level of maturity, form transformation teams, use coaches, work with digital tools such as Jira & Co. and much more.

Also use best practices and know-how from other companies; Exchange ideas with other executives and use the experience and tools of service providers such as it-economics.

Good succeed!

Bernd Guenter

Bernd Guenter
Head of Sales & Marketing

Torsten Dibbert

Torsten Dibbert
Agile Trainer