Working with management, teams, and organizations allows for diversity of situation, experimentation to increase learning, partnerships that support co-creation, and plenty of mistakes. I am fortunate to have worked closely with many individuals in senior management that not only sponsor the initiative, but also support me and the teams by showing up and giving it their all. This is one story about a one such leader that exemplified key leadership qualities that greatly aided all involved.
The Tale of the Committed Leader
One of the largest initiatives that I led as an Agile Coach was working at an organization to accomplish multiple goals, including:
- Coach and lead the adoption of agile across the entire IT group
- Support and mentor the management team as they undergo this adoption
- Lead and coach the agile coach program to bring about an internal agile coach to continue the work after we (as consultants) move onto another company
- Throughout this entire initiative, this Vice President, supported by his words and, more importantly, his deeds with all teams and individuals.
The First Big Action Taken by this Leader
We, the consultants, and senior management decided that we would start with two pilot teams to take on agile, and then expand to more teams as we learned from this experience. It became evident that we needed a team space for one of the pilot agile teams. As we surveyed the floor, we noted that there was no ideal space for this team to utilize without disrupting many other teams — which was something that we did not want to do.
So, this Leader made a bold move. He moved from his larger office into a much smaller one and then tore down his office and an adjoining office to make an ideal team space. This first bold act demonstrated that he was committed to this adoption and was willing to give up his own personal luxuries. The team was thrilled!
Making Himself Available for Counsel and Support
As the program gained traction, this Leader made himself available for all meetings and any requested actions by myself, the other consultants, or anybody else in the group. He did this by attending all of the pilot teams’ key meetings, working with me multiple times per week, asking the teams how we could help (and actually helping them), and co-leading the creation of a senior management team that took action to overcome organizational obstacles that the teams became slowed or blocked by.
How He Handled a Sticky Situation
One of the most valuable assets of an external agile coach is that we are seen as an outsider that contains key experiences to greatly improve the situation and can give advice (steeped in critical experiences) to move through challenges and obstacles.
On the other side, as an external agile coach we are also seen as an influencer but not a committed member of the team. We are not in the ecosystem of hierarchy and groups, our impact is not as effective as senior management within the company.
This Leader was such person who had strong influencer and demonstrated it each day.
About halfway into our 15-month engagement with this organization, an individual on one of the agile teams showed strong energy to make this work no matter the obstacle. At first we believed that he could become a champion (and eventually leader) in this larger group. Unfortunately, his behaviours became forceful, stubborn, and unhealthy. He did all the things that many of us do when we miss the mark for a large change — he tried to drive it to success.
I remember having many conversations with this team member on how to shift his behaviours from driving to inviting, and from pushing people to one of co-creation. My attempts failed. So, I spoke with the Leader about the situation and gave his updates on my ongoing dialog with this team member. I suggested to the Leader that he do one of two things:
- Move this team member to another group or team that may be a better fit for his style and approach, or…
- Fire this team member for not upholding the acceptable behaviours of the organization.
Well, the Leader opted for second choice: fire this team member! Of course, he first attempted to work with this team member and worked closely with his direct manager which obviously led to no positive changes.
The result of this choice was twofold. First, the team was much happier as their concerns were addressed directly by the Leader (VP). Second, the team member that was let go was also happier — I connected with him a few weeks after — since he moved on to another company that fit with his style and goals.
Showing His Support Throughout the Initiative
As we continue this journey to adopt agile and improve the team’s work and collaboration, we had many challenges and learning experiences that this Leader continued to demonstrate his commitment.
- He supported the co-creation of teams and the ability for each team member to volunteer for any team they wanted (within reason).
- He led a transformation team of senior management to overcome obstacles and challenges identified by teams and individuals.
- He worked closely with individuals to make the cultural shift towards more healthy behaviours by being with them and allowing them to shift over time
Some Final Thoughts About this Leader and His Impact
No matter how experienced the coach or consultant is, it is critical to have commited internal members of the senior management team be present and engaged. They can make or break adoption or transformation — in my experience have broken many initiatives. This Leader not only demonstrated his commitment, he also showed great compassion, patience, love, and kindness for his staff and peers. It was an honour to be working with him for so many months and to consider him a friend.
What impact has your leaders made for your adoption plans? How have they supported and allowed for a greater experience? What specific behaviours were the most impactful for a joyful program?
I hope that each of you continue to bring light and love to those around as I continue to strive in doing this each and every day.
Paul J. Heidema