In what way have you been confronted with agile? In some way or another we all have. You know that you have to adapt, to find ways to act quickly and in a more forward-looking way. Agile is a proven way of working to develop more action oriented organizations that remain productive and relevant in a rapidly changing world.
Author Steve Denning even says that we are moving out of the age of knowledge and information and into the age of agile in which action is privileged over knowledge.
What does this mean for our leadership? How to adapt our leadership style to this rapidly changing world, how to lead in an age of agile? Teams need to function more autonomously but they still need guidance. What is it exactly they need? How can I as a leader be as relevant as possible? Where is my added value in this new organization? Those are relevant questions to ask and it is normal that asking them feels uncomfortable. In this article we will formulate some answers to these questions, answers that come from very different backgrounds but have the same objective: give some concrete tips to start with.
Let’s start with a story.
imagine it is impro theatre
Imagine you are the director of a theatre company.
One day you come in and say: ‘As from now on there will be no existing plays anymore, no scripts, only improvisation.’
Before, when you launched a new production, you would introduce the story, give the context in which it has been written, the purpose, the main themes and you might elaborate on the reason why you chose that play. Before the actors start to learn their lines, you wanted to motivate them and show them how it was going to look like. Once rehearsals started, you gave instructions to help the actors build the story as you see it. You helped them connect with their character and bring the story to life. They followed your instructions and knew they had the skills to perform the way it was expected from them.
But now you expect them to improvise, to be on scene and start building dialogues all by themselves and in real time on a given topic.
Leading in the age of agile
Often organizations were in the process of adapting and changing in order to better deal with the increasing uncertainty and complexity. The script is not as stable and clear anymore, it was not possible to give clear instructions, nor was there enough time to adapt instructions quickly enough to changing situations. Everybody in the organization had to step up, become aware of the changing environment and act on it. Most of all, everybody needed to work together much more closely. This is exactly what improvisation is about. The basic rules of improvisation are: observe what you see, listen to the other, say ‘yes and’ build on others’ ideas.
As the director in an improv theatre company, your added value as a leader in todays’ organizations, is to help your team develop the skills needed to operate in this new environment. They need to learn and practice these new skills. Even more, they need to develop a new mindset. For you, this means first of all to function as a role model by starting to learn and practice yourself.
Be a leader in learning mode
To be in a learning mode as a leader is not about making time for a formal training, but about identifying new skills you want to start practicing. You find ways to deliberately experiment and find opportunities to make progress. People will see you are trying out new things and adapting your behavior on the basis of the new learnings. The more transparent you are about your own learning process, the more you will inspire others to start their own learning process.
Finally, encourage them explicitly to enter a learning mode and provide tools and techniques they can use to structure their learning. As the objective of this learning process is to develop capabilities to anticipate and respond to a stream of new challenges, the universal creative problem solving process is a good tool to start with. It provides a structured and intuitive process to tackle challenges in a collaborative and creative way. What is it about? A process and a basic principle: The universal creative problem solving process is based on the way we solve problems intuitively: we clarify the problem, we generate ideas to solve the problem, we further develop and shape the problem into a workable solution and we implement the solution. Clarify, Ideate, Develop and Implement are the 4 phases of the process.
The principle of separating creative and critical thinking applies to every phase of the process: first generate a lot of questions before choosing the most relevant one, first generating a lot of ideas before choosing. The development and implementation phase are the ones focused on in the agile methodology. The objective is to prototype and test quickly before implementing.
By using the process people develop their creative and critical problem solving skills, they will start to think in options, see opportunities instead of roadblocks and take more initiative. It is the perfect way to learn to cope with permanent change. Your added value as a leader is not to provide solutions, but to provide and apply tools that help people build capabilities to thrive in the age of agile.