Critical Ingredients to High-Performing Teams in 2020: Part 4, Leadership
Four agile coaches including MATRIX Agile Practice Director Jeremy Wood recently led a roundtable discussion on how to maintain high-performance teams while working remotely. Leadership is one topic they discussed.
Can you share observations about changes in leaders and how they respond to direct reports specifically now that people are working remote and no longer have the ability to have that immediate interaction?
Bryan Agosto: At the beginning, there was a lot of empathy (discussed in an earlier blog). So, leaders were more focused on, ‘Are you safe? You're not sick. You can still be productive.’ What I've seen more and more now is, ‘How do I lead an organization of 500 people?’ What’s the strategy now with everyone dispersed? Leaders used to be able to walk up to and talk to a team or a manager who wasn't aligned with the strategy and have a good conversation with them. They can't do that anymore.
In many cases, there was some micromanagement going on. Leaders used to be able personally see if a developer was actually in the office for eight hours and working. And they can't do that anymore.
One thing I've worked with and coached with leaders has been ‘how do you change the way you think you have to lead?’ And it's because they don't interact directly with those teams as often.
Leaders today are telling me, ‘I see my teams increase in productivity, but the actual delivery to production isn't changing. We haven't gotten newer things faster.’ And I ask, ‘why do you think that is? Let's have a conversation.’ This conversation has shifted from what are they doing, to what can I do to make the process get to production faster.
Phil Ricci: Some managers felt like they had little interaction with the teams previously.
Now it’s a great opportunity to help those managers find other ways to interact with a team. Now it's about how they grow those employees, how they understand what the final output is, and what they’re delivering to customers.
Jeremy Wood: I see leadership influenced primarily by two things. One is culture. What is the pressure internally in the organization for productivity? Often, that will be a driver for how leaders interact with their reports or their team members. The other driver I often find is the level of experience that that leader has.
I find that many less experienced managers will pick specific metrics as the goal and anybody who's ever done a little bit of coaching knows that as soon as you tell somebody what the goal is, they will give that to you. And just that. So be careful what you ask for. An example would be, ‘we need to achieve a certain number of user story points this sprint. We're on track to deliver based on this velocity.’ In those instances, some of the behaviors we see will drive the teams to create story points higher than the goal, just so they can slack off next sprint. So, they're artificially inflating the number of story points they are delivering. But the value overall does not change. There's a mismatch between what they are seeing on metrics and what they are getting at the end of the day.
Then, there are those who are more experienced managers or leaders who drive their people towards the outcomes. Was value delivered? Did it work well? They're not the type of people that track down individual user stories or where are we on this task within a user story. They want the team to own those problems, communicate and solve it themselves. That's where I usually see a big difference in leaders.