This was a great week at BVCon, our bi-annual company gathering where we build relationships, show experiences, and learn from each other. These events are core to our values and success, as it brings our virtual company together not only physically but also emotionally. While I have always enjoyed and treasure this time together, in past events I have felt something was missing. While we would have awesome discussions and a fun time, little would happen after the events. We would essentially go back to our real world with our clients and continue with our lives as coaches. Sure, we would come back refreshed and energized, but there were few tangible results that we could take back and use.
Is Agile Accountability an Oxymoron?
This year’s theme was around accountability, a topic that is difficult for leaders to talk about, especially those that have embraced agile principles. Why? Because many leaders believe that accountability resembles command-and-control leadership. A manager tells you to be accountable, instead of allowing you to be empowered and self-organize with the rest of your team. I have heard some say in the agile world that management is not needed for true accountability; instead, the team members should hold each other accountable for their success.
For a long time, the only goal our BigVisible leadership team gave us was to “be awesome.” They felt that to be more specific might put structure or constraints in place that would be stifling. As coaches, we felt great to have complete power over our destiny. No rules, no guidelines, just do your best and help our clients. Should be enough, right? Yet, as I saw in past events there was something missing that I couldn’t put my finger on. What’s even more interesting is that I have seen the same pattern with managers who are trying to move from a controlling or directive style to one that is more supportive or defers to the team. I’ve even heard some managers say, “We let the teams decide what they want to do, they determine their process, their tools, the way they want to work.” Yet, these are teams that we typically come into our clients to help with.
Agile Leaders Build the Right Environments
Agile leaders still need to be leaders. A quiet leader is a dead leader. People need some guidance and structure. In fact, one of the principles states, “Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.” It doesn’t say, “Let them figure it all out on their own.” During our first day at this year’s BVCon, the leaders provided some clear goals for the company, with the rallying cry, “Let’s build our company together focused on these goals!” For me, this was something I had wanted for a long time and didn’t realize until I heard it. Some structure, some constraints—an environment to work within. At the same time, though, our leaders still provided empowerment by involving us to determine what we need to do collectively to achieve those goals.
The rest of our time together was focused on not just generating a lot of great ideas but on building things together. Because we have a joint understanding and direction we are moving in as an entire team, instead of all of us focusing on individual ideas and work, we came together to determine what’s important for the business. Instead of just us “being awesome,” we came away with a feeling of greater commitment. We are all feeling accountable to leadership, to our company, and to each other. We know that “with great power comes great responsibility” and we have concrete plans to keep the work going even after we return to our daily work.
Agile Accountability & Catalyst Leaders
Leaders moving to an agile way of working still need to be what we call “catalyst” leaders. They need to create environments so that people will thrive, have focus, work on the right things, and feel motivated. Catalyst leaders provide clear and measurable goals; standards and guidelines of how we work, do the work and deliver the work; and work environments that help teams collaborate, communicate, and have fun. Teams don’t need strict policies, procedures or structures that stifle but they do need enough structure to feel motivated and supported.