Change Blog

Leading by the hand, yet letting go at the same time - how does that work?

By Michael Timmermann, published on 10 July 2024

 

During an agile transformation in an organization, a leader made rounds to gauge how employees were adapting to the new work environment. Shockingly, in one team, the door was slammed shut with a bold declaration: "You're no longer needed here; we are now self-organized..."

Naturally, the leadership was taken aback by the unexpected "disempowerment" that seemed to arise from the agile transformation. Is this an unavoidable consequence?

While there are compelling reasons to embrace the advantages of agility, particularly within large and intricate organizations, the accompanying sense of diminished control can provoke unease among leaders at all levels. This unease stems not only from the shifting dynamics of roles and responsibilities or the increased autonomy of teams but also from the redefined interfaces within the organization. The scenario described may seem extreme, yet it serves as a poignant example of a common misconception: the transition from "Hail to the chief" to "power to the people." It may appear that leaders no longer hold sway in a self-organized team environment. However, this is not entirely accurate; self-organized teams are granted autonomy in the execution of operations, while the strategic direction and the cultivation of a new organizational culture remain firmly within the realm of leadership's responsibility.

Michael Timmermann mit Führungskraft bei Spaziergang in der Natur

Implementing the transformation

Here, we showcase two different examples of successfully implementing a transformation and establishing agile working methods, even in the face of unique public circumstances.

Introduction of a new agile collaboration model

In a financial institution, a cutting-edge agile collaboration model was introduced for its IT department as part of an efficiency drive. Rather than operating in silos as in the past, IT and its business counterparts were encouraged to form a unified virtual organizational entity composed of interconnected building blocks. The bank faced a complex challenge: agility demands an iterative mindset, the willingness to take calculated risks, and the acceptance of inevitable missteps. These principles were not the conventional modus operandi for a bank, particularly one that is publicly owned, bound by stringent regulatory protocols, and facing heightened reputational risks.

Equally vital to the structural changes was the cultural shift right from the beginning, paving the way for a fresh approach to collaboration that Timmermann actively supported. In an agile setting, the leadership landscape and concepts needed a reevaluation, diverging from the bank's traditional leadership norms. The linchpin of a successful transformation lied in fostering communication among all stakeholders, empowering them to embrace their new roles. This included engaging in leadership retrospectives with line managers and agile team members to enhance collaboration, conducting role workshops to fortify emerging leadership positions, and organizing learning sessions like Scrum Learning Labs.

Collaborating closely with the internal change team, a comprehensive communication initiative titled "Coffee with the Building Blocks" was orchestrated. This innovative campaign provided individuals within and surrounding the building blocks a platform to openly share their insights and personal journeys through podcasts, videos, and intranet features, fostering sustainable dialogue and engagement.

Early decision for SAFe Framework

Meanwhile, a logistics organization took a unique approach by opting for the SAFe Framework early on, placing a significant emphasis on the product development process to maintain complete transparency with their public sector client throughout the transition and ongoing operations. Alongside the restructuring efforts, there was a crucial focus on cultural change to break away from the informal perpetuation of outdated structures across all levels of hierarchy and culture within the organization.

Given the critical importance of operational safety and reliability, the transformation couldn't unfold gradually but had to be executed swiftly and decisively. Through personalized support for every department and management level, we could facilitate the client's desired change in a bold and impactful manner, akin to a transformative 'Big Bang' event.

As the sun set on the old organizational structure, a swift and successful transition ushered in a new era, leaving no room for sentimental attachments to the past. Leaders not only embraced their new roles, such as Scrum Masters and Release Train Engineers, but also embodied the essence of learning role models. Simultaneously, novel cultural norms were forged, serving as steadfast pillars, while conflicts and misunderstandings metamorphosed into valuable learning opportunities through thoughtful moderation and interventions. This holistic approach ensured that the agile ethos permeated through all hierarchical levels seamlessly, without causing any disruptions.

Conclusion

The successful navigation of organizational and structural challenges, coupled with the essential shift in mindset, in both cases, can be attributed to our ability to customize our approach to each organization during the transformation. This approach instilled the confidence needed for them to embrace change, relinquish control, and authentically embody agility.

Topics: AgilityLeadershipLetting go

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