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Leadership Fit for the 21st Century: Challenges in an Agile Environment

The Agile Consortium organized an evening seminar on leadership fit for the 21st century on December 1 in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Two presentations were given, one on leadership challenges in an agile environment and one on why empowering people is impossible, followed by a keynote on intent–based leadership by David Marquet, author of the book Turn the Ship Around.

This first post in the series on leadership fit for the 21st century covers the talk given by Hendrik Pothof from ING and Michael Bres from Axis into Management about leadership challenges in an agile environment. ING is transitioning to a global operating model to establish one way of working in all countries where ING is based. To do this transition they brought all the people who were involved in the design, change and support of the end to end process together to look for solutions to come to uniform processes, global IT applications and to establish one team that is responsible for the operating model said Pothof.

ING has one management team for business, IT and operations. They have established guidelines for the DevOps teams within which they have to do their work. It turned out that DevOps teams could not deliver on their own said Pothof. Therefore they decided to change them to end2end teams. These teams are organized in such a way that they map on the main business processes within ING. As a results from the transition to a global operating model the number of governance documents was reduced from fifty down to ten.

Pothof mentioned that ING is looking for KPIs that confirm that the organization has become more Agile. The business has grown and operating costs have gone down.

Bres mentioned that there are publications on agile that are suggesting that maybe we should get rid of management. Which according to him is not true, he suggested that we should take a different management approach for agile. He presented a leadership manifesto at the seminar for managers working in an agile environment.

The 2015 state of DevOps report mentions sharing responsibilities as a practice for creating a generative culture. IT managers play a critical role in a DevOps transformation when it comes to establishing shared responsibility. Establishing self organizing teams is often hard. Many agile implementations focus on "fixing the person" in stead of changing the environment. Bres stated that we need different leadership for agile. Management has to innovate to find effective ways for collaboration.

Bres presented an alternative perspective for leadership which connects autonomy, freedom to act, and mutual consent. These are natural principles for collaboration, which help to increase innovation and creativity, he said.

The leadership manifesto states that managers should:

  • create, deploy and maintain collaborative structures
  • facilitate all stakeholders to develop and implement appropriate arrangements to add customer value
  • enable all stakeholders to develop and maintain adaptive power
  • offer co-workers recognition for value creation and actual improvements

Bres also mentioned there are 8 principles underlying the leadership manifesto leaders working in a agile environment are encouraged to follow.

ING applied the principles from the leadership manifesto. They defined a collaborative structure which enables collaboration between subsidiaries in different countries with an agile captive team and reached agreement in which priorities are based on common understanding and mutual consent.

Bres mentioned that specialization can be a power within a collaborative structure. The collaborative structures and the system of interconnected arrangements offer a suitable solution for the increase need of coordination and tuning between the teams. The collaborative structure is the intended purpose for this problem when deploying it as a platform for cooperation.

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