agile leadership empowerment

Agile Leadership: Your team is just fine. The problem is actually you.

The Dysfunctional Team

No matter what you do, your team is not getting better. Your team is good, but it has the potential to be great. You’ve taught your team different processes for working more efficiently, invested in agility training, hired consultants to coach the team, but outcomes are not improving. The team lacks the motivation, curiosity, and confidence to truly push the boundaries of great work.

There is a clear gap between where your team is today and where you want it to be. Before we talk about closing that gap, let’s look at some common team dysfunctions vs. desired team behaviors. Once we understand where we are and where we want to be, we can better design a path to help our team get there. The chart below shows team behaviors displayed by “dysfunctional” teams on the left and the behaviors displayed by “effective” teams on the right. The goal of a leader is to continuously help the team take the journey from the left to right.

You’ve worked hard to help your team move from dysfunctional to effective, but they just aren’t “getting it.” Why can’t your team improve? I have some potentially scary news: the problem is likely you. While you think you’re setting up all of the right processes and giving your team opportunities to work in different ways, your team is still looking to you for permission to actually be different. They want to know that you are there to support, empower, and inspire them to get better. Being a great team leader is not about telling your team the right things to do; it’s about inspiring and empowering your team to do the right things.

What’s wrong with your team?

You’ve worked hard to help your team move from dysfunctional to effective, but they just aren’t “getting it.” Why can’t your team improve? I have some potentially scary news: the problem is likely you. While you think you’re setting up all of the right processes and giving your team opportunities to work in different ways, your team is still looking to you for permission to actually be different. They want to know that you are there to support, empower, and inspire them to get better. Being a great team leader is not about telling your team the right things to do; it’s about inspiring and empowering your team to do the right things.

Closing the Gaps and Getting Better

So what does it take to empower your team? Beyond setting up processes, it’s about modeling the right behaviors. To get started, below are six concrete actions that leaders can take today to help their teams move from left to right on the team effectiveness scale.

1. Provide a clear team mission, along with goals and KPIs: The only way a team can possibly work towards a goal is if the team knows what that goal is. So often in my work with clients I find that teams lack clarity of goals. Upon digging deeper, I find that leadership does not have clarity on the goals either. Therefore, leadership is unable to provide a clear vision for the team. As a leader, it is your job to create a clear team mission, define relevant goals and KPIs that align to that mission, and communicate these items clearly with your team. If necessary, post these goals all over your office so that your team is always reminded.

2. Demonstrate curiosity and excitement: Good energy is contagious, but it must start somewhere. As a leader of the team, you can set the right tone by becoming curious and excited by the team’s work. Let the team know that you care about the work they are doing and want to learn from them. Get your team excited about their work by opening them up to new possibilities. Ask questions such as “How might we do X better?” and “If there were no rules, what would you do differently?”

3. Empower team members to take ownership of their work vs. command &control: A simple way to empower team members is to stop answering so many questions and start asking them. By asking questions, you can help team members get to their own answers, ultimately making them feel more ownership over the work that needs to be done. Another effective way to create ownership is to ask your team members to make their own work plans (project milestones, critical success criteria/KPIs, what is needed from others to be successful, etc.) based on the high level goal of the work stream. By having the people who are doing the work come up with their own milestones and success measurements, they will feel more invested in getting the work done.

4. Clear time for team members to focus on high value work vs. urgent fire-drill work: Sit down with each of your team members to understand how she spends her time on a weekly basis. What percentage of time is spent in meetings, sending emails, and on the phone? How often are your team members being interrupted from their high priority work to answer “urgent” unrelated requests. One of your jobs as a leader is to protect your team’s time from lower priority fire drills. To do so you can do two things: 1) communicate to others in the organization your team’s priorities and time availability, and 2) let your team know that they can make judgement calls on whether to accept urgent requests and, if so, where in their priority list the requests fall.

5. Celebrate both team wins and failures equally: People like to be recognized for their efforts at work, yet it happens far less often than it should. Not only does recognition make people feel good, it also inspires and motivates them to do even more good work. Make sure to both formally and informally recognize your team members on a consistent basis. Furthermore, celebrate team failures and the learnings you were able to gather from the failures. Doing so will encourage your team to experiment without fear of repercussions for failure. It will also create an environment that encourages continuous learning and improvement.

6. Show team members that you care about and value them: If you want your team members to be their best, they must feel safe and cared about. According to leadership expert Simon Sinek, “…if the conditions are wrong, we are forced to expend our own time and energy to protect ourselves from each other, and that inherently weakens the organization. When we feel safe inside the organization, we will naturally combine our talents and our strengths and work tirelessly to face the dangers outside and seize the opportunities.” Start by telling your employees that you value them as a part of the team and explain why. Often leaders forget that the simple act of telling someone they matter makes a huge difference to that person. Set up consistent one-on-one meetings with team members to show them they are valued and you are willing to spend time coaching them. Lastly, become interested in who they are beyond work – ask them about their kids, their dog, their non-work interests. Treat them as people and it will make a world of difference.

What’s Next?

Once you start putting these new behaviors in place, check in with your team for feedback. After all, the best way to know if something is working is to ask directly. Use one-on-one meetings with team members to ask what else you can do to support them and create a better working environment. The more your team feels safe and trusts you, the more honest and productive these conversations will be. Over time, with consistent effort on improving your leadership behaviors, you will see your team move from left to right on the path to effectiveness.

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Originally posted by CMG Consultant Kate Mills on LinkedIn.