Collaborative Leadership is Required for Agile Environments

A couple of months ago I wrote that Agile Is More Than a Set of Methods — It’s a Leadership Mindset. Agile methods won’t thrive unless the IT leadership mindset and culture is itself agile, and for most agile experts, that implies collaborative leadership.

Why is collaborative leadership required for agile environments?

Good question. Consider this: The Agile Project Leadership Network (APLN) is founded on the principles of the Declaration of Interdependence (DOI). (As a point of transparency, you may want to know that I co-authored the DOI and cofounded the APLN with, I’m pleased to say, fourteen regarded agile experts.)

Notice the term “interdependence.” All six principles of the DOI point to some element of interdependence with — not independence from — project and business forces:

  • We increase return on investment by making continuous flow of value our focus.
  • We deliver reliable results by engaging customers in frequent interactions and shared ownership.
  • We expect uncertainty and manage for it through iterations, anticipation, and adaptation.
  • We unleash creativity and innovation by recognizing that individuals are the ultimate source of value, and creating an environment where they can make a difference.
  • We boost performance through group accountability for results and shared responsibility for team effectiveness.
  • We improve effectiveness and reliability through situationally specific strategies, processes and practices.

Interdependence implies simultaneous multi-way, cause-effect relationships. The interdependent business forces include (at least):

  • your customer’s idea of value,
  • variables in your operating environment,
  • the vicissitudes of your creative talent, and
  • your methods and goals.

To recognize interdependence means to realize and admit being only one player among a group of factors

You must dance with time and nature — you can never isolate and freeze time and nature while you assemble static pieces of your project. Once you recognize and declare your interdependence at the project level, then you realize

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7 Responses to Collaborative Leadership is Required for Agile Environments

  1. Jurgen De Smet says:

    Great post and in reality you see that building these kind of teams on senior management level is harder to achieve than down in the organization of which I personally think TRUST is the key factor. In most bigger organizations senior management is so used to use CYA that trust and accompagnied transparency is hard to bring. Without those factors I do not see how the others will succeed.


    • Thanks Jurgen for your insight here. I totally agree. As I write in How to Build Effective, Successful Management Teams a focus on near-to-mid term alignment provide the context for trust to be built in leadership teams. Sometimes I tell clients this: You either need a compelling common focus (vision, mission, objective, etc.) that can overcome your functional conflicts, or, you need a culture of love (i.e., integrative power or “power with”). The first is much easier to achieve than the second. Both are issues of leadership, values, mindset and culture, not of managing by structure and numbers.

      Re: integrative power and power with, it looks like I need to bring those ideas into the blog. I searched for them and didn’t find them here. So they are subjects for upcoming posts. Thanks for being a spark plug Jurgen!

  2. Pichat says:

    I loved the headlines, thanks for the blog posting!

    As a fan of ‘servant leadership’ I am glad to find more to read about this concept. In an agile/lean adoption phase changing the company culture is one big barrier to overtake, repairing the damages of traditional management is another. The damages are in my opinion deeper than lost trust. Knowledgeable people have been trained to not work to their best abilities and condemned to passivity. It takes time to revitalise them, before collaboration is possible.

    Hope this makes sense and many greetings from an agilist in Sweden!

    • Hi Pichat — thanks for your valuable addition to this topic. I know that agile is alive and well in Sweden. I have many friends there and enjoy visiting Stockholm and the countryside.

      I agree that traditional management has done what you say to employees. I’ve always thought that “empowerment” and “engagement” is misguided since it seems to focus on management doing something else to the worker instead of “undoing” the dis-empowerment and the dis-engagement. The idea of pull versus push helps to illustrate and think about this too. Having work pushed on you is less fun than pulling work that you know is valuable. But more on that another time.

  3. I completely agree and teach both collaborative management and Agile methods in my work. However, I have found that developing these capabilities is not easy and there are many factors that get in the way of successfully developing the capability. Perhaps we could spend some time on how we can develop collaborative management and develop trust in our teams and cultures. The present climate of pressure and fear is a worthy obstacle.

  4. Aruna says:

    Great post! Its quite true that collaborative leadership style instills agile mindset at all levels. The forces of interdependence blurs the distinctions between the different departments and allows for cross-functional collaboration where innovative ideas and creativity tend to flow.

    Though we would be challenged by resistance of change during this transition, the passion and ownership of work will tend to increase resulting in greater profitability.

    “The intersection of Technology and Leadership”

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