Attention Dogs

Delegative management?

During a keynote speech at a conference I recently attended I listened to a Phillip Lew challenge the orthodoxy of Agile’s over-reliance on group decision making (participative management) styles.  Agile teams are typically built a presumption that group decision making is all that is needed to deliver value to the customer. Group decision making is often compared to classic command and control forms (autocratic) of management. In many cases, autocratic management is portrayed as the antithesis of Agile which casts the discussion in terms of good and evil.  Casting the discussion of management styles in terms of good and evil is probably an overstatement and just believing that are there only two management styles is a miss-statement. Let’s deal with the miss-statement first. There are at least five common management styles. Before we can wrestle with whether Agile only works if a pure participative management is used we need to agree on a few definitions. (more…)



In Leadership Overview: Leader or Hermit, we discussed how people become leaders.  In today’s Daily Process Thoughts we are discussing how people lead.  Not all leadership models make sense for an Agile team.  For example, the Great Man model does not fit the idea of a self-organizing, self-managing, collaborative team. Great Man theories assume that the capacity for leadership is inherent; team members follow because the leader is destined to lead. This leads to command and control leadership styles. Command and control leadership styles will hurt Agile teams because it does not support team involvement in self-organization and self-management. Three management theories help explain the types of leaders that work for Agile teams: contingency, participative and relationship theories.

Contingency theories of leadership suggest that no single leadership style is the best for all situations.  The environment (team, business problem, management structure and others) influence which particular style of leadership and leader is best suited for the situation. For example, I recently watched a Scrum Master lead a team through their initial planning process where there was significant hostility between the team members due to lack of trust.  A few days later, as full-scale development began, a senior developer took the mantle of leadership to help the team make architectural decisions.  Later in the sprint, a skilled tester provided leadership to help the team tie up testing loose ends. Each person on the team was able to lead using different traits and styles that fit the specific situation.  Contingency theories reflect the impact of dynamic variables on leadership, which impacts the style that fits best.

Many leaders within Agile teams have participative leadership styles.  Leaders that use the participative style will take the input of others into account. In many Agile teams, participative leadership is a reflection of flat team hierarchies. Through encouraging participation, contributions and collaboration from team members, the leader helps to ensure that everyone feels relevant and included.  The troubling part of many participative leadership theories is that the leader “retains” the right to allow input, which also suggests that they can unilaterally decide to not allow input.  While this retained right can be a necessity to deal with emergencies, the systematic use of escape clause will destroy a self-managing team.

The relationship between a leader and the team is at the core of relationship theories of leadership.  These types of leaders motivate and inspire members of their teams to see the value in the work the team is being asked and have committed to deliver. Relationship-style leaders are both performance driven and people-centric. This is the type of leadership espoused by David Marquet in his book Turn the Ship Around. Leaders that have been using relationship leadership theories most closely reflect the role defined for a Scrum Master.

The three styles of leadership are the most conducive to Agile Contingency theories reflect life in Agile teams where different situations require both different leaders and different leadership styles.  Participative theories reflect a collaborative approach that fits with the ideal of self-organization.  Finally, relationship theories reflect the drive for performance and a people-centric approach that is a direct reflection of the Scrum Master’s role.  Agile, unlike Kanban, is not neutral with respect to the choice of leadership theory.  Any of the three we’ve discussed today (perhaps even better, a style that combines the best of each) will work with an Agile approach, not against it.