Shifting The Performance Paradigm
– Self-management doesn’t happen overnight.
If we do not let people do things the way they do, we will never know what they are really capable of and they will just follow our boarding school rules. – Ricardo Semler
In a Nutshell
Agile or self-steering teams are no longer restricted just to the realm of software or IT: Instead, it’s a new management mindset that’s finding more takers and believers every day. However, there’s a huge void between aspiring to become agile and actually being agile as an organization.
A recent Deloitte survey of senior executives revealed that almost all respondents (94%) felt being agile and collaborative were among their top priorities to ensure organizational success. However, only a meagre 6% of respondents could say that they were truly agile now.
So, why the gap?
The tenets of agile teams – fast paced, innovative and adaptive – are extremely appealing to traditional companies that are battling attacks from vociferous markets and renegade competition. However, it’s easier said than done and most companies are unclear about what operational functions can actually be self-managed and what cannot. Managements often launch hundreds of self-organized teams, only to find (in retrospect) that those teams are bogged down by existing bureaucracies and a lack of direction.
When teams, that were until recently part of a traditional, hierarchical set-up, are suddenly declared self-organized, it leaves team members feeling lost. The once-managerial responsibilities like setting goals, devising strategies, resolving conflicts and reviewing performance, are now responsibilities of the teams themselves – with the manager assuming a more facilitating role. What it does is, raise more questions than answers; increase insecurities among team members; and lead to general chaos and frustration.
This is not to say that self-steering teams cannot be scaled to large, previously-hierarchical enterprises. In fact, companies like Amazon and USAA are great examples of traditional hierarchies that have transformed themselves into self-managed, agile organizations. There’s no denying that the journey into self-management, when undertaken correctly, can lead to increased productivity, lesser risk, greater quality and higher morale.
But, self-management cannot be achieved overnight. Instead, companies need to let their newly-agile teams take baby steps towards complete self-organization. It’s wiser to facilitate teams by first clearly answering the question, “When is the team performing well?” When you do that, the discussion will invariably involve some boundaries that foster psychological safety. Eventually, teams will grow confident enough to push back on those boundaries and enter into open dialogues on goal setting, strategy-formation and performance evaluation.
And, only when they’ve matured in self-organization, can teams truly embrace the agile mindset.