Micro Focus is now part of OpenText. Learn more >

You are here

You are here

7 keys to forging an effective agile team-leader partnership

Bob Galen Agile Methodologist, Practitioner and Coach, Vaco

People in the agile community often talk about the role leaders must play in creating the necessary ecosystem that will result in a high-performing agile team. But it's just as important for team members to take the right stance with their leadership partners in the business.

As an agile coach, I see too much dysfunctional behavior directed toward the leaders of agile teams. Team members often marginalize leadership, blame them, stereotype them, and vilify them. You may have even heard this sort of lament from someone on an agile team: "I'm agile, but my manager isn't. Leadership thinks they are, but they're not. That’s what's holding us back. It's their fault.”

This view doesn't represent a collaborative, high-performing mindset on the part of the team. Rather, it creates a "them vs. us" mindset that is unhelpful at best. Instead, approach leadership as a trusted colleague and partner. If your agile teams approach leadership in this way, those leaders will largely meet them as a trusted colleague and partner.

So, what does meeting as a trusted colleague and partner look like? Here are seven keys to establishing that respectful relationship as an agile leader.

1. Meet them where they are

It all begins with empathy. Seek first to understand where leadership is coming from before passing judgment. I wish all the team members in an agile context took a walk in the shoes of their leaders for a week or two, following them around to see what they experience. This would truly give them the ability to look at the world through leadership's perspective.

2. Provide radical candor

For all their complaining, agile team members rarely share their honest thoughts with their leaders. It's always easier to complain than to actually do something positive. In this case, the positive is practicing radical candor and becoming skilled at both giving and receiving feedback.

3. Assume positive intent

As an agile coach, I always work on getting team members to view everything through a lens of positive intention. In some cases, agile team members think all of the leaders in their organization are villains or are out to get them. They assume the worst in a situation—and they're almost always wrong.

If you enter every relationship assuming positive intent, you will be much more effective in establishing a solid baseline for partnership.

4. Empathize with imposter syndrome

Individuals in agile teams are susceptible to imposter syndrome in their day-to-day work. But for some reason, they don't realize that most leaders struggle with it, too—and this is especially true in agile transformation contexts, where leaders are being pushed into areas where they might feel less knowledgeable.

Keep this in mind as part of your empathy connection to your leaders to help them battle their internal imposters.

5. Enter as a partner

Often, agile team members meet leaders in opposing positions across a conference room table, face-to-face, and begin talking at them. Instead, as you address leaders, imagine yourself walking side-by-side with them, shoulder to shoulder, facing the tough challenges of an agile transformation together as equal partners. Take this stance anytime you're working with your leadership team.

6. Express appreciation

People don't practice enough thankfulness, gratefulness, or appreciation of what they have. This includes appreciating the leaders with whom you must partner. Don't think about their weaknesses or what they might not be doing, but concentrate on what they are doing for the organization. A bit of appreciation goes a long way toward strengthening partnerships.

7. Help your leaders connect

Finally, be an advocate for your leaders by helping them to connect to each individual and each team, as well as across the organization. Storytelling is an effective way to connect, so help them craft their stories around your team's transformation goals and vision.

Remember, leaders are people too

Leadership is a lonely business. Often leaders find themselves largely going it alone. Sure, they have their teams and colleagues, but rarely do they have partners, mentors, or coaches to collaborate with to truly shape their growth. They often experience the same cultural challenges as the teams they are leading.

Initially your partnership may be met with confusion and doubt. A leader may be wondering about your motivations or intentions. Because treating team leaders as partners happens so rarely, those leaders may not be accustomed to it. But persevere as you build trust. Explain your intentions and be transparent about wanting to engage in a win-win partnership.

If you show up as a genuine partner and you're patient, you can establish incredibly powerful relationships with leaders, stakeholders, and executives that will help transform leadership—and your organization.

Meet me at Agile + DevOps Virtual, where I will be speaking on agile coaching, how to create a high-performance agile team, and how to lead those teams. The conference runs June 7-11, 2021.

Keep learning

Read more articles about: App Dev & TestingAgile