"Agile without trust is just Waterfall relabeled"
A widespread problem that exists in larger organizations is that by the time leadership vision gets to the team level, the direction that was so clear to those at the top is completely lost by those doing the actual work. Why? The answer is easy to understand but difficult to fix. It boils down to the fact that as work requirements are handed down through the ranks and the actual vision or the why is no longer included with the requirements or work instructions. What team members are given are tasks that tell them what to do, there is no understanding of the bigger picture. Furthermore, those documents only focus on deliverable functionality and not what the customers need. This may not seem like a problem until different teams working on various parts of the bigger equation are needing to integrate their work with the other teams. Worse still, no one understands what adjustments are needed to make the various parts fit together because the people doing the work do not know what the result should look like.
A root cause of the problem stems from the common thought when companies want to transform to an Agile way of working, that just by restructuring, the magic of Agile will just magically happen. What is overlooked in the transformation is that Agile is a complete change on how companies do business. Not only are there structural changes, but we must rethink the entire organization. That starts with leadership changing first. If leaders only push changes on the teams doing the work while going back to the old ways of working, the company will only get a minimal return on the restructuring.
The current way of doing business is not getting the optimal performance we can achieve. For Agile to give you the best results, it must transform the entire organization, not just the people in the field. And, for it to be successful, leaders must go first. This entails leadership recognizing that a new model where leadership and decisions are decentralized is going to give much better returns than centralizing control and decisions into silos that are removed from where the action is.
At its core, Agile is about trust. Those at the top need to set the vision and direction while trusting the people in the field to find the best way to make the vision take shape. When decisions are made in a vacuum, often there is a disconnect from what is transpiring in the field, and leaders cannot be everywhere at once. So, how do large, successful companies that use Agile make it all work? Growing new leaders who operate at every level of the organization is essential for Agile to succeed. This means we need to empower people to make decisions and think about the wider context. This frees leaders up to better align the vision, adjust as circumstances change, and address impediments to flow across the organization.
When we distribute the decision making process across the organization and empower the people closest to the situation with the ability to take action as they see fit we see better results. Those with the most information are making decisions and they are able to be more reactive and, therefore, give better outcomes. This leads to not only faster decisions being made but better economic outcomes from those decisions.
When employees are empowered to make decisions and take risks, they become intrinsically motivated to do their best because they feel heard and appreciated. They are no longer just being fed instructions, which is demotivating because it leaves them feeling like order takers. When they are actively engaged in setting the goals, identifying trouble spots, and addressing risks and impediments they feel heard and empowered. Once they have a sense of ownership of the process, both the volume and quality of work go up. Higher throughput and fewer defects in the work results as the transformation takes hold.
Leadership must take the first step, and that can be difficult if there is not a lot of trust in the organization. Often there are communication silos and distrust between groups in larger organizations. Finding out what that step is challenging but we have been there before, and we can help.
At Agilest, our experts specialize in making large scale organizational change a reality. We have tools that help leadership with decisions about how to distribute decision making as well as what decisions should be made at the various levels within the company. Leadership level training to help you sharpen your skills for the ever-increasing demands of ascending in an organization. And, where needed, we can help you with guidance from our decades of practice modernizing management practices and growing organizations to become more self-sustaining. Our coaches have been in organizations just like yours and they have guided many organizations from a centralized command and control environment to one that promotes flexibility, adaptiveness, risk taking, and positive change. We have helped companies where there was deep mistrust within the organizations and assisted them in starting the healing process and getting new foundations of trust built in the organization.
Organizational change is not for the faint of heart, but we do it because the rewards can be huge if it is done correctly. When making a change of this magnitude, you want experts helping you get the best possible outcome.