This is the 2nd post in a series on how I believe the Agile Principles can be used as a guide in your leadership. Previously I discussed that Agile is a mindset. Leaders should have the principles in mind and demonstrate them in the way they go about their work. The last post covered motivating, supporting and trusting individuals and teams. Once you have motivated individuals, you have built trust and you are always on hand to provide the support for your teams they need. Then the next step is to make sure they and you can continue being as productive as possible over time.
"Agile processes promote sustainable development.
The sponsors, developers, and users should be able
to maintain a constant pace indefinitely."
Avoid burn out with sustainable and constant pace. A team that is driven faster than the pace they can comfortably work, may be able to cope for short time. But it won’t take long for cracks to appear in the health of individuals, their work and your product. But a team at a pace slower than their capacity will also struggle. Boredom and feeling unvalued are extremely stressful.
To maintain a constant pace, teams need to first understand their pace. For delivery teams, velocity or throughput are a good way to measure it. The unit of measure most commonly used in Agile is stories or story points. How much work a story involves will depend on the team. For that reason be careful in comparing velocity across different teams. Once you are aware of the pace it makes it easier to understand if goals are too easy, a little stretch or unrealistic. You can also watch for change in the pace which may indicate possible issues. Looking at pace, and the variation in it (predictability), can help you as leader in your planning.
Getting the balance right with goals, is part of your role as a leader. Goals need to motivate and stretch but not load up too much pressure. Ownership of the goal comes when the team or individuals create and set it themselves. Neuroscience and neuroleadership tells us that people are more likely to complete a goal if they set it, rather than be given it by someone else. Coach your team in to coming up with a goal aligned to your priorities, rather than giving them a task and a deadline.
If you don’t lead delivery teams using stories or some other unit of measure, then pace may be a little trickier to determine. You may not have an easy metric such as velocity to hand and the unit of measure is just too varied. In this case catching up with your team and ask them about their pace and how they feel about it can go a long way to understanding if the pace is right for them.
Healthy teams are productive and sustainable. You can be aware of your team’s health with regular check ins. Using a health check tool such as this one suggested by Spotify is a really great way to cover a range of subjects and make the team aware of their health. Using timelines and asking team members to show their level of happiness and unhappiness is another good tool to start the conversation on health. A colleague of mine recently ran stay interviews, asking people why they continue to work at our organisation. Another great way to get an insight in to how people are feeling.
Support individuals to be self aware of the emotions and the effect they are having on others. Introduce mindfulness techniques to help in this. When individuals are more aware of their own emotions, they are better place to see emotions in others. This helps to build empathy and understanding of other people’s point of view. This is essential in all teams, especially so in diverse ones.
Watch out for change as well. Change if handled badly or frequent change can cause fatigue. In a growing organisation or with a continuously improving culture it can feel like constant change. As a leader managing change well is important. Giving space to people when needed, time to absorb and deal with the change. During large or difficult change you should increase checking in with people’s health.
A lot of these techniques require a safe and trusting environment. With out that you may not hear the truth. So it is important to build that trust, giving people a safe place to be vulnerable and a safe place to fail. If they need time to talk without their leader around then give them the space.
In conclusion I use this principle in my people leadership by understanding the pace of teams, helping teams be self aware of their health and be mindful of their emotions. If you have teams and individuals who are not working at sustainable pace or in an unhealthy state, you risk burning teams out. This will cause many issues for you, the individuals, your organisation and your customers. Unhealthy teams are unlikely to produce their best quality work and can be very infectious to other teams. It can be the start of downward spiral to the culture of your organisation.
And finally don't forget to watch your own health, how you are feeling as leader has a big impact on those you lead.