"There are no managers in Agile organisations. Self-organising teams and autonomous organisations do not need managers."
That's a huge misconception that I hear frequently. Many people are interested in Agile and want to see Agile, or at least the agile mindset, become part of their organisation's culture. However, many are uncomfortable with the notion of "There are no managers or hierarchies in Agile organisations". We're all very used to the idea of "climbing the corporate ladder." Having the ladder taken away, as in the case of ING Belgium's Agile transformation approach, can be unnerving or depressing for many.
The truth is Agile does not prescribe "remove managers or titles" (maybe in Scrum teams, yes, but it's definitely a very hard sell.) On the contrary, organisations can be really agile and self-organising with hierarchies and titles in place. For example, by starting with a Kanban system. A Kanban principle states: Start wherever you are. You can work towards business and organisational agility without disrupting too much, just consistent incremental improvements. You also don't need a "transformation".
Another reason for keeping hierarchies and titles? I believe 99% of all organisations in the world are built based on hierarchical structures and principles. You simply can't expect thousands of organisations to remove managers from their ranks to "go Agile". There'd be a riot!
So managers are still relevant in Agile and agile organisations, yes? But what is the new role of managers in organisations if the organisations themselves can self-organise?
Good question. Let's use Management 3.0, a set of leadership principles and practical management tools, for our discussion. Management 3.0 doesn't say "take away the managers, let teams self-organise".
Instead, it poses the question: "What alternative behaviours can we adopt as managers?"
One new behaviour is to let people self-organise, solve the organisation's problems and stay out of their way. The people closest to the problems should solve the problems. While managers are still fundamentally responsible for the outcome of work done, their modern job is to provide boundaries and constraints within which self-organisation and experimentation can happen. In other words, creating growth through learning opportunities.
That's far removed from the traditional impression of management as 'those that tell other people what to do'. This change in perspective, by default, is already better leadership, isn't it?
So do managers and their organisations need to "transform" to "go Agile" or "be agile"?
My answer is a definite no. There's really no need for "transformation". But embody improvements? Absolutely!
Modern management is all about deeper collaboration and better communication (because Complexity doesn't go away through specialised problem-solving ). Within hierarchical structures, there are many people (managers or not) who are capable of better collaboration and communication but not yet able to do so. Why is this so? Mostly because of entrenched existing cultures (both corporate and social) and power factions.
But what if managers reflect on their current behaviours and seek more positive or effective ones? Can change happen? I say "Yes" because only those who are constantly reflecting upon their actions can effectively instigate change to happen from within.
It's only ourselves that can change ourselves. Telling others to change is time-wasting and so is "transformation". Reflect on that.
Why is this so important?
Hundreds of people have attended my training and workshops on leadership, management and business agility. The majority loves the idea of Agile and business agility because Agile is really common sense. Yet the most common refrain I hear at the end of every session is "My manager will never agree to these changes!" How depressing!
Therefore, the role of the manager is crucial in organisations that want to change. Change must be lead by leaders and managers who themselves are open to change. Otherwise, the change bottlenecks will forever be at the feet of those in position of authority. (I've seen this play out many times in teams and organisations I coached or consulted with.)
So if managers must change, why do we need Agile Coaches and Agile specialists such as Scrum Masters?
As much as I respect my colleagues and peers who do the job of Agile change managers and people developers, the responsibilities of these roles should be temporary in nature. Once the team is ready to self-organise, let them go. But more importantly, are the leaders and managers of the organisation ready to lead their teams in complexity?
In other words, the eventual goal is to make all leaders and managers in any organisation to become their own "Agile Coaches" and "Scrum Masters". Having coaches and Scrum Masters in an organisation for too long is akin to, outsourcing leadership, coaching and facilitation responsibilities.
I really like to believe the Theory Y in this case: Whoever is present in the organisation has a capacity to become great managers and leaders with people-centric coaching and facilitation skills and make complex decisions. In fact, this answers the question: "What is the role of managers in organisations if the organisations themselves can self-organise?"
To summarise, managers are crucial change managers. Any organisation that wants to change need their managers to be the face of change. The one who shows the way to effective change.
Are you leader-manager who wants to know how to lead in complexity and be effective change managers? Then join us at our next Management 3.0 Fundamentals Online Workshop: https://management30.com/events/details/?id=9164
Want to learn more about Business Agility? Our ICAgile-accredited Business Agility Foundations training course is now available for live online classes: https://elisanpartners.com/business-agility-foundations-training-course-online/