What is the Role of Leadership in an Agile Organization?

There is a lot of talk around being an “agile” organization these days. Since COVID began so abruptly last spring, many organizations are reconsidering how they adapt to change, and being “agile” sounds appealing.  Leaders are asking their teams to be more agile, but what should teams count on those in a leadership role to do in an Agile organization?

One foundational principle of both Agile and Lean, is to decentralize decision making.  Specifically, delegate decision making to the lowest possible level that can make an responsible decision.  This avoids teams having to unnecessarily escalate decisions, which often causes delay. Thus, teams should be able to count on their Agile Leaders to empower employees down the line to make real-time decisions.  In doing this, the teams are empowered to manage their work and drive deliverables.

Teams should be able to count on their Agile Leaders to empower employees down the line to make real-time decisions. 

Those in leadership positions work ON the system of work, not IN the system of work. Teams should also be able to count on their Agile Leaders to coach and develop them to perform their work well, make sound decisions in the moment, hold everyone accountable for continuous improvement, and to manage performance of their direct reports.  Agile Leaders are always driving for more cohesive and high-performing teams and must keep an eye on appropriate levels of staffing to allow this to happen.

Finally, teams must be able to count on their Agile Leaders to spend much of their time making more strategic, longer lasting, and impactful decisions that will carry the organization into the future.  They will paint the picture of the vision of where the organization is going, defining long term objectives and strategy.  They will prepare budgets for this and allocate and re-allocate team members to align to these objectives. 

Teams must be able to count on their Agile Leaders to spend much of their time making more strategic, longer lasting, and impactful decisions that will carry the organization into the future.

For Leaders who are used to a more traditional management approach, managers assigned tasks, pushed their employees to finish work, and required escalation for all decisions, transforming to an Agile Organization will require management behavior changes.  The chart below shows how the boxed items are not part of Agile Leaders’ activities, while higher level strategic items are what they can expect to spend time doing.


Leadership Value-Add in Agile Organizations: the *non* boxed items

Finally, though it is not explicitly stated here whether an organization is transforming to be Agile or not, all Leaders must clearly communicate their visions, expectations, long-term objectives and strategy, and ideas for change with their teams as often as possible, and in ways that will reach employees at all levels.  Your team is counting on you.

For more ideas on how to communicate well with your teams, please refer to this article on AJC’s blog entitled: “Thinking Deeper about Communication and Responsiveness.”