The usual approach to Agile – train & coach teams to move to an Agile process – is backwards. When we approach Agile from a Team Perspective, the role of the manager usually becomes an afterthought. But wait, don’t managers need to learn how to operate with an Agile Mindset along with teams?

Start with Leaders

The usual approach with Agile is to set up autonomous self-organizing teams. The official role for a manager in Scrum – the most popular version of Agile – is nothing. There is no role for a manager. What? No role for managers? Hard to believe, but true.

 “Scrum is designed to disrupt the hierarchy.” – Ken Schwaber, founder of Scrum

Well, it’s doing a very good job disrupting the hierarchy: Version One’s research shows that 45% of organizations report “Lack of Management Support” as a challenge experienced adopting and scaling Agile. Often, their roles become conflicted as they do their best to bridge between the existing power structures and the new Agile ones. It is actually quite mind-boggling what is happening: Managers – who are “in charge” of the organization – are being disenfranchised and then labeled as resistors. 

The process level training such as Scrum or SAFe is meant for teams and products – not for the role of the manager. Teams get specific training and coaching. Managers will be lucky if they have a session that explains the Agile Mindset but, are unlikely to have any significant help making the shift to a new way of working and being.

Start with Managers!

Managers are the leaders of the organizations. They are put in charge of what happens because of their intelligence and experience. What if they were involved and guided the introduction of Agile in ways that actually fit their organizational context? What if they were responsible for modeling the Agile Mindset of learning by running experiments to iteratively and incrementally change the organization? Wow! That would be incredible. An approach like this would put the Agile Mindset at the forefront, as so it would not be skipped. 

What if managers were provided with intensive training and coaching to support their jump to the Agile Mindset? Of course, they would need to learn how to create a healthy environment for Agile, how to evolve the organization and how to lead in a new way. Ultimately, there will be team level training and intensive coaching, but this will happen as managers are able to support the success team transitions.

When consulting with organizations, we have found this to be a very practical and powerful approach we call the “Evolution of High Performance”. We have received extraordinary feedback on our public and private training from managers around the world on how this helps them finally understand their role. They are able to see, not only how they play a key role in the future of the organization, but how to begin operating in alignment with the Agile Mindset.

It’s never too late to start

We have discovered that it is never too late to start with managers. For both in-progress transformations and established Agile organizations, a strong focus on managers is what is often the missing piece for unlocking success and taking growth to the next level. Of course, starting with managers will be the most effective approach, but it’s better late than never.

Managers: How to Get Started

For sure there is a lot to learn for managers discovering how to operate in a new way of working. Here are some practical articles to understand how to operate in the new world of Agile: