Tag Archive for: leadership

Webinar | The Top Challenges Facing Modern Leaders 

Resilient leadership is about adaptability, open communication, and creating a positive culture. Leaders need to build strong relationships, set attainable goals, and foster collaboration within their teams. By embracing these insights & watching our leadership webinar, you can navigate uncertainty with greater confidence and resilience.

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Organizational Culture – The Role of Leaders and HR Professionals

The culture of an organization is like its DNA. It represents the collective set of beliefs, values, and behaviors that define its character. I have always been interested in people: I love communicating and getting to know someone new. I am curious about what motivates people and what makes them become disengaged. At agile42, I am often the go-to person for individuals who are facing personal challenges or conflicts with colleagues. Through these experiences, I have witnessed first hand how leaders can shape organizational culture, for better or for worse. I believe that both HR professionals and leaders are responsible for shaping culture, as our actions and attitudes set the scene for the rest of the organization. But traditional organizational culture surveys are failing us, and preventing HR and leadership teams from being able to do their best work. 

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Organizational Culture: Why it Matters and How to Improve it

Company culture is often associated with having a ping pong table in your office, after-work drinks on a Friday, or a framed value statement on your wall. But organizational culture is so much more than that, and it is the driving force behind innovation, growth, and sustainability. In this article, we will explore different types of organizational culture that exist and the signs of a toxic one, plus how you can work towards a culture that is more aligned with your goals. 

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The Great Resignation

What is the Great Resignation?

The term Great Resignation defines the elevated rate at which employees started to voluntarily quit their jobs beginning in early 2021: during that year more than 40 million people left their jobs in the United States alone. Management professor Anthony Klotz coined the term and then a number of other names came to describe the same trend: the Great Renegotiation, the Great Reshuffle, the Great Rethink. Klotz believes that the rise of hybrid and remote work helped cause the phenomenon; he says: “How we spent our time before the pandemic may not be how we want to spend our time after.” And it hasn’t affected everyone equally: women have been more affected by the Great Resignation than men, and younger age groups more than older ones. 


Webinar | Burnout: The Science Behind Sustainable Solutions

Every year, as we approach the year-end, our coaches find themselves having more conversations about burnout. It’s a concept we’ve been hearing about for decades, so why is it still such a big problem? 

In this webinar, Regina Martins and Pascal Papathemelis tackle this concept. They share their personal experiences to cover why burnout happens and how we can spot the signs in both ourselves and others. They also explore some long-term sustainable solutions to this problem, and the roles that coaches and leaders in organizations play to prevent burnout from happening in the first place.

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42 Expert Tips for Hybrid and Remote Work

What is hybrid work?

Hybrid work, in essence, refers to a flexible model of working that allows employees to work from various locations. At its best, it is a supportive model that empowers teams to choose the working arrangement that is most suitable to them. At its worst, it’s a rigid form of pseudo-flexibility that’s more hassle than it’s worth. 

The definition of hybrid work, ultimately, is going to depend on the individual organization. For many companies, it means working from home some days in the week, and working in the office the other days. For us, at agile42, it means working remotely most of the time with occasional onsite days, which are carefully planned and facilitated. On our onsite days, we do not simply proceed with our day-to-day work. We use these opportunities to workshop problems, share knowledge, plan and execute new innovations, or test hypotheses. Importantly, we also use this time to connect socially.  

Need help adjusting to a hybrid setup? Contact us for coaching, mentoring, facilitation, and consulting services. 

It’s about people, not place

In our line of work, we have helped hundreds of companies to create meaningful change, including configuring their remote work arrangements. We have noticed that many people are starting by asking the question, “Where should people work?” This seems like an obvious question to ask, when dealing with hybrid working scenarios, but we would argue that a better question is “How can we humanize our workplaces to better unleash our people’s potential?” 

It is helpful to shift your focus to the people that work for and with you, and to be curious and open-minded about how best you can support them. This is a far more beneficial approach than trying to work out a rigid schedule dictating where and when people must work. 

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Is hybrid work really new? 

While some companies, agile42 included, have been offering hybrid or remote working arrangements for as long as they’ve been around, for the vast majority of businesses this is unchartered territory. If this is all relatively new to you and you’re feeling unsure, you’re not alone! agile42 has coached and trained hundreds of businesses through this transition. It comes with a unique set of challenges, but once companies get themselves properly set up for hybrid work, the response – from managers, HR, employees, their families, and even their pets – has been overwhelmingly positive. Reach out to our team if you want to chat about how we can help you. 

Hybrid work vs remote work

Many people use the terms remote and hybrid interchangeably, but they are in fact quite different. Remote work takes place in a location other than a centralized office, such as home, coffee shops, casual workspaces or hubs, or wherever the person happens to be. On the other hand, hybrid work refers to any of a broad range of configurations, in which remote work takes place some of the time but onsite work is also included. 

Benefits of hybrid work

83% of workers prefer a hybrid work model, according to the Accenture Future of Work Study 2021. The same report found that hybrid workforce models are embraced by 63% of high-revenue growth companies.

Hybrid working arrangements have a huge range of benefits. These include: 

  • Cost saving, both for the company and individuals 
  • An increase in efficiency 
  • Higher levels of productivity 
  • A better work-life balance 
  • Improved physical and mental health 
  • A reduced carbon footprint
  • A wider talent pool 

42 tips for hybrid work from personal experience

1. Choose the right reasons to meet in person 

One of the complaints we hear most about hybrid work arrangements is that people feel their time is being wasted. “Hybrid workers complain that they go to the office only to log on to Zoom or Teams only to spend the rest of the day with their headphones on,” explains Regina Martins, director of agile42 South Africa. There is very little benefit to this sort of arrangement, and it’s usually a sign of a leadership team that values control over effectiveness and output. 

A great alternative is to plan onsite days in which all hands are on deck, and the team has a clear goal to achieve. “Sprint change days are perfect days to be in the office”, suggests agile42 coach Birge Kahraman. If you use Scrum, hosting your big Scrum Events such as Retrospectives and Sprint Planning events in-person is a great use of time together. 

Photo by RF._.studio on pexels

2. Agree on the rules of engagement  

“Hybrid introduces the challenges of meeting with people physically and remotely at the same time”, according to Agile coach Giuseppe De Simone. “This may confuse the rules of engagement and make some not feel included. This is why it is extremely important to make rules of engagement explicit and agreed upon by everyone”, he says. In particular, it’s important to focus on rules that ensure everyone has the space and time to share their perspectives equally. This means that we need to have good facilitators that can communicate these rules and make sure that feels safe and included.

“It is also very important to implement a safety protocol that can be ritualized with some gestures so that everyone feels safe to interrupt the conversation and express their need for better rules or more respect for those already in place”, explains De Simone.

Recommended for you: Watch our Humanizing Hybrid Work Webinar

3. Have cameras on 

“Open cameras are good for non-verbal communication”, shares coach Birge Kahraman. It’s a great idea to agree to have cameras-on meetings regularly. But make sure you’re cognisant of how this can affect people too. “It may drain your energy pretty quickly”, continues Kahraman. “Don’t forget to take regular breaks between meetings in order to prevent Zoom Fatigue”.

4. Take regular breaks and make them meaningful 

The importance of breaks is not new: even in traditional office settings it’s crucial to enjoy frequent breaks. For many people, though, it’s much easier to neglect breaks when working remotely. In an office setting, the cadence of the day makes for a natural rhythm, with periods of focus intermingled with breaks. Walking between meetings, stepping out for coffee, or even making small-talk as you pass a colleague’s desk provide your brain with pauses that are extremely beneficial. 

In a home office or remote setup, you have to be much more deliberate about it. Even when people do take breaks, sometimes this means switching to different tabs or rushing around to attend to a family responsibility or housework. While these sorts of disruptions and distractions are inevitable, try to avoid thinking of them as breaks. 

Director of agile42 South Africa, Regina Martins, shared her style of taking breaks, which we think is a great way to ensure you actually allow your mind some downtime. “I’ve created a ritual for taking regular breaks around coffee”, she explains. “ it is a whole-body experience with specific anchors: visual (I’ve set up a coffee station with colorful cups, a milk frother and different types of coffees); auditory (the sound of coffee dripping into the cup); olfactory (the smell of the coffee makes me happy) and gustatory. I love coffee!” 

Photo by Goran Ivos on Unsplash

5. Have daily standups or Scrums 

“I find our 15 minute daily calls invaluable”, shares Amy Bridge, agile42 operations manager. “It’s great to connect as a team as well as iron out any issues or questions”. 

Our social media marketer, Emily Stapylton-Smith, agrees: “I regularly check in with my colleague that I work closely with. These catch-ups can help us to understand each other’s priorities and how we can best support each other. They don’t have to last long, but they are a great way to keep us aligned to our goals and working together.” 

It’s a sentiment also shared by Sofia Svanbäck, agile42 Business Relationship Manager, who says “I have found the daily syncs with my team very helpful, and very needed so that you do not feel as alone while in the home office”.

6. Remember that we’re all human 

“What always delights me are team members’ pets or children crashing meetings and giving us an unpredictable, fun, off-topic moment”, shares Agile and Design Thinking coach Dennis Büscher. “Have coffee talks, make jokes and smile when having online meetings and video calls”, he continues, “and create space and time to also talk about the best series you recently watched on Netflix or the hangover you had after the wedding on Saturday”. It’s more important than ever to humanize the workplace, and to find joy in seeing one another as people with rich and interesting personal lives. 

7. Create an environment for asynchronous communication 

“Not everything is urgent”, explains Ebru Yalçınkaya, coach for agile42 Turkey.  “Try to create an environment for asynchronous communication, especially for things that don’t need an immediate reply”. If you can replace a meeting with an email, do so. This is especially important when you’re working across multiple time zones.  

8. Prioritize connections with colleagues  

“When working remotely, we miss out on those quick catch-ups over coffee and other lighthearted conversations that happen when we are in the office together”, explains agile42 social media marketer Emily Stapylton-Smith. “Setting aside some time on a Friday to discuss our weekend plans is a great way to ensure we don’t lose this, or it could be posting a picture of your pet on your Slack channel. These moments matter and can help us feel more connected with one another”. 

9. Solve complex problems onsite 

There are many advantages to working remotely, and many people find it much easier to focus in that environment. However, there are times when onsite collaboration can be an advantage. Coach Lothar Fischmann explains, “I’ve experienced that people talk more to each other when everybody is in the same room, both when coaching clients and internally at agile42. For me this means that meeting onsite is pretty important in all areas where we rely on collaboration, especially when it’s about solving complex problems or interpersonal relations”. This is something we’ve observed many times. As Fischmann notes, “the feedback is always more or less the same: we wouldn’t be able to create so much progress in such a short time as a team, if we were working remotely!” 

Of course, collaboration is entirely possible when working remotely, but if you’re looking for a good time to schedule onsite days, look for opportunities to solve problems as a team. Don’t use onsite days to carry on with day-to-day work. 

10. Set up the best possible workspace 

“Home offices are not real offices and for many people that is a challenge,” explains agile42 CEO Marion Eickmann. But the solution to this is not always to force people into an office. It takes a measured, thoughtful approach from leadership, in which you listen to your teams and come up with solutions that will empower them to do their best work. For some, that may mean having a workspace such as an office available. For others, it could mean flexible working hours to accommodate childcare and other personal responsibilities. 

Leadership should provide as much support and infrastructure as possible. Supply teams with the tools they need for productivity, as well as the equipment they need to do their jobs. If the company is saving costs on office space, consider investing some of that in good quality chairs, headphones, desks, screens, or any other equipment that can make home offices more accommodating. 

11. Unplug after hours 

Another challenge we hear about a lot is that remote workers have difficulty putting boundaries between work and their personal lives. This can have serious consequences, like burnout. “If I leave my PC switched on and logged in, it makes me think that I need to continue working”, shares Ebru Yalçınkaya. “After the office hours and weekends, I sometimes simply turn everything off, pack my laptop away and close it totally, so I understand it is my time to relax”.

Photo by Elle Hughes on Pexels

12. Move often

“Move!” suggests coach Martin von Weissenberg, “Get out of your chair as often as possible”.  

Developer Santiago Gomez agrees: “For me it is very important to get up from my seat and stretch and walk or look through the window to rest my eyes. Going to the kitchen and drinking a glass of water also helps; if I have the bottle on my desk I tend not to stand up too often”. 

13. Structure your day and create rituals

Suzanne Daly, Team Assistant at agile42, believes that structure is key.  “While working from home, structure your day like you would in the office”, she suggests. “Start at the same time, take frequent breaks (including a lunch break) and finish at the usual time. Personally I find the Pomodoro method works well, particularly while working from home”. 

Coach Ninja Granzow agrees: “build habits to structure the day”, she says, “go for a walk in the morning, have lunch, and find an activity to close the workday”. 

14. Think about how collocation will improve productivity 

“The winners in hybrid working will be those who really think about how – and when –  collocation will improve productivity”, muses Peter Hundermark, mentor at agile42, “Just saying ‘you need to be in the office on Tuesdays and Thursdays because that’s our new rule’ is not going to cut it.” 

“The main purposes of collocation”, he explains, “are (1) to build and maintain human connection and (2) synchronous collaboration where having the whole human system in the room is important. When planning the collocated part of hybrid working, you should be working to achieve these purposes in each aspect, including who is there, when they are there, and how you use the space”.

Photo by Fox on Pexels

15. Use your calendar to block out time 

When you’re working with colleagues who are scattered, having some transparency and visibility around your calendars is important. But this doesn’t mean that any gap in your schedule is up for grabs. A simple trick to avoid finding yourself overbooked in back-to-back meetings, without any real productivity time, is to use your calendars to reserve time for yourself. This could be as simple as setting your working hours, or you could book an entire day every week as a day for focus without disruption. Regina Martins, director of agile42 South Africa, says, “I find it useful to create space in my calendar for lunch. I book it out as a daily recurring appointment called Sit in the sun and smell the roses.  This makes sure people don’t book meetings during that time. And I actually try to sit in the sun. I don’t have any roses at the moment because it’s winter in South Africa, but the sentiment applies. It’s also a bit of an inside joke with my fellow coaches”. 

16. Do something innovative when you have all hands on deck

At agile42, we host monthly Coach Camps. These began as a knowledge exchange specifically for our coaches, but have transformed into all-hands days of innovation, workshopping, knowledge sharing, and getting to know one another. We do this every month virtually, and once a year we come together in person from all over the world. “Our Coach Camps are completely enlivening”, shares digital marketer Lauren Edwards, “It’s a huge injection of passion and energy: we drop our day-to-day tasks for a day or two and just dedicate ourselves completely to collaboration and innovation. I only see most of my colleagues about once a year in person, and I am so grateful that this is how we use that time together”. 

Sofia Svanbäck, agile42 Business Relationship Manager, agrees: “I have also appreciated that we meet with the whole company at our internal Coach Camps – they bring us together as a group”. 

Need help planning or facilitating collaboration days? Get in touch, we can help! 

17. Make sure everyone is remote (or onsite) but not a mix 

“Having some people together in a room and others joining remotely creates a big disconnect”, shares Berlin-based coach Simon Sablowski. Sablowski has years of experience with facilitation, and some of the key principles behind facilitation shed light on why this is the case: 

  • Help people move through a process together
  • Include all participants and ensure equal participation
  • Never take sides and always maintain neutrality

These simply don’t work in a hybrid setup, says Sablowski: “Usually one of two things happens: Either the discussion takes place in the room and individuals joining remotely are disengaged and at best listening to the conversation, or the people joining remotely compensate for not being present in the room by trying to dominate the conversation. A hybrid setup hinders people from moving through a process or reaching their goal together. Equal participation is almost impossible. It takes a lot of willingness, discipline and practice to make it work. Facilitators struggle with maintaining neutrality because it’s more natural to take sides with those that are not included in the conversations as much as others. Therefore, we should stick to the principle: If one participant joins remotely, all join remotely”. 

18. Accept that people’s home lives might mingle with work more 

It can be frustrating when distractions from people’s daily lives creep into work. In an office setting, everyone is dealing with the same circumstances. But in remote or hybrid setups, there may be someone with a screaming child, another person with a cat in front of the camera, someone dealing with a neighbor’s drilling, and yet another person with connectivity issues. “Keep calm if there is some family noise or background noise in Zoom meetings”, suggests Sofia Svanbäck, agile42 Business Relationship Manager, “because they are a part of our new normal when it comes to remote work”. 

19. Assign clear ownership of tasks 

“One tip I would give is clear ownership of tasks”, advises Team Assistant Suzanne Daly, “Our team regularly reviews our workflow and decides who will take care of what tasks. This ensures each member of the team knows their role and responsibilities. It also ensures that I know that the tasks assigned to other team members are taken care of and I don’t have to worry about them. For vacation, we then decide who will take care of tasks for those who are away so they can relax while they are out of office and know the tasks are taken care of during that time”.

20. Build relationships 

“No real teamwork is possible without building true human relationships”, cautions coach Giuseppe De Simone, “Having a group of people truly working elbow to elbow requires meeting in person from time to time, just to build those connections”. And while the occasional offsite holiday-style meetup is great, it’s not enough. This form of in-person meetup creates an artificial environment, says De Simone, “Working on real stuff, collaborating and maybe even fighting… This will help create the relationships that will allow every individual to recognize that face behind the camera not as a stranger, but someone they had a shared experience with”.

21. Ensure trust exists among your team 

Trust occurs when team members are able to be vulnerable with one another and are willing to admit their mistakes, weaknesses or needs for help.  Without a certain comfort level among team members, a foundation of trust is impossible. This is even more important when working remotely. It’s very easy for people to become isolated, to avoid asking for help, and to let problems build up until they become unmanageable. 

Need help building trust and fostering a safe-to-fail culture? Our OrgScan tool is the perfect starting point to help you understand the status quo, and then make meaningful changes. 

22. Focus on outcomes not hours 

If you’ve installed time-tracking software on your team’s PCs, you’re definitely doing it wrong. Time and again, we see managers and leadership teams counting the hours worked, as if this means anything. It simply doesn’t, in the modern workplace. Focusing on the number of hours spent at a desk has proven negative effects, like presenteeism (working while sick or otherwise impaired) or the so-called “quiet quitting” (employees doing the bare minimum to meet the requirements of their roles). In our years of consulting, training, and coaching, we have seen immense improvements in productivity, work-life balance, and job satisfaction when the focus is on outcomes instead. 

Some industries have billable hours, like legal firms and consultancies, and in this instance time-tracking is necessary. However, outside of this, there is no good reason to focus on how many hours your employees are putting in.  

23. Lean on your company culture

Hybrid and remote working arrangements are a sure-fire way to expose problems with your organizational culture. The problems created by a bad company culture are exacerbated when you’re not all in the same room. 

This is a great time to adapt, and to introduce Agile frameworks that can carry you through with great success. For instance, leaders who are adaptable and have experience with various leadership styles will notice that they don’t really need to make drastic changes when switching to remote. Leaders who previously got by on control, on the other hand, will notice things falling apart fairly quickly. 

In a culture of trust, autonomy, and respect, where teams feel safe and confident to make decisions, remote workers can truy thrive. If the culture is such that the team is afraid to make decisions and take initiative, on the other hand, there is likely to be a lot of confusion and delays.

Want to measure and improve your organizational culture? That’s what our Organizational Scan™ is for. 

24. Have frequent retrospectives 

“Frequent retrospectives (especially initially) can help to ensure everyone in the team agrees with the workflow, and more importantly their personal workload”, says agile42 Team Assistant Suzanne Daly. Retros are always important to make sure everyone’s on track, but in a remote or hybrid setup, they are more important than ever. They give everyone a chance to share the issues they are struggling with. 

25. Reduce waste 

Hybrid and remote work offers many opportunities to reduce waste, and you should take advantage of these. If you’re part of leadership, consider whether you can save costs on office rental, perhaps by renting a room once a week or once a month instead of every day. 

Consider the way you schedule meetings, too. It might be tempting to meet more often when colleagues are not in the same room, especially if there is a lack of trust or structure in the team. But this shouldn’t be necessary and can cause a lot of wasted time. 

Commuting can also be attached to waste. If you’re commuting less often, you are saving plenty of time and money.

26. Adapt your leadership style

Agile leadership is the ability to be flexible, use different approaches, and adapt to the context and the people involved. Because of this dependence on context, expectations and relationships, there are no leadership behaviors that are inherently positive or negative in and of themselves. Rather, there are leadership behaviors which are more or less appropriate within the context. 

As an example, some leaders might try to make sudden changes to their leadership style when teams aren’t onsite. They may begin to be more directive, hoping to hang onto a sense of control. For teams who are used to having more autonomy, this can be highly frustrating. On the other hand, leaders may suddenly be less involved, and let teams get on with their work without interference.  For teams who are accustomed to being told what to do, and when, this can be a very stressful change. 

When leaders understand their teams and use leadership behaviors that align with the needs of their teams, this is known as coherent leadership. 

27. Support one another 

A Stanford study showed that workers are 13% more productive, on average, when working from home. This is attributed to a lack of commute and distractions. However, it comes at a cost, and loneliness is a very real challenge for many people. It’s much harder to recognize when people are struggling when they’re not in the same room, so it helps to make a point of checking in with one another regularly.


28. Invest in tools and support structures

In a hybrid work environment, there are different priorities and your budget should shift accordingly. Invest in making it easy for your teams. Listen to your team’s needs, and then invest in the tools, infrastructure, and resources that will meet those needs. The tools should work for you; you shouldn’t work for the tools. 

29. Reap the benefits 

There are many benefits to hybrid working, so remember to take advantage of them. “I am grateful every day for how much time I get to spend with my elderly dog, and how I can use the time I used to spend commuting for exercise instead”, shares Digital Marketer Lauren Edwards. “It’s been important to make sure I log off at the end of the day and enjoy the improved work-life balance hybrid work offers me”. 

30. Let go of control 

Many leaders have struggled to adjust to hybrid working arrangements. In most cases, this is a result of leaders being accustomed to control over their teams. Hybrid is a great chance to work on letting go of control, managing flow rather than people, and encouraging teams to self-organize. If you need help with this process, agile42’s coaches have decades of experience and can coach, mentor, or train your leaders and teams. Contact us to find out what we can do for your teams. 

31. Bring new people on board onsite 

“Onboarding is easier face-to-face”, explains CEO Marion Eickmann. When you bring on new team members, try to do so in-person. It helps new team members to settle in and meet their colleagues, in a low-pressure way. If this isn’t possible, try to set up “coffee chats” to meet new colleagues, or arrange an in-person day for the near future. 

32. Nurture talent 

The popularity of hybrid and remote setups has put us in a unique position. Many barriers have fallen away, giving companies access to top talent like never before. Location is no longer as much of a barrier, so the pool of candidates has expanded. More accessible workplaces also reduce barriers for those with health issues and disabilities, resulting in more diverse and more inclusive workplaces. This makes it possible to find and accommodate the best possible talent for the role. 

33. Limit context switching 

Context switching, very simply put, is switching between tasks. This is something that is required in most jobs: you have to be able to change between meetings and different kinds of tasks. But many of us have felt the negative effect of too much context switching: when you’re flicking between tabs so much it feels like you’re getting nothing done, or when you’ve jumped from meetings to tasks and back so many times you’re completely exhausted. Our brains simply aren’t capable of this degree of context switching, and this can lead to burnout. “Have regular short breaks”, advised coach Ninja Granzow, “and make sure you balance appointments, interactions, and things to do alone”.

34. Invest in training and development

If you’re finding that the budget stretches a little further without paying for daily office space, consider investing this in the people that make up your company. An Organizational Learning Program is a great way to help your teams learn new skills that they can bring to the table. 

35. Make use of freed up time 

Many people have found that spending less time in an office has brought them greater work-life balance, and opened up a great deal of free time. Our advice is to use this time doing things you love, or spending time with the people that matter to you. Don’t be tempted to work longer hours or get stuck in front of your screen, Log off on time, and do things that bring you joy outside of work. 

36. Give feedback 

In person, it’s fairly common to walk over to someone to handover a project or submit a piece of work. This means we’re more likely to get regular, consistent feedback. When communication switches to virtual platforms, it can be easy to lose this. If using platforms like Trello, handovers and submissions can begin to happen almost wordlessly, with only automated notifications. Try to schedule regular feedback sessions and make time to give and receive feedback. Sprint Reviews fill this role well if using Scrum.

37. Communicate well 

“Clear and consistent communication with team members is so important”, says Team Assistant Suzanne Daly. “Having multiple ways to communicate is useful so your Team always feels accessible. But make sure you have working agreements on how to use certain forms of communication, so that information is not lost”.  

38. Work on a synchronous schedule 

These days, it isn’t uncommon for teams to be working from various countries. If your business has a global footprint it’s a huge advantage to have a presence across time zones. However, it can make collaboration difficult. Try to ensure that team members overlap, at least by a few hours, where possible. In most cases, even an hour or two is enough to make sure there is frequent communication.  

39. Meet in person occasionally even if your work is fully remote 

“Over the pandemic this was not possible”, says Office Manager Suzanne Daly, “but meeting in person even infrequently is good for team members. It’s a chance to socialise and talk about non-work things”

40. Make mentorship accessible 

One thing that comes more naturally in an office setting is mentorship. It can be much more challenging for younger, less experienced team members to reach out for help if they have to do so through digital communication. Acknowledge this, and try to set something up that works for your teams. Perhaps you could do monthly or weekly workshops or knowledge sharing sessions, or you could set up a formal mentorship programme. 

Photo by nappy on Pexels

41. Make your workspace work for you 

“Music!” says  Regina Martins, director of agile42 South Africa. “I work well with music… so I do!” 

And it’s not just about music. Choose to make your workspace work for you! On your remote days you have the chance to make your workspace whatever you want it to be. Maybe you like the temperature set low, or loud music, or maybe you prefer absolute silence. It’s a unique chance to set up the space that works for you, without having to consider colleagues. 

Photo by seyfi durmaz on Pexels

42. Don’t replicate existing bad practices 

If you’re just adjusting to a hybrid setup, or even fully remote, it’s a good time to take stock and improve. Ask yourself if there are redundancies, waste, too many meetings, or other factors curbing productivity and causing fatigue. And if there are, take the chance to do something about it.  

Panel Discussion | Humanizing Hybrid Work

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, trends like “The Great Resignation” have kicked off a long overdue conversation about hybrid and remote work, and how to do this well. For example, some hybrid workers complain that they go to the office to log on to Zoom or Teams only to spend the rest of the day with their headphones on because the rest of their team is at home. A lot of people feel disconnected from their teams and that they are missing out on the human element of work.  agile42’s coaches recently discussed this in the Humanizing Hybrid Work webinar.

Watch now | Humanizing Hybrid Work

At agile42, we’ve worked in hybrid and remote setups for over 15 years, and we specialize in helping to build more effective and resilient teams. In this panel discussion, our Agile coaches, Regina Martins, Debbie Hishin, and Daniel Lynn offer a different perspective by focusing on the human element of hybrid work and by using the four Agile values as an anchor point for this discussion. Watch as they unpack the complexities of this conversation, delving into the pros and cons of various working arrangements, and share the innovative solutions they’ve come up with to make things go more smoothly. 

Stay in the loop about upcoming webinars by joining our mailing list 

Five key takeaways from the webinar

1. Make use of goal setting and team agreements

According to coach and director of agile42 South Africa, Regina Martins, goal-setting has helped her and her teammates communicate effectively. In fact, goal setting can be used for organizational change. They are very explicit about their goals and co-created them to make sure that everyone is aligned and working towards the same things. Being face-to-face is not a prerequisite for being more effective. Virtual interactions and the value obtained from these interactions can be as effective as those that take place in person if you’re aligned on agreements and goals. 

2. Be intentional about hybrid working

We discovered through this discussion that people have many different definitions of hybrid work. For some people, it means going to the office some days, and for others, it means that some people are together while others are at home. While there are varying instances and definitions of hybrid work, our coaches agreed that we should be intentional about it. Collaboration that requires lots of creativity and constructive conflict benefits from being in one room. So, things like design, strategy, and goal-setting could be good opportunities for people to meet in person. Another option is to hold your Scrum events (excluding the Daily Scrum) in person. Make sure that your in-person days are centered around building connections rather than going about your day-to-day tasks. 

3. Human connection is key 

What a lot of people seem to lack in hybrid setups is human interaction and connection. There are many ways to overcome this, such as team-building activities or using tools that encourage collaborations, such as a virtual whiteboard or Miro. Agile coach, Debbie Hishin, also shared that a camera-on policy is a good idea to make sure we are picking up on non-verbal communication. Some other ideas could be to use a team notice board or a kudos channel. As a leader, make some time to check in with colleagues and see how they are feeling.  

Just because there is no office doesn’t mean there can’t be any office banter.  Get creative with ways to connect. Debbie Hishin suggests trying a GIF Friday where you can only reply with GIFs! 

Lastly, when you do meet in-person, make sure these sessions are geared towards human connection. So that we can build trust and make sure relationships are intact for when we work remotely. 

4. Always come back to your why – understanding people’s needs 

Many companies are asking employees to return to the office which has been met with mixed responses. If you are unsure about new policies or what will work in the long term, it always comes back to your “why”. Ultimately it should be about meeting the needs of our employees. Are these needs being met in the office or at home? Just like companies need to think about why clients would buy something, they should also think about why their employees would buy into working from home or at the office. What are the selling points for people, and then try to work around that.

Leaders in remote and dispersed environments need to understand these needs and make sure they are creating a safe environment for people to perform their best. This is where Agile leadership can make a meaningful impact.

Recommended online course: Agile Leadership Foundations

5. Know your boundaries 

US-based coach, Daniel Lynn, shares that empathy is very important in remote settings, and this means understanding people’s boundaries. Zoom fatigue is a very real thing, so make sure you are regularly taking breaks. Often, to make up for the lack of face-to-face connection, people get bombarded with meetings. In this case, it’s important that people feel empowered to say no and have boundaries.  

It’s also the case that not everyone wants to participate in work events after hours, and that’s okay too. Just because we are working in hybrid settings doesn’t mean we should over-commit or feel that we have to prove anything. 

Browse the agile42Agile Certifications

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5 Signs of a Toxic Organizational Culture

5 Signs of a Toxic Organizational Culture and How to Fix it

Organizational culture is so much more than a value statement on your website; it’s the sum of the experiences and beliefs of the people involved. It can be measured through living manifestations, such as rituals, stories of success and failure, habits, and unwritten rules. It is your experience as an employee, and it dictates how you feel about your company and your work. A bad company culture can affect the whole organization and get in the way of sustainable change, growth, and innovation.

Organizational culture can’t be designed or changed, but it can be measured and influenced. Find out how in our Webinar on Shaping Company Culture.

According to a 2022 survey conducted by FlexJobs, toxic company culture is the number one reason people are leaving their jobs. Organizational culture can encompass many different things, so it can be hard to pinpoint where your company is going wrong. In fact, the 2022 State of Agile Coaching Report by Scrum Alliance states that changing an organization’s culture was reported as one of the top challenges. 

While it can be hard to put your finger on your organization’s culture, here are some tell-tale signs that you may have problems in this area. Plus, how to resolve them. 

Five red flags that indicate you have a toxic culture

  1. Teams aren’t trusted to make decisions
  2. Leaders have a fixed leadership style
  3. The team lacks purpose and direction
  4. The team seems scared to fail 
  5. People feel burned out 

Let’s dive a little deeper into each of these signs of a bad company culture. 

Red flag 1: Teams aren’t trusted to make decisions 

Many companies advocate for transparency and trust, but these concepts are often embraced in theory without being encouraged in practice. Management teams that don’t allow for autonomy and decision-making can leave people feeling stifled. As a result, the quality of work will suffer and teams may have negative feelings about management styles or a particular manager. 

A lack of trust can also lead to a culture of hierarchy. Hiereachal corporate culture is based on clearly defined levels, which depend on rules and a top-down level of control. In today’s fast-paced, unpredictable workplace, we need new ways of working. Hierarchical management is not suited to a fast-changing environment that requires fast decision-making. 

Culture of Hierarchy

Photo by Susanne Jutzeler, suju-foto on Pexels

Faster delivery requires more agile ways of working. This means that people closer to the problems need to be trusted to make decisions and make them quickly. People should be able to self-organize, which requires the support of their work environment and leaders. This approach not only helps organizations thrive, but it helps employees feel trusted, which in turn helps them feel more positive about their organization and more connected to their teams. 

How to spot it: A common sign of this problem is frequent bottlenecks or team members’ appearing reluctant to take ownership of projects. 

How to fix it: Educate the team and leaders about what self-organization is and give people the trust and support they need to do a great job. 

Recommended eLearning Course: Self-organization

Red flag 2: Leaders have a fixed leadership style

Agile leadership requires us to make sense of a situation before we respond, so that our behaviors are coherent with the group of people we are leading and their specific context. So, leaders need to understand the existing context and culture. If leaders fail to do this, it can  leave the team feeling frustrated and distrustful. 

Even if a specific leadership behavior seems appropriate for a situation, it needs to fit the cultural expectations of the people involved. If it does not, it will very likely cause a negative emotional response and potentially increase motivational debt. In some cases, the impact can be so severe that people decide to leave. This could be seen during the “Great Resignation.” This is a great example of what can happen at the extremes of incoherent leadership. 

Coherent leadership is so important, especially as people are more aware of their needs, wants, and expectations in the workplace. Companies can no longer get away with toxic work cultures that don’t value their employees’ happiness. This means that leaders have an important role in cultivating supportive environments. 

How to spot it: You will notice that teams are unsure of how to organize around tasks, what the next steps are, or what is expected of them. 

How to fix it: Implement and understand Agile leadership. These leaders focus on managing the environment rather than managing people.

Recommended eLearning Course: Agile Leadership Foundations

Red flag 3: The team lacks purpose and direction

To feel driven and motivated in the workplace, we need to be working towards bigger goals. It is crucial that companies communicate these goals and are transparent about them. 

Employees should complete their daily tasks and know what is expected of them, but they also should be aware of the bigger picture. This requires communication around strategic goals. The company’s vision needs to filter across the company, not just at the top level. Not only is this exciting for employees, but it also helps them to feel engaged, and more likely to collaborate and work strategically. 

How to spot it: Team members are absorbed in their day-to-day tasks and, as a result, no innovation or improvement takes place.

How to fix it: Leaders can help their teams by setting a clear vision, explaining where to go and why, and making sure to continuously give and receive feedback

Red Flag 4: The team seems scared to fail 

Change is scary, and failing is scary, but it is necessary. There can be a lot of money and ego attached to certain projects, which can failing even scarier. Organizations with a healthy company culture try to create “safe to fail” environments. It is not enough to say to people, “You can fail.” Agile leaders know that effective change in a complex environment can only work with an evolutionary approach. They focus on leveraging the potential of the present and the natural predispositions that already exist in a team or an organization, instead of pushing towards an unrealistic ideal state. 

It is like parenting. If we want our kids to learn about collaboration, we don’t describe what good collaboration looks like and create a plan for it. Instead, we might encourage them to apply to a football or basketball team or to join a music band. Through these experiences, they will build collaboration “muscles” and learn what collaboration feels like.

Organizations should encourage people to voice their opinions and take on experimental new projects. A side effect of that will almost certainly be failure. If your organization is not encouraging these types of behaviors, then you can’t change, grow, or learn in the process. 

How to spot it: There are very fixed and defined roles within an organization, which do not allow for experimentation to take place. 

How to fix it: Allow skilled teams to self-organize and decide how to approach the situation through experimentation. An Agile mindset and approach can help teams achieve this. 

Recommended eLearning Course: Agile Foundations

Red flag 5: People feel burned out 

If there is a sense of burnout within the team or leadership, it could mean that individual values aren’t aligned with those of your company. This can leave people feeling drained. 

One of the biggest causes of this kind of problem is when people are expected to work at an unsustainable pace to meet certain goals or deadlines. While this may get results in the short term, it has far-reaching negative consequences in the long term. Sooner or later, fatigue and anxiety will filter in. Plus, this will negatively affect both the quality of work and work-life balance, which has a massive impact on how people feel about their workplace.

How to spot it: A common sign of burnout is when teams are constantly starting work but not always finishing it. Middle management, teams, and individuals are 100% busy, but delivery is slowing down.

How to fix it: Learn to identify and eliminate impediments to the flow of work in order to keep queued work manageable and alleviate pressure on teams. 

The Next Steps to Improving Your Company Culture

There are many ways that companies can improve their culture. But before organizations embark on this journey, they need to know exactly where they are going wrong and what people are saying about their company culture. In our decades of working with organizations, we’ve seen countless hours wasted by not getting to the root of the problem.

Our Organizational Scan™ tool is a scientific, data-based way to measure company culture and take action based on facts, rather than assumptions. 

It gives an accurate, real-time view of your organizational culture, leadership style, decision-making capabilities, and employee happiness. This empowers you and your organization to make positive, sustainable changes.

Agile Leadership in Today’s World

In the fast-changing environment of our modern world, building and maintaining a thriving organization is a huge challenge, no matter if the company is big or small. It’s always been necessary for managers and leaders to understand the business itself very well, but today there are new challenges too. Organizations need to be adaptable, innovative, and engaging for people. In order to be successful in the new environment, a leader not only needs to learn a lot, but unlearn a lot too. There are new and different behaviors, skills and tools needed to nurture successful teams and organizations. This is where Agile leadership can make a meaningful impact.

To become an exceptional leader in a volatile and unpredictable world, join our webinar on 29 August: Top Challenges Facing the Modern Leader (and How to Overcome Them)


  1. What is Agile leadership?
  2. Agile leadership principles
  3. Agile leadership styles
  4. Agile metrics for leadership
  5. Servant leadership
  6. Emotional intelligence in Agile leaders
  7. Lean Agile Leadership
  8. Agile Leadership Training

What is Agile leadership?

The term “Agile leadership” is made up of two key terms: agile and leadership.

Agile is an adjective, not a verb. It is not something you do, implement, or deploy: it is rather something you are. It is a property of a system, whether an individual, a team, or an entire organization. There’s a reason the word is exemplified by an athlete: being agile is about flexibility, and the ability to respond quickly to unforeseen circumstances. 

The Oxford dictionary defines leadership as “the action of leading a group of people or an organization”. From this perspective, leadership is not something connected to a formal role, and nor is it something people are either born with or not. All of us can be leaders and followers in different contexts. Leadership is simply an ability to build.

How can we define Leadership

Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

Agile leadership is the ability to be flexible, use different approaches, and adapt to the context and the people involved. Because of this dependence on context, expectations and relationships, there are no leadership behaviors that are inherently positive or negative in and of themselves. Rather, there are leadership behaviors which are more or less appropriate within the context. 

Agile leadership is about the ability to make sense of the circumstances and adopt behaviors which are coherent with what the group of people you are leading in a specific context feels comfortable with. Incoherent behaviors are those that are not helpful within a specific situation and might be perceived negatively in the given cultural context. For this reason, Agile leadership is useful for any organization hoping to succeed in today’s climate, not only Agile organizations.

Coherent vs Incoherent Leadership

Like a sportsman needs to master many techniques to be really flexible, a true Agile leader has to master multiple leadership styles to be able to adopt the one that fits the specific context. That is quite a challenge, since we all feel more comfortable to adopt one or two specific leadership approaches and generally find others harder. If you do not practice the ones you are less comfortable with, the risk to propose an incoherent leadership is very high, which can be more harmful than you think.

In my coaching, I have observed the following pattern many times: People in a given organization are used to being told what to do. They have learned to be comfortable with it, because they are rewarded to follow directives. One day the manager comes and says, “Now we are Agile, so you are self-organized and empowered to do what you think is most appropriate”. People stare at each other wondering what this might mean, thinking “just tell us what to do and we will do it”. 

This is an example of incoherent leadership. The resulting frustration and dissatisfaction are known as Motivational Debt. Even if a specific leadership behavior seems appropriate to a situation, it needs to fit the cultural expectations of the people involved. If it does not, it will very likely cause a negative emotional response and potentially increase motivational debt. In some cases, the impact can be so severe that people decide to leave. The “Great Resignation” all companies witnessed between 2020 and 2022 is a great example of what can happen in the extremes of incoherent leadership.

So, while it is true that Agile organizations are built upon autonomous and self-managed teams, this shift cannot be pushed onto people overnight. Individuals and teams need to be gently guided over time into becoming more autonomous and Agile, by adapting the leadership and the environment iteratively and incrementally, in the service of making people the best version of themselves.

Agile leadership principles

In the last 15 years, I have had the chance to talk to a lot of leaders involved in efforts to create more agile organizations. Many of these leaders shared a sense of frustration for the many “don’ts” they were prescribed – and too few “do’s”.

These leaders were constantly hearing things like, “Don’t assign tasks to people!”;”Don’t tell the team how to do something!”; or “Don’t take decisions the team can take on their own!”.

The most common consequences of this frustration and uncertainty are two and both potentially harmful: the leader backs off and starts not to do anything or the leader keeps doing the same things as before exactly in the same way as before.

How do we address this then? How does effective leadership work in a 21st century organization?

Leadership in the 21st Century

Photo by Yan Krukov on Pexels

Five Key Principles of Agile Leadership

Individuals and organizations are not machines, but living organisms who need to learn and adapt. This means that we cannot always have pre-programmed rules to follow. Pre-programmed rules and predefined processes work well in a stable environment where we are able to predict all possible scenarios and prepare in advance to handle them. But what about the scenarios or disruptive changes we cannot predict? 

In such a context, it is more effective to learn and rely on principles instead of rules. First we need to incorporate those principles into our decision-making and leadership styles. Then, when new circumstances unfold, we can define appropriate practices, aligned with those principles, to make use of.

A good analogy for this is parenting. When kids are small, we can give them specific rules to follow, which work well in the safe space they live inside the family: “Don’t put your fingers into the plug! Sit well! First, finish your homework and then you can use your mobile phone!” However, if we want them to grow up and be equipped to face the unexpected events of adult life, we need to stop giving them rules and start teaching them principles (e.g. “Be honest”). Only then will they be able to apply themselves in different situations.

So what are useful Agile leadership principles to incorporate?

1. Manage the environment, not the people

Research and empirical evidence tell us that we can’t change people: we can hardly change the person we see in the mirror every morning. But we can change the environment and people’s experiences so that the behaviors and the results we expect come to life naturally.

Every organization has a vision and sets goals and metrics to monitor on the way to that company vision. Those goals are achieved (or not) through the results that every single person in the organization accomplishes. Some of them are exciting, like bringing an innovative product to the market, and some of them are just necessary, like filling in tax returns. But all results come from actions and behaviors. And going one step deeper, actions come from decisions, which in turn are informed by beliefs: we decide based on what we think is right or best in the moment. 

Our brains are connecting machines, which create wired patterns through which we interpret the reality around us and decide what is right or wrong. These patterns are created through the experiences we have lived all our lives. Existing patterns cannot be broken: the power of one to one conversations is therefore overrated. But new patterns can be created through novel experiences. 

Traditional leaders tend to focus on managing people’s actions. This approach addresses just the tip of the iceberg, and it only works well in a very stable environment. In such a state, the rate of change is so slow that we can afford to have only a few people (the managers) in control of decision making and the rest of the workforce simply executing.

When the rate of change is high, the reaction from hierarchical management is too slow and  can create bottlenecks. Here, decision-making power must be distributed and given to those closer to the problem. To avoid the risk that everyone takes their own direction, this distributed decision-making power needs to be coherently funneled towards the company goals and vision.

Organizational culture is so much more than a value statement on your website: it’s the sum of the experiences and beliefs of the people involved. The organizational culture can be measured through its living manifestations, such as rituals, stories of success and failure, habits, and unwritten rules. 

Today, an effective leader does not create superficial compliance to company values, but leverages approaches such as mentorship and coaching to create new experiences, which will then result in new stories, new rituals and new behaviors.

Agile leadership focuses at the bottom of the pyramid to manage the environment and create those experiences for people to build coherent beliefs, which will in turn determine coherent decisions.  

2. Build autonomy and trust

Modern-day organizations benefit from decentralized decision making. To be more resilient and equipped to face unexpected circumstances, they must be built upon autonomous and self-managed teams.

But as we said above, the shift from a fully hierarchical chain of command to autonomy cannot be pushed onto people overnight. Individuals and teams need to be respectfully guided over time to become more autonomous and agile, by adapting to the leadership and the environment iteratively and incrementally.

An Agile leader carefully selects those leadership behaviors that can act as a bridge in the gentle transition towards higher levels of autonomy with minimum disruption and resistance.

This process of transition and discovery will be shaped by bringing diverse perspectives together, for instance by asking people to share stories of success and failure. Some questions you could ask include:

  • Do they associate stories of success and failure with the same leadership approach or with different ones?
  • What behaviors from the leader do they associate with success or failure? 
  • Is the group uncomfortable with higher autonomy at a given moment or do they favor it? 

A transition towards a higher level of autonomy while building trust (instead of harming it) is based on adopting iteratively and incrementally more of the behaviors that are associated with the desired state and less of the ones that are not. 

At the same time, it is necessary to build the teams’ skills to sustain high levels of autonomy, for instance the ability to navigate conflicts, collective decision making, and the ability to give each other constructive feedback.

3. Model the behaviors you want to see

As Agile leaders shape the environment to create the experiences which support the right culture and make higher levels of autonomy accepted and affordable by the team, they realize they are themselves part of that environment.

This means that they need to own and model the culture they want to see around in the organization, to avoid an incoherent clash between what they preach and the leadership they demonstrate. Such a clash can undermine people’s trust and willingness to take on more responsibility.

If Agile leaders are serious about improving their organization, they should be even more serious about improving themselves.

4. Lead based on the context

The ability to make sense of the circumstances in a given situation and adapt your approach to fit the context is a key characteristic of good leadership. As expressed by Dave Snowden in the Cynefin framework, different circumstances can be organized into different domains. The domains, in turn, are characterized by different approaches to decision making, acting and leading. 

Cynefin Framework

Situations in ordered domains show causality, meaning there is a clear relationship between cause and effect. This means that we can plan and act, based on the characteristics of the situation and the context in which it is happening. In some cases, the appropriate action is self-evident: it is sufficient and effective just to tell people what to do or establish guidelines and checklists to follow.Other cases require analysis. In these situations, expertise plays a very important role: the leader will ask experts to analyze the situation, and provide possible solutions. Establishing expert peer review can improve the quality of what is decided and executed.

In unordered domains, the lack of causality makes planning and the direct reuse of existing approaches very difficult, if not impossible. When the situation is complex, the relationship between cause and effect can only be discovered in retrospect and therefore actions might have unintended consequences. In those cases, expertise is not of much help, and it is necessary to run multiple parallel probes (some of which will fail). These allow the identification of repeating patterns and show us how to affect the system and address the problem. The leader’s ability to involve cognitively diverse people will affect the quality of the experiments and the decided actions.

In a chaotic situation (such as an emergency), the leader’s ability to act promptly is what will make a difference. Waiting and trying to analyze the situation is useless when volatility and uncertainty are very high.

Understanding the context and the situation allows leaders to act effectively in a given cultural context. For example, in a hierarchical organization people will expect the leader to appoint experts and make the final decision in a complicated situation, while in a more collaborative organization, the group will feel comfortable to appoint experts and options on how to move forward will be vetted and discussed by the group. Agile leaders are aware of the context and the situation and how to appropriately shift their behaviors and modulate the actual course of actions.

5. Incorporate agility into change

All changes, even with the best intentions, can create motivational debt by introducing gaps between expectation and reality. People are complex and there is only so much change each of us can handle at a time. However, many organizations try to take a “fail-safe” approach to change. An example of this could be buying a big model from a consulting agency, marketing the concept internally, and setting milestones. There’s so much money, ego and expectations attached to the change project that it will simply not be allowed to fail.

Agile leaders, on the other hand, know that effective change in a complex environment can only work with an evolutionary approach. Here, the focus is on leveraging the potential of the present and the natural predispositions that already exist in a team or an organization, instead of pushing towards an unrealistic ideal state.

Again, it is like parenting. If we want our kids to learn collaboration, we don’t describe what good collaboration looks like and create a plan towards it. Instead, we might encourage them to apply to a football or basketball team or to join a music band. Through these experiences, they will build collaboration muscles and learn what collaboration feels like.

In order to reduce the risk and side effects of change within organizations and deal with unpredictability, effective leaders know to instill change through diverse experiments with small continuous adaptations. This removes the burden and risk of maintaining different co-existing systems of work (i.e. the old way of working, and the new one) for long periods of time: small changes are easily understood, quickly piloted and rapidly integrated, minimizing the uncertainty, confusion and loss of effectiveness inherent in change.

Running different parallel experiments enables leaders to validate assumptions and hypotheses in a safe-to-fail environment. Through multiple safe-to-fail experiments they recognize repeating emergent patterns that can be replicated to catalyze change in other parts of the organization.

By asking volunteers to help define and run the experiments, they achieve wider acceptance of the change in the organization and increase transparency because everyone can see small things happen and facilitate work in that direction: people hate it when a big change is unexpectedly announced by management and they cannot relate to the rationale and the implications of the change.

Agile leadership styles

Agile leadership is the ability to master multiple leadership styles to be able to adopt the one that fits the specific context, and work with the expectations of the team. We can define six different leadership styles (or behaviors) that can be developed and applied in different contexts and cultures:

  1. Directing
  2. Demanding
  3. Conducting
  4. Envisioning
  5. Coaching
  6. Catalyzing

Because of the dependence on context, expectations and relationships, there are no leadership behaviors that are positive or negative in themselves. Rather, leadership behaviors that are more or less helpful within a specific situation and might be perceived positively or negatively in a given cultural context. 

Read more: Agile Leadership styles

Agile metrics for leadership

A question on many Agile leaders’s minds is, “How can we know how well we are doing as leaders?” Most people would tell you that we need to measure the impact that our leadership has, the level of autonomy of our team, the culture, and the level of resilience of our organization. However these are all lagging indicators, which we can evaluate only in retrospect in the future: sometimes leadership is about planting seeds of a tree we will never enjoy the shade of. 

Agile Metrics for Leadership

However we could look at a few leading indicators to understand whether we are going in the right direction and get feedback. In this way we will be able to improve by leveraging on our strengths and acting on our improvement areas. 

Leading indicators for Agile leadership 

A first leading metric could be around how we are doing as servant leaders. If we are demonstrating good servant leadership, we are likely to be strengthening people’s skills and building leadership as a diffused organizational capability, so that everyone can be a potential leader. A few questions can help us self-reflect on the different servant leadership virtues and their impact on the people around us:

  • Do people believe that I am willing to sacrifice my own self-interest for the good of the group?
  • Do people believe that I want to hear their ideas and will value them?
  • Do people believe that I understand what is happening in their lives and how it affects them?
  • Do people come to me when chips are down or when something traumatic has happened in their lives?
  • Do others believe that I have a strong sense of awareness for what is going on?
  • Do others follow my requests because they want to as opposed to because they “have to”?
  • Do others communicate their ideas and vision for the organization when I am around?
  • Do others have confidence in my ability to anticipate the future and its consequences?
  • Do others believe that I am preparing the organization to make a positive difference in the world?
  • Do people believe that I am committed to helping them develop and grow?
  • Do people feel a strong sense of community in the organization that I lead?

Once you identify your biggest strength and your biggest improvement area, meet with a peer and:

  1. Share a story when you demonstrated the servant leadership virtue you believe represents your biggest strength
  2. Ask for a suggestion about what you could do tomorrow to become one inch better at practicing the virtue you feel you are most struggling with right now

Another useful leading indicator could be about our ability to master multiple leadership behaviors. If we have the agility to adopt the appropriate leadership style in each of the contexts we are dealing with, we can reduce the Motivational Debt and build autonomy and resilience in the organization. A leadership behavior assessment again could help us self-reflect and get the inputs necessary to strengthen our leadership muscles, around the style and the behaviors we feel less comfortable in adopting.

Our leadership behavior assessment is based on SenseMaker® technology developed by Dave Snowden and The Cynefin Co. Both the leader and their followers capture and interpret situations in which the leader demonstrated a certain behavior. Multiple perspectives on the same situation help the leader realize how well they master different leadership behaviors and how coherently they apply those to different situations and contexts.

Try agile42’s Leadership Assessment for free or level up with the full-featured assessment.

Servant Leadership

The future of work, especially after the pandemic, seems to be a place where individuals closer to the problem are best-placed to make decisions. Teams are self-managed, which means they decide what to work on, as well as when and how to best achieve the requested outcome. 

Leaders that are effective in building such an environment create the conditions for the individuals and teams to perform at their best, and meet what people seem to expect from employers in 2022. This includes a focus on removing impediments, aligning stakeholders, building trusting relationships, coaching, providing feedback, developing people’s skills and building the capabilities of the organization. Ultimately, they cultivate the virtues of servant leadership.

What is servant leadership?

Robert K. Greenleaf first popularized the term “servant leadership” in The Servant as Leader, an essay published in 1970. It​ is a leadership philosophy and set of practices in which the leader puts the needs of the employees first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible. A Servant Leader should be asking themselves, “Do my actions help those I lead grow as persons? Do they, because of my actions, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become leaders?”

Dive deeper into Servant Leadership

The 11 virtues of servant leaders

  • Awareness
  • Calling
  • Community
  • Conceptualization
  • Empathy
  • Foresight
  • Growth
  • Healing
  • Listening
  • Persuasiveness
  • Stewardship

These virtues are maybe even more essential now than they were when they were first published in 1970. In the current world, leaders simply can’t be effective without trust from people they are supposed to lead. 

Emotional intelligence in Agile leaders

Practicing the virtues of servant leadership helps build good leadership in this fast-changing world. But what other qualities does an effective agile leader have?

Well, if you want to become the kind of leader who masters multiple leadership styles and is able to read the situation and apply a coherent approach to the context, you might want to work on your emotional intelligence.

Daniel Goleman was the first to popularize the idea of emotional intelligence and demonstrate evidence of its impact within organizations. He passionately argued for recognizing the relationship between someone’s emotional state and the actions driven by it, and how those actions in turn impact others and the organization (essentially the people they work with), whether positively or negatively.

Emotional intelligence consists of four fundamental skills: 

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management
  • Social awareness
  • Social skills

Read more: Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

Emotional Intelligence

Lean Agile Leadership

The phrase “Lean Agile Leadership” is something of a buzzword at the moment, although if you unpack the concept there are a lot of useful principles behind it. 

The term “Lean” was coined by James Womack, Daniel T. Jones and Daniel Roos in their book, The Machine That Changed the World: The Story of Lean Production, in 1990.

Recommended reading: Lean Agile Leadership in more detail

Seven Lean principles 

Later, in 2003, Mary and Tom Poppendieck published the book Lean Software Development: An Agile Toolkit. In this book they identified seven fundamental principles to take the concept of lean thinking from production, and apply it to software and product development. I believe these principles can be applied to any creative work. 

The seven Lean principles are: 

  1. Eliminate waste
  2. Build quality in
  3. Amplify learning
  4. Defer commitment
  5. Deliver as fast as possible
  6. Respect people
  7. Optimize the whole

Three dimensions of Lean Agile Leadership

There’s another important thing we can learn from experiences of organizational transformation and Lean management in the manufacturing sector. In my coaching, I have pinpointed three key dimensions worth considering as a leader. For each of these dimensions, I will offer one or two coaching questions to facilitate the reader’s personal reflections.

  1. Visible problems do not exist: they have been solved already. To help leaders move forward, you can ask: “How many clearly visible problems are you still stuck with in your organization?”
  2. The most efficient way becomes the standard, and the standard must be improved every month. Here, we can ask, “How much are you still striving to find one-size-fits-all “best practices” to make you move quickly to the next rigid and comfortable status quo?”, and “What are your managers accountable for?”
  3. Measure organizational capacity for solving impediments to generate trust. Here, it can be helpful to ask, “How seriously is your organization taking the fixing of impediments for teams?” and “To what extent do you think you are living the values you’re preaching?”

Agile Leadership Training

In a post from 2011, consultant and writer Esther Derby explains how insufficient training and mentoring can be damaging for leaders. She says, “Most people in management roles receive little or no training on how to do the job. Many organizations promote people who excelled as individual contributors doing technical work into management roles […] The skills required for management are often vastly different. […] A lot of the management training out there is crap. Few organizations have robust and confidential mentorship programs.

As we discussed in the chapters above, an effective way to become a better agile leader is to self-assess your servant leadership skills, understand how good you are at mastering multiple leadership styles, and grow your emotional intelligence index through journaling, self-reflection, and feedback.

However a solid education is extremely important, especially if you are starting the journey or want to deepen and practice your Agile leadership skills. In this context the industry standard and most widely recognized program in agile leadership is Certified Agile Leadership Essentials for Team and Organization Leaders, also known as CAL-E+T+O training. This class will help you discover how your natural, cultural dispositions might affect your teams, and learn how to create a safe-to-fail environment that fosters a culture of transparency, inspection, creativity, and adaptation.