Agile Managers: Trust Your Team and Encourage Innovation

In order to fully embrace agile and create an environment where individuals want to work together as a team, managers have to move from a role of dictation to one of direction and mentorship. Instead of making all the decisions, managers need to trust their team members and empower them to solve problems on their own, innovate, and fail—or succeed.

It’s easy to say, “We’re going to be agile.” But in order to fully embrace agile and create an environment where individuals want to work together as a team, then managers—IT managers, specifically—have to be able to step back from the day-to-day workings of the development team.

Historically, IT managers have dictated daily tasks and defined priorities for their teams. As teams move to agile, they look to the product owner for prioritization of the work that needs to be accomplished.

IT managers now should focus on how to remove resource obstacles and ensure that the team has the appropriate hardware, software, and skills necessary for that work. They also can provide direction on their team members’ career and personal goals, such as helping to determine appropriate training and professional development.

Through trust and empowerment, the role of the IT manager on an agile team changes from one of dictation to one of direction and mentorship.

Trust Fosters New Ideas

Here’s a conversation that shows the difference between a manager who dictates and a manager who directs.

After being in his new job for a little more than a year, James ran into his previous manager, Susanne. They got to talking about his new manager and the team he was on.

“Susanne, how have you been?”

“Just fine. How’s your new job?” Susanne asked.

“It’s going well. I couldn’t be happier in my new role,” James responded. “I’ve got a great team and manager that look out for me as well as challenge me. I’ve had the opportunity to work on a new project that uses end-user feedback to design and implement new features. My manager continually encourages us to try new things, and it really pays off.”

Susanne sighed. “I really wish we could have that sort of environment here. How does your manager motivate people? We have people on this team who work hard, but they never go beyond the status quo. There’s no innovation.”

“It wasn’t always that way for my team,” James said. “There was a manager, Mattie, who saw the issues the team was facing by following the same old process. It was all about self-preservation and blaming other people. It left the team frustrated and unable to manage the large volume of work expected of them.

“Mattie is very headstrong. She has no problem calling out issues for what they are, which did make some people upset!

“She worked to implement a new system for the team to follow. In the past they had done typical waterfall development, and Mattie wanted to implement agile principles.

“Mattie started presenting the team with ideas for improvement and allowed the team to decide which ideas to experiment with. They tried new things, like tracking all work with paper on a wall, and pair programming. They consistently had retrospective meetings to discuss issues and implement ideas they thought would resolve them.

“Most importantly, Mattie stopped dictating our daily work to us and let the team decide how we wanted to accomplish our work. She started talking with team members about what their career goals were and suggesting training.”

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