Agile leadership in organizations: ‘The Expert Trap’

Two months ago, Gladwell Group had the privilege of attending the first-ever Women in Agile conference organized in Europe. Inspired by this event and the many women in the Agile community, it was only fitting for us to attend. Lisa Van de Voort, director of Gladwell Group took the stage at this year’s conference and presented her piece on the importance of Agile leadership and how to implement it within large-scale organisations.

In this digital age, many organizations struggle with creating an organization that can adapt and maintain its competitive advantage. This is the reason that organizations choose to go through an Agile transformation.

Traditional organizational structures are no longer sufficient

The traditional top-down organizational structure is still very much the status quo for many organizations. This has led to organizations creating one-dimensional management layers that are counter-productive to fostering self-organization, ownership and client focus. This is exactly why Agile leadership is among one of the most important aspects when undergoing a digital transformation. Nowadays a lot of focus is put on changes in processes and collaboration, often the need for change in leadership styles is overlooked.

Diversify the leadership styles in your management teams

As many organizations are still structured around functional columns, expertise is seen as a key element in getting promoted, and in fact, most managers are expert managers who tend to be over-represented in most management layers.

Organizations going through Agile transformations should put an increasing focus on diversifying their management layer. While there is a lot of value in having an expert manager, the Agile environment requires for a mix of leadership styles. There is an increasing need for leaders that inspire, are able to think on their feet and have a strong focus on development and growth.

As tempting as it may for ‘expert’ managers to know everything about your product portfolio, it’s important to remember that it stops Product Owners from feeling responsible for their own backlog and can have large scale consequences on your effectiveness as a team. As a result, this behavior hampers self-organization.

If self-organization, ownership and customer focus is what your organization aims for, a better balance between experts and other types of leadership styles is a necessity.