Tom Nason Team : Project Manager Tags : Technology Management

Culture that fuels productivity

Tom Nason Team : Project Manager Tags : Technology Management

At its core Agile channels focus, collaboration, flexibility and encourages teams to prioritise the delivery of real business value over adherence to excessive processes and documentation.

This sounds great on paper but can be a real challenge to implement. The inherent changes to the underlying culture are often the biggest blockers, but in exchange offer the greatest rewards.

The Agile Culture: Leading through trust and ownership by Polyanna Pixton breaks office culture down into two types:

  1. Command and control
  2. Energy and innovation

Command and Control

Pollyanna claims that a large portion of organisations today employ a “command and control” culture. Team leaders are bound by delivery deadlines and KPI’s that distance them from the projects true goal. Lengthy project plans are created and team members are assigned X tasks per day so that the leader can deliver the project on time.

Team members are excited at first, but over time their enthusiasm and productivity drops. Their suggestions have all been shelved because the plan doesn’t allow for new features. They’ve never met a customer and start to lose their connection with the projects purpose. Each day they are fed a new set of tasks and are often told how to set about doing the work. Timelines are tight and collaboration with colleagues is seen as a distraction. Eventually, they switch off the creative side of their brain and concentrate on “just getting it done”.

Trust and Ownership

The truth is that humans are great at solving problems. We’re also very social creatures. Sure, there’s an exception to every rule, but generally we work well together and as the old saying goes, “two heads are better than one”.

So why should one person be responsible for making all of the decisions? The leader might be brilliant but do their skills and knowledge of the subject matter really amount to more than the cumulative experience of their entire team?

The trust and ownership model gives the power back to the team and treats the leader as a facilitator rather than manager. The team as a whole is responsible for delivering the project in accordance with its objectives (which must be clearly communicated). With the responsibility shared, the team decides the “when” and “how”. The leader trusts them to take the best path available and focuses on removing distractions while ensuring that communication is flowing freely.

An increase in trust and ownership among the team gives its members the freedom to think more creatively, pushing them toward the “Energy and Innovation” quadrant. The benefits of this trajectory flow into both to the product that they are working on, and to the process applied to carrying out the work.

Laszlo Bock (SVP of People and Operations at Google) lists dozens of companies who have successfully rolled out similar approaches in his book Work rules – Insights from inside google that will transform how you live and lead. According to him any company can benefit from the approach, from small Sri Lankan textile manufacturers to global giants like IBM.

Sure, it’s a little scary to give up control and redistribute responsibility. But with studies showing improvements in productivity of 50% and up, it’s hard to say that it’s not worth trialling at the very least.