Very simply put, servant leaders are those who work in service of their team. In an organisational landscape where leaders have been repeatedly encouraged to reduce workload, while improving staff performance and wellbeing, it is natural for many to wonder how they can make this a reality in 2022. However, there are many things you can proactively do next year to make life easier for your team while also potentially increasing things like effectiveness, ownership, autonomy, satisfaction and morale.
1: Establish/Re-establish a cadence – In agility the initial value we get from a set routine and cadence is that it makes it possible to save time in planning when, how and how often we meet, and specifically what we meet about. But more than this, every time a meeting is moved/changed it has a cascade impact on other people and creates avoidable waste inside many teams and organisations. Therefore, agree what kind of meeting, sprint/iteration and review process the team will use next year.
2: Servant leaders defend their team’s cadence – New requests abound, and we often think that responding quickly to new items equals agile, but this is not always true. Disruption is not in service of the team, and in the end delivers less value to customers. As servant leaders, one of the requirements is to try and keep the team’s cadence reliably in place. The reason this is so key to our success in harnessing the power of agile and focus on what is most important is that it helps the team in preventing break-in work from stealing focus. It is key that leaders become good at this if the team is to succeed, because a lot of the disruption teams face can actually come from leaders themselves.
3: Self-organising teams decide what the focus is together – Currently, like many leaders, you might drive the agenda for the team’s meetings and delivery. If we are to move even closer toward the agile approach, the responsibility for what the team works on is one the whole team must be accountable for. This is again why the cadence is important, as it creates a regular forum where the team can make decisions and re-evaluate priorities as a unit. This not only brings deeper and more valuable insight through collective decision making, but also means living by principle 2 above is not as difficult for you as the servant leader.
4: Prioritise what’s important – In the early days many teams will say the word ‘prioritisation’ a lot. They may even hold events where they start working on this by identifying and categorising them by something like value or impact versus complexity, effort and time. Before you know it, many things have made the cut, but very few have actually been cut (i.e. de-prioritise, delayed or stopped). When everything is important nothing is, and in practice many will fail to meet their core objectives if we don’t address this. So, taking quite a tough line with your team on priorities and trying to vastly reduce the number of things in flight is a key activity for any servant leader.
5: Visualise the work – One way to reveal the very real problem of too much work being in flight that many teams face is to visualise the work; either on a wall or in your preferred digital space, and then look at it as a group every day. As servant leaders we should first notice all the things in progress, anything that is blocked, and look at the team’s capacity. Moreover, you have to be willing to say ‘no’ and ‘not yet’ to lots of stuff if you are to create the space your team needs to perform at its best. Better still, empower the team to make these calls for you so that your focus can be on more important things (like removing impediments and blockers for your team as their servant leader).
Pause for thought:
- Which of the above suggestions resonated most with you?
- Which of these principles have you found hardest to implement in 2021?
- What can and will you commit to doing differently in 2022?
- Where might you or your teams need some additional support?
- Was there any terminology in this you didn’t fully understand that can be resolved through a short conversation?
Written by Ed Midson, Agility Coach