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5 tools for agile leadership Transformation

Thank you so much @joannemarriott for todays #minutewithmarcus with a question on one of my favourite areas of high performance in leadership and transformation.


Joanne wrote to me a few weeks ago with this question “what advice would you give to a CTO looking to transform their culture and ways of working in technology to be agile whilst bringing their business stakeholders on the journey?”

I could count myself fortunate to have worked with countless leadership teams and organisations seeking high performance. Sometimes we’ve learned the hard way of what works when it comes to success but through my experience I’ve distilled what works down to 5 simple tools. We actively use these techniques in our training and coaching but these are something that I would share with any exec looking to undergo this journey.


Today I’m going to share those revolutionary tools with you. I will preface all of this that the true meaning of agile is one size does not fit all and true agility is about testing, learning and evolving so choose how you might use the below. Without further delay here’s my 5:

  1. An Ear - that’s right, number one tool any leader considering transformation can have is listening and what’s great is it’s something we already have! To be successful in change we need to start and continually evolve our listening. Listening to our employees, listening to our peers, listening to our internal and external stakeholders, listening to our systems and most importantly our customers. You will find all of these sources have the answers all we need to do is listen. One of the first things we do in any engagement is to start listening and understanding the environment we are in and then coaching our leaders to do the same.

  2. A mirror - so what do we do once we’ve gone all that listening, well some of what we hear we are going to like and some we are not but the only way we can improve is by taking a good look in the mirror and accepting what needs to change. It’s not easy playing the role of the coach whether it’s sports, leadership or ways of working we will often be a mirror for those we coach and then it’s for the coachee to decide how they respond. I will often by clear with executives that agile doesn’t always solve your problems, it makes them really visible, it’s then up to use to decide how we might solve those problems. As a leader of change we need to be willing to accept what we see in the mirror and then work with our business counterparts to solve what we see.

  3. Time machine - now I’ll admit this one’s harder than the previous do but go along with me and you’ll see what I mean. Agile is nothing new in Technology. The manifesto is 20 years old and last year we celebrated 25 years of scrum, most tech teams have seen the good and the bad of agile over the years. However, for our business counterparts this can be a new step on the journey. Within recent years and the rising pace of change business agility has become very real and organisations are seeking ways to be successful in complexity. This is the sweet spot for agile and in some cases we will see our peers in other areas using agile without even knowing it but we need to empathise with those in procurement, sales, finance or hr. Remember the first time you heard about agile? That curiosity and somewhat skeptic questioning? This is where our colleagues might be so we have to hop in the Delorean and meet them where they are at. This is not the time for egos so let’s use our new found listening skills to listen and identify small improvements. I love the idea of 1% shifts if we can make small but regular incremental improvements we will get to our destination a lot more successfully.

  4. A baton - nope, no violence here, I’m referring to one of those orchestra conductors batons. Being in technology we have a privileged position as I mentioned in the last paragraph. Technology has moved from being the reactive service provider to the strategic enabler of any business but once again we have to remind ourselves this is not our show and we need to leave the agenda (along with the ego) at the door. The best we can be is a facilitator or orchestrator of transformation. So how might we do this in a waterfall organisation? I’ll often start by picking a process that crosses the business, recruitment is always a good one… hosting a workshop with the relevant business stakeholders helping them to listen and mirror what our current system tells us vs what it could look like with agile is a great way of helping to bring together the orchestra.

  5. The Teepee - let’s assume you’ve made use of the previous four tools and they’ve worked well. My final one, which could also be my first from another perspective is the teepee. With every team we work with we highlight the importance of psychological safety. This goes hand in hand with listening which creates equal voice. Don’t like psychological safety? That’s cool, but I’ll let you know now you probably won’t like agile and your success is going to be significantly limited. So what do we do… the teepee creates psychological safety and as leaders we need to create a safe space for those we are working with to experiment and learn. We are going to be intentional with what we experiment with and are going to set good boundary limits to manage our risk but we are going to ensure full psychological safety to ensure our teams are able to step up and learn. You’ll notice as your transformation progresses one of two things, either you’ll begin to get a village of teepees or even establish a really big one but the best organisations I’ve worked with create safety the moment you walk in the door working with anyone from any area.

Hope this helps to answer your question Jo and for the readers hope these tools are helpful. If you would like to explore any of the above further feel free to register for our high performance insights or high performance information session.

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