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A proactive approach to friction, clarity, and performance

Friction, confusion, and underperformance - the age-old challenges in organisations. Has Agile truly transformed leadership and conquered these hurdles? Glenn discovers the answers and practical leadership tools.

Prior to the widespread adoption of Agile, management consultant Peter Drucker famously said: “Only three things happen naturally in organisations: friction, confusion, and underperformance. Everything else requires leadership."

The million-dollar question then is, has Agile fixed the three issues of friction, confusion, and underperformance? And has leadership changed? The short answer is, somewhat. With the rise of knowledge workers in recent years, there has been a shift away from the historical top-down leadership approach, and there has been an emergence of self-directed teams adopting a bottom-up approach to leadership. With Agile having a less prescriptive approach than traditional delivery models, the point of friction and confusion has shifted.

It’s common knowledge that the main difference between senior management and delivery teams is that senior management are responsible for developing organisational strategy, whereas delivery teams are responsible for the tactical delivery of the strategy. In an Agile world, if you were to draw a Venn diagram with one circle representing organisational strategy, and the other tactical delivery, then the overlap is the realm of the product owner. Product owners now need to be skilled at translating abstract concepts and in managing the friction between what demands of organisational strategy and what can be delivered with available resources.

Being a product owner is a very rewarding career, which can be at times can be incredibly stressful. We all understand that we are not at our best when stressed, but science is now revealing just how much of an impact stress can have on people. Dr Thompson of High Performing Systems demonstrated this by testing 62 people in leadership positions. Dr Thompson tested the combined EQ and IQ scores of these 62 individuals and retesting after inducing a stress response. The test revealed the combined EQ and IQ score dropped from 101 to 80. Dr Thompson concluded that “when a leader’s stress level is sufficient elevated, their capacity to use cognitive ability and emotional intelligence in tandem to make timely and effective decisions is significantly impaired”. Given how critical the role of product owners is in bridging high-level organisational strategy and tactical delivery (often under very stressful conditions), the ability of product owners to maintain cognitive ability and emotional intelligence is critical to successful outcomes.

Having been a mediator between product owners, scrum masters, and team members, I have seen first-hand how reputations and working relationships can unravel in a single moment of a leader reacting in a ways others perceive negative.

Understanding the impacts of stressful situations is only part of the equation for improving the likelihood of optimal outcomes. There are tools and techniques which can significantly improve the quality of outcomes for people in leadership positions.

Some such tools and techniques include.

  • Canned responses can buy you precious time to regain cognitive function (rather than shooting from the hip and hoping for the best).

  • Chunking for consensus and agreement (NLP hierarchy of ideas is used in negotiation and conflict resolution).

  • Reframing (often you can’t change what something is, but you can influence how people feel about it).

  • Consciously breathing in ways to maintain EQ and IQ.

  • Breath conditioning to maintain EQ and IQ unconsciously.

Being perceived as calm, competent and confident is essential if you want to be a great leader. Being calm under fire allow us to be at our best when the world around you is challenging.

If your organisation would like to work with Twenty2 Collective in taking a proactive approach to reduce friction, improving clarity, and improving performance then please get in touch. Glenn is a project manager, delivery manager, scrum master, scrum coach, trainer, and mentor with over 20 years of experience in project and delivery management, I bring a unique perspective on how to drive results while fostering a positive work environment.

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