Tribal Leadership in an Agile World

Agile is an umbrella term for Scrum, Extreme Programming, Lean Development, Kanban, etc. whose roots are in Agility or the “ability to be agile”. Many consider Agile a technology approach; however, the “ability to be agile” (or Agility) applies to the whole enterprise or organization, business & technology including executives, management, and teams.

Tribal Leadership is a process for leveraging natural groups to build thriving organizations by focusing on language and relationship structures within a culture.

Tribal Leadership has proven to be vital in Agile transformation, that is, adopting, scaling, and sustaining greater Agility.

Agility: Self-organizing and Cross-functional

Quintessentially, Agility is a value system that emphasizes people, results, collaboration, and responsiveness. At the heart of agility is self-organizing cross-functional collectives (teams of individuals) that constitute an agile enterprise. Self-organization involves a team determining what needs to be done to accomplish a goal and being cross-functional involves the team having the skills and expertise to accomplish the goal.

Success with Agility involves a paradigm shift, which includes first focusing on principles & values and then pragmatic practices. While many organizations focus on the benefits of becoming a more agile enterprise — including accelerating time-to-market, increasing productivity, enhancing quality, and reducing risk & cost — they fail to achieve a return-on-investment because their approach engenders a transition rather than a transformation! Transition is a practice-based change that primarily focuses on surface level behavior while a transformation is a value/principle-based change that focuses on the DNA of an organization. The focus of a value/principle-based DNA-changing transformation is culture!

Scrum, Extreme Programming, Lean Development, Kanban

Scrum is a framework for organizing work, Extreme Programming (XP) practices form a discipline for software engineering, Lean Development is an approach for applying Lean thinking in software engineering, and Kanban is a method for enacting change.

Scrum and XP generally involve:

  • Three Roles (Product Owner or XP Customer, Team (Scrum) or Team (XP) with define-detail & build & test perspectives, and Scrum Master or XP Coach)
  • Three Ceremonies (Sprint Planning Meeting or XP Planning Game, Daily Scrum Meetings, and Sprint Review and Retrospective Meeting)
  • Three Artifacts (Product Backlog, Sprint Backlog, and Burndown Chart)

Value: Organizations, Project, and Products/Services

Any organization (enterprise) focused on value (result) generally includes Business, Technology, Governance, Operations, Program/Project Management, and Enterprise Architecture functions involved in ongoing value discovery and value delivery cycles.

Business areas generally include Marketing, Sales, Support, and Products/Services (Product Management or Services Management with Product Managers). Technology areas generally include Engineering, Architecture (Architects), and Infrastructure. Program/Project Management (Project Managers) focuses on the human means to deliver value. Enterprise Architecture focuses on the technology means to deliver value. Governance focuses on oversight in the delivery of value. Operations focuses on supporting the delivery of value.

Any project (effort) focused on a product/service (result) involves a value delivery cycle.

Tribal Leadership

A tribal leader focuses on upgrading a tribe (group) through cultural stages (one through five) using leverage points and stabilizing the tribe at stage four (“we’re great”) by leveraging commitment to resonant core values, aligning on a noble cause, and establishing triadic relationships.

Core values define what a tribe stands for, “principles without which life wouldn’t be worth living”. A noble cause defines what a tribe lives for, “pronouncement of a future state that a tribe will bring about through its coordinated action”. Triads are three-legged relationships where each leg of the structure is responsible for the relationship between the other two parts.

A tribal leader sets a strategy that takes everything into account, especially the tribe itself, which involves engaging the tribe regarding values, noble cause, outcomes, assets, and behaviors.

Quintessentially, a tribal leader focuses on synchronizing culture and strategy while consistently stabilizing and effectively developing other people around them who lead from their role and expertise.

By developing other people around them who lead from their role and expertise, tribal leaders foster self-organizing cross-functional collectives (teams of individuals) across business & technology, including executives, management, and teams.

Transformation

As transformation coaches, we have leveraged Tribal Leadership to foster self-organizing cross-functional collectives (teams) in adopting, scaling, and sustain Agility across many enterprises/organizations.

Tribal Leadership has proven to be a subtle and potent catalyst for transformation — fostering organizational health (high performance cultures and thriving organizations) — where we operate as tribal leaders discovering and fostering triads across the enterprise:

  • To foster health within the value discovery and delivery teams, we foster triads among the Scrum-Master/XP-Coach role (that is, Project Manager), Product-Owner/XP-Customer role (that is, Product Manager), and Team (Scrum or XP) role (that is, Engineering Team).
  • To foster health within the value discovery and delivery teams, we foster triads among the define-detail perspective (business/requirements-analysts), build perspective (developers), and test perspectives (tests/test-analysts).
  • To foster health within the enterprise, we foster triads among members of Governance, Business, and Technology.
  • To foster health on the business side of the enterprise, we foster triads among people functionally in Marketing, Sales, and Product Management.
  • To foster health on the technology side of the enterprise, we foster triads among people functionally in Architecture, Engineering, and Infrastructure
  • To foster health within the enterprise, we foster triads among members who are Project Managers, Product Managers, and Architects.

More specific roles are highly dependent on each organization, and this is further adapted to the needs/context of the enterprise, but the intent is to foster stable partnerships (stage four) as self-organizing cross-functional collectives (teams).

Roadmap

Additionally, the transformation is enacted based on a three phase roadmap (generally within a 3 to 6+ month timeframe, which is further adapted to the needs/context of the enterprise):

The first phase focuses on sufficiently understanding the enterprise to derive a “minimal” value discovery and delivery framework (that imbues Agility) around which we can organize. That is, we don’t do Tribal Leadership for the sake of Tribal Leadership, but to discover and deliver value healthily!

The second phase focuses on launching value discovery and delivery efforts to exercise and elaborate the framework. That is, we focus on value and noble cause.

The third phase focuses on progressively refining and tuning the framework. That is, we focus on scaled/scalable and sustained/sustainable adoption.

Tribal Leadership in an Agile World

If you are adopting Agility but not achieving greater organizational health and a return-on-investment, consider Tribal Leadership.

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