Meet Ryan Jones.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up outside of Atlanta, Georgia in the USA, went to uni in the UK, came over to New Zealand in 2017 and have absolutely loved it here.

 

Do you have any hobbies? What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

I’ve been a musician since I was young and have always loved listening to and making music. I’ve been in many different bands growing up, and nothing can beat a good jam session with mates. My wife Rachael and I also love getting out into nature and we go camping and hiking as often as we can. We’ve managed to do 8 of the 10 Great Walks and hope to do the other two soon!

 

What made you get into consulting?

The modern office world can be a very strange and unnatural environment and I’ve always been passionate about making a dent in this to help people become more engaged and at ease in their workplace. Eventually in my career I realised that as a consultant I can use my skills to make a bigger dent!

 

Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

My wife is currently pregnant with our first child, so in 5 years I see myself fulfilling the most important job title of my life - Dad!

 

Throughout your time at Radically, what is one key thing that you have learnt?

Organisations are modern day tribes and are made solely of people and relationships, so the more that you can make each interaction and relationship as rich and meaningful as possible, the healthier the organisation will be! 

Also, I’ve seen many organisations struggle to deliver at pace because information has to flow up to the top levels of management for decisions to be made, which results in slow pace and ill-informed, biased decisions being made. When clear strategic direction is given by leaders and decision-making authority is delegated to people who are closer to the work (with clarity on constraints and guardrails), it results in better and faster decisions, and a more empowered and engaged workforce.

 

What advice do you have for other leaders?

Because organisations are solely made of people, relationships and interactions, make your interactions more meaningful by prioritising richer communication channels. Just remember “walk, talk, write” - if you have a significant message for someone, walk over and talk to them if you can, if not pick up the phone and call them, and rely on email and messaging only if necessary!

I've recently been asked by a few of our clients on how to improve psychological safety. One of the most insightful things on this topic is to realise that psychological safety is often not a binary question. There are many factors influencing psychological safety, however the first step is to understand the different levels of psychological safety, so that as leaders we can create experiments to provide intervention to foster more safety for our people and teams.

Understanding the Levels of Psychological Safety

Psychological safety isn't a one-size-fits-all concept. It actually comes in different levels, and understanding them is key to creating a truly supportive workplace. Let's explore these levels:

 

Level 1: Basic Safety

This is the starting point. At this level, team members feel safe enough to do their job without fearing punishment or humiliation. They know they won't be reprimanded for making honest mistakes. It's like a safety net that catches you when you slip.

Practical Tip: Encourage open dialogue about challenges and share your own mistakes to set the tone.

 

Level 2: Sharing Ideas

Moving up the ladder, this level is about people feeling comfortable sharing their ideas without feeling judged or dismissed. They're willing to put their thoughts out there, even if they're unconventional or untested. It's like opening the door to innovation.

Practical Tip: Praise and acknowledge creative thinking, even if an idea doesn't pan out.

 

Level 3: Taking Risks

At this level, your team members feel confident enough to take calculated risks without worrying about blame. They're not afraid to venture into uncharted territory, knowing they have your support. It's like the fuel for growth.

Practical Tip: Encourage calculated risk-taking and celebrate lessons learned, not just successes.

 

Level 4: Honest Feedback

At the highest level, your team feels free to give and receive honest feedback. They trust that their input will be used constructively, not as a weapon. This is where you see constant improvement and genuine collaboration.

Practical Tip: Foster a culture of feedback, and lead by example by actively seeking and welcoming input.

 

The Big Takeaway

In a nutshell, psychological safety isn't just a yes-or-no thing; it's a spectrum. The higher you can climb on this ladder, the more your workplace will thrive. So, take these simple steps, start adding more psychological safety in your workplace. Want to improve psychological safety for your workplace? Join us on our 1 day workshop on Psychological safety here.

Many self-managing teams struggle to reach a truly high-performing state. When an organisation moves to a self-management model, a key service centralised management traditionally played – giving feedback – is often ignored, leaving teams struggling to truly grow.  In this article, we share how to give effective feedback to improve both team and individual performance.

Models for high-performing Teams

There is a clear and obvious pattern across the models for high-performing teams. Dr Patrick Lencioni’s 5 Dysfunctions of a Team says the trust and the ability to productively process conflict are critical foundations. Trust is built on being vulnerable, being prepared to ask for help and not being afraid to make mistakes in front of others.

Team model for feedback and performance

In addition to this, Tuckman's model shows the importance of keeping a team together to give them the opportunity to work through the stage he called Storming. This is where differences surface and they learn how to process conflict productively.

The result of this is a set of team norms that guide how the team works. Eventually, when a team stays together long enough to build on these norms, it can increase performance. Productivity often suffers during Storming as they learn how to manage conflict and truly become a team.

Tuckman on performance and effective feedback

Google’s Project Aristotle made another significant contribution. In one of the largest studies of its kind, Google gathered some of their best statisticians, psychologists, sociologists, engineers, and researchers to try to understand what makes a high-performing team. They found Psychological Safety was the single most important factor. An individual’s belief that it is safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of their teammates was the most important factor of all.

Project Aristotle effective high performing teams

It turns out trust matters big time.

“There’s no team without trust” - Paul Santagata, Head of Industry at Google

While this work is a major step forward in what we need to create high performing teams, the question of how to do it is often left unanswered.

An approach we take at Radically is to help our clients develop a culture of feedback.

How to give effective feedback

Many organisations we work with have no consistent approach, training, or support for their people how on to give effective feedback. We believe this inhibits a critical feedback loop in individual and team development. When feedback is given, it is often clumsy, sugar-coated or worst of all, toxic. When it is received, it is often painful, upsetting and manipulative.

There are better ways! It just requires practice and support.

A useful starting point is Radical Candor – a model developed by Kim Scott during her time at Google. The model is really simple, which is one of the reasons we like it.

Radical Candor how to give effective feedback

The way we use it is to first assess your intent on the Y-axis. Do you care about the person you are giving feedback to? Be honest with yourself. If you are in the bottom two quadrants, then you are better to keep silent and take some time.

Assuming you are on one of the top two quadrants, you now need to decide whether you will “be nice and say nothing”, or whether you will be honest with them.  In my experience, this is where most people come unstuck. They tell themselves “best say nothing” or “I will just avoid working with them next time”. This isn’t helpful.

Kim Scott suggests you start your feedback by showing you care personally. Think about the benefit for the receiver and position it this way. Example – “I know you do a lot of public speaking, and this is an important area of your career, so are you open to some feedback on some suggestions I have?”

In my personal experience, you genuinely need to care about the person and want them to do better. If you don’t, it shows through and feels hollow.

Now share the feedback

The next step is to share the feedback. This introduces the second model we use extensively, again because of its simplicity.  The Situation-Benefit-Impact (SBI) model is a fantastic way of constructing the feedback in a way that focuses on the problem, not the person.

It helps you structure your feedback into

  1. The specific situation - when was it, during what part, who was there, what was going on.
  2. The behaviour you observed. What did the person say or do?
  3. The impact – what was the impact on you from the behaviour. This is the part that is impossible to argue with because the impact is the impact you felt.

SBO for how to give effective feedback

Here is a good example:

Example of positive feedback

Notice how the situation, behaviour and impact are clear and specific. The impact also doesn’t pass judgement. It simply expresses the giver's concerns.

Also notice how the feedback focuses on the problem, not the person. That is the entire objective, and it now gives you an opportunity to work together to address the problem.

Finally, use curiosity. You can’t assume you are right and they are not. There may be many other factors involved.  Here is how:

  1. Adopt a learning mindset, assuming you don’t have all the facts. State the behaviour as an observation.
  2. Engage them in an exploration discussion. For example, “I imagine there are probably a few different factors at play. Perhaps we could uncover what they are together?”
  3. Ask for solutions. The other person may well hold the key to growth. Ask directly, “that do you think needs to happen?” Or, “wow could I support you?”

By shifting our energy away from unhealthy conflict, to solving the problem, trust is built. As per the high-performing team models - it is safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of my teammates.

Don’t forget positive feedback

While feedback on areas to improve is important, just as important is feedback on areas where someone is doing well. But in what proportion?

Research suggests there’s a golden ratio for high-performing teams. The ideal positive-to-negative ratio is 5:1. Meaning, for every piece of feedback about something that to improve, you need to share five positive comments as well.

The research showed

  • high-performing teams has a 5:1 ratio
  • medium-performing teams 2:1 ratio
  • low-performing teams had a 1:3 ratio meaning three times as much negative feedback as positive.

Positive feedback is important! Here is another example.

Example of positive feedback

How to bring effective feedback to life

Now that you know how to give effective feedback, you need to make it a habit. The way we tend to do it is to mentor individuals and teams using both Radical Candor and SBI. At first, it requires time together to work through how they give the feedback effectively, and perhaps even practice together, but like most things, practice makes perfect.

What to watch out for

When we first established Radically, we set out to create a strong feedback culture. Along the way, we learned a lot of important lessons and it is fair to say there are definitely some gotchas to watch out for. Here is what we learned:

  1. There is such a thing as too much feedback! We got to a point where it all became a bit overwhelming and we had to tone it down. Some of us had moments of “for goodness sake – enough with the feedback!” Each organisation needs to find the right balance for them. Inspect & adapt.
  2. It is okay to say no. We always ask if someone is open to feedback and if they say no then you need to respect that. Sometimes people might be having a bad day or going through tough times elsewhere in their life and now is simply not the time.
  3. Culture, upbringing and mental models impact people’s attitude to feedback. For example, many of us Kiwis have been raised in a culture of Ruinous Empathy. We are generally a kind bunch, but we are very indirect. We prefer suggestions, hints and innuendo over directness. Overcoming this can feel very uncomfortable. Other cultures are comfortable being more direct as this is normal. Others still tend to be hierarchical and would never give feedback to a more senior person. These are all challenges to discuss with your people and work through. Find what works for you.
  4. SBI can be weaponised. I have seen SBI manipulated into “when you do this is makes me feel like that” with the implication that you need to stop what you are doing. In one situation many years ago, I had to give feedback to a consultant who had gone to the client site dressed inappropriately. He said, “when I have people tell me what I can and can’t wear it challenges my belief system and makes me feel anxious. The impact on me is that I need to take the rest of the day off.”
  5. Timing is everything. Sometimes, impromptu feedback is best. If the moment is right and the situation has just occurred, that can be the right time. Other times, it is better to stop, wait and think it through. This is all down to your own professional judgement.
  6. Feedback isn’t just a tool or practice – it is a culture. An organisation is a living, Complex Adaptive System where the system influences the behaviour, and the behaviour influences the system. For change to be successful you need to influence both. There is no point in expecting a certain behaviour if your system does not encourage or reward it. This is why we try to focus on a culture of feedback, not just a practice or tool.

Finally, there is also an art to receiving feedback. During our “too much feedback” crescendo, I wrote this guide on how to receive feedback for all the Radically team. I have now published this as the sister article to this.

Do you have experience on how to give effective feedback? How has it worked for you and what challenges did you experience? Please feel free to share in the comments below so we can learn and grow together!

Transparency is critical for agility, but often the power of transparency is challenged by long-hold cultural norms. This article shares examples of the power of transparency and how it can be used to create breakthroughs in performance.

Situation

I was helping an organisation adopt agile ways of working across six teams. We had started well. We had a shared vision for the change and everyone felt excited. We held a series of workshops to upskill everyone and had kicked off strongly.

The teams were full of highly skilled people who knew each other well and had worked together for years. They had been granted plenty of autonomy, were all highly committed and knew the area they were working in very well.

As we progressed, I kept getting a feeling that something wasn’t right. I drive home each day feeling something was wrong, but I couldn’t put my finger on what. I didn’t know the area of the business nearly as well as they did, but my gut feeling was that they should be getting through much more work than they were.

While reflecting on this I suddenly realised what I needed – transparency. Without transparency, I didn’t really know what is going on.

Creating Transparency

I decided to set up a small experiment. The CEO had made it clear that this project was the number one priority of the entire company, therefore all people working on this were dedicated to it full-time. I decided to test this.

Rather than dig into the details of what everyone was working on (micro-management), I asked them to help me create transparency about where their time was being spent. To do this, I set up a simple board where each day (at our Daily Scrum) each person recorded a green tick if they were doing the 7 hours they were supposed to, or a red cross if it was less than this.

What I saw shocked me. Everyone was red crosses!

As we worked through this, we found something significant - most people were only spending one hour a day on the project.

Despite this being the most important project of the organisation, structured to deliver the most important work first in iterations, the teams were actually working on all sorts of other things!

I remained curious and asked lots of questions. One team member shared an email that read something like this:

No transparencyIt turned out this was happening everywhere. There were literally thousands of invisible undercurrents running all the way through the organisation based on whatever work well-meaning managers were trying to get done. They had no transparency of what was actually going on.

Using The Power of Transparency

This organisation had a hierarchical culture, where success was measured by people doing what managers asked them to do. Well-meaning managers were trying to get their accountabilities delivered, but were creating a nightmare of bottlenecks, delays and dependencies across teams.

I bought the discovery to the Product Owner, who was also a senior manager with a lot of influence in the organisation. He too was shocked yet also thrilled with what we had discovered.

We designed an all-hands meeting where we shared the problem. He then empowered all the teams by asking them to say no to any work that wasn’t part of their current Sprint or was a genuine emergency that had been agreed by the Product Owner. All other incoming work to go to the relevant Product Owners to be ordered on their respective Product Backlogs.

The next Sprint productivity went through the roof. Teams were much more focused and happier. They started delivering significantly better-quality outcomes more frequently.

Winning with transparency

Breaking difficult habits

Six weeks later we hit another brick wall.

The Teams were struggling to manage the volume of support work coming through. It was impacting their ability to focus on project work. They raised it as something they needed our help with to resolve.

We asked them to estimate how much of their time was being spent on support work. They calculated 25%. When then asked them to calculate their per-Sprint capacity. As an example, one team had 8 people, each dedicated 7 hours a day over the 10-day Sprint. Therefore, their capacity was 8 x 7 x 10 = 560 hours. If 25% of their time was being spent on support work, then this was approximately 140 hours. Each team then set aside this amount of time for unpredictable incoming support work.

But to ensure we maintained transparency, we tracked how we were using this time. We created a large public whiteboard where we tracked how much of this time was being used, day by day.

What we discovered shocked us again.

After one week (half the Sprint), they had used all of their support allocation! The amount of support work was significantly more than what they had estimated.

Together, we analysed the incoming support work. It turned out that only a fraction of it was genuine support work. The rest was coming from the same managers as before, who were now gaming the system by putting through their work requests as “support work”. We still had the same problem – just in a different format.

Brick wall

Solution: Increasing the Power of Transparency

To resolve this once and for all, we made a decision to make all incoming support work transparent by putting it on the wall. Each day at our Daily Scrum, the teams and Product Owners agreed how much support work versus how much project work they would do each day.

Productivity shot up again.

We then kicked off a broader piece of work to address the root cause of the problem – the portfolio of work the company was trying to get done. We created an organised, structured and transparent portfolio system where all project were prioritised based on the capacity of the available teams. With all the managers involved aligned, everyone could to get their work done and be successful.

Conclusion

Transparency is your friend. It is easy to blame people when we are getting results we don’t expect, but it is usually the system of work that is the root cause. People don’t want to fail.

Leadership is about creating clarity and an environment where people can be successful and high-performing teams can emerge. As leaders, transparency is an important way of achieving this. Without it, it is difficult to know what is truly going on.

I encourage you to consider how your organisation uses the power of transparency. What could you do to improve it?

You probably don’t have to look very far to find people facing problems in their personal life or at work. They find themselves in a challenging situation and struggle to find a way out. Often times they are too focussed on all the negative things that are happening.

Attempts to solve the problems, even when acting with the best intentions can end up having the opposite effect, leaving the person feeling worse. One of the most valuable things you can do as an individual is to counterbalance that negativity. First, we need to understand how the negativity is created and sustained before we can break out of it.

A few years ago, one of the teams at my company was struggling to keep up with the delivery of their project, with tight deadlines to be met. the Product Owner, new in the role, was under a lot of stress from the demands of the Account Manager. The Account Manager was adamant in meeting deadlines for the client and was continuously applying pressure to the team. Stuck between the demands of the Account Manager, and the development team not keeping up, the Product Owner felt overwhelmed and spent their days keeping busy with low priority work. They shied away from hard decisions and complaining about the unfairness of their situation to other people at the office.

The situation worsened as time went on, until one of the senior managers became aware of it. After talking to the Product Owner they decided to help out by creating a delivery plan to have more alignment between the Product Owner and Account Manager. And so, Product Owner felt an immediate sense of relief. The intervention of the Senior Manager seemed to have taken off some of the pressure coming from the Account Manager. However, the relief was short-lived and the Product Owner quickly started feeling even more insecure. 

I believe it’s safe to say that we have all found ourselves in situations where we felt trapped and without a way to move forward. In the end, we think of all the reasons and people responsible for our misfortunes. We just hope that someone would finally do something, anything about it. Or maybe you are the one finding yourself having to constantly step in and take over the situation to get to a positive outcome.

Stephen Karpman describes these situations in his Drama Triangle. Let's take a closer look at the various roles at play.

The Drama Triangle

 

 

In our story, the Product Owner falls into the role of the Victim. They feel as though things happening to them are largely out of their control, leaving them feeling helpless and disempowered. They feel trapped and unable to act on their own, avoiding facing the necessary challenges, looking for someone or something to get them out of that situation.

The Account Manager takes on the role of the Persecutor. They are the perceived cause of the Product Owner taking on the Victim Role, and being helplessly trapped in that situation. The word “perceived” is key here. The Victim might view the Persecutor as the source of their hardship and misery, but that doesn't mean it's true. While the Persecutor in our story is a person, this role might also take the form of a specific situation. For example, it might be a co-worker, a boss, a spouse, or a parent. Or it can be a situation like a deadline, the realisation of not meeting your target, financial struggles or even a natural disaster.

The final piece of the Drama Triangle is the Hero role, also called the Rescuer or Saviour. The Hero intervenes on behalf of the Victim in an attempt to save them from the Persecutor, much like our Senior Manager created a delivery plan for the Product Owner. This role of the Hero is tricky because initially, it might not seem like there's anything wrong with stepping in and fixing things. However, the result is that the Hero reinforces the Victim attitude. Their actions underline the helplessness and disempowerment of the Victim and reinforce the perceived persecution.

While the Senior Manager created an initial feeling of relief for the Product Owner, who was grateful for their help. In the end, the Product Owner was left with a deeper feeling of self-doubt and anxiety for the next project. Wondering if someone would need to step in yet again. Like the Persecutor, the Hero can either be a person or a situation, like winning the lottery.

As you can see, all three roles are closely related and keep reinforcing each other. Continuously showing up as a Persecutor reinforces the Victim stance, and a Victim will continue to wait for their Hero. With time, these behaviours create a downward spiral of unhealthy dynamics.

Luckily, it’s possible to break this downward spiral and replace it with a much healthier alternative.

 

The Empowerment Dynamic

 

 

In his book “The Power of TED” David Emerald describes a response to the Drama Triangle called the Empowerment Dynamic, and dives into how we might make the switch to it. As with the Drama Triangle, there are three roles.

In place of the Victim, we have the role of the Creator. A Creator, rather than feeling helpless, realises that they have much more power and possibilities for action. They are able to choose a response to their circumstances and can find a way forward. They are focused on opportunities rather than problems, and are motivated by passion and their enthusiasm about bettering their situation and themselves. For example, our Product Owner might have sought input and collaboration with the Account Manager, or proactively gotten some advice from senior management.

The role of the Persecutor now becomes the Challenger. As a Challenger, the role is about triggering the Creator's ability to make things happen. They might encourage them to learn new skills, make difficult decisions and do what's necessary to get the desired outcome. They surface possibilities for the Creator to grow, like an Account Manager, highlighting risks and communicating needs transparently with the Product Owner.

In the final role, the Hero becomes the Coach. A Coach, instead of fixing or solving things for the Victim, sees people in charge of their own actions and the owners of their outcomes. In addition they facilitate personal progress and offer support by showing pathways, offering perspectives and giving advice. In our story, this is where the Senior Manager could have made a real impact, by providing the Product Owner with the tools and knowledge required to build their own delivery plan.

 

Making the shift to empower your team

Like in the Drama Triangle, all three roles of the Empowerment Dynamic are closely connected and reinforce each other, but they create much healthier dynamics. Luckily, making the shift can be initiated by any of the three roles.

Starting to show up as a Creator will eliminate the perception of a Persecutor by acknowledging opportunities and challenges. This redefines the role of the Hero since there is no one to be rescued. Rather someone in need of support and perspective. As a Challenger, constructively surfacing opportunities and triggering growth will not leave people feeling like powerless Victims needing a Hero. Moving away from Hero behaviour to a supporting coaching approach will empower people to own their own actions and outcomes. Helping them see their perceived Persecutor as an opportunity to grow.

Whichever role you might be playing in a Drama Triangle, shifting to a healthier dynamic starts with a realisation. Only you can change your own thinking and behaviours, and that it needs to be a conscious choice.

If we want to change something about our lives, we need to start thinking and acting differently today. Rather than wait for situations or people to change tomorrow.

Having worked with many different leaders and teams over the years, I’m aware that recognising the detrimental patterns of the Drama Triangle can prove to be difficult while being in the midst of it. It can be even more difficult trying to make the shift to the Empowerment Dynamic without support. At Radically we help leaders and teams recognise harmful dynamics and support the shift of mindset and behaviours, to create an outcome focussed, collaborative culture.

Forward thinking firms are realising that in order to thrive in a world of uncertainty they need to fundamentally rethink themselves beyond the tactical “doing” mindset (processes, frameworks and methodologies), to an adaptive mindset, based on a culture of collaboration and a team-centered approach to problem solving.

Culture, HR, intrinsic motivation & emotional EQ are converging with agile, servant leadership, the growth mindset & customer empathy to fundamentally reshape what it means to be a modern organisation.

The winners in the current climate are not just embracing modern technology; they are fundamentally redeveloping their core DNA in order to detect new opportunities. And this change is increasingly being led as a culture-first initiative.

Much of the work we are currently doing is less about responding to a particular crisis, rather it is more focused on creating new capabilities to enable our clients to continually adapt and respond to almost any situation. We call this agility. In practical terms, what does this involve?

From years of working at the coal face of adopting agile ways of working, we have learned that a holistic approach radically increases your chances of success. We therefore approach it as two interrelated pieces – Business Design and Transformation, with the overlap, validation, playing a vital role in road-testing the change.

Business Design

Business Design is about designing the business to help it best achieve its strategy. It is vital, yet in our experience many organisations skip this and leap straight into “implementing agile”. The result is a transformation with no real substance, no compelling call to action, no North Star. And firms wonder why so many transformations fail!

At Radically we take a very pragmatic view:

  • First, understand the core strategy. What space does the firm play in? What unique combination of drivers enable it to win in this space?
  • Design an Operating Model that will enable this strategy, empowering and aligning all the key business functions towards the same outcome.
  • Get explicitly clear on the target culture required to achieve this. What does it look and feel like? What will leaders do to role model this? How do we reward and recognise people demonstrating the desired behaviours?
  • Review and align the Organisational Structure to support the above. If our Operating Model is strongly agile based, then a different org structure is often required. What does this look like and what changes are required to get there?
  • Ways of Working – clearly design how we will approach our work. What work should be approached with an agile model? What work should be delivered by a traditional model? How will these interact? Who will do what? How will we measure success of this?
  • Funding & Governance – an agile enterprise tends to adopt an experimental mindset, delivering quick iterations of value that can be quickly tested with customers, resulting in continual course correction. Traditional funding and governance models tends to focus on adherence to a fixed plan. So how should a more modern funding and governance model work?
  • Leadership – given the above, what should our approach to leadership look like? How will we live the values as behaviours each and every day?

Sadly, most agile transformations we have seen in New Zealand completely fail to consider these fundamental building blocks. Instead, they tend to take an “agile practitioner” approach, focusing on frameworks, methodologies and processes. In our experience, these firms are unlikely to achieve their desired business outcomes.

Transformation

Transformation is the art of moving the business to the new model.

This is when the ‘people aspect’ of change truly kicks in. If you think about what we are actually transforming, it is people and people are the trickiest part to change; processes and models are relatively easy. The human shift must be designed with a human-centred approach. We find that by taking a leadership and mentoring approach, our job is to guide all levels through the change and build the capability and mindset within the staff to be self-sustaining into the future.

Validation

In our experience, no design is perfect. There is low value in trying to design a perfect design as no such thing exists, and secondly it will change as you implement it through transformation. Transformation validates design, yet transformation without design is folly.

 

Conclusion

In summary, we urge you to take a strategic focus when embracing agility. Are all the pieces of the firm aligned to the same vision, model and approach? Are we all completely clear why we are doing this and what outcomes we want to achieve? If you can’t answer yes to these foundational questions then it is time to re-think what you are doing.

Don’t “go agile”. Instead, design your business for agility, break the cycle of failed transformation and realise the true benefits from your investment.

Vodafone has accelerated their digital journey through the adoption of agile ways of working. In parallel, other parts of the business started to look at Agile to leverage new ways of working outside of IT with a firm focus on how to better win in the market, and better deliver strategic objectives. Vodafone engaged us to help achieve this by designing & embedding new ways of working for strategic business teams responsible for managing the key consumer products like broadband, mobile plans and pre-paid offers. In this webinar, we discuss how we use different tools, models and frameworks to help Vodafone’s business teams, along with the cultural & leadership changes needed to enable agile ways of working.

Throughout my career I have helped many leaders adapt their style to one that better supports teams reach a high-performing state. Across a wide range of different industries the patterns of high-performing teams, and how leaders help shape them, have some striking consistencies.

I can clearly recall one of the highest performing teams I ever worked in. It was during my first career as a chef. The Head Chef quit, and the owner of The Ruptured Duck (yes, that was the pizzeria name) asked me if I would take over. I was only 23 years old and felt totally daunted, but figured I had nothing to lose so gave it a go.

Throughout the following two years, I somehow helped shape an incredible team of people who felt they could literally achieve anything. The lines between work and fun blurred. We were all “in the zone” – that incredible space where everything around you seems to fade into the distance and you are utterly present. We were somehow there nearly 100% of the time.

The team could handle massive, unpredictable waves of customers and work under incredibly intense pressure for prolonged periods of time, often during extremely trying conditions. Yet we consistently delivered an incredible experience and regularly had customers commenting how obvious it was that we all loved what we were doing. I would regularly have staff coming to work early, working unpaid, just because they liked being there.

How on earth did we achieve this?

Reflecting back, I can see some clear patterns:

  1. Goal: We had a clear objective – to provide the most awesome casual dining experience in Christchurch in a friendly, fun environment.
  2. Leadership: at 23 years old, with less than a year of practical chef experience under my belt, I was not in a position to tell others what to do. I had never done this before, so how could I? All I could do was lead by example. I worked hard and expected others to also. We were largely self-managing.
  3. Culture: we created a culture of extreme teamwork by always having each other’s backs. If the chefs got a lull in work, we helped the front of house staff, and vice versa. This was never questioned. It was how we rolled. When introducing new staff, we’d focus on the team culture and would only introduce one or two new people at a time. It created trust and courage as a core group value.
  4. Continual improvement: we would hold what I would now call a retrospective every night. We’d have a couple of beers and talk through how the evening had gone, what worked, what hadn’t and what we could do better.
  5. Transparency: the entire operation, kitchen, dishes and all, could be viewed by the public the entire time. Nothing was hidden.
  6. Rapid experimentation – we would constantly try new ideas as “specials”, gaining valuable customer feedback as we went.
  7. Fun – we had a lot of fun together as group.

The result was a team that could turn over an 80-seat restaurant 6 or more times in a single evening without a glitch. That’s close to 500 people and we could do this 7 days a week if needed.

Agile Ways of Working

Fast forward to my current world: helping knowledge workers achieve similar outcomes. Radically is helping organisations transform the way they work, applying new ways of working, autonomous teams, a high-performance culture and a relentless focus on customer value.

While the setting is different, the themes are the same. High-performing teams have those same characteristics: goals, appropriate leadership, culture, continual improvement, rapid experimentation, transparency, trust, courage and fun.

A key aspect of this is helping organisations unlearn last centuries management practices.

Ivy league business schools and the big management consulting firms pushed these practices for decades. “Good management” was based on planning, hierarchy and control. The mindset was that the top layers of the organisation would come up with the right strategy, and then the troops would execute. The focus was on coming up with the best strategy (which of course you would need help with) and on execution excellence, namely conformance to plan (i.e. control).

However, with business increasingly operating in a world of unknown unknowns, this approach increases risk, reduces responsiveness and ultimately results in the organisation becoming fragile. To adapt, we have to acknowledge the approach we have used for the last 30 years doesn’t work in all contexts, and then explore alternative approaches.

Instead, at Radically we help leaders focus on establishing a clear, compelling vision and then re-thinking how their organisations deliver on this, largely through the exact same characteristics as my Ruptured Duck team. It isn’t about Agile. It is about the mindset, the environment and the culture required for high performance.

Autonomous Teams

Autonomous teams are self-managing. Self-management requires two critical ingredients:

An absence of traditional management.
A light set of constraints. Constraints help balance autonomy with accountability. Constraints might be an iteration, a Sprint Review, a social contract or a facilitated meeting.

An absence of management is important as people cannot self-manage when they have a manager telling them what to do.

For many managers, creating an absence of management is truly frightening. How can you be accountable when the teams manage themselves? How does a manager approach this situation? Do they just let go of everything and hope for the best? We are seeing a lot of people struggle with this.

The art of it is choosing how much space to leave by actively stepping out, in order to allow others space to step in. You can’t just walk away, leaving a gaping hole, and expect everyone to magically self-manage. Yet if you don’t leave enough space, you will prevent them from self-managing.

We ask leaders to move their focus away from telling others how to do the work, to the following three areas (leveraging David Marquet’s experiences captaining a nuclear submarine with no knowledge of how it worked):

  1. Clarity – what do you seek? What difference does it make and to who? Why is this important? What does success look like?
  2. Competence – does the team/individual have the competence to deal with this situation (or at least the growth mind-set to learn what is required). Does the structure support them in their level of competence? What help might they need?
  3. Control – delegate control to the people doing the work, once the platform of Clarity and Competence is in place.

This is precisely what I unwittingly established all those years ago as a chef at The Ruptured Duck!

Leadership and Culture

I believe one of the most critical factors for a high performing culture is leadership. The agile community has pushed servant leadership as the answer, but I don’t believe this is correct. I believe situation-appropriate leadership is the right answer.

To help organisations discover what this means, we prefer a discovery-based approach.

We use the Cynefin framework to first establish context. Collectively, we work through what it feels like to work in each of the four domains, what is different about each, and which approaches might work best for each domain. We then work through what sort of culture and leadership style would be required to support this way of working in each domain. Then, we review how we all currently think and lead compared to this.

The results can be quite profound.

These are some of my experiences helping create high-performing teams. What are yours? Have you ever worked in a high-performing team? What was it like? How did it compare to my pizzeria team? What was the predominant leadership style?

Many organisations are embracing agile ways of working in an attempt to build faster, more customer-focused and resilient organisations. They are redesigning themselves to create a culture where decision making is transitioned away from middle management towards those working with customers at the coal face. Ultimately, they seek engagement in order to create a culture where staff are empowered to truly delight customers. Autonomy is the critical ingredient; however, autonomy is often misunderstood. Many organisations think they just need to increase autonomy, however they forget to include the counter-balance of accountability, often with disastrous results.

 

Too Much Autonomy too Quickly

Recently, many senior leaders have shared with us a worrying concern. It is happening so much that it is becoming a pattern. They are telling us, often with hushed voices, that they feel they cannot ask important business questions such as “when do you think this will be done?” or “how is cost tracking?” or “will we hit our launch date?”. When they do ask these questions, they get proudly shunned and told that that these questions “aren’t agile”.

Perplexed, they feel stuck. Do they go back to their old ways and demand answers (which they know will be fabricated anyway)? Do they dare mess with the new agile culture and risk being seen as “a manager”, the evil conspirator who is secretly trying to stop agile and control everyone? Or do they try to manage the business without the vital information required to make decisions? The end result is managers on tip toes.

The problem is that they have increased autonomy without increasing accountability.

Empowerment

One firm wanted to increase autonomy by empowering their people to put forward initiatives that would be funded based on their ability to help deliver the strategy. The “how” (the execution of initiatives) would be entirely up to the proposer, giving the teams freedom and flexibility to focus on delivering the best outcome as the work progressed.

All sounds awesome right? Unfortunately, it wasn’t, as year after year they encountered the same problem: 9 months into the year they would run out of money and the entire organisation would then go into a capital freeze for the remainder of the financial year, causing significant disruption.

Why?

Firstly, those leading the initiatives were not being held accountable for actually delivering something of value. They were given a chuck of money at the beginning, based on forecast delivery of a business outcome. The intent was to give the teams autonomy, however without the counter-balance of accountability for how the investment was being spent, the teams failed to deliver.

The root cause was that they were still running a traditional governance model that didn’t understand agile. The teams weren’t being held to account to deliver “done” increments of value every iteration. This resulted in the illusion of progress (“we are doing iterations therefore we are be doing agile!”), however nothing could be shipped to the customer. The catch-up stabilisation and integration required a lot more budget.

The lesson – they decentralised decision making and control to provide autonomy but failed to establish the corresponding accountability. They went from centralised accountability, to no accountability at all.

Another firm wanted to embrace agile in order to build highly autonomous teams and attract the best talent in the market. They rapidly “delayered”, removing most middle-management positions and set the teams forth on a journey of self-organisation. Teams were taught new ways of communicating, sharing and collaborating. Each team had a facilitator – a servant leader who would help them teams as required.

Again – seems awesome doesn’t it? However, when the CEO asked how many more iterations would be required to deliver the release, she was shocked to find the teams had no idea. Nobody knew whether this was on track nor did they know cost to date and forecast completion cost. Again, they went from a small group of managers being accountable, to nobody being accountable in the new approach.

Cupcake Agile 

Sadly, we often encounter this and the frustrating thing is that this is not (in our opinion) professional agile at all. One senior leader we talked to called it “Kindergarten Agile”, another “Cupcake Agile” and yet another “Jazz-hands Agile”. It is often the result of well-meaning people who simply lack the business acumen to understand the implications of changes they are suggesting. They recommend autonomous squads, that team have lots of fun and we will measure success by team happiness.

Agile for autonomy

Balancing Autonomy with Accountability

Agile is based on transparency. When we have transparency, we can see what is going on change course accordingly. Accountability is very specific – in Scrum the Product Owner is accountable for value, the Team is accountable for delivering done increments and the Scrum Master accountable for the process.

Governance remains vitally important. It doesn’t disappear, it just changes, typically from a classical model where the focus is on schedule, scope, budget, quality and risk, towards a modern model that focuses on value, risk, learnings, and then the next optimal move.

Management remains important too. It doesn’t disappear. It just changes from a role that allocates work to people and then manages their progress, to a role that focuses on growing people, providing honest feedback and coaching them.

Business questions such as “when do you think this will be done?” or “how is cost tracking?” or “will we hit our launch date?” are completely fair and valid. The difference is that we are moving from a world where we pretended to be able to know all of this upfront and would lock it down in a plan and then govern to that plan regardless, to one where we accept we don’t know it all up front and instead forecast these factors and continually update the forecast as we progress, enabling regular changes in direction based on the information at hand.

Don’t accept Cupcake Agile. Yes, autonomy plays a critical role in reshaping our workplaces, but don’t forget to balance autonomy with accountability.