Focus – Align – Enable – Empower

An earlier version of this blog was titled “Focus- Enable – Align – Empower”. I have come to think that alignment belongs before enabling: it makes skill acquisition an active activity and avoids the misconception that it is just training..

Self-organized teams are at the core of agility. With this comes the hope that all motivational problems will vanish into thin air virtually overnight. All the greater is the astonishment when it doesn’t work out that way.

Often the conditions are not created for teams to work autonomously: they have no information or orientation about the direction they should take. And they are expected to just work. However, before the “may” must come the “can” and the “will”. This also results in tasks that managers must fulfill in order for self-organization to function – and so that they can delegate responsibility with a clear conscience.

I’ll present three scenarios of how this might look on a very small scale, i.e. in a sprint planning meeting, with a team in general, and as a leadership task in a company:

Focus – Giving orientation

Self-organized teams usually do not have autonomy in goal setting, this comes essentially from the outside.

  • In a Scrum sprint planning meeting, this is an introduction by the product owner to his goals for the sprint.
  • In a team, this is the clear and communicated product vision.
  • For managers in general, it’s “management by objectives” – which can be done in a classic command-and-control version or in an agile way. The latter is the topic for another blog post.

Align – making sure that everyone shares the same goals

Alignment actually means making sure you share the same goals. It is one of the most misunderstood (or misused) terms in organizations. Alignment often serves as a substitute for compliance, to me in this context a synonym for, well, platitudinously, obedience.

  • In the sprint planning meeting, the explanation of the PBIs is followed by a discussion of feasibility and variants of implementation. This incorporates the know-how of the team, preferences and ideas from the meeting itself. Rarely does this leave a PBI unchanged, and the most important side effect is the confidence that a common understanding has been reached and that it is a result of joint work.
  • In the team, alignment is an ongoing task, starting with organizing a goals workshop, and continuing with regular Inspect-and-Adapt, which is also a regular task for retrospectives.
  • In agile organization a very powerful tool is the use of OKRs (Objectives and Key Results), OKRs was invented at intel and further developed at Google. It is a form of “Management by Objectives” where objectives are not cascaded but negotiated between levels.

Enable – Provide information and impart skills

The next step is to ensure the “can do” of the team members.

  • In the sprint planning meeting this is the establishment of a common understanding about the PBIs (Product Backlog Items), e.g. the explanation by the Product Owner.
  • In the team, regular reflection on the individual and joint skills and, if necessary, on the individual’s performance is essential. organizing learning objectives and research. This is a task of Scrum Master and Product Owner, the thematization in retrospective meetings plays a supporting role.
  • As a management task, this is often described as personnel development. In an agile context, supporting long-term development is one of the key tasks of a leader.

Empower – hand over the responsibility

Now a manager can hand over responsibility: the “want” and the “can” have been clarified, now we can talk about “may”:

  • In the sprint planning meeting, you agree on the sprint goal and the team takes ownership.
  • The team is given the autonomy to organise the completion of tasks independently.
  • In the organization the conditions are created to live less hierarchy and more network and self-responsibility. This eliminates bottlenecks, increases motivation and the speed with which the organization can react. It makes them, in short, more agile.