Self-Management: The Next Step After Agile

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29th Mar, 2021
Self-Management: The Next Step After Agile

The Agile methodology has gained the interest of multinationals because of its capacity to create digital & non-digital products in a much faster and sensible way compared to  before. It opens companies to a brand new way to manage innovation and value creation. The roles and rules connecting employees in the agile methodology change several aspect of the corporate life. Let us build an analogy between the agile methodology and a board game to understand its impact on companies that implement it. In the agile methodology, the rules and conditions are changed but the employees remain the same. The goal of companies using the agile methodology is to is to satisfy customer needs by creating a competitive advantage thanks to speed, adaptability, multifunctional teams and transparency.

In the old board game, the ruler or CEO is the person with a vision of what should be done. He is placed at the top of a pyramid, far from the reality of implementation. He has sometimes expectations that cannot be met but he is deaf and blind to (suggestions, explanations, options), which makes communication difficult. He gives orders and expects results in a precise time frame that leads him to control every move or ask for reporting from his leaders crew (Team and department leaders). The ruler is isolated from the workers (team members). On their side, workers are not aware of all resources available to them and they usually have to compete with other departments to get the ruler’s attention and resources from the leaders crew. The workers are told what to do without being explained what goal is being pursued. The communication is in  one-way: “Top-Down”. This makes any changes from the workers almost impossible to identify. 

In the new board game, there are now more rulers. This time, the workers are informed by a specific person (product owner) about the goal they need to pursue. They organize themselves to achieve it, there is no one who gives them specific order all the time or tell them how to achieve their goal. A special attention is given only to the quality of their work. An important idea is that one can learn from failures and incrementally improve upon one’s  work. The one person who makes sure that the rules and roles are respected is the scrum master. The communication in this game is two-ways, which enables quick change and adaptation.

Explained like this we can understand why a lackadaisical innovation exists in the old methodology. The new methodology gives employees, who are doing the real work, freedom to do what they do best on their own term. It also means a big change for the leaders: they must let go of control. Yet with time, training and coaching the agile methodology starts to change the way people interact. It is important to note that the agile methodology is nowadays mostly used in the IT departments, which sometimes creates tensions between the agile teams and the other workers/employees.

For example, the agile team may require to budget more often that will drive the financial department crazy because they are still working on the old methodology. The main cause of those tensions is the existence of two different “board game rules” in the same company. Workers that do not work within the agile methodology see their counterparts make decisions, have fun and freely create their own work conditions because no one tells them how to do it. The feeling of unfairness rises in those companies that have two set of rules.

Agile methodology has limited success since it is just a piece of puzzle. The agile methodology has enabled the creation of quicker, better and client-oriented products and it could bring companies much further if it was implemented across the board. The positive impact of a well implemented agile methodology cannot be denied. One can only wonder when and how it will be implemented in other departments. For example, could the marketing department work within an agile methodology? The answer is yes.

The principles developed in the agile methodology were initially put to use in the software industry because the production of software is rapid. Any creative processes that aim to create a final product or service for the benefit of a user will benefit from the agile methodology. I can predict that derivatives of the agile methodology will be forged in other industries such as finance, marketing, etc.

The slow transition toward a more agile workplace creates a new context which modifies leaders and employees expectations. So far, companies rely on hierarchical power to make things happen. Now, within this new methodology, employees are free to act on their responsibilities as they wish in order to achieve a common goal. This “freedom to act” can be referred to as “self-management”, a term defined by Frederic Laloux in his book Reinventing Organizations.

So far, the organizational puzzle was made of silos, bureaucracy and hierarchy while agile methodology puzzle piece introduces the notion of self-management. But what is it? In some ways the agile methodology and self-management have similar ground beliefs:

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  • Employees are trustworthy
  • Collective intelligence is the new black
  • Transparency is a must
  • Distributed authority makes everyone adept

When the agile methodology is a puzzle piece then self-management is the bigger picture. It entails the whole organization structure and redefine its leadership, communication, strategy, change, talent & performance management.

Self-management is based on a few core beliefs about employees and their competencies. Employees are trustworthy, mature, driven and capable of learning when put in the right conditions. Self-management is the next level of evolution after the implementation of the agile methodology. I invite you to watch this short video where Frederic Laloux explains the principle of self-management:

Self-management is a system of distributed power, where the collective intelligence enables the pursuit of a company vision.  

I predict the shift from pyramidal organizations--made up of hierarchy and power games (patriarchy)--to a new, progressive and interconnected organization with clearly set rules and roles managed through a clear decision process at the individual level (self-management).

Self-management is the next logical step after agile.


Anne Cecile Graber

Blog Author

Business Consultant and Blog author. Anne-Cécile Graber is a consultant at new & able and a blog writer . She focuses on new work, the impact of digitalization in the workplace, teamwork and communication.

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