Agile is built upon teams of highly motivated individuals that leaders support to the best of their abilities, and they trust their teams to get the job done.

AUTONOMY IS A KEY MOTIVATOR

Dan Pink, the writer of the book titled “Drive”, recognizes through numerous studies and observations that human motivation can be grouped into three key areas; autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

It comes with no surprise that autonomy is a major motivator for a company’s workforce, and when autonomy is threatened or perceived to be removed then the result is likely to be a demotivated workforce and lower overall engagement.

AGILE DEPENDS ON AUTONOMY, BUT AGILE AUTONOMY IS HARD TO SCALE

Agile frameworks give more autonomy back to teams, but they are notoriously difficult to scale. When an organization starts working with multiple teams on one product, where teams and processes need to be aligned in order to achieve consistency, speed, and quality, how can we ensure that teams stay motivated, and continue to feel autonomous. As an organization we will need to make changes to the process often as we strive to improve the system; the team’s process and ability to deliver working software. So what is the most effective way to make changes that affect multiple teams, and still have them feel autonomous and motivated?

COMMON DECISION MAKING PRACTICES HAVE UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

It is pretty common for leaders to leverage a small group of key influencers to provide them with insight before making a final decision – but they often make decisions without including everyone else because it’s faster. This kind of decision making is called Issuing and Edict. The decision has already been made so you either agree with this decision, or you quit. In other words, you must comply. As a member of a team, you don’t have any input or control over this type of decision. If you or your team is affected by this decision in any negative way, what choice do you have? Would you feel accountable to find a better solution? Would you feel empowered to suggest alternatives? Over time, this type of decision making and removal of autonomy creates a system of people that do not try to improve the system. Unfortunately, when leaders get into the habit of making these kinds of decisions, it can cause a downward spiral in motivation.  An added problem is that leaders often may not have all the critical information, and the decision they make may hurt the system more than it helps it. This is the unintended consequence I try to avoid with multi-team or organization wide decisions.

INCLUDING EVERYONE IN DECISION MAKING IS MORE POWERFUL BUT IT IS SLOWER

When leaders involve everybody in a decision, everyone feels heard. As a leader there are generally three different decision making methods to reach a decision across larger groups or multiple teams:

  1. Issuing an Edict
  2. Decision by Consensus
    (agreement for a course of action including specific details)
  3. Decision by Consent
    (agreement to support the general direction but not necessarily looking for agreement to all the specific details)See Max Widemen’s comparison of consensus vs consent for more details on the differences and when you should consider applying each one. By the way, it might be a good idea for you to do a little more research and try switching to a consent model of decision making. 

Both decision by consensus and consent are slower than issuing an edict. However, the decision will have more buy in and will better support workforce empowerment, autonomy and motivation.

SO WE NEED TO BALANCE SPEED AND BUY-IN TO DECISIONS

YES!! An idealist would say, all decisions need to be made by the teams – but a realist would recognize that it’s simply not possible for everyone to get together every time and make a decision. The organization would improve far too slowly this way. Speed of decision making is critical for an agile organization – but so is a team’s engagement and motivation.

EFFECTIVE CHANGE LEADERSHIP REQUIRES INCLUSIVE DECISIONS

I suspect that a more balanced approach to decision making would be most effective – and you will have to use your judgement to find the right balance for your organization.

The below framework is designed to help you find the right balance, for each decision your organization needs to make.

Artboard 1

THE GROUPS
These are the main groups to consider when making a decision for change.

  • Unaffected – goes without saying. These people just don’t need any involvement. It seems silly to call this out – but sometimes when making inclusive decisions we tend to include people who just don’t care – and that doesn’t help.
  • Indirectly Affected – this group’s day to day work process will likely stay the same, but they may interact with people that belong to the system that is changing and this may have some unintended or intended consequences for them.
  • Directly Affected – this group’s day to day work process will likely change or be impacted by the decision that is about to be made. They are the ones that will feel most affected by the pain if the change is a bad one.
    • Key Influencers – those people who usually have a high impact on decisions being made because they are regarded as the experts or ones in the know
    • Empowered Decision Makers – the people selected that will have to agree in order to make the decision.
    • Decision Driver – the person who wants the decision to be made and is driving people to make sure it happens

Now that we’ve defined these groups, let’s look at the process.

THE PROCESS

  1. Identify a Decision Driver
    Responsible for facilitating the decision making process. The decision driver should create awareness of the pending change/decision to people who will be Directly Affected by the change/decision being proposed. It is a judgement call whether they include the Indirectly Affected group or not and to what degree. If you expect some significant impact to them the rule of thumb is to Keep them Informed.
  2. Form a group of Empowered Decision Makers
    This is the most important part of the process. Here are some key guidelines to get it right:

    • Ensure this group is made up of people at the lowest possible level. If you have members of the teams in the empowered decision making group – you are likely to make the most effective decision, and get the most buy in.
    • Keep this group relatively small; 5-7 people.
    • The Empowered Decision Makers are ultimately accountable for making the decision, and they can chose if Key Influencers get a vote (or not).
      • TIP: Ask people from the Directly Affected group who would like to be part of the decision making process and include them in one of these groups to get even more buy-in on the final decision.
  3. Include Key Influencers in the decision making process.
    They are called out as a separate group in the graphic – but your best bet is to include them in the Empowered Decision Makers group. This is another judgement call – but rule of thumb is to include them.
  4. Share the proposed decision with those who are Directly Affected and illicit feedback. Again, with the Indirectly Affected group, use your judgement.
    This is where things get really interesting. The goal here is not to get everybody to agree – but to get a feel of the general temperature of the workforce with regard to the decision. It’s also an opportunity to catch any serious drawbacks that weren’t considered that could sway the Empowered Decision Makers to go in another direction.
  5. The Empowered Decision Makers make the final decision and communicate it and push the change forward. 

There you have it. Try this framework to get more involvement while also making quicker decisions. Let me know what you think in the comments below.

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