Last week we went to Stockholm with 15 agile leaders. We wanted to visit several companies in and around Stockholm to see how they created a thriving environment for agile teams. After a lot of fun and inspiration, we concluded that the below tips were the most inspiring!
1. ‘Above the line’ behavior
One of the visits was to Centigo. They want to create Business Wellness by supporting companies in creating a healthy environment for their employees where people love to work and where enough profit is generated to create a healthy future. They have a very flat organization: without CEO and without plans. They really designed a new type of organization and are pretty successful with it!
One of things that made it successful really resonated with us! We liked the simplicity and clarity it brought. They had a very simple rule to make it clear what behavior the employees expected from each other. They called it ‘above the line behavior’. When somebody was late at a meeting because of traffic, he (or she) could say ‘I couldn’t help it, too much traffic!’. Somebody in that meeting simply replied with: ‘Feels like below the line‘. Because the delayed person didn’t show responsibility or maximized the ability to handle. ‘Above the line’ behavior would be: ‘In hindsight I had to leave earlier’ or ‘I’m sorry I’m too late, I slept too long’. We liked the simplicity of the rule to create a culture of accountability and ownership.
The simplicity of this rule was a nice example of the story we heard from Ericsson earlier. One of the quotes they used in their agile transformation was from the former CEO of Visa:
“Simple, clear purpose and principles give rise to complex, intelligent behavior. Complex rules and regulations give rise to simple, stupid behavior “ Dee Hock- founder and former CEO of Visa
The Large Scale transformation at Ericsson was powerfully explained by Marianne Rimbark. She emphasized: to create speed and agility in complex situations, create ’roundabouts’ in stead of traffic lights.
2. It starts with Local Leadership
All the companies we visited had one important common ingredient: Local leadership. There was always a leader that drove the transformation. At Spotify it were the founders, at Scania it was one of the middle managers, at Ericsson a middle manager initiated the change. At Scandic it was the HR director who started.
Again and again these leaders had a variance of the following two beliefs:
- I have to move from reporting structure to supporting structure. They often called it ‘servant leadership’: use the brainpower and energy of the people to find solutions for the challenges at hand.
- I have to handle the important stakeholders. Explain and translate the journey and change to the crucial stakeholders and at least get an allowance to start and preferably find sponsorship.
They didn’t wait for the top manager to start the change. They felt that they had to initiate change locally and use the success, benefits and advantages to influence change at a larger scale.