Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Path from Command and Control to Agility

Have you ever noticed a team where little engagement, a lack of ownership, and team decisions are scarce?  One reason could be the amount of command-and-control from management that is occurring.  Often times this is one of those unspoken elephants in the middle of the room.   Command-and-control bosses and leaders are a sure way to kill the feeling of ownership, engagement, and empowerment in team members. 

Agile comes along and promotes self-organizing teams, transparency, and team decision-making.  It also helps companies bring more value to customers and adapt to the market conditions, ultimately leading to making more money.  Within an Agile culture, it no longer requires a manager to tell a team what to do.  The number of organizations following Agile continues to increase. They realize that they no longer need directive managers but leaders who act more as coach and mentor, then the traditional boss.  So what is a command-and-control manager to do?   
  • If they feel they have command-and-control traits and are willing to make that move to Agile, they can test their comfort level with collaboration first.  When a team decision is needed, consider an experiment.  Ask the team for their thoughts.  See if the command-and-control manager can be just one voice of the many that are on the team instead of forcing a direction.  Better yet, see if the manger can remain quiet and let the team arrive at a decision.  If this works, next they can test their comfort level with self-organizing teams.  The next time there is a decision that impacts the team, ask they can ask the team to discuss it amongst themselves and decide the course of action.  Stand back and let them decide. 
  • If the manager is inquisitive about Agile, provide them some education on the Agile values and principles.  They should consider what they think each of the principles mean and if they believe in them.  A bolder move is having them share the Agile principles with their team and ask them what they think it means.  Also they can ask the team members how it can be exhibited on a team.  Ask the team members if they think we would be a good idea to exercise some of the principles. 
  • If they have directive tendency and their current role has them interacting with customers to understand customer needs, then they may consider becoming a Product Owner (PO) for the team.  While they should no longer be manager, a PO helps shape the product through the collection and grooming of the requirements.  The PO also shares the need with team members during the Agile-related planning events (e.g., Sprint Planning).   
  • Learn about the concept of bounded authority.  This is where the team can make their own decisions, organize, and commit to their own work.  It does not mean that teams can do whatever they want.  The balance is that the manager keeps limited responsibilities to provide vision and support for their staff while allowing the team the ownership to self-organize around the work.  
So I will leave you with this question.  Which approach will lead to more productive and high-performing teams?   Is it a culture where managers tell employees what to do or is it a culture where employees are self-organizing, feel ownership of the work, and are able to use much more brain power?   If managers exhibit command-and-control tendencies, it is in their best interest in the long run to adapt toward and Agile mindset and allow for self-organizing teams.  Since Agile is pervasive in many companies, it is an opportunity to adapt and help the organization toward better business results.  


  1. It's a complex scenario. If a command and control manager magically changes to Mr/Ms Perfect Agilite overnight, the team has to evolve to being agile. There are team members who like being told what to do - there's little accountability in the model. Wrong decisions aren't theirs to bare. It talks time for teams, management and product owners to mature into behaving in such a way as to maximize/deliver on the promise of agile.

  2. Agree with Bob. The change cannot be overnight and it is unfair to expect it as well. It has to be gradual through training / education which would make the team self organizing in a short period of time.

  3. I agree it's tough, but it's a norm that I see all too often. The misperception that they have control, when they never did...they were just well informed ;-). I'd love to see folks let go of the leash long enough for the team to run ahead and make progress and always encourage mgt, to dismiss preconceived notions and let them try/fail and learn.

    of course your mileage may vary,


  4. Too often though people have placed themselves into the role they are in because it fits\suits their personality. My experience has shown me that even traditional PM's and managers with a servant leadership personality type tend to already embrace that style. I have conversely seen C&C personalities try hard to be servant leaders and become discouraged because they just arent wired that way.

    Now, does it mean it cannot be a learned behavior? Of course not. I am a huge fan of giving everyone plenty of chance to change\adapt. Its the Agile way. But there is a reason many traditional managers are scared silly over this Agile thing....they cant bear the thought of being considered a "servant leader" in anything they do.

  5. Mario, the command and control has to go away. Product Owner and Scrum Mastr are two possible career directions, but we still need middle managers to do everything they were already responsible for, minus the command and control. Esther Darby has a great article and mind map "What Do Middle Managers Do?" and a great mindmap of middle manager responsibilities that don't go away at

  6. Hello Folks, Thanks for your thoughts! It certainly does take time since we are really talking about a culture change. Some folks will adapt easier than others and a few may decide to move on. I have an article on who makes the best Scrum Master ( and who makes the best Product Owner ( in this same blog which you may consider reading.