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How to Facilitate Ownership of your Agile Team

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Presents an Ownership Model to help Agile team leaders determine whether to intervene or let go.

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This chapter is from the book

To let go or not to let go, that is the question.

Introduction Questions

  1. Which teams provide a real example in taking ownership? What behaviors do they demonstrate?

  2. Do you tend to intervene too quickly or let go too much? How do you know how best to interact?

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If the manager properly balances his interventions and does nothing (sitting on his hands, not intervening), the teams will take ownership. However, it’s hard to always know exactly what to do. If the team delivers a low-quality result, should you act? Should you intervene when a team does not come up with solutions on its own? And what if talented employees leave the team? Or if customers or stakeholders complain about the results? Should you intervene when you think the team is about to make a major mistake? When should you do nothing? How do you give teams the space to learn and grow?

Whether or not it’s wise to intervene depends on the maturity of the team. A highly mature team can independently organize their work and achieve great results, but a team just starting still needs a lot of help, guidance, and support. If the team is very mature and the agile leader gives little freedom and often intervenes, the team will become frustrated and passive; they will no longer come up with solutions themselves. Good people will leave, and if they don’t, they will just passively do what they are told to do. Low quality and high risk will result. The team actually needs more space, and the manager should let go a lot more.

On the other hand, it also does not work if a newly formed team still figuring out how to collaborate (a starting team) gets too much freedom from the manager. The team feels lost; they do not know exactly what they have to do, and they can’t assess the risks themselves. The team itself cannot come up with solutions on their own because they lack sufficient knowledge. This, too, results in good people leaving. The people who stay experience frustration from the lack of clarity, and they slip into passivity, also resulting in low quality and high risk. Although the results are the same, the team needs less space, and the manager must intervene by increasing the borders and offering concrete help.

To know when to let go and when to step in is a daunting challenge. Based purely on signals of passivity, low quality, employees who leave, and lack of improvement, the agile leader can’t know whether intervention or letting go is best; he must first know the maturity of the team to know how much freedom they need in order to take ownership. But the big question is: how do you know the maturity of the team? Can the team members decide that for themselves? How can the manager know for certain? Experience has shown that the answer can only be found by talking about it together. The Ownership Model helps to facilitate this discussion, making it clear whether intervention is necessary or whether to let go is the better option.

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