In 3D Agile Leader Model, the three dimensions required of a “solid” agile leader — Servant Leader, Value Creator, and Intrapreneur — are the three critical roles a manager must assume in order to become an agile leader. Each dimension comprises three themes. The second dimension is Value Creator, and Transversal Management is the third theme of this dimension.
In essence, Transversal Management requires an agile leader to espouse system thinking — to view his organization from a broad perspective and think of the organization as a system made of interrelated and dynamic parts that interact continuously with each other. It is these mutually dependent parts’ efficient collaboration that makes the whole organization not only function properly but be able to thrive in a VUCA world.
Complex Adaptive System
In order to maximize value delivery, a value creator has to grasp the idea that an organization is a complex adaptive system in which value flows from one part to another organically. Other typical examples of such system include our brain, social networks, starling murmurations, and so on.
A complex adaptive system is composed of interrelated and interdependent parts. Although it’s not difficult to analyze each part individually, the behavior of the whole cannot be predicted based on that of the individual components, as the system is constantly mutating in a self-organized way. Take, for instance, a starling murmuration. When we look at one of the starlings individually, it’s easy to come to grips with its behavior pattern — following other starlings while keeping some distance from the ones next to it; but when the whole flock of starlings swoop, dive and wheel through the sky together, it’s impossible to tell what form the flock will take or what density it will have from one second to the next.
Similarly, while it’s easy to define a single person’s task in an organization, we must acknowledge that this task is certainly linked to other tasks in the value delivery process. The complex links between people, tasks, projects, and different parts within the organization make it rather difficult to predict its performance as a whole, even though its official processes and hierarchical structure may seem clear and simple.
As a value creator, we need to develop the system thinking perspective that is more an art than a science. Leaders are the architects of their organization. Since the architecture of an organization is alive, agile leaders need to nurture the organization rather than define it. On that account, agile leadership is often analogized to gardening — we can sow seeds, water them, remove weeds, and create an environment promoting the growth of the plants, but ultimately they grow organically on their own and we cannot control how fast they grow or what size they grow into.
Collaboration vs. Cooperation and Coordination
Agile leadership at heart is a transversal type of leadership that depends on extraordinary levels of collaboration. To comprehend the term collaboration, we need to tell it apart from another two concepts which often cause confusion — cooperation and coordination.
Cooperation and coordination are both inherent ways of working in traditional functional paradigm, where people from different functions are put together to build a virtual team or committee to work together toward a predefined single objective.
Whereas collaboration prevails in value-based organizational paradigm where people are guided with only the broad objective of the organization and are empowered to self-organize autonomously to define their own objectives that may change with time.
From functional silos to value streams
One practical way to use transversal management or system thinking is to shift an organization’s structure from functional silos to value streams, or value-based teams.
Traditional organizations have typical functions, like HR, finance, IT, marketing, etc. Some have both business clients and individual customers.
In such a structure with functional silos, how does value flow from an idea of a product to the product being delivered to end customers? It is cross-functional. It requires passing along the hierarchies of the silo functions to put in place a formal agreement of coordination among people, which in the meantime generates tons of documents and reports to demonstrate why, what, and how, in order to obtain management approvals. The problems of traditional organizations that involve the rigidity of hierarchy, forced co-ordinations among silos, and tremendous amount of paper work, can be found at all levels of the organization, from business divisions down to individuals. It is noticeable that silo-functions are structured based on skillset proximity, which is not at all adapted to the production and delivery of value. While the purpose of an organization is to satisfy its customers (and other stakeholders) by providing value-adding products and services, it is much more reasonable to structure the organization based on value steams.
A value stream based organization consists of lots of “squads” that are value-oriented teams. A squad has usually 6 to 12 people, each a dedicated and permanent member. A squad is “end-to-end,” meaning it includes all the roles and skills necessary in the entire value delivery process. A squad must also be autonomous, so that it is able to make operational and tactical decisions without hierarchical approvals.
When an organization is made of these small, autonomous, multidisciplinary teams, the organization is essentially decentralized. As in the example of starling murmuration, where being decentralized helps the flock to become much faster and more adaptable, an organization also needs to be decentralized to become agile so as to deliver value to its stakeholders sooner and better. Concurrently, the organization needs to disaggregate its products into small chunks, each with its intrinsic value, so that the structural decentralization can be done properly, since it’s not realistic to have small teams working independently on giant products with centralized specifications.
As to how to structure the whole organization into autonomous squads, an elaborate step-by-step guidance is provided here in the linked video, where all the critical points in the shift from silo functions to value-based teams are thoroughly clarified.
Related articles and book:
Collet, B. (2019). Agile leadership. (Online course). https://www.udemy.com/course/agile-leadership/
Agile Leader Academy. (n.d.). The Agile Leader Self-Assessment. https://www.onlineassessmenttool.com/the-agile-leader-self-assessment/assessment-99121