3 reasons agile leaders never forget to involve and engage their teams

We used to think involving more people in finding solutions to our organization’s challenges was either too time consuming, or not appropriate because this was management’s job. And after all those managers figured things out, they simply told everyone else what to do! Thankfully, those days are over – at least in organizations where agile leaders are focused on understanding together, planning together, validating together and reflecting together to discover and deliver value to their customers and to their organizations.

Agile leaders never forget to involve and engage their teams in solving the challenges and meeting the
opportunities in their organizations. Here are three reasons why:

  1. We get better solutions
  2. You don’t need to “know everything”
  3. People feel valued

    1. We get better solutions
    Research around diversity and innovation, outlined in Matthew Syed’s book Rebel Ideas, clearly shows the link between getting a variety of perspectives and creating valuable results. Why is this? The answer is common sense: one person cannot possibly come up with all the ideas for potential solutions that we could choose to test.

    When we involve people who do not think like we do, we get better stuff. People who have different
    backgrounds, different experiences, different competencies bring different ideas to the table. Agile teams are built with this kind of diversity in mind. These teams are made up of a mix of people who have the knowledge and skills to deliver value to customers faster.

    While the advantages of getting a greater variety of ideas as possible solutions for our challenges and opportunities are obvious, it can also feel frustrating or time-consuming to gain and then decide on which ideas to test. It’s so much easier working with people who agree with me: their leader! It feels smooth and nice and quick when everyone is on the “same wavelength.” Except we miss out on dissenting opinions, or working through other ideas that are sometimes the polar-opposite of our own. Ideas that may be as good as or even better than the ones we could have thought of ourselves.

    2. You don’t need to “know everything”
    Many leaders feel pressure to know everything about the area they work in. We must have domain
    knowledge (and experience), know about our customers, know the big-picture strategy, know the little- picture strategy, create roadmaps, understand the competition, keep up with the seemingly never-ending stream of new information about our markets and domains, be a source of advice for team members, and, and, and… I’m exhausted and stressed just writing about it. I am not saying that leaders should not know their jobs, what I am saying is that we don’t need to know about every little thing we’re doing in our area. Trying to know every detail is not healthy for us or for our teams.

    When we have competent team members who have clarity around what we are working to achieve together, agile leaders can trust and rely on their team members to cover the myriad and depth of information that we need in order to deliver value.

    As L. David Marquet, author of Turn the Ship Around! says, the leader can stop being the “answer man” and give space to the team to jump in and take more responsibility. We do this by asking curious questions, and inviting team members to meetings where other stakeholders want more information about our product or solutions.

    All of this requires trusting our teams and being able to give control, which is not always easy. Even agile leaders need to keep practicing giving up control so that we can let go of our need to know everything and invite our team members to take more ownership.

    3. People feel valued
    This for me is the most important of the three reasons agile leaders involve and engage their team
    members. Imagine a world where every person feels valued for the effort, ideas and contributions they are making at work, at home and in society. This is a world I want to help create.

    Not only is this a wonderful environment to be in, feeling valued is a motivator and a good-mood regulator – and the neuroscience backs this up.

    When we are praised for what we do, the neurotransmitter dopamine is released, and we feel a reward in our brains. Think of the rush that you feel when you accomplish a difficult goal or get unexpected recognition. That’s dopamine being released in your brain. We need enough of this neurotransmitter to get the rational-thinking part of our brain, the prefrontal cortex, to optimal performance. It’s this part of the brain that is activated when we are open, curious, interested and focused on achieving results. All the things we need to get to excellence in our organizations.

    Serotonin, the good-mood regulator, is also released when we feel appreciated. Research on serotonin shows that levels of this neurotransmitter in our bodies are positively affected by appreciation and gratitude. Having the right level of serotonin is critical to feeling happy, more focused and more at peace with the world.

    In addition, in the book The Power of Thanks, authors Eric Mosley and Derek Irvine share the importance of gratitude and appreciation as drivers of increased productivity and a key factor in helping organizations thrive.

    By involving and engaging people in finding solutions together, in decision-making, in taking responsibility, creating the space to showcase their knowledge and experience, and appreciating their contributions, agile leaders are enabling release of these two powerful neurotransmitters leading to a greater sense of motivation and happiness.

An idea to try
If you want to get started or continue your journey involving and engaging your teams in finding better
solutions, taking some of the pressure off you to know all, as well as create an environment where your
people feel valued, here’s something to try.

The next time you need to find a solution for something, instead of coming up with answer and then
communicating what people need to do to implement it, give your team the problem to solve. Answer the
WHYs behind it, share the constraints around what is open to decide and what is not, and then let the team find the answer. An example from my book, TOGETHER – How leaders involve & engage people to get great things done, goes like this:

You’ve been asked to make a change to save at least 6% of costs annually. Rather than just making a cut
across the area, involve your team in finding a way to save the money. The “at least 6%” is a constraint –
that decision is fixed. Then share what the team can influence. Be explicit about those things – those are
the decisions that are open.

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While it may feel like it takes more time to involve the team, using this approach is a way for you to both
have your say, as well as involve people, thereby significantly increasing your odds of success.
Giving people influence and making them feel that their ideas are valued are ways to help people feel more motivated and more engaged. It also creates the sense of ownership and of being responsible for the result.

Can it really be this simple?
Yes! Agile leaders have an amazing power to create an environment where we get to better
solutions, where we can take the pressure off ourselves to know everything, and where people
feel valued. We do it simply by involving and engaging our teams.

About Jenni Jepsen 1 Article
Jenni Jepsen works as a transformation guide at Denmark-based goAgile. She is recognized for her work in change leadership and pragmatic Agile. Jenni trains, consults and speaks worldwide about leadership, making Agile work, and how to take advantage of how our brains function to create work environments where people thrive. She runs Intent-Based Leadership courses together with award-winning author of Turn the Ship Around! L. David Marquet and created the Agile Leadership Mindset Assessment on comparativeagility.com. Jenni is also co-author of the book TOGETHER: How leaders involve & engage people to get great things done.

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