On a recent episode of the Agile Coffee podcast with Agile Coach Vic Bonacci, one of the topics was about the role of Managers on an Agile team. This is a question that I've heard before at Agile Coffees and Open Spaces. I've heard passionate statements about the end of command and control, flattening organizations, and the outdated concept of middle management.
While there is value in exploring these ideas and it is certainly true that the role of a manager in an Agile environment is different than in a traditional one, I think there is a different way to approach this issue that's worth exploring.
As an experiment to discover potential value, let's twist this question a bit. Try asking "who is the best manager you've ever had?" Once you have an answer to that, then ask "what did they do that made them the best?"
Hopefully we've all had that manager that helped us find our passion, provided a sounding board, knew how to navigate a tricky political landscape, or found ways to challenge us with new opportunities. I know I've had some great managers who have helped me succeed at different stages of my career.
Now how do we take those traits, skills, and abilities and find a a way for that individual to add value inside an Agile organization? Are they still a manager or do they take on some new role that maximizes their value in a different way?
Conversely you can try asking "who is the worst manager you've ever had?" and "what did they do that made them the worst?" to determine what you don't want. The problem with this line of questioning is it can quickly devolve into war stories that try to one up everyone else's. We've all had bad managers but I think this is a case where turning up the good is a more valuable use of everyone's time and energy.
Please feel free to reach out and let me know your thoughts!