Agile and Humanocracy

Working in the agile profession since July of 2008, I can say with certainty that my journey has lead me to the idea that while team practices and cohesion are important, leadership and management (the administrative function of leadership) are just as critical. I often teach organizations that transforming the way they work requires not only bottom up catalysts but also top down leadership. They have to meet at the middle or the change will stagnate. It has been very difficult for me to articulate exactly how this happens; after all, I am not an academic researcher with the time required to analyze change efforts and categorize where they went wrong, much less articulate personality profiles that lead to better leadership of self-organizing teams. I do know there is something there though.

I have a quite a few articles to reference the OCAI Survey and the Competing Values Framework (I still love it) as well as John Kotter and his leading change paradigm. I also love Bill Joiner's Leadership Agility approach to articulating what I have often felt. However, in the past few years, I have been watching and admiring Gary Hamel. In our quest to help our teams and organizations succeed, I just wanted to share my thoughts here if you have not heard of him or heard of his teachings. They are highly valuable to me, perhaps they will be for you too.

Gary Hamel is a renowned business thinker and management expert, highly qualified to discuss these topics due to his extensive experience and influential contributions to the field of organizational management. He co-founded the Management Innovation eXchange and is a faculty member at the London Business School, both roles that demonstrate his deep involvement in the study and advancement of progressive management practices.

Hamel's expertise is further highlighted by his authorship of several influential books, including "Humanocracy," where he advocates for a human-centric approach to organizational management, resonating with agile's emphasis on people and their interactions. I believe this view offers a revolutionary perspective on organizational management, emphasizing human principles over traditional bureaucratic structures. His work consistently challenges traditional hierarchical structures, much like agile challenges conventional project management approaches.

A leading business thinker, recognized by the Wall Street Journal and Fortune Magazine, Hamel's extensive consulting work with internationally renowned organizations gives him practical insights into the application of leadership principles in diverse contexts. The intersection of organizational structure and product development is a critical area of study in modern business management. I'd like to focus on the correlation between the concepts presented in "Humanocracy" and agile product development, as well as Leadership Agility. I believe this combination of ideals converge to create a more dynamic, responsive, and innovative organizational environment.

Humanocracy: A Paradigm Shift

Hamel and Zanini’s "Humanocracy" calls for a fundamental shift from hierarchical, top-down management structures to a more democratized, human-centric approach. The book argues that organizations should empower every individual, unleashing their potential and creativity. This shift aligns with the Agile Manifesto’s emphasis on individuals and interactions over processes and tools. Both "Humanocracy" and agile advocate for flexibility, adaptability, and a focus on harnessing the full potential of individuals within an organization. How can we actually enable that though? Leaders must learn their current leadership style and how to evolve to the more innovative leadership styles Hamel calls for in his book. This really has nothing to do with agile other than leadership striving to learn how to create an environment for agile teams to thrive. We still have to do our job at the team level, but leadership can enhance those practices by learning how to foster an environment of innovation and creativity, unleashing the gifts and talents of their people.

Agile Echoes Humanocracy

Agile product development, at its core, is about adapting to change, iterative progress, and collaborative work environments. It encourages self-organizing teams, iterative development, and regular reflections to adapt and improve. This mirrors Hamel's vision in "Humanocracy" where organizations thrive by empowering their employees to be innovative and adaptive. Agile’s commitment to responding to change resonates with the human-centric model of "Humanocracy", where rigid structures are replaced by fluid and adaptable processes. This requires our leaders to let go a bit more when they often tighten up in the face of uncertainty.

Leadership Agility Compliments Humanocracy Principles

Leadership Agility refers to the ability of leaders to anticipate, adapt, and respond effectively to rapidly changing environments. In the context of "Humanocracy", this concept takes on added significance. The book's advocacy for decentralized decision-making and empowerment at all levels demands a new type of leadership. This new leadership style is not about command and control, but about facilitating, coaching, and enabling – principles that are deeply rooted in Agile. Leaders in a Humanocracy are agile in their approach, adapting their leadership style to the context and needs of their teams, much like how agile adapts to project needs. When I worked at FedEx Express, I learned a saying that my leadership style was rooted in the Platinum Rule. Everyone knows the Golden Rule "do unto others as you would have them do unto you". The platinum rule states "do unto others how they want to be treated". We have to learn everyone's unique personality and meet them where they are, not force them into our own management style.

Synergy in Principles and Practices

The synergy between "Humanocracy" and agile is evident in their shared principles and practices. Both advocate for a culture of continuous learning and improvement. In agile, this is seen through regular sprints and retrospectives, while "Humanocracy" emphasizes ongoing personal and professional development. Both approaches value customer-centricity and delivering value efficiently, challenging traditional, bureaucratic ways of working.

By combining the human-centric approach of "Humanocracy" with agile’s flexible principles, organizations can foster a culture of enhanced innovation and employee engagement. Agile’s iterative nature complements "Humanocracy’s" emphasis on empowering individuals to experiment and innovate. This blend can lead to a more dynamic organizational culture, where new ideas are valued, and failure is seen as a learning opportunity.

Where agile focuses on the environment and team required to innovate and adapt, Humanocracy provides the focus on how to develop people that can work in those environments. We live in a hyper-competitive world where you could leading your competition one day and out of business the next. Our ability to adapt to the consumer needs of our product is critical to success in this era of product development. The future of organizational development lies in the ability to blend these approaches into a cohesive and effective management strategy.

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