Bezoekverslag Agile Leadership Europe


On April 19’th, our colleagues Nick, Eric-Jan and Boris visited the Agile Leadership Europe conference in the Johan Cruyff Arena, Amsterdam. Here’s our colleagues’ perspective on a number of talks.

The conference theme: Sustainable leadership

The theme of the conference was “Sustainable Leadership”. The overall main question was: Which form of leadership is asked for in a swiftly changing environment with self-organizing teams who have a great level of autonomy? The question we had was, do self-organizing teams need leadership at all? For some of us a worrying question. Because at PanCompany we’re not all engineers, we’re also managers. Is it time, for some of us, to go back to engineering or go back to school to learn a new profession? We were here to find out.

During the day, several speakers have spoken about the theme and shared their expertise and experiences, from different perspectives.

Trademarks of Agile Organizations

Wouter Aghina discussed the composition of Agile teams. Around this subject, there are five so called Trademarks of Agile Organizations of importance. These trademarks are used by organizations to distinguish themselves on the fields of Strategy, Structure, Processes, People and Technology.

While each of the five trademarks have independent value, the research of Wouter and his team showed that true agility only comes when all five are in place and working together. This means an organizational shape shift from organizations as ‘machines’ to organizations as ‘organisms’. For leaders this means moving from controlling and directing work of employees to empowering employees to take full ownership. This is called shared and servant leadership. To do, you need a leader that is a catalyst and that motivate people to act in team-oriented ways.

Story short, yes a leader is still needed! But not the one we’re used to, but is that really so?

How to build future tribes with century old human wisdom

Jitske Kramer was able to silence the audience with an inspiring story titled How to build future tribes with century old human wisdom. Jitske showed us how to build future tribes with century old human wisdom. She made us aware that modern society (with people working behind a screen 8 hours a day) is new and isn’t true human nature. From her expertise as an anthropologist she discussed how people have worked together throughout the years (In ‘tribes’).

JItske pointed out the importance of Campfire conversations in a company. That became obvious when she showed the audience that both Power & Love are necessary in every person to survive. One can’t go without the other, and a healthy balance between them shows you are capable of achieving a lot. Live life, open up and be yourself. By doing so you can build strong Tribes that are safe for diversity and are ready for change.

 All in all, there’s a lot of things an Agile Leader can do to improve collaboration. Some of which, mentioned by the speaker, are Open, Inclusive and Non-Hierarchical cultures. This led to the conclusion of a very interesting presentation focused on inclusion and differences

What is an Agile Leader?

The last speaker of the day, Henrik Kniberg, is a very respected Agile and Lean coach who has, among others, worked for Spotify, Lego and Mojang. His presentation revolved around the question “What is an Agile Leader?”.

Lately, leadership evokes negative associations, it would limit and delay self-organizing teams. But even the most innovative organizations need good leadership. Leaders are first and foremost required to form teams, facilitate them and give the teams a purpose. Furthermore leadership in teams is required for them to improve as a whole, and to establish innovations. With a simple exercise, he showed that leadership arises naturally when you bring a group of people together.

A true Agile Leader is needed, but isn’t visible because an Agile Leader is an enabler who watches the teams from a distance and helps when needed.

And the answer to the main question is…

Altogether, the three of us have had a great day at the Agile Leadership Europe 2019 event. We’ve gained new insights, met interesting people and are motivated to put this knowledge into practice.

Was our main question answered? We can really say: Yes! Self-organizing teams need leadership!

And does this require a type of leader that differs from that in a traditional organization? No! True leaders adjust to organization and organizational goals. If you think of it, that’s not really different. They encourage, support, inspire (and so on). A true leader adjusts.

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