If You Are Afraid of Losing Control, Try This Experiment…

March 13, 2012

As VersionOne’s State of Agile Development Survey reveals, a couple of the greater concerns about agile development are expressed as management concerns. Management opposition being one and a loss of management control the other concern.

Management that lacks prior experience with agile won’t be familiar with, nor comfortable with, the autonomy and the inherent trust that comes with autonomy. Unfortunately, both autonomy and trust are required to be truly agile. The challenge for management is that most companies recognize that they need greater engagement from their employees; they need people who will think and act with a greater understanding and ownership of their work.

The dilemma is that while adopting agile and its use of autonomous teams can help to create the very conditions that result in having more engaged employees, there is concern that, “It won’t work for us.” Is there a way to test the waters without making a leap of faith? One that allows you to directly witness the power of autonomy unleashed to its fullest potential, in the context of your own environment and people? You bet there is.

Try a FedEx Day using Atlassian’s model.

FedEx days have been billed as a fun way to drive innovation or “…a means to empower employees and boost their sense of autonomy,” as Six Feet Up’s Carol Ganz says in one of Atlassian’s case studies. But a FedEx Day can be a great learning tool for management as well, even if you don’t directly participate. Encourage and support your FedEx day and then watch your people.

We just held our second FedEx Day, and while we had some very different projects this time around, there was a great deal of consistency with one aspect to our first FedEx Day: the commitment, energy, passion, and collaboration that was a consequence of our self-organizing and totally autonomous teams was truly amazing.

FedEx Days unleash the incredible potential of your employees in a very demonstrable way. Properly run and supported (no guilt-trips about regular work being left undone, for example), a FedEx Day creates the exact conditions required for engagement and employee involvement with strategic thinking. The sparks of creative energy that get fanned into small fires – given the time constraint of delivering something overnight – will no doubt surprise and impress you. And you will have your evidence.

If you happen to observe a big difference between your FedEx Day and the day-to-day work, the next question you need to ask yourself is why you aren’t getting more out of your employees on non-FedEx Days. It can be a signal that maybe, just maybe, you need to adjust your leadership style.

And congratulations to the winning team!

The "We've Got Issues" team pose with their first-place trophy.