Discovering & Hiring Collaborative Leaders

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Business Relationship Manager - Product Lifecycle Management, Chevron Corporation

Many companies which have begun applying lean or agile practices in their work place are now finding they need to reconsider who they hire to fill the more collaborative and facilitative roles required by those methodologies. Unfortunately, most companies believe they can magically transform their firm into a highly productive and enjoyable place to work by asking traditionally trained managers to simply apply a few new practices like value mapping, iterative development and an intense focus on quality. What they don’t discover until weeks, months and sometimes years after their initial training sessions is that it takes new leadership behaviors in concert with the innovative technical practices to really make these methodologies work well. As one of my clients said recently “if you want to change the way things work, you have to change how you work first.”

In a research project for the Cutter Consortium out of Boston I did a review of the role expectations for leaders in Lean/Agile software environments and later compared those to expectations for Professional Facilitators because of what seemed to be similarities in the two professions. And sure enough the correlation was significant. There were eight managerial/leadership behaviors expected in both and three expectations that were clearly not preferred for either role. The end result was that roles which manage highly collaborative environments expect the following eight behaviors from their leaders:

  • Innovative: feeling comfortable in fast-changing environments; being willing to take risks and to consider new and untested approaches.
  • Excitement: operating with a good deal of energy; intensity; and emotional expression; having a capacity for keeping others enthusiastic and involved
  • Tactical: emphasizing the production of immediate results by focusing on short-range, hands-on, practical strategies
  • Communication: stating clearly what you want and expect from others; clearly expressing your thoughts and ideas; maintaining a precise and constant flow of information.
  • Delegation: enlisting the talents of others to help meet objectives by giving them important activities and sufficient autonomy to exercise their own judgment.
  • Empathy: demonstrating an active concern for people and their needs by forming close supportive relationships with others.
  • Consensual: valuing the ideas and opinions of others and collecting their input as part of your decision making process.
  • Strategic: taking a long-range, broad approach to problem solving and decision making through objective analysis, thinking ahead, and planning.

And just as interesting, the following three behaviors, normally associated with traditional managerial leadership were completely left out and even negatively correlated with more collaborative role expectations:

  • Authority: Showing loyalty to the organization; respecting the ideas and opinions of people in authority and using them as resources for information, direction and decisions.
  • Structuring: Adopting a systematic and organized approach; preferring to work in a precise, methodical manner; developing and utilizing guidelines and procedures.
  • Conservative: Studying problems in light of past practices to ensure predictability, reinforce the status quo and minimize risk.

Job AnnouncementWe then translated these behavioral expectations into more commonly used language and created a short job announcement to use in searches for future collaborative positions:

(Our Company) is searching for just the right people to lead our award winning and highly creative development process. We have positions in each of the major North American cities and in most of the capitals around the world. If you want to join this highly unique business environment, please provide your future colleagues with evidence of your ability to:

  • Continuously improve outcomes
  • Ensure stakeholder consensus
  • Communicate with diverse personalities
  • Motivate others
  • Think ahead
  • Focus on the most important work
  • Facilitate productive meetings

In the process of applying this research we discovered that the next step was to help organizations differentiate between multiple candidates applying for these sweet positions. The old approach to asking about successful projects didn’t seem to be fully satisfying anymore because we were really looking for how people interacted and engaged others instead of their own personal proclivity to productivity and authority. So, we came up with the following list of questions, by role expectation to assist in the interview process:

    • Continuously improve outcomes
      • Describe ways you [the candidate] help a team get feedback
      • Provide us with an example of a creative solution your team developed and the role you played in that process
    • Ensure stakeholder consensus
      • Tell us about a time where people were not agreeing and you helped them come to a productive consensus
      • What is your definition of consensus and how do you know a group has it?
    • Communicate with diverse personalities
      • Tell us what you take into consideration when communicating with people.
      • How do you know if your communication approach works?
    • Motivate others
      • What do you take into consideration when trying to motivate others?
      • How do you think the people you’ve worked with would describe your motivational approach?
      • What do you do to get personal feedback?
    • Think ahead
      • Tell us your definition of “being strategic” and how it applies to you.
      • Describe a situation in which you helped a group look forward strategically and tell us about what happened
    • Focus on the most important work
      • If I said “create the highest business value first”, what would you do to assure that request was fulfilled?
      • How do groups you lead normally make decisions?
    • Facilitate productive meetings
      • What are the most important characteristics of a productive meeting?
      • Describe the role expectations of a facilitator.
      • Compare and contrast those expectations with the role of an Agile Leader.

The final five questions in our interviews now go even one level deeper into the world of personal beliefs. Because, even if a person doesn’t have experience in a collaborative methodology or is weak in some of the expected role behaviors, they can be taught and coached easier if you get positive results from the following:

  • Give me a definition of consensus and when you’d use it in your normal work day?
  • How many people does it take to change the world?
  • Tell us about a time when a series of questions created better outcomes than a series of well crafted statements.
  • What is your key role as a leader?
  • What would you do if your team had lost trust in you?

Summary:Can you really expect good teams to become great collaborative teams like Lean and Agile if you keep hiring and developing traditional authoritarian, controlling and directive managerial behaviors? Isn’t that like the definition of insanity (i.e., doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results) taken to an extreme?

It’s time to begin changing how we work with each other so that the way things work can change more easily. And to that end, we hope this series of role expectations and interview questions helps you hire highly qualified collaborative leaders (remember they’ll be reading this too so you’ll still want to check references and work experience). If you want to focus on any of these interview questions over the others, we suggest you consider the management beliefs at the end of this article as your keystone to future development. Because, the best way to help change an organization is to help it focus on what really matters.

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