Conditions for tackling problems

Been thinking a lot about team dynamics and process. Because there are a few things that aren’t quite working.

I’ve always been a believer that you empower your teams by asking them to find opportunities and go do something about them. As opposed to telling people the solution, or the problem to work on.

I’ve done this in my career. Sometimes wrestling this freedom after being handed a solution. Sometimes after buying some credit through delivering something. And a few times with that brief itself.

But the freedom to go find opportunities or problems to solve can be really difficult sometimes.

Recently an agile consultant, who had been reviewing different team’s maturity in agile, explained why her recommendations weren’t about adopting the pinnacle of agile best practice.

Her recommendation was that because there was little existing culture. And rapidly shifting policy. That it wasn’t sensible to get to best practice quickly.

Her recommendation was to do small things. They were to start very small.

From there, what worked could be shared and grow. And bit by bit a culture could emerge.

The conditions, context or capabilities weren’t there to go do the pinnacle of agile best practice.

Talking the recommendations through got me thinking about conditions and context. Not just for agile. But also what is needed to handle the freedom to go find opportunities and problems to solve.

If you’re working in a space where problems have so many causes and interconnected systems, the freedom can be suffocating. Especially without deep domain knowledge. And you often find it’s better to start the journey with a small but well-shaped opportunity. Or a vision of what you want the solution to be.

Similarly, if you have a team that’s not quite experienced in navigating uncertainty the freedom can stifle any progress. And often results in endless and fruitless discoveries.

You need to take smaller steps if:

  • policy or strategy is always shifting
  • context changes all the time (think COVID-19)
  • teams or organisations are beginning their journey in certain ways of working
  • there’s a lack of delivery or history to call on
  • the team hasn’t had the time to build the domain knowledge

Empowering teams is a process. Sometimes full freedom to go find opportunities or problems is not the first step.

And allowing a team to prove a hunch is wrong can be an effective way to build the conditions and context for finding what would work. (Though this only works if you’re willing to listen and it’s safe for them to say not that, but this)

Don't miss an article