Developing an Agile Mindset

Develop a new mindset… and then also agile – that is so completely different from the classic one. You need strong support and an open project manager to master this successfully.

I’ve recently talked about three qualities that I think are crucial for project managers in agile environments: Empathy, authenticity and openness.

In addition to the character of the project manager, the entire working environment is also part of it. Although this is actively shaped by the project manager, it is supported by the entire organization. For example, one part of an embracing work environment is an open error culture.

Error culture: Regarding an open attitude towards others, it also plays an important role how to deal with mistakes. You can learn from every mistake and every conflict, gain new experiences and improve. That’s why mishaps and conflict situations are great opportunities and should be seen as a gift – a gift of learning. That doesn’t mean that you have to make mistakes all the time, but I just think that as so often in life the right attitude is the key to a better life, to a better project. And here this would be to consider mistakes and conflicts as given possibilities and not some purely negative disturbance peace.

My boss, Thomas Sternkopf, once said so beautifully in this sense: “You can make any decision, you just have to live with its consequences”.

I think that sentence fits nicely. Especially as a team leader, you should show the team what it means to be open, to try something new and if this goes wrong – My God, that happens, learn from it and do it differently next time. You can’t change the consequences once they happen anyway, so live with them and learn from them. And vice versa: If you never try it, you will miss hundreds of possibilities to develop something new and great. One rarely knows beforehand which decision will lead to it. So, don’t be afraid and stop doing nothing new.

Working together: Working agile means working together. Only as a team and together you can successfully add value. That means:

  1. Team first

Your team should be the top priority. If there are conflicts in the team, or everyone is just working for themselves, the group will never reach its full potential. Agile means solving problems hand in hand and finding new solutions together. Nobody can manage everything alone. Each employee has special qualities and unique abilities that contribute to the overall success of the team.

  1. Listen and Understand each other.

We have already discussed effective communication in previous articles (Advocacy and Inquiry). Having a work environment open to agility means that people listen to each other and try to understand each other. This also means to be fully committed as a team member, as a whole person. Not only the project manager has to be authentic, but also the team members. Emotions are an important source of information in communication. If one in the team keeps having a Poker face this sends only a third of the information to the communicational partners. Withholding of information can lead to uncertainty and confusion in the team. Empathy and trust are often lost as a result. The pure objectivity is the death of effective teamwork. True working in the team means that one listens to each other and is there for each other, supports your teammates. Only in sum you can get the maximum potential out and thus achieve the highest added value for the team and the project. This is often not easy, and the project manager has to play an active role, but any good leadership does not help if the team is closed towards open communication. If team members notice that someone is closing their eyes to this, this must also be openly expressed in order to build up a basis of trust and readiness in the team again, which in turn will enable them to work agile.

Welcome Change: Agility is flexible and often very ‘fast’. This means that in an environment where you work agile, there must be a mindset that welcomes change and flexibility. Here again, the project manager lives this up, but if the team members don’t go along, it’s useless. The environment in which you work should therefore actively welcome change and not perceive it as ‘bad’. The error culture also plays an important role here. Change is not a bad thing; it can often provide great opportunities! And even if something goes wrong – Due to the short cycles in an agile work environment, small mistakes often have no negative effect at all but can be ‘cleaned up’ in the next cycle. If one approaches changing circumstances with these thoughts, one is on the right way to create an effective, agile working environment.

As with the person, so is also here the key to all mindset. Unfortunately, this is often the point of failure. In one of our next articles we will deal with two different mindsets and how to help people to perceive them and act accordingly to build up an agile, open mindset.

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