This is the second part (read the first part here) of a conversation series on Servant Leadership and Agile Culture. In this second article, we sat with two leaders experts in their fields.
This second article provides insights from two great leaders, Jean-Christophe Conticello (Wemanity Founder and Culture Executive Officer) and Filip Rombouts (ING Tribe Lead Assisted Channels).
Discussion with Jean-Christophe Conticello, Entrepreneur and Cultural Executive Officer at Wemanity
Jean-Christophe Conticello founded Wemanity in 2012 in France, focused on Agile Transformation. Today, Wemanity has more than 450 Wecitizens working every day to change the world of working through Agile, Innovation, and Cooperation. The ambition of Wemanity is to become the international leader in Agile transformation.
Jean-Christophe argues that the traditional leadership pyramid is now turned around with servant leadership at the basis, serving the rest of the organization.
His definition of a leader comes in 2 steps:
- First, he/she communicates a vision and is able to embark his/her colleagues.
- Second, he/she creates the environment to deliver this vision. An environment which is safe and where people can trust each other.
The Servant Leader improves the maturity of the team and supports them through the different phases of “Shu Ha Ri”. Shu Ha Ri is a term coming from martial arts, where you grow in different steps: first, follow the rule, then, after you have mastered the rules, you can break some if it still fits the purpose, and finally, you can be the rule and create your own approach. So, first, the team needs to learn the rules and listen. The servant leader provides a framework and sets boundaries. Once those competencies are acquired, the team can evolve.
For Servant Leadership, Jean-Christophe also makes the link with “The strategy of the dolphin” (Dudley Lynch, 1990), where the dolphin is flexible, responsive and accepting, while the shark is the predator who tries to win at the expense of others, and the carp is the follower avoiding trouble and sacrificing if needed… Guess who the servant leader is…
According to Jean-Christophe, the next step for an organization is to move to host leadership, where the leader is positioned next to the pyramid. Host leadership implies that you act as a host, stepping back and supporting others but also sometimes stepping to the front and inviting, introducing, setting the rules, and being part of the show. In this position, the responsibility of the leader becomes clearer.
I challenged Jean-Christophe to know whether everyone in an organization can be a leader. He believes that everyone should be an owner, responsible and a team player. He has doubts that everyone in a team will be a servant leader. Personally, I think we should seek a leader-leader relationship, even if this ideal situation is difficult to obtain for a whole organization.
Here is how Servant Leadership through Agile gets promoted at Wemanity:
- The environment is being created to encourage leadership in the teams (that we call POD’s)
- Wemanity has 28 culture warriors to support and promote our values
- Possibility to change the company… with ownership! “If you say it, then you own it” In other words, everyone can come with ideas, the community will support and it is their responsibility of the initiator to make it happen.
- Freedom of speech and opinion: Organisation of regular “transparency nights” where all topics can be debated without any taboo.
- Strong culture and values: Goodness, Continuous Improvement & Quality, Disruption & Creativity, Fun, Cooperation & Sharing!
- In 2019, teams will be supported by POD leaders and non-hierarchical organization
Some leader role models for Jean-Christophe: Richard Branson, Gandhi, Elon Musk. All these people created huge momentum and had an enormous impact.
The transition from traditional managers to servant leaders: it is difficult to change role, who you are, acquire new competencies and let it go. “Change” is the core mission of transformations where Wemanity is involved: change management, change culture, change business. Tackling those issues is a pre-requisite before implementing a new Agile way of working.
I really appreciated and valued each minute spent with Jean-Christophe. He is very inspirational and also very direct (which is not very common for a French ). I would like to thank him for being so open and caring during our discussion.
Discussion with Filip Rombouts, Tribe Lead Assisted Channels ING
Filip is actively involved in the transition to Agile at ING. He was previously working as Department Head Digital Channels for ING Belgium and is now in charge of the Tribe Assisted Channels for ING Group.
ING implemented an Agile framework somehow similar to Spotify with Squads, Chapters, and Tribes.
I was curious to get his point of view on the leadership change he experienced for himself and his teams…
Filip admits that former leadership style was very much “top-down” controlling and steering, seeking advice from some people and then take a decision. This way of working completely changed upside down.
Previously, Project Managers were reporting to Steerings and Senior Managers about the changes. They had to push the teams and the organization to deliver, which often resulted in blocking factors. Now, squads are directly providing the input and status. There is a mutual trust created and less “negotiation” on the price of a project/product.
Now, teams (squads) defined a purpose and the role of the Tribe Lead is to support the squads. The Tribe Lead is to the service of the Squad and will help them in many different ways from seating to budget, resolving conflicts between squads and tribes, creating the environment for the squad to achieve their purpose… Sounds like Servant Leadership in an agile environment, isn’t it?
The challenge for Filip is to change the mindset of all tribe members and to empower them. When questioned about a topic, instead of playing an expert role, he acts as a coach and returns the question to the squads. For instance, all squads had to define how to fulfill and implement the mission statement of the Tribe: “We are passionate about our employees so they can delight our customers”.
Such a mindset evolution has a big impact on employees, and Filip stresses that different profiles were necessary, explaining why a redeployment happened where all employees impacted had to apply for a job in the new target organization.
I questioned Filip Rombouts about the sequence of change: why not change first the culture and then the structure. He argued that it was necessary to combine both because culture change takes a lot of time and in order to avoid going back to the old way of working while structure has not changed yet. Culture change is difficult and involves a lot of effort from management. They need to lead by example and always repeat the message.
Another important aspect of the ING Agile implementation is the importance of the Product Owner (PO) role. Filip stresses that PO is a role not a function inside the squad and that it requires different skills from a Customer Journey Expert. He/she works in an inclusive way, facilitates discussions and conflicts resolution, sets backlog priority and decision making with the team, and resolves organizational impediments.
Afterward, Filip and I discussed his own transition from traditional manager to Agile Lead. His first words were “nothing is easy”. He had to face all at the same time: a whole organization transitioning to a new way of working, new teams, people not happy about their roles, continuous inspect and adapt… And for himself too: he had to find his place as Tribe Lead, where to intervene… and where not to intervene…
What did this change bring to him?
On a positive side, he’s more inclusive than before, works more on inspiring his Tribe, works on being the spokesperson of the Tribe, and yes, being more servant than in his previous function, which motivates the Tribe.
On a less positive side, he misses the human contact with all people from his department (the size of the Assisted Channels Tribe is 380 people, while previously he was managing a department of around 150 people), and therefore feels sometimes a bit alone as a Tribe Lead.
Finally, we played the perfection game together. On the definition of success in his role, the ideal situation (10/10) would be that Tribe runs without Filip Rombouts, that Tribe is happy, delivers and performs without him. Where are we today? According to him, between 4 and 5. How can he do to improve by 1 point? Improve the purpose and happiness of the tribe, and better understand the individual situations and challenges.
I would like to thank Filip for the time he spent on this conversation. I had worked for him while working at ING, and it was the first time I was meeting with him since I left. I must say that I saw a different man and I was positively surprised by his openness and the humble attitude he shows. I wish him a lot of success!
I discussed with 2 leaders who are both working in an Agile context. Although their context is very different (size, industry, people, …), 2 common factors were mentioned and discussed: servant leadership and agile culture.
A leader is at the service of the organization and not the opposite, and sharing the same mindset, values, and practices to set up a common culture are key to learn, improve and deliver.
Finally, both discussions also highlighted that servant leadership in an agile context is a never ending journey which involves a.o. create the right environment, being at the service of the teams, coaching, emancipating the teams and evolve to a leader-leader situation. We will come back on those aspects in future articles and this will also be an opportunity to elaborate a bit more on the book “Turn the ship around” from David Marquet… Stay tuned!