Honestly agile companies tend to rank as great places to work. It makes sense.  These will be lean, mean getting things done machines. Most everyone enjoys the feeling of completion. We also know it takes a special personality to enjoy work at an enormous, monolithic, glacier-paced company. For me, that company was Pitney Bowes.  It was a palatable kind of despair that has left my taste buds marred with the metallic flavor of inefficiency bred by near monopolies and legacy revenue models.

Just thinking about it makes me want to wash my mouth out with cheap whiskey. As a result, I have a sincere appreciation for folks with the drive to complete things of their own volition; for folks who can get things done. That is why I appreciate the agile teams, lean thinking minds, and organizations that appreciate those traits. It is why I am mashing up Michael Bush’s A Great Place to Work for All and Stephen Denning’s The Age of Agile.

I hadn’t planned on doing another mashup. However, these two books overlapped so nicely, it just made sense. As it turns out, many of the traits inherent to agile companies are also shared by places that are ranked as great places to work.  However, it isn’t jut the satisfaction of a job well done that drives these companies to success.  Before I get into that, let me introduce the books.

Michael Bush’s A Great Place to Work for All addresses many of the topics you’d expect. He challenges leaders and managers t bring out the best in people by building  a inclusive, high trust culture with clear objectives.  Additionally, he challenges leadership to grow their employees skills, pair them with work in which they can leverage their values. Find the employees creativity and passion and help them apply it to their work.  Make your company a place employees to which employees want to come by given them purpose driven work that they enjoy doing. Challenge them beyond their comfort zone. And for crying out loud, get rid of the terrible mangers that are driving high turnover. Focus on the human and the human will focus on the company.

Stephen Denning’s The Age of Agile is mostly an introduction to the agile concepts and the principles that drive agile management.  It is quite informative if you are new to or fuzzy on agile management practices.  It give a clear and concise structure for leveraging agile success.  He also spends time explaining why agile will help company better meet customer expectations, adapt to change quicker, and can innovate more precisely. He also warns that micromanagers and glory hog bosses will not have successful agile teams.

Of course, companies with those types of managers rarely are great places to work. Great places to work are also not those with the most amenities. The places with the free food, games, nap pods, are all designed to get your to work longer hours. Those places create a culture of work-is-life and title is identity. They are also not the places with a bunch of busy work that seem lie easy wins for the manager, but are actually soul sucking for the employees.

No. Agile companies can be great places to work because employees are more autonomous. They are trusted. They work in highly focused teams with good communication.  The work is done in small batches with feedback cycles for the work. They get things done rapidly. They fix problems quickly. There is little interruption during there problem solving processes.  The objectives are clear, organized, and obtainable. The leadership trusts the team to make the right decisions and complete the projects. It is true empowerment. Leaders in these types of companies are there to mentor the employees, grow them beyond their perceived capabilities, and inevitably take over for the leader. This is where these two books overlap. While Bush doesn’t allude to agile, the traits he outlines in his book are highly agile practices. People ant to be the maters of their own domain.  They want to add value.

If you’ve ever been to a management class where they showed you a clip from the movie Apollo 13, you’ve seen agile teams in action.  Figuring out the limited lunar module power sequence. Redesigning the CO2 filter with found objects.  Highly specific problems. Highly focused teams. Trusted and autonomous units working without interruption until the problem is solved. Do your teams have that in the real world? If not, buy these books and read them.

Hopefully, you’ve hired people smarter than yourself. If yes, then you are ahead of many. If not, do everyone involved a favor, fire them and solve the problems on your own. You know you’ll make them do it your way anyway, regardless of your actual understanding of the topic to be solved. 


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