Meet agile42

A team-based approach to leadership training is the specialty of agile42, which works around the globe to provide an experiential education in Agile principles and practices. In agile42’s Scrum Alliance® Certified Agile Leadership (CAL) modules, approved educators work in pairs to offer participants multiple perspectives and build awareness of what Agile leadership thinking is — and isn’t.

“When someone comes to me and asks about being a better leader, the first thing I’m going to ask is, ‘Why?’” says Dave Sharrock, executive Agile coach and trainer at agile42. “What I hear a lot is, ‘I want to be better leader so I can corral my team to hit a deadline,’ and the answer is no, that’s not a good reason.”

 “‘How can I get my team to pull more?’ — we [also] hear that a lot, and that’s not exactly the idea,” agrees agile42 trainer and coach Bent Myllerup, a Certified Scrum Trainer® (CST®) and Certified Enterprise Coach (CEC) based in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Rather, Sharrock and Myllerup say, participants should be ready to look at the entire leadership relationship, which may require close analysis of their own contributions to both success and failure. “I’m looking for a personal desire to be better. It’s not about the team, what can they do better; it’s how can I perform better?” says Sharrock, who is based in Vancouver, Canada and is also both a CST and a CEC. “There has to be that recognition that they’re seeking to learn to do something different, to become a supportive leader.”

Leaders will find they get much better results when they develop an awareness of the effects their own behavior has on others, Sharrock adds. “The second thing I look for is that they recognize the mentoring and influence they have with their team. The key to good leadership is understanding that the team would like to do better, and how the environment is affecting that.”

With offices in Germany, Italy, Poland, South Africa, and Canada as well as the U.S., agile42 (the “42” in the name refers to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) has a global presence. So it comes naturally to their trainers to use analogies from football — soccer to Americans.

“As a leader, you need to set the direction, lay out the rules, set the boundaries, and let people know what’s inside and outside the field, just like in football,” says Myllerup. “When you don’t know where the lines are, it makes you afraid of going outside the boundaries, and that means you are not taking full advantage of the field. The best teams use the rules and the whole field to the optimum advantage, and your role as a leader is to facilitate that. If we don’t, then we don’t have self-organization, we have anarchy.”

While agile42 has worked with some of the biggest companies in Europe and the world, including Volkswagen, Nokia gate5, Ericsson Telecommunications, and SAP, the organization is equally adept at working with start-ups, smaller organizations, and individual leaders. With a focus on business success, they seek to change both mindset and practices, such as communication and collaboration among teams and throughout the organization. “We look for and close communications failures and gaps in the organizational system,” says Sharrock.

In terms of its coaching philosophy, agile42 believes in trying to involve as many parts of a company in Agile as they can. “We make this as visible as possible in the organization,” Myllerup says. “Too many organizations think that Agile is something you do in the engine room, and the rest doesn’t have to change. But really, it’s a bit more like the rollout of personal computers in the early days. It may have been the tech department that first got PCs, but it changed the way the whole company ran.”

Joining the Certified Agile Leadership (CAL) program launched in 2016 by Scrum Alliance is an exciting step for agile42, which has a history of providing leadership coaching through other programs such as their Advanced Team Coaching Course (ATTC).

The CAL program makes the values and principles of Agile accessible to every leader, regardless of prior education and experience. Those who can benefit from this training include executives, middle management, and others with what agile42 calls “organizational influence” — those who support, lead, or interact with Agile teams, and especially any leader pondering an Agile adoption. In the near future, agile42 will be offering CAL I to organizations as well as to individuals.

With an interactive, teaching-from-the-back-of-the-room style, agile42 gets students involved, starting them off with an assessment based on Daniel Goleman’s six styles of leadership. “We hold up a mirror for the leader or the organization to understand what the good possibilities are here, but also what the problems are,” says Myllerup. “We ask leaders who want to change their workplace to go first, to take their own medicine.”

In agile42’s CAL program, this interactivity is evident in the depth of discussion. “I’ve noticed a different dynamic in these groups, with lots of knowledge sharing,” says Sharrock. “We’re making much deeper connections.”
The first module, CAL I, introduces the concepts of Agile leadership and organizational change management, helping participants develop awareness, understanding, and increased effectiveness. Progressing to CAL II, participants are guided to more advanced learning that allows them to deepen, apply, and share their Agile leadership experiences.

In the late summer and fall, agile42 will be offering Certified Agile Leadership I modules in Vancouver, Johannesburg, Copenhagen, Berlin, and Stockholm.

“One of the things I like best about CAL I is that there’s two to two and a half days of quality time with leaders in the room, which allows you to disconnect from your work and tackle some bigger, deeper problems,” says Sharrock. “The way we set it up, it’s intended to be the beginning of a conversation about the nature of leadership. We’re very conscious that this is the start of a journey, and we help people get Agile coaching circles set up so they can continue to develop with support and eventually move on to CAL II.”

Former participants offer enthusiastic feedback. “Well-planned,” “effective,” “practical,” and “entertaining,” are all words that recur in the comments of satisfied alumni. As one participant put it, “I came out of the training with a bunch of ideas I could immediately use.” Sharrock has heard the same thing: “The feedback I get is that people walk away deeply changed.” And that’s what agile42 is all about.