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What To Do When Managers Ask, “What Happened To My Job?”

If you want to build a workplace that is completely team-centric, one where you arm your teams and employees with autonomy, mastery, and purpose (a notion described by Daniel Pink in his book Drive:...), traditional managers can wreak havoc! 

If you have ever been on a collaborative, high-performing team, you know that an imbalance of power or authority within the team can sabotage creativity and innovation. You would also know that someone outside of the team with authority telling team members what and how to do things has the same effect. How do we shift from a world with managers to a world with leaders?

As HR leaders, it is our responsibility to help everyone through this transition, especially our management core. 


Four Kinds Of Traditional Managers

What I have witnessed in companies going through a Scrum transformation is that there tend to be 4 different categories of managers:

  • Some managers are excellent visionaries and know how to drive valuable product or service development.
  • Some managers just love people and finding ways to help them grow and achieve high performance.
  • Some managers have deep knowledge, expertise or make solid mentors.
  • And some managers just really want to be in charge and, well, manage.

Of course, great managers have a mix of these skills and can balance them but most of the time, even those managers have a preference toward one of these strengths. Now, more than ever, these managers can have an incredible impact on your new world!

And so, People Operations achievers, let’s think about how to enable these people to lead with brilliance. There are absolutely homes on Scrum Teams for these talented folks. We just need to rethink their roles a little bit.     


Understanding a Minimum Viable Bureaucracy

First, let’s understand what role “managers'' traditionally play so we can shift our thinking while ensuring the really important “managerial” things still happen. A simple google search will give us millions of ideas of what a manager does but it is boiled down succinctly in this top hit by Quite simply, managers plan, organize, direct and control.  

If you have been on an Agile team, the thought of one person doing all of these things will make you cringe, but at the same time, all of these things must happen. Fortunately, in an Agile space, a Scrum team as a whole does all of these things together! How does that work?

To achieve what we call a “minimum viable bureaucracy” we need different ways to plan, organize, direct and control. Thus we incorporate leaders into the team via two different cycles - the Product Owner Cycle and the Scrum Master Cycle. Let’s see if we can help the 4 types of managers use their talents on Scrum teams.


What Does A Manager Do Now?

If the Product Owner cycle owns the vision, then visionary managers can lead in the Scrum world as Product Owners. They decide what we need to build and guide the team directionally. Thus the PO directs to some extent and the team plans, organizes, directs, and controls by deciding which work to take on and how best to complete it. Managers with strong strategic thinking and prioritization skills are vital on Scrum, or Scrum of Scrums teams - they envision amazing products. That’s a huge responsibility - it drives your company's success.  

The Scrum Master cycle owns the process, but that translates often to people. Scrum Masters are far more than just meeting facilitators - I cannot stress this enough. From the Scrum Guide: “The Scrum Master is accountable for the Scrum Team’s effectiveness. For a team to be effective, it needs the right skills. It needs cross-functionality. It needs people who are fulfilled by their work. It needs roadblocks annihilated. There must be continuous feedback and drive for improvement. Scrum Masters must have the empowerment and authority to affect these areas. In other words, Scrum Masters help plan, organize, direct and control the process and growth of the team.

If you have managers with strong people skills, who can drive systemic change and own the feedback cycles, they are vital on Scrum, or Scrum of Scrums teams by envisioning and enabling high-performing teams. That’s a huge responsibility - it drives your company's success.  

What about managers with deep expertise? You may have managers that are subject matter experts, technical experts, consultants, or mentors. People with these skills can lead Scrum Teams by ensuring the team has the knowledge they need. Or, they can become a shared service so that many teams can leverage them for thought leadership and decision making. These managers shift to leaders that plan, organize, direct and control knowledge within the organization. They are vital on Scrum, or Scrum of Scrums teams for guiding decision making. This too is a huge responsibility that also drives your company's success.  

Finally, there are managers who want to plan, organize, direct and control on their own. For these people, an Agile transformation can be especially difficult because there might not be a place where they fit. Friends, not everyone wants to work this way - the Agile way. You may have managers self-select out of your organization or you may have to figure out different ways to help them. Sometimes finding the right place means they need to find it in a different organization. It is a hard truth.

As HR and People Operations, it is our job to redefine these responsibilities and accountabilities so that awesome managers can transition to strong leaders. It is our job to ensure that we help managers find homes where they can best use their talents to help create amazing teams and products. People Operations teams that are involved in Agile organizations are vital in Scrum, or Scrum of Scrums companies to drive the reorganization of teams, rethink roles and accountabilities and reinvent your employee lifecycle. You guessed it, this is a huge responsibility - it drives your company's success.