Leading and managing a digital team
The gardener cannot actually ‘grow’ tomatoes, squash, or beans — she can only foster an environment in which the plants do so.General Stanley McChrystal
Serve your teams
As a servant leader, your job is to:
- Empower the people who work for you
- Unlock the potential of your employees by allowing them to grow
- Explain the mission, strategy, and context for the work
- Remove any blockers the teams encounter
- Provide executive air cover for the decisions, methods, and outputs of the teams
- Help teams and individuals make decisions
Always ask your teams what they need from you to be successful and schedule regular check-ins to stay up to date with what they need.
Empower your teams
To be most effective, digital teams need the autonomy to self-organize, self-manage, and self-execute. Trust and empower those closest to the work to make the right decisions.
Nurture risk tolerance
Foster a blameless culture. Don’t chastise teams when things go wrong, or they’ll be less likely to take bold, innovative steps in the future. Encourage the teams to use their retrospectives to constantly inspect and adapt.
Be a vocal advocate
Introducing new ways of thinking and working can cause fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Digital teams need to collaborate with all of the other parts of your organization, and they employ methods that are sometimes unfamiliar to traditional government organizations — like human-centered design, agile, and DevOps.
A traditional government project in the waterfall-style provides a detailed schedule of every activity and document written from day zero to go-live. An agile project eschews the master schedule in favor of describing progress in terms of value delivered to users.
Agile teams have roadmaps and backlogs, but can only tell you with certainty what’s being delivered in the next sprint. The lack of precise schedule and comprehensive documentation in agile can seem chaotic to those used to the rigid structure of waterfall.
Your role will be to support and advocate for the team’s approach. Build and maintain relationships across the organization and use those relationships to help your teams succeed.
Be an active participant
Make time for your teams and participate in workshops and other events. For example:
- Attend and participate in workshops, interviews, and usability tests
- Encourage access to users
- Help teams prioritize work and build their backlog
As an executive, your participation lends legitimacy to the activities. When others in the organization see you as an active participant, they’ll be more likely to join in and take things seriously.
- Have I scheduled regular check-ins with my team?
- Have I asked my team what they need to be successful?
- Can I explain to others in plain language what my team is doing?
- Does my team have a way to showcase their work incrementally to all my staff?
- Have I done all I can do to remove artificial barriers to my team being productive?
- Can I clearly articulate what direct benefit my team provides to the public?
- Is my team working well with others? If not, why not?