Deploy the Agile culture with paticipative management

When we talk about teamwork, the image of rowing often comes to mind. All team members aim for the same goal and row in rhythm. It is a beautiful image to showcase group work. his metaphor is used frequently to describe team management. However, this management is directive. Agile (or Lean) culture is the opposite of this image.

To make the best use of everyone’s skills, and with a focus on operational excellence, participative management yields better results. When your business model is based on operational excellence, the Agile culture will best support your objectives.

Beyond the traditional joke of two companies fighting each other, I invite you to reflect on your organizational context, to choose the most appropriate management mode.

Rowing: an example of directive management

In the metaphor of rowing, the power of the group rests on three aspects: the team works

  • in rhythm,
  • to achieve a common goal,
  • with confidence.

As the team pulls harder while turning their backs on the goal, everyone relies on the coxswain. He is the one guiding the team to his destination. It’s a nice mark of confidence from the rowers, who do not necessarily know where they are going.

In a work environment, the manager is the coxswain he knows where he should lead his boat (at least, his colleagues hope). Therefore, he assigns the work and calls out the stroke rhythm. The team knows its destination, but is not aware of the route taken.

Organizations with a low level of autonomy use this management model. Their paternalistic and authoritarian culture is perfectly suited to this type of management. This is also the type of management recommended when you have to manage a crisis. Normally, you have defined the response beforehand. In a crisis, you focus on executing your plans.

Rafting: an example of participative management

Unfortunately, in many organizations, knowing where to go and going there in rhythm it is not enough. The hierarchical organization of rowing is ideal for quiet rivers or lakes.

On a raging river or sea, there is a large flow of water. Sometimes rapids that hide at the turn of corner. Often, branches hinder navigation. Our boat and its rowers, as motivated as they are, will not last very long. It takes a much more maneuverable boat to bring the team to port, like a raft. Everyone knows where to go. But in addition, everyone sees the obstacles and participates in his or her best navigation. Some rules were given initially. But in the end, everyone works to the best of his ability and capacity to achieve the common goal.

Deploy an Agile culture

Alone I go faster, together we go further.


Operational excellence takes us further. Organizations that have adopted the tools, but especially the principles, are indeed more efficient. Here are a few Agile culture key principles.

Create value for the customer

The organization works for the client, placing it at the center of their concerns. More details in my article on client experience and added value. This is the case for most organizations. If the customer is not satisfied, he goes elsewhere …

Everyone should know their client. I am thinking of the internal customer, the one who receives the fruit of your work, but also of the final customer, the one who pays for the product or the service, and who thus ensures everyone gets their paycheck.

Align the organization

This guiding principle is identical in both directive and participative management. What changes is the way employees are informed. In Agile organizations, daily management is standardized, with scrums, also called huddles or stand-up meetings. These daily meetings are an opportunity to shorten the iterations. Everyone knows at a high level what others are working on. Blockers are identified and quickly moved up the hierarchy.

The strategies are broken down into objectives during an exchange between managers and employees. But this is a two-way exchange. It is a collective work.

Executives remain connected to reality by regularly going on the Gemba. The Agile culture involves respect for the individual, but above all managers’ humility.

Continuously improve

Finally, Agile culture strives for perfection. It ensures quality at the source. Tools like the Jidoka (stop at first fault), ensure that operations remain efficient. The Agile culture is process-centric. Everyone does their best with the processes. If there is an error, it is a faulty process. The manager will ask the question why rather than who.

There are a number of tools to support this approach, I describe a few in this blog. But they only work if they are used with the right mindset.

Does the Agile culture apply in your organization?

In what environment does your organization evolve? In the end, few have the “chance” to have ideal conditions to navigate. The performance of an organization is now gauged by its ability to adapt. And so that all teammates can participate in the best they need information. They must know the rules, the goal to achieve and the obstacles that stand. Hiding information from them or delaying information sharing will only increase the stress and hardships of the team. Raft-type management is a much better example of teamwork in a participatory mode.


Even if the picture is more chaotic than that of rowing, it is this type of management that increases the performance of the organizations, giving the opportunity to the whole group (and not an individual) to decide the actions.

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