Simon Terry

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Leadership of the Inner Loop, Outer Loop and Transition

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Leaders need to change their style of work to suit the different types of engagement in different domains.  Leaders should recognising that open collaboration in platforms like Yammer focuses more on leading by influence. They can also play a critical role in helping people see the opportunities to work in different ways through coaching and mentoring

One of the areas for further discussion I called out in the post on the role of Transition in Inner and Outer Loops was the area of leadership. It is important to note that leadership in this context includes hierarchical managers but is also wider, including the leadership actions of peers and other champions. Leadership, in the sense of inspiring action in others, might be a key expectation of managers but we know that not all managers are leaders. This post examines how leadership fosters collaboration in each domain and the role leaders play in tranitioning between domains of work. In the previous post, I said

People don’t need to know ‘what to do where’ so much as they need to know when their current mode of work is ineffective.

Leaders, whether hierarchical or peer leaders, help people see these opportunities to change.

Inner Loop – Leading Performance and Execution

Most managers are familiar with the approaches to achieve performance in teams focused on execution and continuous improvement. The challenge is usually the consistency of a manager’s leadership behaviours.

Inner Loop platforms can help increase the volume and velocity of communication of managers in these teams, addressing a key challenge for many managers in their performance and their leadership.  Better awareness across the team and its stakeholders of key issues and challenges will also enable managers to chose to lead in more relevant ways that drive better performance.

As teams embrace the potential of the Inner Loop, transparency, autonomy and rapid communication, also increases the potential for peers to play a leadership role. The Inner Loop should also enable greater sharing of customer feedback and voice to guide performance and shape the improvement opportunities pursued. Hierarchical leaders should be encouraging customer focus in decision making in this domain and encouraging other leaders to take action to drive improvements in performance.

Agile has seen rapid adoption as a work practice because of its potential to support autonomous teams reacting to new customer feedback where leadership can come from any role.  The Inner Loop of rapidly adapting teams, both hierarchical and cross-functional, is a great environment to develop the leaders of the future.

Transition – Leaders Create the Need to Change

We can get so focused in our execution challenges or so enthusiastic about our communication with a wide network that we don’t see the need to change our behaviours. In both the Inner and Outer Loops of collaborative work, coaches and mentors can play a key role in helping individuals to improve their performance.

Coaching is critical in encouraging individuals and teams with a focused pursuit on delivery to reflect, to consider alternatives and to ask for help. While many people in focused work feel that stopping to look around is a waste of precious time, the advantages of being able to reuse work, borrow capabilities or have new insights deliver an exponential return on the time invested.  Great coaching questions from leaders will foster this reflection and the opportunty to try another approach.

Mentoring is a way to spread learning across the network. Like coaches, mentors can prompt reflection in either domain that will help foster change. One of the reasons to underpin an organisation collaboration strategy with a ready team of champions is to create a force of mentors to help your users with issues, ideas and new ways of working.

Investing in coaching and mentoring programs in your organisation is a key part of a balanced focus on performance using the 70:20:10 model of learning. That investment in coaching and mentoring will help you leverage improvement in work across both the Inner and Outer Loop.

Outer Loop – Leading by Influence

All employees in your organisation benefit from better understanding the dynamics of influence in the networks of the outer loop. This is a realm where the writs of power run shorter than many hierarchically powerful leaders expect. Networks value contributions and contributions create value.  Insistence on decision making power or overreliance on orders weakens an individuals influence in networks because they have the ability to treat blockages as something to route around.

To gain influence in networks, leaders of all types need to practice some key fundamentals:

  • to stand for something – a vision, a purpose, some values, or a goal
  • how to win trust & respect – authenticity, credibility, showing alignment, showing capability and delivering for others
  • be known for your own action – set an example, demonstrate capabilities and values, put evidence behind your reputation, give generously of your time, capabilities and experience
  • create motivation – using a vision and narrative, shared goals and personal connection
  • foster action – highlighting gaps, making action safe, encouraging experimentation, encouraging reflection in others, fostering tensions and being provocative.

Working out loud by sharing a persons work can help foster these conditions of influence. The genius of John Stepper’s five elements of working out loud are that they are well aligned to creating the ideal elements for influence:

  • Focus on relationships
  • Generosity
  • Visible work
  • Purposeful discovery
  • Growth mindset

These characteristics can be rare or unusal to traditional managers brought up in the domain of hierarchy. To enable them to be effective leaders in outer loop context we need to build their capabilities to act in new ways.  We also need to foster and reward the champions and other leaders who demonstrate these approaches to encourage all employees to leverage the potential of the outer loop.

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1 Comment

  1. […] of organisations seeking to transform to digital ways of working is not moving faster in the inner loop of the team. The challenge of digital success is engaging the complexities and misalignment of the wider […]

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