Facilitative Leadership: the alternative to command and control

When companies adopt Agile methods, management roles shift. Team manages their own work and managers focus on system problems. The manager’s stance toward the team moves to facilitative leadership and away from hierarchical leadership.

For managers who have been schooled in command and control, the shift is uncomfortable.

Some managers have trouble believing that other adults can actually manage their own work. They seem to have some confusion between the role of manager and the role of parent.

For me, the struggle was feeling like I wasn’t doing enough. The team was doing some of the work I had done as a more traditional manager — tracking progress, making status visible, solving problems, etc.

As a facilitative leader I learned to look inside and see if the need to do something was coming from me and my need to feel useful, or from the outside — some event or situation in the team that needed a light steering touch.

Managers who do out of their own need to feel useful seem to muck things up as often as they help.

That doesn’t mean managers abdicate all responsibility toward the team. A manager still needs to observe, pay attention, be available to coach, and intervene with a light touch when necessary.

Actually, I find facilitative leadership is more effective for all teams not just those using Agile methods.

To get a picture of the contrast between facilitative leadership and two more common models, read this article by Don Gray and Dan Starr.

I posted a bit about the differences between hierarchical leadership and facilitative leadership a while back.