Team Agility: Leadership Mindset

Leadership Mindset

Instilling a leadership mindset within an agile team is paramount for several reasons. Every team member's ability to think and act like a leader—taking initiative, being proactive about problem-solving, and taking ownership of their work—contributes significantly to the team's overall effectiveness and success. This collective leadership approach helps in decentralizing decision-making, which is crucial for agile teams to respond rapidly to change and to innovate, as it allows for quick, on-the-spot decisions without being hindered by bureaucratic processes. A leadership mindset fosters a strong sense of accountability and commitment to the team's goals.

When team members view themselves as leaders, they are more likely to feel personally invested in the project's success, driving them to high performance, encouraging continuous learning, and promoting a culture of feedback and collaboration. This self-leadership is particularly important in agile environments, where adaptability and the continuous realignment of strategies with changing customer needs or market demands are essential. Additionally, when everyone on the team embodies a leadership mindset, it supports the creation of a resilient and positive team culture. Teams can navigate challenges more smoothly as individuals approach issues, share the workload, and support each other in achieving common goals. This unity and shared responsibility not only enhance productivity but also contribute to a more engaged, empowered, and satisfied team, which is integral to sustaining long-term success in any agile endeavor.

To further guide and structure this transformative process, at Lean Agile Intelligence, we have delineated the learning journey into four distinct stages: Developing, Emerging, Adapting, and Optimizing. In the following sections, we will discuss each stage in detail as well as provide practical tips and techniques to help you extend your skills in this area.


Teams “developing” an understanding of the value of Leadership Mindset and adopting the foundational techniques should focus on the following improvements. 

  • The What: Is open-minded and recognizes changing traditional ways of working is necessary given the digitalization and globalization movements
    • The How: For an agile team to remain open-minded and acknowledge the necessity of change in traditional workflows, especially in the face of relentless digitalization and globalization, several practices can be instrumental:
      • Continuous Learning and Adaptation: Encourage a culture of ongoing education where team members are motivated to pursue knowledge on emerging technologies, market trends, and global dynamics. This can be through workshops, webinars, online courses, or inviting guest speakers for interactive sessions.
      • Foster a Growth Mindset: Teams should embrace a growth mindset, understanding that abilities can be developed. They should see challenges as opportunities to grow rather than obstacles to avoid. This perspective encourages resilience and adaptability, which are crucial in rapidly changing environments.
      • Regular Reflection and Feedback Loops: Implement regular retrospectives to reflect on what's working and what's not. Use this as a platform for team members to voice their challenges with current practices and propose modern, more efficient ones. Embrace feedback as a tool for positive change, not criticism.
      • Encouraging Innovation and Experimentation: Give your team the freedom to innovate. Allow them to experiment with new ideas on a small scale, assess the results, and decide whether to implement these changes on a larger scale. Failure should be seen as a part of the learning process, not something that needs to be avoided at all costs. 
      • Global Awareness: Encourage a global perspective among team members. This can be achieved by exposing them to different cultures and business practices worldwide. Understanding and appreciating diversity can lead to more innovative solutions and the team's adaptability to change. 
      • Collaborative Decision-Making: Include the team in making decisions, especially regarding changes in processes and tools. When people are part of the decision-making process, they are more likely to embrace change.
      • Leadership Role Modeling: Lastly, change should start at the top. Leaders within the organization must be seen embracing new methods, technologies, and practices. They should communicate the necessity and benefits of these changes effectively to encourage team members to follow suit.
  • The What: Emphasizes the need to understand the customer's needs
    • The How: A team can enable a customer-centric mindset within an organization through various techniques:
      • Establish Clear Vision and Values: Teams should set a clear vision that focuses on the importance of the customer. This could be a mission statement or a set of organizational values where the customer is placed at the forefront. One great tool to get started is utilizing a Product Vision Board.
      • Leverage Market Research: Regularly invest in qualitative and quantitative market research. Understand customers' demographics, behaviors, preferences, and pain points. This can be achieved through surveys, focus groups, or one-on-one interviews. Ethnographic research is a direct observation technique of users in their natural environment rather than in a lab. This type of research aims to gain insights into how users interact with things in their natural environment.
      • Prioritize Customer Feedback: Create structured channels for customers to provide feedback. This could be through after-sales surveys, online review platforms, or customer service touchpoints. Analyze this feedback to identify common themes and areas for improvement.
      • Cross-functional Collaboration: Collaborate with departments like sales, marketing, product development, and customer service to ensure a unified approach to solving customer problems.
      • Iterative Product/Service Design: Adopt an iterative approach to product or service design where prototypes or versions are tested with real customers, and feedback is integrated before finalizing.



Product Vision Board from Roman Pichler



Teams “emerging” beyond the foundational techniques of Leadership Mindset and embracing it as they become more proficient should focus on the following improvements.

  • The What: Prioritizes quality and customer satisfaction over-delivering outputs
    • The How: In an agile environment, emphasizing quality and customer satisfaction over sheer output requires a cultural shift and strategic approach. Teams need to imbue their work ethic with a strong sense of purpose, where every member understands and appreciates the impact of their contribution on the end user. This involves fostering a customer-centric mindset, where regular interaction with and customer feedback becomes integral to the development process, ensuring that what is being delivered genuinely resonates with and adds value to the user's experience.
      • It's also crucial to establish robust quality assurance mechanisms within the development cycle, integrating systematic checks and balances that uphold standards rather than racing toward arbitrary output quotas. This approach must be complemented by a willingness to adapt based on real-time feedback rather than strictly adhering to predefined plans, ensuring flexibility in meeting customer needs and maintaining quality. 
      • Investing in continuous learning and skill enhancement for the team, particularly around quality assurance and customer empathy, can instill a deeper understanding of the craftsmanship required in their roles. Encouraging open dialogue about quality considerations and customer testimonials can also reinforce the significance of their work's impact.
      • Ultimately, it's about creating an environment where the team feels a sense of ownership and pride in their work, understanding that their primary role is not to produce in quantity but to innovate, solve problems, and add value with quality as a non-negotiable standard. This shift in perspective, when embedded into the very culture of the agile team, naturally aligns efforts toward customer satisfaction as the true measure of success.
  • The What: Empowers those closest to the work to make decisions
    • The How: Empowering team members closest to the work to make decisions is fundamental in agile environments. This practice enhances efficiency, boosts morale, and often leads to better, more informed decisions. Here's how an agile team can foster this empowerment:
      • Cultivate Trust: Build a foundation of trust by valuing the opinions of team members, acknowledging their expertise, and recognizing their contributions. When team members feel trusted, they are more likely to take active roles in decision-making.
      • Provide Clear Context: Ensure everyone understands the company's vision, objectives, and strategies. When people see the bigger picture, they can align their decisions with the organization's goals. 
      • Establish Boundaries: Define the scope of decisions that individuals or teams can make. Clear boundaries prevent overreach and keep everyone aligned with the team's capabilities and objectives.
      • Encourage Ownership and Accountability: Let team members know they own their decisions and should be prepared to support them with facts and rationale. This sense of ownership often leads to higher commitment and responsibility.
      • Offer Support and Resources: Equip teams with the tools, information, and resources to make informed decisions. This could mean training, access to expert advice, or the right technology. 
      • Create a Safe Environment: Develop a culture where team members feel safe to voice their ideas and make decisions, knowing they won't be penalized for mistakes but encouraged to learn from them. Psychological safety refers to an individual’s perception of the consequences of taking an interpersonal risk or a belief that a team is safe for risk-taking in the face of being seen as ignorant, incompetent, harmful, or disruptive. In a team with high psychological safety, teammates feel safe to take risks around their team members. They feel confident that no team member will embarrass or punish anyone else for admitting a mistake, asking a question, or offering a new idea. The criticality of this should not be understated. It was the number one thing Google found that led to higher team performance. You can read more about this in-depth here.
      • Ensure Open Communication: Promote transparent and open communication. Regular team meetings where information, challenges, and learning are shared can help make collective and informed decisions.
      • Review and Reflect: Encourage regular reviews of decisions made and their outcomes. This reflection helps teams learn from their actions and improves their decision-making.




Teams “adapting” beyond the foundational techniques of Leadership Mindset and embracing it as they become more proficient should focus on the following improvements.

  • The What: Refuses to start initiatives until others are finished to maintain flow.
    • The How: From a flow perspective in product development, maintaining a balance where work starts and finishes at the same rate is crucial to sustaining efficiency and productivity, which directly ties into Little's Law. This law, a fundamental theorem in queueing theory, posits that the number of items in a queuing system is equal to the rate at which items arrive multiplied by the average time they spend in the system. It presumes a stable system where the arrival rate and departure rate of tasks are the same.
      • In a practical sense, when new work items are initiated faster than they're completed, it leads to an accumulation known as 'work in progress' (WIP). Excessive WIP can lead to longer cycle times, increased context-switching, resource inefficiencies, and overall, a delay in delivering value to customers. To apply the principles of Little's Law and ensure that arrival and departure rates are matched, agile teams need to focus intently on the age of the work items.
      • One strategy is emphasizing the completion of tasks already started. By prioritizing aging work, teams can reduce the time items spend in the queue, thereby optimizing flow and keeping cycle times predictable. This practice often involves detailed daily reviews of work items, identifying bottlenecks, and planning to expedite the processing of older tasks. Simultaneously, teams should be cautious about initiating new work. Introducing new work to the system can increase cycle times and disrupt the steady state required for Little's Law to hold. By being selective and strategic about starting new tasks, teams can maintain a smoother, more predictable flow. Both strategies require a culture of daily awareness and discipline regarding work item age, coupled with a willingness to adapt to work methods as individual tasks dictate.
      • Regularly tracking and visualizing the flow of work items (using methods like Kanban boards) can also support these efforts, offering precise visual representations of work aging and its implications on the system's overall flow. This approach doesn't just keep workloads manageable but also helps teams become more responsive, efficient, and capable of delivering consistent value.
      • For a deeper dive into this topic, we recommend reading this Pocket Guide. We also recommend reading this white paper from Dr. Little himself, which can be found here
  • The What: Encourages transparency, risks, and experiments and are not afraid of failure because it generates learning
    • The How: Encouraging an environment of transparency and experimentation within an agile team requires a cultural shift where team members feel safe to disclose risks, try new methods, and not fear the repercussions of failure. To begin, the team should foster open communication, where regular discussions are held about ongoing processes, successes, and setbacks. These dialogues can be integrated into daily stand-ups or retrospective meetings, ensuring they become a routine part of the team's operations.
      • Additionally, the team must reframe its perception of failure, understanding it as a stepping stone to innovation rather than a setback. This perspective can be embedded into the team's ethos through the celebration and detailed examination of "successful failures" — instances where a failed attempt has led to critical insights or new opportunities. Sharing these stories helps to normalize the inherent risks of experimentation and underscores the value of lessons learned from these attempts.
      • Leadership also plays a crucial role by actively endorsing a trial-and-error approach and recognizing endeavors that demonstrate bold thinking, regardless of their outcome. When leaders highlight these efforts, it signals a commitment to a learning culture where growth is derived from achievements and mistakes. 
      • Creating a buffer to accommodate the fallout from risks — such as allocating time for exploration phases during sprints or setting aside resources specifically for trial projects — can alleviate the pressure of immediate success. This strategic cushion gives team members the liberty to explore without the strain of jeopardizing the project's critical objectives.
      • Lastly, encouraging documentation of all experiments, irrespective of their outcome, ensures that valuable knowledge is retained and accessible. This practice makes it clear that every attempt, successful or otherwise, contributes to the team's collective intelligence and mastery of their craft.


Teams “optimizing” beyond the foundational techniques of Leadership Mindset and embracing it as they become more proficient should focus on the following improvements.

  • The What: Are committed to shifting the focus from outputs (i.e., initiatives, features) to solving problems and measuring outcomes.
    • The How: Shifting the focus from outputs to solving problems and measuring outcomes is a transformative process for any Agile team. It involves a fundamental reassessment of the approach, mindset, and techniques employed in product development and management. 
      • Firstly, teams need to redefine success in terms of problem-solving and impact rather than ticking off a list of features. This paradigm shift starts with goal-setting at the project's onset, where the emphasis should be on the user problems the team aims to solve or the customer needs they intend to meet. Objectives should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) to ensure they are realistically actionable and grounded in addressing real-world issues.
      • Incorporating LeanUX principles, the team should advocate for a hypothesis-driven development approach. Here, every feature or part of the product is seen as a hypothesis that needs to be validated. Teams create a hypothesis statement for each significant change, outlining their assumptions and predictions regarding its impact. They then devise experiments or develop minimum viable products (MVPs) that validate or invalidate these hypotheses in the real world. 
        • For example, instead of saying, "We will create a feature X," the team says, "We believe that by creating feature X, we will achieve outcome Y as measured by metric Z." This approach ensures that every initiative starts with a clear expectation of the outcome and a defined way of measuring its success or failure. LeanUX promotes a more iterative approach to design and development, urging teams to produce the smallest testable product increments. These are then exposed to real users to gather feedback, learn, and iterate. This continual loop of building, measuring, and learning accelerates the team's understanding of what users genuinely need, thus focusing development on outcomes and problem-solving.
      • Teams should regularly review the actual impact of their work against their predicted outcomes. They need to be diligent in their data collection methods, ensuring they are gathering meaningful metrics that accurately reflect the effectiveness of their solutions in addressing the identified problems. These reviews often lead to insights that can redirect the team’s focus, helping to avoid investing time in features that don't contribute to meaningful outcomes.
      • Finally, this shift in focus must be mirrored in the team's communication with stakeholders. Regular updates, reports, and meetings should all underscore the problems being addressed, the hypotheses being tested, and the outcomes of those tests. By changing the narrative from what has been done to what has been learned, the team reinforces the value of focusing on outcomes and problem-solving.



In essence, nurturing a Leadership Mindset within a team is an ongoing journey, crucial for catalyzing growth, resilience, and effectiveness in an agile context. As teams progress through the stages of Developing, Emerging, Adapting, and Optimizing, they unlock new dimensions of leadership capabilities, enriching their collective wisdom and operational agility. This journey is not just about individual growth but about creating a synergetic environment where each member's leadership potential is recognized and harnessed for the collective good. Agile coaches and team leaders play a pivotal role in guiding this transformation, embedding a culture of continuous learning, innovation, and shared accountability. By prioritizing a Leadership Mindset, teams are better equipped to navigate complexities, adapt to changes, and achieve sustained success in their endeavors. It's a commitment to not just achieving goals, but elevating the entire process of working collaboratively towards a shared vision. To gain deeper insights and evaluate your team's current standing in this journey, engaging with comprehensive tools such as our free agile assessment for Team Agility can provide invaluable perspective and guidance.