Tailor-made, pragmatic agile in a team of consultants

Written by Sarah Spitz, on 09 January 2019

In 2015, Karima was the functional manager of a cross-generational team, ranging from millennials to seniors, tasked with ambitious goals for the year. How could she motivate and organize the team's work to achieve these objectives?

As a "mere" functional manager, Karima didn't have access to the traditional motivation levers, the famous carrot and equally famous stick. However, faced with the team's annual goals, it was crucial to address the issue. Moreover, as tax consultants, client visits were frequent, and there was little shared time for coordination on different projects. Karima delved into the theories of Edward Deci and the ideas advocated by Daniel Pink, Isaac Getz, and Frederic Laloux. She also explored the social innovation model experimented by the Poult group. It was a revelation: breaking away from the paradigm of other managers in the company, Karima decided to stimulate the intrinsic motivation of her team. Alone, without seeking external assistance. That's how Karima is.


She gathered the team, announced the ambitious goals they would have to achieve, and expressed the need to find another system that works. Of course, her speech was carefully prepared. Instead of focusing on quantitative arguments, she emphasized the emotional aspect and expressed the hope that the team would experiment with and adopt new practices that combine performance and fulfillment at work, to strengthen the team and give meaning to all the time spent working. It must have been quite a speech since, in the end, all team members were enthusiastic: not a single die-hard Gaul protested!

Now what?

Previously, each team member had individual clients and goals. But that was before. That year, Karima switched to collective goals based on annual turnover and deliverables to empower her colleagues and create a real team dynamic and cohesion. Her first action was to ask each team member what they thought they could deliver over the year. The responses materialized with sticky notes on boards representing the year divided into months. Then, she simply collected the sticky notes to create common goals. For some of the juniors, the exercise was not necessarily easy: she then revised the schedule with them and helped them readjust their goals to certain realities.

You might wonder: empowering the team through collective goals is a nice idea, but how do you ensure follow-up?

The answer may horrify some agile purists who strictly adhere to ritual respect, but too bad: the solution Karima found was to pragmatically and consciously draw from Scrum rituals!

She divided the year into months, which she represented on a visible Scrum board for everyone, outlining progress on each individual's commitments. The goal was to see what others were doing but also to make visible the files that were not progressing. A direct result of this practice: Karima quickly noticed spontaneous mutual assistance: "Are you a bit overwhelmed right now? I'm free in the coming weeks, do you want me to help?" In the first month, quick wins were prioritized as much as possible to give a good motivation boost from the start.

Once a week, there was a retrospective of the week, and once a month... (suspense): the retrospective of the month. The first took half an hour, and the second took an hour since it also included the sprint planning for the next month.

If everyone was excited after Karima's speech, it must be admitted that some resistance manifested in the implementation of this system. Some found that they were working much more than others. And it was true. But thanks to visual management, after 2 months, imbalances were immediately visible. So, in the end, the activity ended up self-regulating: imbalances, quickly made visible, were adjusted from one sprint to the next. For Karima, everyone played along because they were happy that, for once, they weren't told how to do things, as long as the results were there. Everyone felt valued: seniors brought their expertise to juniors who learned and appreciated the autonomy.

So, very quickly, it became evident: the team would overperform. It may sound very simple when put that way. But the success of this new way of working was only possible through the implementation of specific key factors.

A first element is the chosen governance: Karima was inspired by Poult, which had experimented with rotating leadership. Karima took on the role of a regular team member (she, in this capacity, took on production missions like everyone else), and each month a new sprint leader animated the team. Everyone got a turn, even the assistant. This revealed some people who were usually more reserved. Yes! Change the context, and behavior will change too. No need for training; it all happened very naturally.

Another key factor is Karima's exemplarity. Seeing that the manager was engaging so much encouraged others to do the same (exemplarity is the best way to influence!). For her, adopting a coaching posture rather than a team leader made a difference as well. Take an example: when faced with choosing between 2 prioritized files, where a command-and-control manager would have decided, Karima preferred to give the collaborator advice based on her own experience to help them find a solution themselves. However, of course, she kept the financial objectives in mind: Karima is far from the concept of well-being at work as an end in itself.

At the end of the year, the assessment is extremely positive: the team outperformed their objectives, not only compared to their goals but also in comparison to other teams that year. No major conflicts to report either; on the contrary, there were laughter, a downplaying of certain situations that could have been challenging with clients, and shared enthusiasm. In short, it was not only effective but also very enjoyable.

We're talking about all this in the past tense simply because since 2016, this agility model has been extended to the entire Business Unit.