HBR Article Recap
The following explores the HBR article: “For an Agile Transformation, Choose the Right People” by “identifying hidden stars”. To start, the authors’ make a far-reaching criticism. “Traditional practices for executing agile projects … often don’t pan out … Many large agile initiatives are ineffective … not only (do they) miss their goals but (this) also cause(s) organizational disruption—including staff burnout, the loss of key talent, and infighting among teams.”
By using Organizational Network Analysis (ONA), the authors could answer “what’s going wrong?” As Professor Rob Cross, one of the writers, stated elsewhere: ONA as a methodology “can provide an x-ray intothe inner workings of an organisation — a powerful means of making invisible patterns of information flow and collaboration in strategically important groups visible.” And as Michael Arena observed in kind: “ONA provides a new lens to evaluate how people show up in an organisation.” He made this comment when he was Chief Talent Officer, General Motors. Now three years later, he is VP Talent & Development at Amazon Web Services (AWS).
Accordingly, the HBR article authors were able to discern underlying human relational patterns that were “barriers undermin(ing) agile initiatives”. These barriers are like submerged reefs, invisible to the naked eye but dangerous impediments none the less.
It became clear the problem is how Agile teams are staffed. Or, more precisely, who’s chosen to lead these teams. The research findings reveal an over-reliance on those individual employees known already as “Star” Talent. “Companies err by staffing agile teams only with stars, isolating them from the main business, and dedicating members 100% to teams.” Accordingly, the author’s outline an approach to bypass these barriers.
They propose decision makers become aware of their organization’s “Hidden Stars.” Such individuals have the skill set and aptitude to be team leads. However, they’re generally unnoticed. Their light unseen hidden in the brilliance of the brightest stars, like the daytime sun.
Practically speaking, in comparison, those individual “hidden stars” “will be less overloaded, for agile initiatives.” Moreover, they are able to identify and reach out “to highly connected potential resources who can bring in expertise as needed.” The diagram below illustrates. While Jordon – the known star – is connected with key colleagues, Ahn – the hidden star – actually has the key relationships with key actors to be just as effective.
Accordingly, “Agile teams are not stand-alone entities; they’re embedded in broader collaborative networks. By taking that reality into account, leaders can design them so that they make the most of talent inside and outside teams, avoid overload and burnout, avert potential disruptions, and achieve their objectives better and faster.”
All Star Teams
Our resource enables an organization’s stakeholders to easily picture and optimize their individual and collective “star power”. This starts with empowering every member to see themselves and each other holistically. To appreciate what makes them unique and what they share in common. In this way, an organization’s “hidden stars” are brought to light. We call this an organization’s “Star Constellation” as illustrated below. For those working with Organizational Network Analysis, All Star Teams could potentially be of great value.
Rob Cross, Professor of Global Leadership, Babson College, Cofounder Connected Commons
Heidi K. Gardner, Distinguished Fellow, Harvard Law School, Cofounder Gardner & Co
Alia Crocker, Assistant Professor of Strategy, Babson College