IKIGAI – A FORMULA FOR SUCCESSFUL AGILE TEAM LEADERSHIP

by Basilis Kanonidis

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What is your team’s reason for being? Do they even know? When asked, most teams will say their reason for being is to build a feature or a product. To ship it. And after it’s shipped? Does the team still have a reason for being? Or do we dissolve them, lose that cohesion, camaraderie, shared experience and efficiency? The interesting thing is that in a continuous world, shipping the product is just the beginning of the conversation. Since our digital products can be updated and improved continuously, a team’s reason for being must be something more than just, “ship it.” Right?

As part of writing my new book, Forever Employable, I was looking for a way to visualize an individual’s passions and expertise to help the reader determine where to plant a flag and build a platform of thought leadership content. It was pointed out to me that the concept I described resembled very closely the Japanese idea of ikigai.

 

Ikigai translates into, “the reason you get out of bed in the morning.” It’s your reason for being. The Japanese have been applying this concept to their personal lives for generations. Why, then, can’t we think about applying this same framework to our teams? Why can’t we give them a reason for getting out of bed in the morning and doing the best work of their lives every day? Turns out, we can.

Let’s start with mission. The organization you work for has one. Do you know what it is? Does it inspire you? As leaders of teams we need to be clear to our teams that they are a part of that mission. For example, we’re not “building a payment system” but instead, “empowering low-income workers around the world to get paid fairly for their work.”

Clarifying that the work we’re doing is what the world needs is a good next step. At a time with so much uncertainty and potential energy for meaningful change, especially for underrepresented and disenfranchised people, connecting the team’s work to the good it will do in the world can only strengthen that desire to get out of bed every morning.

Rewarding and developing skills in our teams to ensure that what they are good at (i.e., the thing you hired them to do) only improves with the work they’re contributing to the team drives the kind of loyalty, passion and motivation for the work and increases the likelihood they will continue to love what they do every day.

Finally, fair and equal pay free from discrimination of any kind and coupled with a transparent promotion ladder ensures that the people you hire and the skills you’ve developed in them continue to help the team, the organization and the customers of that organization be successful. Because at some point, the folks on your team will be in a position to lead their own team. The example you set for them now will be the one they carry forward with them in the future.

Basing your agile leadership style on ikigai creates psychological safety for your teams. The transparency it inspires to clearly articulate each component of the team’s reason for being is the motivation for that team. The team understands the context of their work and the potential positive impact it could have on your customers and the world. They love what they do and continue to get better at it. They support each other, learn and are rewarded for their efforts in various ways. Isn’t that much better than just “ship it?”

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