Embracing uncertainty on the road to new ways of working

With 30 years of experience in the finance industry and over 15 of those in leadership roles I, like most leaders, would like to think I’ve adapted to and have been able to embrace a number of leadership methodologies over time. 

However, after only two months of leading Bankwest’s transformation towards new ways of working with the launch of our first tribe, I realise that while there have been many positive influences on the way I lead, none have been greater than the agile model.

Our transformation is definitely the largest organisational and cultural shift I have ever known at Bankwest; it’s a shift that will eventually impact the entire business and it’s already truly challenging our way of leading and working in this new, increasingly digital world.

Previously we’ve often looked to our leaders to solve the problems and provide detailed direction but now we’re actively harnessing the strength of our organisation by empowering colleagues to test and learn from their ideas.

And it would frankly be disingenuous if I were to say it’s an easy transformational process. Moving away from direct leadership into a ‘matrix’ approach at times feels like relinquishing control of the solution and shifting mindsets to new ways of working and thinking is definitely a challenge.

My first impression of working in the agile environment was a feeling of a lack of ‘structure’ with apparently no clear ownership or decision making channels. However, once the new model began to bed in, it became very clear that nothing could be further from the truth. The agile model in fact provides a visible structure, clear accountabilities and an incredible environment of empowerment and motivation for the team.

Agile doesn’t mean lessened accountability; in fact it increases accountability as the squads and tribes use their varied skillsets to reach shared outcomes and make decisions that are informed through close collaboration.

And for me, this term ‘collaboration’ isn’t just a buzz word, it’s a revelation. The incredible energy and buzz from the colleagues when they’re in the zone is something to behold and to be cherished within our workplace. It’s already enhancing our culture and unifying our teams and most importantly, bringing incredible benefits by meeting customer needs and delivering improved customer experiences at pace.

Naturally, when we’re going through these transitions we seek support from leaders who have been on a similar path to better understand the challenges ahead of us, but if there is one thing over and above this that I would offer as a key learning in this new leadership path, it’s to actually embrace the uncertainty. 

Uncertainty creates opportunities to truly challenge your thinking and allows your team to realise this is a learning path, one that will truly expand your innovation and move you closer towards embracing these new ways of working, rather than revert to a place of safety and complacency.

To sum up my experiences, I’d say that leading in this agile culture is definitely less about owning and more about sharing.  I’ve seen how this approach builds improved communication, trust, knowledge and therefore increases our ability to deliver for our customers. 

I frankly can’t see the possibility of ever returning to the delivery of projects via the established waterfall approach, which traditionally involve months of planning and months of production, leading to a delivery so far down the path that an organisation can at times lose sight of the true objective – the customer.

There are definitely bumps and challenges along the way as teams form and develop, but it’s very rewarding to be part of a cultural wave that strengthens our capability in order to meet customers’ rapidly changing needs in this digital age.

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