As a modern leader, you’ve banished control from your toolkit, so what are you left with? Your new job is to replace it with an environment that promotes innovation. A place that allows your teams to navigate a clear path toward a meaningful goal.

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Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash

Get it right and your teams will flourish. They’ll find flow: experimenting, failing, learning, discovering, making a breakthrough and releasing. Surfing the edge of chaos in a complex sea.

An innovative environment is built on 6 foundational elements. A place where people can be collaborative, responsible, experimental, value-focused, autonomous and transparent.


Creativity comes from the interplay of diverse viewpoints challenging and iterating with a focus on a common goal. Make the goal shared and meaningful, the rules clear and fair and wrap them with a physical space where people can come together.


People take responsibility when you let go of control. When you ask people to solve a pressing problem, your teams’ work becomes more meaningful and can take on a healthy intensity. Work together to set a shared goal with the team and let them decide how they want to achieve it. …

It’s killing your value

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My work starts with listening, and the story I hear is often a tragedy. The business teams frustrate the development teams. The development team frustrate the business teams. A chasm forms where respect, understanding and trust withers. Crucial collaboration sinks into the void. Value creation slows to a crawl. Frustration runs riot.

This plotline is avoidable. The story should be a rousing quest — biz and dev teams standing side by side in search of value.

Why does the chasm appear, how do we close it and how do we create organisations that avoid it ever forming? But before we get into practicalities lets start with some helpful principles to help our heroes on their…

For years I followed the typical Scrum team model where product owners worked with teams of developers and if I was lucky, testers and designers. Primed with user stories, the teams delivered working software but it rarely delighted. We were falling short of our potential.

The development team needed to share a greater purpose. They wanted to solve problems that mattered to people, not just build what was asked for. They were seen as deliverers of working software, so it follows that their purpose becomes just that. …

Why do established software companies stop growing? Most startups fail because they don’t find a strong product/market fit. Marc Andreessen describes this as when “The customers aren’t quite getting value out of the product, word of mouth isn’t spreading, usage isn’t growing that fast, press reviews are kind of “blah”, the sales cycle takes too long, and lots of deals never close.” Do established companies fall prey to the same problem? Is your company’s product/market fit strong enough to generate growth?

Product/Market fit isn’t binary, you can have enough to be viable but not enough to grow. When companies start selling they assume they have it. They become busy supporting their customers and strive to sell more. But landing your first few sales doesn’t guarantee you’ve achieved a fit that will generate growth. If you move out of discovery mode and into delivery mode growth will stall. …



Modern Software Teams are often given a high level of autonomy. Autonomy is a prerequisite for creativity and continual improvement. Without boundaries autonomy can lead to paralysis and inconsistent architecture.

The pattern is drawn from the following observations:

  1. Autonomy gives the feeling of freedom that drives us
  2. Autonomy can cause fear and anxiety. For many of us school taught us to follow instructions, and disobedience lead to punishment. Limiting autonomy can reduce fear and anxiety.
  3. Without autonomy we blame problems on things outside of our control. With autonomy we can take responsibility.
  4. Autonomy gives us the opportunity to improve the way we work and the opportunity to naively repeat past mistakes. …


Tom Howlett

is creating something new (and running in the ⛰) @CheltenhamGeeks organiser.

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