Presentation: 3 Disciplines for Leading a Distributed Agile Organization

Track: Leading Distributed Teams

Location: Mountbatten, 6th flr.

Duration: 2:55pm - 3:45pm

Day of week: Wednesday

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What You’ll Learn

  1. Hear about the challenges working in a distributed environment.
  2. Learn about some of the practices that help teams working in a distributed or partially distributed setting.


Modern organizations are digital and distributed worldwide.  How can you lead people you may never see in your distributed organization? Your personal operating system drives your leadership and guides your organization.   While your distributed employees may rarely connect with you beyond a video screen, phone call or chat message, you can model that personal operating system that helps you and them navigate the complexities of a distributed agile organization.   In this talk, we will explore three key disciplines composing your personal operating system for leadership: manage change through experimentation, amplify communication and collaboration, and focus on principles over practices.


What are you working on today?


Currently, I work as an internal Agile coach for an organization called Sonatype, which is completely distributed. We all work from our homes. As an Agile coach, I help them understand how their teams can work, how management can work, how product management can work, and how executives can work in this environment where they don't bump into each other in the hallways every day. Instead, it's how do we make things more visible, but in an online manner? So we'd know how everyone's working together and working well together. I do a number of things in that coaching space for that organization. Previously I did that for many different organizations from start ups to Fortune 50s.


What's your goal for the talk?


With distributed organizations, change gets turned up to 11 for these teams and these organizations, and so learning how to successfully navigate that change, but also to allow anybody in the organization to navigate that change is some of the disciplines that I'll be talking about in the session and giving them many different examples, but also some principles to keep in mind as they look at: how do we navigate this particular change or maybe we were surprised by something and how do we more successfully react to that surprise? So it could be a planned change or could be a surprise. And how do we enable everyone in your organization to react well to that?


Is there a common pitfall that this would help overcome?


Yes. The term "best practices" can sometimes be an oxymoron, especially with those people who are familiar with Agile practices in a co-located environment. They will try to map many of those practices into a distributed environment. And you get people that are up at 3:00 a.m. for a stand up or planning meeting and they're not coherent at all. So how do you expect them to work well or think at all? Avoid those best practices that work in other contexts, instead look at how do we change, how do we adapt what we know is important about those practices? What's the principles behind them and how do we make them work well in our new distributed context?


Does the talk cover cases where the team is partially collocated and partially distributed?


I'll talk a little bit about that. I've worked with teams where the majority were in one location and you had a few people remote, like satellites. I refer to that as satellite teams because you have these people orbiting the main group. I've worked with companies where you've got clusters of people in different locations and you end up with mini cultures that you have to navigate. And then where I'm at now, we're completely distributed, which is actually more of an advantage because you have everyone with the same way of connecting. So you don't have the in-office and the out of office communications to wrestle with. So it's different. But people tend to adapt well if you put the right environment in place. That's what I'll be talking about.

Speaker: Mark Kilby

Distributed Coach/Mentor & Community Cultivator

Find Mark Kilby at

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