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Ways an RTE Leads and Supports Agile Teams

leading agile teams as an rte

Is Release Train Engineer critical for an Agile Release Train (ART)? Absolutely yes.

Is the job of Release Train Engineer Easy? Not at all.

Lets double click on what way, you as an RTE, can lead and support Agile Teams !

As a Release Train Engineer (RTE), you are responsible for enabling alignment, productivity, and relentless improvement across dozens of teams and over hundred professionals towards a unified business objective. Yet you have little formal authority. No direct reporting chains. No budgets to wield.

How is driving such large-scale, multi-dimensional progress possible then in this empowered network model?

Through servant leadership – the mindset that great leaders live by to enable the success of those positioned closest to the action. Your influence as an RTE is rooted in the trust teams place in you based on consistency in supporting their needs.

You, as an RTE, are expected to lead and support teams in their SAFe transformation. Here are few – coaching the teams, helping them develop new skills and cascading vision to all the teams. However they are not the only responsibilities. It goes beyond these…

This also means 

  • Not just coaching teams, but protecting them 
  • Not just developing skills, but removing roadblocks thwarting execution 
  • Not just cascading vision, but making it tangible through regular storytelling

Leading in an Agile context is an act of service through empowering each team’s self-direction.

This post will share some specific, tactical ways you as an RTE can model servant leadership day-to-day to guide your Agile Release Train in achieving remarkable outcomes through inspired, empowered teams.

The keywords here are consistency and care. Apply these leadership practices with discipline and empathy until they become muscle memory. When teams witness these behaviors positively impacting their results, culture shifts occur as engagement and performance rise.

So read on to understand how leading from behind and lifting those closest to the work can accelerate train velocity more than any formal mandate. By focusing on enhancing each team’s readiness, you equip the train for excellence. Time now to dig into the details.

Foster Psychological Safety 

Creating an environment where team members feel safe to express ideas, ask questions, and take risks with input is pivotal for high performing Agile teams. As the RTE, focusing intentionally on fostering psychological safety pays dividends in unlocking teams’ full potential.

You set the tone for safety through consistent behaviors – reacting calmly under pressure, actively listening without judgement, and reinforcing contributions even when redirecting course. Model transparency by acknowledging your own knowledge gaps. Make it ok to respectfully challenge concepts by first seeking understanding.

Train team leads on recognizing exclusion patterns in conversations whether stemming from rank or gender bias. Coach them on inclusive facilitation tactics, like directly involving introverts in discussions with warm, curious questioning.

If errors or issues emerge, adopt blameless retrospectives focused on systemic process adjustments rather than calling out individuals. Separate intent from impact when harm occurs. Build empathy skills across teams for non-defensive conflict resolution.

Ensure teams and leadership own safety practices through pulse checks at the end of each PI planning and Inspect & Adapt events. Survey results guide you on where to further model vulnerability and curiosity to keep an advancing environment.

Fostering psychological safety requires continuous nurturing, but returns long term gains for Agile Release Trains by enabling candour, creative abrasion, and full synergy across remarkable people. Make this a priority in your RTE leadership.

Coach Through Questioning 

Masterful inquiry is an underutilized skill that unlocks fresh thinking and accountability when coaching teams. Rather than providing solutions, RTEs who coach through questioning spark deeper insights and ownership.

Start by listening intently when teams surface problems or decisions needed. Resist the reflex to offer immediate ideas. Instead, respond with probing open-ended questions that redirect teams’ focus to untapped potentials.

Ask “what if” questions to widen the possibility space – “What if we engaged customers earlier for input?” Use “why is this important?” questions to realign teams to purpose for renewed motivation.

Get to root causes with “why” questions asked multiple times to unwrap layers on assumptions made. Rephrase team statements as questions to spur self-inspection – “Are we fully leveraging prior customer research insights?”

Coach teams on framing their own probing questions to unlock innovation. Ask them “What questions do you still need to answer?” to guide discovery. Equip them with inquiry tools like the 5 Whys and Cause & Effect mapping.

Sometimes solutions can only come from teams themselves, but the right questions from an RTE coach can get them there faster by expanding thinking horizons. Keep building your inquiry skills through daily practice.

Remove Roadblocks

A primary duty of servant leadership is clearing obstacles so teams can set their full focus on execution excellence. As the RTE, take proactive steps to identify and remove the inevitable roadblocks that will hinder team productivity.

Routinely walk the floor to maintain pulse on team challenges as they arise. Make the first question you ask in standups “What is blocking you from making progress this iteration?” Teach teams to frame barriers as actionable needs versus just complaints.

Don’t let teams spin their wheels on bureaucratic distractions. Intercept non-urgent compliance requests, handle fixed assets procurement, unstick hiring, chase down dependencies from other groups. Absorb the logistical headaches so teams can code, test and deploy.

When resourcing shortages surface, quantify impacts through data-driven capacity planning reports. Escalate requests with urgency backing up teams in what they need to meet PI Objectives. Say no to additional scope increases that erode focus.

If legacy tools or systems constrain delivery speeds, secure funding for evaluating new solutions. Guide teams in building proof of concepts to demonstrate advantages. Make the investment case for upgrades based on quantified productivity gains.

While you can’t eliminate all impediments, relentless roadblock busting by the RTE prevents frustrations from accumulating into major delivery bottlenecks. Enable velocity through vigilantly removing distractions.

Encourage Healthy Conflict 

Conflict avoidance stifles speed and innovation. As an RTE, you play a vital role in nurturing healthy debate that surfaces the best solutions. Guide teams on resolving differences through respectful dissent focused on concepts versus involving personalities.

Train teams on debate tactics that enforce psychological safety – assuming positive intent, attacking ideas not people, balancing inquiry with advocacy. Establish group norms that value challenges based on merits to foster trust.

When disagreements happen, don’t rush to quick consensus that suppresses minority views. Teach techniques like the conflict continuum to determine optimal resolution approaches based on issue severity.

Model engaging openly on disputes through behavior – remaining poised, actively listening, asking clarifying questions. Demonstrate separating interpersonal frictions from concept tensions.

For emotionally-charged issues, enforce cooled off periods for individuals to reflect independently before reconvening. Defuse tensions through reinforcing the team’s collective commitment to delivering outcomes.

Leverage tools like design thinking which structures healthy dissent through probing assumptions, expanding possibilities before defining solutions.

Reward challenges that identify improvement areas even if it disrupts harmony. Build team maturity through regularly airing conflict and exercising resolution muscle.

While messy in real-time, healthy conflict yields collective intelligence unlocking mission impact over the long run. Guide teams here as an enabling leader.

Develop Team Maturity 

High performing Agile teams demonstrate behaviors like self-organization, continuous improvement and resilience to setbacks. As an RTE you play a key role in advancing team maturity to exhibit these traits through intentional development.

Start by assessing the key dimensions of team effectiveness – technical skills, collaboration competencies, delivery disciplines etc. Identify gaps for each team against what excellence entails for those dimensions.

Build quantitative maturity models detailing characteristics of initial, emerging, defined, and optimizing competencies levels. Use Agile Fluency models or Tuckman’s stages as templates. Make assessments engaging through team reflection workshops versus top-down evaluations.

Align teams to realistic maturity advancement goals for the quarter based on their starting baselines. Co-create improvement backlogs together translating gaps into capability building initiatives. Guide teams to bite-size increments that stabilize gains.

Provide resources like training time, mentoring support and tools investment needed to close gaps. Implement consistent practices across teams through communities of practice sharing learnings as they implement improvements.

Reinforce new behaviors through daily interactions – appreciating small acts of agility, redirecting adjustments calmly, questioning to enlighten versus dictate. Track quantitative maturity indicators to spotlight progress.

Maturing team abilities may seem intangible but structure and care from their RTE coach builds incrementally over time into high performance engines powering the train.

Promote Continuous Improvement 

Sustaining an adaptive, learning culture across Agile teams separates good from great trains. As RTE, you play a leading role in promoting continuous improvement as a habit. Guide teams to regularly reflect, tune processes, and implement changes that move key metrics.

Start by instituting regular retrospectives for teams to inspect ways of working, identify bright spots and highlight areas needing adjustment. Teach techniques like gather data, generate insights, decide actions to enable fruitful sessions.

Support teams in reserving innovation time every iteration to experiment with enhancement ideas surfaced through retrospectives. Allocate coaching and infrastructural resources for proof of concepts to demonstrate benefits.

For promising improvement proposals, have teams frame change stories to embed in backlogs for prioritization like any feature. This structure gives space to adapt ways of working. Actively track progress during standups to signal importance.

As changes get implemented, maintain focus on measuring quantitative impacts rather than just outputs delivered. Pivot course if targets are missed after fair trial periods. Codify adjustments that move metrics into team standard workflows.

Foster connections between teams to cross-pollinate creative ideas for enhancing practices. While customizing team workflows, also syncretize improvements at train level through communities of practice.

Empowering Agile teams for constant improvement creates compounds by building on previous strengths iteration to iteration, powering the train towards exponential outcomes.

Connect Teams to Business Vision 

The press of immediate deliverables can obscure team connection to the value purpose behind features. As RTE, continually reconnect teams back to customer and market realities that underpin solutions built to restore meaning.

Counter workforce fragmentation by maintaining a constant compass towards the business North Star– whether it be revenue growth, customer retention or market leadership. Orient teams to metrics that indicate value outcomes versus output measures alone.

Bridge insight gaps between leadership setting strategy and teams executing tasks through clear, repetitive communication. Share market analysis, user interviews and competitive research to inspire teams on the “why” fueling priorities.

Counter daily routine with immersive sessions for teams to directly apply products themselves through customer shoes – user testing, design sprints, value stream mapping end-to-end experiences. Make human needs vivid through storytelling around personas.

Use rituals like Quarterly Business Reviews for leadership to resync teams on evolving business landscapes that reshape priorities. Timeline market inflections teams must equip products for through capabilities built.

Embedding Agile teams within real-world contexts, consequences and users their solutions serve pays compounding returns in engagement, innovation and, ultimately, customer delight.

Enable Self-Organization 

The signature trait of truly Agile teams is the autonomy for groups across functions to steer their own workflows. RTEs show leadership not through command, but by enabling self-organization across all train teams.

Start by giving teams problems to solve without prescribed solutions. For example, surface excessive rework as an issue and have teams run workshops on root causes and improvements versus directing specific fixes.

Facilitate decision-making frameworks while letting teams own formation of options and select final paths. Require evidence-based evaluations guiding choices but leave room for creative proposals.

During standups and team syncs, resist the temptation to be overly directive. Even when redirecting course, ask questions prompting teams to reflect on better paths themselves to build true ownership.

Coach leaders to strengthen facilitation skills for eliciting diverse inputs across team members. Have them run review debriefs for surfacing what adjustments members would make themselves.

Enable self-organization also by fully resourcing teams on their needs – whether responsive tooling, skills development or environmental updates. Balance autonomy by reviewing results teams produce regularly.

Igniting intrinsic motivation through self-direction separates the great Agile teams from the good ones. Take daily steps here as their RTE champion.

Celebrate Small Wins 

Progress fuels emotional momentum for teams to sustain high performance. As an enabling leader, celebrate small wins through informal rituals that inspire while aligning to results.

Build awareness of milestone achievements by having team leads share 1-2 wins in your weekly RTE syncs, whether feature releases, defects resolved or tech debt paid down. Spotlight contributions of varied team members.

Make stand-ups positive by having teams start with appreciations of progress made, before raising impediments, to reinforce forward motion. Model specific, sincere recognitions.

Celebrate small acts of collaboration that strengthen team trust like mentoring, candid feedback, standing in for peers. Boost these positive deviance behaviours through public praise in meetings.

Beyond verbal kudos, use symbolic rewards judiciously that align to team affinities – whether food treats, meme shoutouts, or posting trophies displaying metrics achieved.

For bigger milestones, mark major feature releases with ritual events like system demo viewings with business leaders followed by informal team gatherings. Make space for joy and camaraderie.

Use small wins to connect teams to larger missions. Remind them of the user value their incremental progress enables, keeping motivation and momentum high.

Fuel the pursuit of excellence through frequent, authentic small acts of celebration by their sideline RTE cheerleader.

Lead by Example 

As the RTE, while your formal authority may be limited, your influence is proportional to visible credibility built through walking the talk. Demonstrate the mindsets and practices you coach teams on through daily behaviors.

Model bold aspirations balanced with disciplined execution – laying out big hairy audacious goals while planning incremental steps grounded in reality needed to get there.

Display resilience in the face of setbacks – pausing to reflect on learnings from failures before bouncing back with renewed wisdom. Bring calm and focus when facing uncertainty by reinforcing connections to vision.

Champion innovation through carving out time for teams to experiment with promising but raw ideas. Celebrate big thinking by highlighting insights even from “failed” pilots.

Set the pace for relentless solution seeking – sticking with complex problems until pathways emerge. Asking better questions versus settling for surface solutions.

Walk your own talk also through balancing patience with drive on progress – refusing victim mentality or finger pointing when issues emerge by taking ownership.

Agile principles manifest in the consistent behaviors leaders demonstrate especially under strain. RTEs who lead by example motivate teams more powerfully than any words communicated in meetings. Your works speak louder here.

Want to know how to become  Release Train Engineer? Just Enroll in our RTE certification course and become a certified RTE.


Leading without authority is challenging in a traditional model of top-down command and control. However, applying the servant leadership practices allows RTEs to guide their Agile Release Trains to high performance through influence earned over time.

As the RTE, your core duty is enabling those closest to the problem – your development teams – to deliver solutions imbued with quality, speed and collective ownership. Serve teams by fostering psychological safety for engagement and transparency. Coach through probing questions rather than directives. Actively remove impediments disrupting team productivity.

You also play a key role in advancing team maturity across technical, collaboration and delivery competencies. This means dedicating focus to continuous improvement by making reflection and incremental progress habits. Connect teams to the big picture business context so they own aligning daily priorities to customer value.

Beyond coaching and development, your behaviors demonstrate how to lead amid complexity. Model bold aspirations balanced with disciplined execution. Champion innovation while grounding experiments in reality. Display resilience, calm and solution-seeking under uncertainty.

In essence, progress happens not from commanding teams from the front, but clearing the path of obstacles from behind so they can gain momentum. Establish trust and safety through consistency in supporting teams in what they need to deliver excellence. Lead collaboratively through others by enabling coordinated autonomy.

As legendary coach Vince Lombardi once noted – “Leaders are made, they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.” Pay that price daily through selfless service to your teams. This commitment unlocks the Agile Release Train’s full potential.