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The 8 (un)Truths about Chapter Leads

By Tom Van der Eecken

Chapter Lead at BNP Paribas Fortis

‘When BNP Paribas Fortis made the switch from a traditional to an agile way of working, I was already a team manager. So I had to choose. Would I go for more project-based leadership as a product owner? Or would I adopt more of a coaching role as a Chapter Lead? I chose the second option. Even though I was not immediately sure how to make that choice, since the role did not exist in the bank at the time. That is what these eight (un)truths about Chapter Leads are for. To give you more insights in the job.’

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So just for starters ...

Why did I have to choose? Well, in agile you don’t have traditional teams headed up by a manager. Teams consist of various roles working together on projects. Squads. They define their own goals independently and decide how to reach them. A number of squads make up a tribe. As for a Chapter Lead, they support people within a tribe but in different squads, who are in the same role.

With me so far?

      1.     A Chapter Lead Is a Manager.

Yes, but not in the way you think. People need coaching and self-development, quite apart from their projects. That is why Chapter Leads take care of specific roles within a tribe. In my case, until recently these were the product owners. That was quite helpful for me, because I had been a product owner for a long time.

     2.     A Chapter Lead Is a Specialist Expert.

They might be, but they don’t have to. As long as you have enough knowledge of the world in which your people are operating. You do at least need to understand what they are doing so that you can talk to them about the content of their job or their expertise. Without getting too technical about it. In fact, it could be better if you are not actually an expert, because then you will look at things from a different angle.

     3.     It Is All about People.

That’s right. If there is something that really energises me (and helped me to make my choice), it has to be working with people. Helping them to arrive at new insights. Making sure they feel OK. Helping them to grow. Working together on a development plan. Coaching. So people are the thread that runs right through everything you are responsible for.

     4.     So a Chapter Lead Is a Coach.

Of course. However, we are also responsible for recruiting new people for the squads. And we have to consult with the tribe management about strategy, budgets and risks. Finally, all the Chapter Leads together make up a guild, in which they can share experiences and learn from each other. But we also gather feedback and suggestions for HR from what we have experienced. In a nutshell, it is a very open culture

     5.     A Chapter Lead Does Not Have to Provide Guidance.

Of course they do! People are responsible for their own personal development. If I notice it is not happening, I let them know. In the end, we are working for a company that has ambitions, strategies and results that need to be achieved. The freedom that you are given at work also entails a responsibility that you have to take up.

     6.     A Chapter Lead Is Not Concerned about Strategy.

Incorrect. Motivating people to put their weight behind the business strategy is actually very important. You need to be able to explain the “why’s” in terms they understand, so they know in practice what it will mean for them and their tribe. Of course we discuss that with the tribe management first, to make sure we are all on the same wavelength.

     7.     Building Confidence Is Crucial.

Yes, but that is of course true for all forms of leadership. Certainly if you are new or going through a job switch. The people don’t know you yet, so it is important to be vulnerable and create a safe environment. That will help them to talk about things that might not be going so well. Together you can gradually work out which are the stronger areas and which ones are not so strong.

     8.     Agile Is Chaos.

Not at all! Agile means a lot less hierarchy than in the past, which means you can change tack faster and work more effectively. That is much better. I don’t understand how some companies are still able to work in the traditional way. After the switch, it does take a while for it to really become a way of life. The role of a Chapter Lead is very important in making that transition.


Jef and Emily, our first two Chapter Leads.  Join them now!