How to start with tight-loose-tight



Rune Ulvnes

Agile philosophy has for many companies shifted internal responsibilities from the manager to the self-organizing team. For most Agile companies the leader still prevails, although in another form than previously. This article is written to help today's managers and leaders in finding their new role as an agile leader.

It is over ten years since I understood that I needed to communicate agile leadership in a better way to my clients. I saw a lot of client managers struggling with finding their role in the agile team, and this affected the agile implementation. Some clients went as far as firing managers not finding their new role, while others concluded that agile did not work and went back to their traditional waterfall methodology. Believing that everyone could change, even the most dominant and controlling manager, I put together the Tight Loose Tight (TLT) approach, inspired by scrum and my experience in agile leadership.

I am happy by the attention it has gotten both in Norway and worldwide. Companies like NAV and Telenor have used the model to explain how leaders could change their leadership style. Through the years I have had many reports from people using TLT, that the model has inspired themselves and colleagues to continue their agile journey.

I do think that the simplicity of the model is its strength. This is the core of TLT:

  • Tight: As a leader, you give a purpose or direction to your employee or team.
  • Loose: You trust your employee or team and allow them to self-organize.
  • Tight: You follow up on your employee or team from time to time for mutual learning.
The models have been designed using resources from 
The CoWork TLT learning model

Tight Loose Tight simplifies leadership discussions

What strikes me most about companies that have implemented TLT, is that they are using the different combinations of TLT in their daily language to explain complex behavior: “Our consultant tried to change us from loose-tight-loose to loose-loose-loose, while the managers wanted to implement tight-tight-tight. No wonder we had problems!”

Two important factors about TLT are autonomy (self-organizing) and value driven leadership that keeps focusing on the customer. In my experience, most leaders find the autonomy-part easy (let go), and the visions and learning part more difficult. It is important that the leader start learning how to connect to his team if he wants to become a TLT leader. If not, you might risk becoming a loose-loose-loose leader with employees that has to find their own purpose.

In my opinion, there are no natural-born visionary leaders. Instead, they have learned how to seek new knowledge through process, empathy, and complexity know-how. This is a skill that might be learned by anyone as I will elaborate on later. A product owner working in a team will spend time gathering information and testing different strategies before his visions make sense for the team and the customers.

A visionary leader that maintains control of his employees will have a tight-tight-tight profile. This leader needs to learn how to let go, in order to master the tight-loose-tight approach. I do not often meet this kind of leader, but it has happened. More often I meet a project manager that has no engaging vision, but total control of his employees via tool like Jira and detailed project plans. This project manager then has the loose-tight-loose profile.  

This model shows the distinctions between the different leadership profiles: 

The model have been designed using resources from 
The TLT Landscape


Leadership is a learning process

Some people think that leadership is in your DNA, something that comes naturally for you or not. But according to CoWork, no one is born a leader. What might then be the secret to effective leadership, and how can it be achieved?

Tight-loose-tight can be achieved with a learning process

A TLT leader is running a process that allows learning and growth. A new TLT leader will set up a series of meetings and run a process that allows him to test different strategies. The goal is to inspire the team and solve the customer´s problems. In the beginning, the TLT leader might be a confusing experience for the team, but surprisingly often the process will help the leader to find a new purpose and direction.

A leader that does not believe in the process, does not want to run such a learning process until he believes in it. He will stay at the same place, trying to understand TLT and agile leadership. But reading about cycling will not create a cyclist. You have to get on the bike, try and then learn. If the leader is patient enough to participate in the process, they will experience the learning process. And once they have experienced the change, no one can stop them (well, except corporate politics and bureaucracy).

Every time I start working with a new subject area or a new team, I have the mentality of reading an Agatha Christie crime novel. I have to be patient, try to connect the different elements as I read, and then the revelation will come as the story unfolds. I can assure you this will always happen, as long as you are running a TLT process.   

It is of vital importance that you follow up on your team or employee frequently enough.  Product owners and team leaders have landed on a two-week duration on the loose period, and program and portfolio leaders are having from monthly to three months loose periods. Any longer, and I think you will experience a significant loss in value from the follow-up. Too much will have happened since last time, and you risk receiving speculations instead of facts and experiences.  

Do you still need help?

Although the TLT model is easy to understand, it might be hard to practice. It is not always easy to be inspiring, and the follow-ups might be difficult. Maybe you think that you can’t change? That detailed control is a part of your DNA? Maybe your corporate hierarchy and governance model inhibits you to change?

CoWork offers customized training and coaching to companies that would like to embark on the TLT journey. We have developed a model that allows your company to change, one step at a time. We are calling this the learning lab.

We are also happy to inspire or challenge your leaders through strategy workshops or through TLT conference presentations. Our slogan “courage to change” will hopefully inspire your company to push through fear and inertia to a more agile future.

The models in this article have been designed using resources from 

Behov for hjelp med din digitale produktreise?
Vi tar gjerne en kaffeprat!