Emily Marsh October 9 2020

What is a truly agile organisation?

The first article in our new campaign where we look to shatter outdated leadership beliefs. First up, what does it really mean to be an agile organisation.

Full disclosure: this is not an article about working from home. By now, most of us have had 6 months of working remotely, whether we like it or not, and whether we were prepared for it or not (says she, writing from her kitchen table). Remote working, flexible working – however you want to refer to it, the pandemic has achieved what was once unthinkable, seeing nearly 50% of the UK workforce working from home during June - and it looks like many of us want that agility to stay.

Here at t-three, when we ask about whether you are an agile organisation, we’re not talking about what percentage of your people are working flexibly. What we’re concerned with is the true agility of your organisation itself – being able to pivot and change, whilst retaining the core purpose and identity of the business. In a nutshell, being an agile organisation means you are constantly anticipating change, whilst maintaining your desired momentum of business as usual. You’ve built a strong base of trust within customers and colleagues AND you’re one step ahead of the competition - always looking for new ways to shift your ways of working, support your people, and delight your customers.

Employee Behaviour

If you can get people to engage with, practise and then live out a few key behaviour changes, it can make a world of difference when looking to improve the agility of your business. Resilience IS something that can be consciously increased, for individuals and how your business responds, and agility is the outcome of a higher level of collective resilience.

One of several agile behaviours Brian Wernham recommends is simple; ‘talk to people.’ Encouraging people to network and talk at all levels of their organisation means they understand the pains faced by different teams more thoroughly, so that when projects are introduced they have a better understanding of, and are more prepared to mitigate, issues raised by other departments.

Encourage incremental success – many people can procrastinate and slow themselves down when daunted by a large project that needs to be delivered perfectly polished. It also leaves no room to course correct throughout their work – if they’ve gone off track early in, the end result might be very different from what you were expecting. Rewarding incremental success shows your people that you see the value in each step of their work, and that you want them to gather feedback, and continue improving, at every stage. That way you can be reactive to change throughout a project, and hopefully end up with a project more successful than the sum of its parts.

 Decision Making

McKinsey lists rapid decision making and learning cycles as one of the key trademarks of an agile organisation. It is only by accelerating the processes by which decisions are made that an organisation can become truly reactive and innovative. To achieve this, one method might be for leaders to look at the teams around them, and to empower them to hold some of the decision making responsibility, rather than relying on a single Manager for an answer, which might cause a bottleneck in the process. Another behaviour that can help you to achieve this is to plan in shorter cycles, allowing you to change plans quickly when required and to be more responsive to changing business and customer needs. Never has it been more necessary to plan, assess, and replan. In this year of great upheaval for us personally and professionally, the key to keeping people together and making clever decisions is being able to plan and replan well.

 Is it worth making the change?

As with any behaviour change that you want to encourage from your people, it’s important to know why you are asking them to change – what will it mean for them, and for your business?

Becoming more agile means you can become more customer centric – by reacting to feedback, both positive and negative, you can quickly implement changes to delight customers and ensure repeat business. By working on shorter term strategies and plans, you can save money and course correct as and when issues arise, rather than being tied into longer term plans. As 2020 has taught us all, sometimes circumstances out of our control can mean even the best laid plans are swiftly made redundant.

On an individual level, an agile organisation can create opportunities for personal development too. By engaging more with the team around them, your people become better connected to the business as a whole, and if their Manager is willing to grant them more decision making responsibility in the name of the team becoming more agile and the broad-sweeping benefits this enables, they’ll have additional qualities to add to their CV. Finally, by being encouraged to run shorter projects, and to continually improve on what they did yesterday and the day before, your people are empowered to be more creative, to constantly look for the next idea they can bring to their role, increasing their engagement and job satisfaction.

 Over the next couple of months we’ll be focusing on a number of aspects of agile behaviours, from creating the frameworks that allow you to be as agile as possible, how to support leaders to empower the team around them, and insight from an expert in the international security industry, whose entire working career has required, above all, agility. As always, you can follow us on LinkedIn, or sign up to our mailing list here.

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