You know that saying that goes something like “when your plumber starts to give you financial advice, it’s time to get out of the market…”?

Well, it’s beginning to feel a little like this with the buzz around “agile”. 

The agile movement can be traced back to the Agile Manifesto, which was formally released in 2001 and applied mostly to software product development – in fact, it just turned 21 this week! Agile is the latest buzz word that is now being applied to all types of businesses and processes. Which is, in itself, a good thing. There is a lot to be gained from creating a culture of agility. However, many organizations are still missing the point. I often see agile being used as a destination – when we “become agile” or “we are moving to agile”, or a way of working – “are we agile or waterfall?”

Agility is a frame of mind, it is a way of thinking and looking at the world. 

If we want to build flexible, nimble organizations, we need to start with the basics – how people think and behave. The newly published “Heart of Agile” simplifies the principles to these core activities: Collaborate, Deliver, Reflect, Improve. 

It is not a prescribed process or a methodology, although there are several methodologies and frameworks that are based on the principles of agility and the Agile Manifesto. 

Definition of Agility

Organizational agility describes the ability of the organization to respond to change. This McKinsey article, “Agility: It rhymes with stability”, describes how organizations can be stable and flexible at the same time. Agility does not mean accelerating the pace of work while throwing out the processes that ensure quality and stability. The article states that “truly agile organizations, paradoxically, learn to be both stable (resilient, reliable, and efficient) and dynamic (fast, nimble, and adaptive)”.

If you’d like to learn more about how to embed agility in your organization, check out this other article from McKinsey – “The Five Trademarks of Agile Organizations”.

The 5 trademarks are:

  1. Strategy – North Star embodied across the organization
  2. Structure – Network of empowered teams
  3. Process – Rapid decisions and learning cycles
  4. People – Dynamic people model that ignites passion
  5. Technology – Next-generation enabling technology

How might you take an agile approach to becoming more agile?

Start by looking at your organization’s strategy. Is there a clear “North Star”? Does it still apply in your current situation? What are the strategic priorities for right now?

Then look at how that strategy has been interpreted and implemented by your organization. Do the policies and processes make sense? Are those policies and processes acting as an accelerator or a barrier to growth and success? 

If tackling this at an organizational level feels intimidating, start with a team discussion on your north star, and check if the work you are currently doing aligns with that vision. If you were to take an agile approach to improving the agility of your team, what would your MVP (minimum viable product) be? 

To create an “agile culture” or embed agility in your team, begin with understanding of how people think and work today. Is the work being accomplished in coherent and cohesive teams, or is it like disjointed groups of individuals working on their own tasks in functional silos? 

If we want to change behaviors, and working practices in our teams, we need to co-create a shared vision and a compelling reason for change with our team members. They need to be involved from the get-go.  

Start with a retrospective on how the team is working today, and what is or isn’t working with those practices. Look at example situations, and ask how those situations make the team members feel. 

Collaborate with the team to co-create a vision of how your team or organization could operate in the future, and how that would feel for everyone involved. These discussions help the team see “what’s in it for them”. 

Discuss why shifting to an agile mindset and approach is essential for the health and growth of the people and the organization. Dig deep to understand what it will take to shift behaviors out of the “we have always done it this way” type of thinking to a more exploratory approach, “how could we do this differently?” and “what would we gain from thinking about this differently?”.

Regardless of your role, you have the power to influence change. If you are thinking along the lines of “my organization/manager will never go for this”, “this would never work here”, or “this is above my pay grade” then you need to begin by developing your own agility mindset first. Check out the steps in this article I published last year titled “Team Agility: Why Mindset Matters More Than Tools”.

How will you improve your own agility?

How can you help your team become more agile in their thinking and behavior?

2 Comments. Leave new

  • I fully concur that Agility is a mindset and, as long as you maintain that minset forefront on everything you do, you should be able to identify what changes need to be made in your strategy, governance, structure, systems, processess, and people to stay competitive and continuosly improve performane. However, many of the references made, including McKinsey, are still reflecting something new that you need to adopt, change to, or implement. I have been in the industry for more than 40 years and since my early beginnings I have been in companies, and heard from their executive, the need to be nimble, flexible and open to adapt to the changes in the market and the technologies.

    • Annmarie Curley
      February 16, 2022 5:07 pm

      Thanks for your insights Gustavo. There are many that “talk the talk” but cannot “walk the walk”. While they talk about being flexible, their actions and behaviors are not aligned with that philosophy unfortunately, so the aren’t as agile and nimble as they think they are or wish to be. We need to nurture environments where people can challenge the status quo, and ask questions to ensure that the strategy and the execution are aligned day to day, ensuring that teams are focused on the right work/right outcomes rather than a continual cycle of busy work, doing more of the same.


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