February 2020
9 minutes

10 Levers for More Agility in Your Organization

A cultural change in a company cannot be achieved by communicating new, agile rules of cooperation. (Image: g-stockstudio/istockphoto.com)

If personnel expenses increase more or less in proportion to sales over a longer period of time, this is a sign of potential for productivity and efficiency increases. We have been talking about agility for a few years now. The loud call for it is understandable and the problem is well known:

Long established structures hinder the implementation of strategic initiatives, which are usually cross-divisional, and we usually react too late to changes in direction. Optimizing one's own area often takes priority over investing resources in cross-divisional activities. Too much energy is lost for coordination and non-transparent decision-making processes. Decisions are made too late and we often see a misallocation of resources caused by structures that no longer reflect the actual business reality. We have high costs and time losses due to activities that are not properly coordinated across divisions. We do not make good enough use of the existing knowledge in our organisation and there is a lack of cultural agility, as we find it difficult to abandon our old established behavioural and thought patterns in favour of a new method of cooperation.

What levers do we have at our disposal to increase agility in our organizations?

1. Increase Diversity in Teams for Complex Tasks

"Harmonic systems are stupid systems" (Peter Kruse). Homogeneity inhibits creativity and also the emergence of something new. Diverse teams usually become more creative together and find better solutions for more complex challenges. We have to accept a "pain of transition", because people who think and act differently and work on a big task not only have to find each other's topics and "tune in" to each other first, but also go through unstable and chaotic phases together. This is exactly where the added value is created, even if the process of cooperation feels bumpy at times. Diversity needs "lateral thinkers", knowledge experts as well as networkers in the same team. This is how new things can be created.

2. Moving Away From Organization Charts Towards Tasks and Contributions

For strategically important activities, we must think and act independently of organizational charts and positions. Existing structures hinder and slow down work on tasks that cross departmental boundaries. In order to master the overarching tasks, the best people must work together – regardless of rank, status or “departmental home”. The aim is to achieve visible results in the shortest possible time. This is only possible if we move away from job descriptions and focus on the tasks and necessary contributions across existing structural boundaries.

3. Prevent One-Sided Optimization and Promote Contribution to the Whole

First of all, we naturally optimize what is within our own area of responsibility. This is comprehensible and humane. We feel responsible for "our people", seek the feeling of having things under control, want to provide perspectives for employees and promote and expand our own team in the best possible way. For agile work, however, this way of thinking can become the biggest obstacle to good results, as the contribution to the whole is lost. Agility requires working in networks, not in functional silos. And these networks are tied to larger tasks and results and should make a tangible contribution to the big picture..

4. Undock Decision-Making Processes From the Organizational Chart and Thus Accelerate Them

Decision-making processes must be de-linked from the structure and aligned with actual activities. Why? We lose too much time in decision-making processes and tend to make decisions that primarily relate to our own area of responsibility. Agile work requires quick decisions on the issue at hand, which in turn should make a contribution to the big picture – in brief meetings that are also kept shortly. Rarely, this can be done by a defined person or unit qua "ranking", but takes place in a team that does not follow hierarchically-dominated decision paths. Trust in the expertise of the team, the common goal and the task at hand are paramount. Decisions may also be questioned and revised at any time.

5. Actively Question Existing Rules and Working Methods

Agile work turns familiar forms of collaboration upside down. This also applies to the explicit and above all implicit rules. We have become accustomed to rules for meeting preparations, documentation and follow-ups. Procedural plans in detail, clearly defined responsibilities, task and time tracking and well prepared and coordinated reporting dates are familiar to us and are firmly established as patterns. For the sake of agility we have to break these patterns. Agile collaboration needs a few simple rules, but these must then be strictly adhered to. Agility cannot arise if we solve today's challenges with methods from the past.

6. Need for a "Mindset Change", Especially in Leadership

A cultural change in a company cannot be achieved by communicating new, agile rules of cooperation. Change occurs when the vision matches the goals and behavior in leadership and the will to change is perceived authentically. Agile culture is created by establishing the right framework for change. Leaders must exemplify the will to change and the readiness for agile forms of cooperation. It takes patience and practice to change mindsets that have developed over decades. As a minimum, we need to say goodbye to the steering mechanisms and committees, detailed long-term planning and oversized progress reports with which we are familiar in the agile management of our strategic activities.

7. To Realize Quickly Measurable Results That Can Be Assessed in the Minimum

The so-called quick wins are important – for one simple reason: visible successes promote team dynamics. We notice that we can make a difference in a short time, make a difference. People need this confirmation because it is creating purpose – the strongest motor for individual motivation. For this reason, it is advisable to try out agile working methods at the beginning on strategically relevant but manageable tasks. The effect of the cooperation must be measurable in the form of results, or at least assessable. And this not only within the team, but especially through authentic feedback from the surrounding environment. This drives a positive change dynamic and provides another very important driving force: self-confidence.

8. Transparency, Constant Communication and Concise Feedback

Transparency of activities, constant and high-frequency communication and direct, honest feedback are decisive factors for the success of agile forms of cooperation. Working through short sprints, conscious phases of "grooming", a few tasks that have to be completed at short notice and sometimes daily, very tightly managed coordination rounds without in-depth discussion of the content need getting used to at the beginning. With a little practice, the effect will unfold quickly. Mutual trust and the willingness to get actively involved are the basis.

9. Support by Means of Modern Software Is Without Alternative

Modern software support is not an option, but has become a basic prerequisite for creating agility in the first place. We need tools that ensure the right networking of people and the relevant tasks, support ongoing dialogue and promote cross-departmental collaboration in day-to-day work. With the right technology and few, but essential tools, the prerequisites for agile collaboration are created.

10. Agility Not as an End in Itself and Not at Any Price

We need to understand the "game" we are in in order to judge how much agility is needed. If it is a relay race, agile actions will be more likely to be hindering. For a handball game a high degree of agility in cooperation is a prerequisite. Teams are to be evaluated individually and with regard to the purpose to be fulfilled. Since most of the strategically relevant activities in our organizations are rather complex and have to be addressed across departments, we are more likely to find ourselves in a handball analogy.

There is no way around more agile methods of collaboration. So the question is not "if", but only "how". In essence, it is a matter of implementing strategically important activities more quickly and without sacrificing quality – and even increasing the quality of results. However, agility cannot simply be "conjured up" – after all, this is not project work. By creating the right conditions, however, agility and creativity can develop over time. This awakens self-organizing forces and raises the immense knowledge that is dormant in our organizations. More agile cooperation along concrete tasks and across departmental boundaries not only makes sense from a technical point of view, but also meets the basic human need to actively contribute one's own abilities and make a visible contribution to the whole. Simply because it is a pleasure to achieve good results.

Making organizations more agile with modern, lightweight software is our drive and claim at Evolutionizer. Our software platform Solyp 4.0 maps strategy processes end-to-end: from strategy development to strategy implementation to adaptation. With our software we ensure the right networking of people along the strategically relevant tasks in the entire organization and provide consistency and transparency of all activities with a view to the big picture. Modern methods for agile collaboration are a integrated part.

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