Do We Really Know What Agile Means?

A common word to use now to tell employees what they need to do to advance themselves or the institution is to be agile. It’s popular in many articles, job descriptions, and bios to say the person is an agile leader. Recently in two large company press releases they said, “strategic development and transformation; and a progressive and agile organization with collaborative and inclusive culture” was needed and that “In response to the constantly evolving market conditions, we will introduce a flatter and agile leadership structure, which will further empower regional and functional leadership.”

But how do you really know a person or organization is agile- what do they need to demonstrate to show you that they have agile skills? What investments are being made to assist people and organizations to become agile?

When we authored the book, “Strategic Doing: Ten Skills for Agile Leaders” we knew we were in a new area of management leadership. This is an area not regularly taught in higher education or by management consultants. What we saw emerging in today’s environment is the need for cross functional teams to accomplish complex tasks. More often team members do not report to each other yet are expected to accomplish a task or overcome a barrier. These people may work for the same organization or more often not. This new way of work needs new thinking, new ways of behaving with each other, and new ways of doing so that change really happens, and the end result is achieved.

Leadership faces three areas for making investments to achieve results- people, tools, and processes. Often good people are working in bad processes with inadequate tools and the results are below expectations. The main work premise is that the vast majority of employees show up and want to do good work. Employees expect leadership to demonstrate what winning for our company looks like. Too often we see a constant flow of organizational chart changes that come so quickly little to nothing is accomplished. Effective change takes diligent attention to assure actions are taken, assessed, and adapted for changes.

Leaders who embrace agile employ methodologies that guide their people to that winning solution. Guide is a key word here. Leaders are in the game with the employees like a guide on a hike. The guide is on the same path as you as the destination is the same.

Agile leadership requires the leader to step back and guide a process often not knowing the answer to “How will we get there?” If the leader knows the answer, then they can use old hierarchical methods to get to the answer but really that seems like a waste of talented resources. Agile skills provide leadership with the opportunity to add value to a process by tapping into the capabilities of the people to make great decisions that benefit people, organizations, and regions.

These skills are most needed because today’s work is often accomplished with people who do not work for each other- what is sometimes called cross-functional teams. If that is today’s environment who can tell a team what to do? The agile mindset answer is themselves with the right guided discussion. If we create structured methodologies that people believe advance the dialogue to conclusion in a fair way that includes listening and adapting to the ideas of the group, then we will have an agile organization.

In the past few decades, several of the major tools for structured dialogues have been developed, tested and used including tools such as lean management, quality management systems, Strategic Doing, and Appreciative Inquiry. The Agile Strategy Lab believes change happens through successful development

of guided conversations. We offer training, workshops, and support on new agile, collaborative ways to achieve results. Our clients come from all kinds of industries such as corporate, nonprofit, higher education, government, and individuals. These organizations want to change to keep or attract employees, build a more robust community/region/organization, and improve their organization so they can improve how they help others. It is inspiring work to introduce agile skills to people either individually or as a group. You can learn more about Our Solutions HERE.