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An agile corporate culture requires consciously designed opportunities for appreciative and inspiring encounters, an open approach to mistakes and conflicts, as well as the room and time to learn and grow.

Agile Organizational Development

An agile corporate culture is created through consciously designed opportunities for appreciative and inspiring interactions. The potential of people and the organization is promoted through trust that allows for conflicts and mistakes being used as learning opportunities. In an agile environment, relationships between teams and managers are continuously fostered by collaboration and collective performance.

Agile organizational development

An agile transformation is most effective in stimulating employee engagement, improving the attractiveness of the workplace for future employees and promoting innovation and willingness to change within the company.

These potentials can only be realized if a company is prepared to:

  1. live the agile values and principles at all organizational levels
  2. consider all levels of cultural agile transformation
  3. pursue organizational development with the same seriousness as product development

 

1. Living the values and principles at all levels

Values and principles are representations of desired behavior. They provide direction and support when the framework conditions become too complex for simple rules and guidelines.

Agile frameworks and practices can only unfold their full effect if the values and principles on which they are based are lived by, i.e. expressed in concise actions – both within the agile teams and at all levels of the organization.

This requires a willingness for a conscious cultural change, which requires the willingness to learn and change on the part of the individuals working in it according to their respective roles, as well as a supportive organizational framework so that newly learned behaviour is supported and can be manifested.

A key organizational framework condition is to look at the team and not the individual as the smallest unit for creating value.  Individual targets and bonus programs have the opposite effect.

 

2. Levels of a successful cultural agile transformation

1. Agile employees

“Build your projects around motivated individuals”, is what the agile manifesto teaches. The most important intrinsic motivating factors are usually autonomy or the ability to control oneself, mastery or the will to master something, as well as purpose and meaning. Belonging or the desire to be part of something bigger should also be added here.

Traditional, highly hierarchical and bureaucratic corporate structures often undermine intrinsic motivation. Anti pattern practises like abandoning responsibility and working to rule have serious consequences. In this situation, it is unlikely that organizational change alone, such as the formation of cross-functional teams, will be enough to ignite motivation again.

At the individual level, further training and empowerment programs are needed to enable employees to take on the expected responsibilities and a framework that encourages lifelong learning. At the same time, all employees are called upon to establish an attitude of willingness to learn and to embrace change alongside new challenges.

2. Agile Teams

Self-organizing, cross-functional, stable teams are the basic building blocks for agile organizations. A group of people does not automatically evolve into a team just because they carry out stand-ups and sprint planning ceremonies.

In order for agile teams to collaboratively create value, they should have a clear goal or a dedicated mission, a clearly defined area of responsibility and dedicated interfaces to other teams.

Too many different tasks, over-proportional team sizes and extensive planning intervals create a framework in which a group of employees are blocked from defining common sprint goals and are misfunctioning as a team.

The transition from management-by-individual-tasks to team-oriented management-by-objectives is a lengthy process. It requires consistent fostering of open communication, building trust, coaching the team in self-organization, as well as ensuring broad enablement for the whole system.

3. Agile organizations

Agile organizations are characterized by fast responsiveness, a willingness to experiment, a culture of honest feedback and handling failure positively, and a readiness to constantly evolve.

Melvin Conway noted a strong correlation between the communication and collaboration structures in a company and the architecture of the products it develops. This observation is known as Conway’s Law and has been confirmed several times. At the core, a believe that an organization must continue to develop in the same way as its products. Otherwise, the organization results in a product architecture that can no longer meet the requirements of the complexity of the product.

For an organization to keep pace with the complexity of its products, it must evolve just as systematically as its products. To do this, it needs roles, structures and technologies that make this possible, as well as teams with motivated individuals to drive this further development forward.

Viewing the further development of the organization with the same importance as the further development of the products is a major change in mindset that requires time and support.

 

3. Parallels between agile cultural organizational development and product development

Agile frameworks introduce certain structures and technologies. For example, participatory budgeting, as presented in the SAFe framework, can be implemented as a method or technology for organizational development. This could help to incorporate different perspectives and knowledge across the levels of the organization into the budget process. Which in turn promotes a culture of participation and shared responsibility.

To ensure agile further development of the organization, it is also important to close the feedback loop. Implementing measures without acceptance criteria built on metrics hinders transformation. Instead, the organization should use an incremental approach of retrospective evaluation and out of reflection derived further measures.

The change team within the organization tasked with agile or cultural transformation must be enabled to themselves work with agile methods, such as forming and testing hypotheses for future action steps, optimizing the delivery pipeline for the measures, end-2-responsibility, KPIs, etc.

People

Bernhard Schreiner, Partner bei EFS Consulting

Bernhard Schreiner

Jürgen Leitner, Partner bei EFS Consulting

Jürgen Leitner

Liliana Simon