This article was originally posted in the GloCoach Blog.
Since the beginning of 2020 we learned that change can suddenly be omnipresent. Many companies struggled; some companies thrived due to the new business environment. And over the recent months there might be only a few companies that are not facing big challenges; if not from a business and financial perspective, then from an engagement and social point of view. How can we build an environment where we can thrive in all aspects of work and life?
On my side, I am convinced that in order to create lasting success, companies need to focus on value creation. We need creativity to address totally new needs and we need velocity to deliver value at the time it matters most. McKinsey mentioned nine triggers for speed in organisations. Autonomous, cross-functional teams with more freedom to make their own decisions, with reduced hierarchy & bureaucracy, and with a clear result focus will execute lasting success. Further, successful organisations are embedding themselves in a collaborative network of partners, customers and suppliers. This sounds great… And, what does this mean for the role of today's leaders?
Over the last decade, I could collect many examples where teams and entire organisations tried to accomplish too many things at the same time - with the result that they are advancing very slowly. I observed this in manufacturing environments, corporate functions, product development teams, etc. The big question, how to increase speed in a hands-on way? Here is a case study.
Last year, a team approached me to support them to improve their productivity. They organised themselves in a very typical manner: each team member got a topic assigned and worked on it individually. During my observations I discovered two main obstacles. First, the team members felt that they were not in a good position to help each other. Second, the team was not able to accelerate urgent topics fast. That's why we tried a new approach.
“Disconnected teams are not able to help each other and fail to accelerate urgent topics.”
The principle was: let's minimise the topics we are working on in parallel. We started with selecting one focus topic per cycle - a two weeks period in their case. And each cycle another topic was prioritised and selected. With this sequential approach, the team didn't have to select important topics to reduce the number of projects on their plate. There is always the next cycle, where the next important focus topic will be progressed. This gave the team the confidence to focus on one topic at a time, and spend very little time on the other topics.
The result? The team enjoyed working closer together. They were able to significantly accelerate the delivery for the focus topic. They found a new balance between working in a group and focusing on individual tasks. An additional point was that the team felt they were in control of what they can deliver; they started to actively organise themselves.
This sounds a bit like Agile Transformation! Today, organisations want to drive change (innovation, market expansion, increased competition, etc.) with a more agile approach. How can change management bring more agility in leadership, to the teams and to the success of your operations? Here are a few pointers from my practice.
Mentioned many times, the northstar - or shared vision, meaningful purpose, Leitbild, collective dream - is key to make people excited about the change to come, gives them meaning. It is also the anchor and the imagination for what we want to achieve together. Without guidance, agility turns into chaos. The purpose then allows leaders to delegate control; people on the top might - often involuntary - act as bottlenecks. We want to enable the frontline teams to run the show, become nimble and act faster. How to create this purpose? In essence it is created through a collective conversation, which evokes passion that is translated throughout the levels of the organisation.
Achieving the northstar includes creating value for our customers. Structured routines allow teams to discover a clear view on who these customer groups are and what they appreciate most. Delighting customers is how we can create value; let's focus on what makes them excited and experience the improvements. In order to evolve our solutions and come closer to creating value for our customers, we need to develop closely together with them; in small steps, trying out ideas and continuously learning along the way. This journey happens within the frontline teams; these inspirations will strengthen the meaning for the team and the ability to self-organise.
At the core of each team is learning - this brings the individual, the team and the entire ecosystem forward. Experimentation enables continuous learning; and the leaders enable and contribute in this journey. In practical terms this means that we omit mid-term planning. Instead, based on the long-term purpose we can create an immediate path to get there. This keeps the flexibility and adaptability. A typical horizon is three months. Experimentation is one core of agility and can only be successful when the team can act in a self-organising environment and is in control of what they can try out.
Lastly, agile teams work best in an environment that enables self-organisation and cultivates trust; as leaders we can create a platform for success and this requires a place where we can have open conversations, feel safe and build relationships. These teams also need the right capabilities to achieve all of what we have mentioned - the functional and the people skills. Great relationships are based on self-awareness (self-improvement), support for the (self-organising) teams, and clarity for the collaboration (transparency & communication).
In my eyes, agility is not about processes and organisational structures. Change management practices have shown how we can engage with a new leadership style that is universal on all levels of the organisation; a style that is inspiring and enables people to be successful. This is how we can stay adaptive, nimble and jump ahead to new opportunities.
At Hive17 Consulting, we call these the four pillars of the leadership wheel: Leitbild (the guiding imagination), customer value, experimentation and relationships. Each of these include important goals that support success. Though these goals can be contradicting; for example, if the team members have a singular focus on pleasing the customers, then the team spirit might be jeopardised. There is no set of actions that simply improve all four goals at the same time. Therefore, it is important to advance the four pillars in a balanced way. For example, focus on creating value for the customers based on strong team bonds.
Here we shared our view on how we can become more nimble and stronger in times that appear stressful and demanding. Where do you see the key elements of agility and speed in your organisation? What have you observed that makes teams successful in an uncertain and complex environment?
Tim is a change practitioner in the area of innovation and excellence. He is working with teams to accelerate innovation, collaboration and agility.