In our work, we are supporting teams to strengthen their agility in their daily work; and the start of that journey is not simply to become agile - or faster, rushing. The starting point is that teams and companies are facing uncertainty and complexity - and fighting is not a successful approach in the long run. In this context I came across this article in Forbes written by Steven Denning: The 12 Stages Of The Agile Transformation Journey. Here are my key inspirations.
What do we want to achieve with agile transformation journeys? “The ability of an organization to renew itself, adapt, change quickly, and succeed in a rapidly changing, ambiguous, turbulent environment” as well as “the ability to quickly reconfigure strategy, structure, processes, people, and technology toward value-creating and value-protecting opportunities.”
Can any person in the organisation start working in an agile way? Yes, the principles of agility are applicable for small team as for large companies. Any team can be successful with that. At the same time, the higher in the hierarchy this is started, the better the results.
For the leadership team it is important to acknowledge that establishing an agile mindset and mode of working is a never-ending journey; definitely an initiative or simple project that can be finished soon. Strengthening agility in your organisation is a great learning and development opportunity.
Starting the agility journey should start with a team that represents the diversity of the organisation. Team members should come from different functions and from different hierarchical levels. At the same time, this squad is not about implementing technology. They key focus for this team is improving the business.
Once the first team has shown success, then the journey can grow organically. New teams are inspired to experiment with the new way of working and deliver more success stories. And, in times of failure, stay true to the path you have started; treat those as learning opportunities.
The journey towards agility is not about implementing a structure, new processes, and using different tools. They might simply be means for a new mindset and behaviours. It is important to continuously evolve the idea of being agile for your organisation.
How can I support this journey as a leader? How do I need to evolve my leadership style? As a start, command & control is the antidote to agility. You need to be able to coach and inspire your teams. And agility is based on the delegation of decision-making and ownership.
Maturity in this journey means to master strategic agility; being able to continuously identifying and redefining market success areas - for learning and development.
How did you start your journey towards agility?
Two years back, I read the story of Ilkka Paananen in Wired UK (link); still today it is an inspirational story on how to lead with motivation. After a failed endeavour, he started Supercell and within 6 years the company was valued over 10 billion US dollars. How did he do that?
In simple terms, he put the right team together and then created the best environment for the team to thrive. What is that best environment? Turn the organisational structure upside down and empower them to define everything that relates to the success of the company: the vision, how they work, where to put the focus... Full autonomy? Yes, provide the team with all the freedom and automatically they will also take over the responsibility, the ownership for the results. The success lies in motivation, the energy and the passion that you can observe in your teams.
So, what do I need to do as a leader? Create that environment! Create excitement, allow them to discover how to do things, hire a diverse team, be a coach, be passionate about the company - and be transparent.
What makes you a great leader?
Image Credit, Nick Wilson, WIRED UK
Agility is for many the path for success, and I see many teams trying to run faster, sprinting and simply spinning the wheels faster. In my experience, this is not a sustainable approach; you are burning energy, burning people.
Velocity means that all your efforts are adding value and none is wasted. In this way, we are achieving results faster and with higher quality. To make sure, we know where to add value we need to be close to our customers, get their guidance on where to focus our efforts. This means we need to build relationships and connect frequently with the customers and stakeholders of our products and services.
One excellent way to do this is with prototypes. Why are prototypes so important? They make our ideas, achievements and challenges more tangible. The customers can imagine how the future solution will add value and where we need further tweaking. In addition, it is a fun way to celebrate what we have achieved within the team.
During my observations, I realised one thing that many teams forget. Demonstrating your prototype is a great opportunity to obtain direction and priority from your customers and key stakeholders. Prepare questions that provide this guidance in key areas.
Which achievements have you been proud of? How did you demonstrate them to your customers?
A research & development centre in Shanghai employs more than 100 chemists from different business units. After bringing all these business units into one location, the technical directors identified a significant opportunity to create a better structure to collaborate across these silos. We initiated a program to harvest this opportunity and to identify new technologies across all business units driving the business in the long run. In addition, the program aimed at facilitating experience sharing and cultivating innovation and collaboration behaviour.
With the sponsorship from the regional technology and marketing leaders, we initiated a program that created different communities along application categories. Each of these communities then established a routine of brainstorming new technologies. Each cycle lasted about 3 months and focused on one focus topic supported by the sponsors. Success was based on close collaboration with marketing and engaging in creativity methods that stimulated open and human-centric thinking.
This program is in its fourth year and initiated many new projects to discover and develop new technologies; this was possible by combining the strength of multiple business units and creating hybrid solutions solving customer pain points.
In addition, we observed a new mindset cultivated among the R&D chemist. One community owner expressed it like this: "In the past when I faced a challenge, I would go back to my desk and solve it by myself. Now, I come out of the lab and reach out to my colleagues and we find solutions together." Leveraging the experience and knowledge of your peers will bring fast and high quality results. Collaboration across organisational, regional and hierarchical borders has lead to success. This program laid the foundation for this change.
Thank you for this fantastic opportunity Enshan Shen, Wu Min, Renyi Wang, Meising Ho.
In our world, uncertainty and complexity is accelerating - especially in the current situation. At times, we don't even know how the world will look like in 2 months. Some leaders are trying to control and reduce this complexity and uncertainty; is this possible and the right approach? Successful teams, instead, are trying to plunge and thrive in these challenges, and respond with agility.
In my experience, one key barrier for agility is the environment cultivated by the leaders. Are we enabling our teams to experiment and create value within a defined strategic direction? McKinsey created a summary of these leadership challenges. Here is how I would summarise, what leaders have been doing great to achieve success:
a) establishing a clear vision and direction with a focus on results
b) empowering & connecting teams and allocating resources with flexibility
c) embracing a new way of working that allows fast sensing & seizing of opportunities
On a personal level, there are three creative mindsets, we leaders need to embrace - for ourselves and as a role model for our teams:
1) discovery to drive innovation
2) partnership to smoothen collaboration
3) abundance to strengthen value creation
Where will you focus first?
Here the details from the article: Five Fifty: Agility at the Top
How do you stimulate an innovation mindset in a large campus with over 600 people? What can you do to make people excited to work together across functions and hierarchies? What are the business reasons to invest in such an endeavour? Go big! This is what we did in Shanghai, organising Innovation Days in a new format.
At first, we made sure that we got commitment from the regional top leadership team. Together we collected critical business challenges and opportunities from across all the functions. We then selected eight topics and formed a core teams that took ownership for each of these topics; every team was supported by a sponsor.
We then planned a two-day event with the objective to collect broad ideas. We first planned to inspire all 200 participants with keynote speakers. Then each team went through a program that allowed them to learn more about the topic, obtain a deeper understanding of the challenges and then creatively discover solution ideas. The second day, the teams go excited with creating prototypes and then presenting them to a group of regional managers. We gave the participants a platform where they can experiment and dream up new opportunities.
In order to make this large-scale event possible and successful, we decided to turn the core team members into facilitators. A few weeks prior to the Innovation Days we invited all of them for a preparation workshop. During this workshop we explained the detailed agenda and practised the important parts. In addition, the teams started to describe their challenge and collected information prior to the two-day event.
The regional leadership was excited about the outcome of the Innovation Days. During the two days, they observed a lot of energy and excitement in the different teams. The presentation of the prototypes illustrated the solutions in a tangible way. Some ideas provided important foundations for upcoming improvements in areas like trading, manufacturing, purchasing and others. In addition, the collaboration and exchange between the different functions and business units brought people closer and many participants expressed that they have learnt a lot.
What happened with these ideas? The core teams took them back as input to their projects. The leadership team reviewed the progress of all teams on a monthly basis. Six months later, as one of the concrete results, the company won the award as employer of the year in China; this was the result of the employer branding team during the innovation days.
"The [Innovation Days] grouped associates from all businesses and functions to exchange ideas on how to address the practical challenges they were facing and inspire each other with the aim to come up with creative ideas and innovative approaches." - Campus Managing Director
The current times create a lot of disruption and uncertainty. Many try to stick to old recipes and the old normal. Still, we know we are heading into a new normal, we are in the need to find new ways to be effective, profitable and valuable. This part of the journey can be daunting and paralysing. What can we do?
In situation of conflict, confusion, disorientation I always try to review the original objectives. What did we set out to achieve at the beginning? Often this purpose brings us back to the right direction and. Today can be an excellent time to review and reflect on the Collective Dream of our organisation. What was our vision at the start of your endeavour? What are our values? What do we as a team, as individuals stand for?
Why is this important in situations of uncertainty? Isn't it better pushing hard and running forward? Here are my thoughts around this:
This Harvard Business Review article confirmed my thoughts around this topic. We might want to rush and run forward, though we might only run in the wrong direction and waste a lot of energy. Allowing yourself a pause, reflect on your purpose and then accelerate in the right direction will give you confidence to create value for the people around you.
When will you invest in reflecting your collective dream?
Tim is a change practitioner in the area of innovation and excellence. He is working with teams to accelerate innovation, collaboration and agility.