The Agile methodology began as something intended for software development. But as more teams realized streamlined efficiencies and recounted success stories, business leaders across all sectors began to tune in. Today, Agile practices are in play in businesses of all shapes and sizes.
Naturally, however, when a good idea becomes pervasive, it tends to become diluted, or in some cases convoluted, as it passes through more hands. This is what happened with Agile. More and more parameters were placed around it ––a departure from its lean and nimble beginnings. But there’s been a big push to get back to the roots ––back to the initial purpose and premise of the methodology, which holds tremendous value in many contexts, including leadership and company culture.
When you look at the Agile philosophy through the lens of culture, it becomes a little murkier than it might be in a tech setting. The “rules” become a little less clear and the success of “culture” can be harder to accurately gauge than a piece of software functionality. At Tallwave, we believe being agile-minded is about being mindful (or deliberately healthy) and a commitment to action. For us, reaching true mindfulness first requires two things: mental clarity and emotional intelligence. And when emotional intelligence meets clarity of mind, leaders are better equipped to take risk and effectively lead through the discomfort of change, which we all know is a constant in business, and life.
But beyond this, what are the nuts and bolts of a truly Agile culture? How can you work toward building one, and how will you know when you’ve achieved it? Here’s our take.
Maintain relentless flexibility
Systems, processes and guidelines certainly have their place in business, but there’s a fine line between providing value and putting too many restrictive rules in place. Sometimes, great strength lies in remaining flexible. After all, the word Agile itself means being nimble and adaptable. If you want to have a culture that embraces agility, it all starts with flexibility. And this starts by giving your team the freedom to bring new ideas to the table and have a voice.
Two other points central to the flexibility and maintaining an Agile environment are decisiveness and calculated risk. In fast-paced business climates this can prove a challenge. For one, we rarely have all the details needed for every decision we face. However, according to research by Korn/Ferry International, learning-agile leaders have the keen ability to make sense of unrelated pieces of information and ideas. They do this by absorbing information from their experiences, learning and applying that to solve for unfamiliar situations.
This sometimes includes taking calculated risks to continue forward momentum. Decisiveness and taking risks based on your organization’s values and vision, will enable you to move quicker, test approaches, and innovate at a more rapid pace. Not every decision will yield big returns, but you’ll be better positioned to iterate and pivot quickly.
What’s right, not who’s right
Another key to an Agile culture is self-awareness. This is something that most people either possess inherently or do not; it’s not especially trainable. But the absence or presence of self-awareness should be pretty evident within your team members. Part of the reason this is so important is because agility requires a willingness to admit defeat. A business with Agile at its core will comprise people who care more about moving forward as a unit rather than individual accolades.
It demands a detachment from your own ego, so you can objectively review past progress and determine shortcomings or opportunities for growth. And if you find that something you personally contributed to hasn’t stacked up the way you thought it would, you must be emotionally mature enough to admit that to your team – and work to find a better solution.
Awareness also applies to the team and your processes. Just because your organization or team has always done something one way doesn’t mean it’s the best, or even necessary, way. Encourage your team to question and challenge things, and be open to actually hearing what they have to say.
For instance, most Agile-minded folks subscribe to having stand-up meetings every morning in which they discuss what they’re working on, any roadblocks and any plans to move through the challenges. If you come to find that you’re talking through these items at other points throughout the day with your colleagues, then it stands to reason that a daily standup meeting might be redundant. In this case, challenge the protocol that’s become the norm and you may soon realize more streamlined operations and team dynamics.
Actively listening to feedback, better prepares you and your team to see through blind spots, pivot incrementally, deliver results, and build stronger relationships with stakeholders (employees, vendors, partners, customers, etc.).
As you implement Agile into your culture, be sure to set goals and KPIs to ensure you’re hitting those goals and routinely seek feedback. After all, frequent assessment, check-ins and collaboration are essential components of Agile.
Written by Tallwave