Developing agility

Image from
Feb 06 2017 by Val Nichols Print This Article

Faced with turbulent market conditions and unpredictable customer demands, today’s organizations have to constantly adapt and learn. This creates a new challenge for leaders and managers. Instead of relying solely on the command-and-control model of leadership, which can slow response times and limit creativity, they now need to empower their teams and develop their desire and ability to respond rapidly to changing circumstances.

While we recognize that in emergency or critical situations, top-down direction may be necessary, as Bill Gates says: “Success today requires the agility and drive to constantly rethink, reinvigorate, react and reinvent.”

The secret to achieving this is to develop an agile mindset. This is essentially a desire to learn and a willingness to change. It involves being curious about, and open to, new opportunities and new ways to improve. In management terms, this means changing your approach and role modeling adaptability to your team, so that you - and they - can more readily accept change, embrace opportunities and adapt to new circumstances and situations.

‘Agile’ is a concept which originated in the IT community where it has been used to enhance software development. It subsequently evolved into a collaborative project management approach and it has since permeated further into organizations. Agility now refers to the ability to anticipate new opportunities and to respond to them quickly, effectively and economically.

As a leader or manager, you can self-assess the degree to which you have an agile mindset by asking yourself some fundamental questions. What do you do or say that tells your employees that you:

  • Encourage collaboration, autonomy and flexibility?
  • Take considered risks and allow them too?
  • Expect and accept mistakes?
  • Accept and respond rapidly to change?
  • Understand what skills your team will need in the future?
  • Welcome and take onboard feedback?

Alternatively, do you:

  • Hold on to information, rather than readily share it?
  • Become defensive when your ideas are challenged or mistakes are found?
  • Delay taking action until you’re absolutely certain of the outcome?

Intentional behavior and formal and informal learning can help you and your team to develop this mindset. However, if you’re unwilling to let go of the command-and-control, top-down model, or if your organization simply will not support this thinking, agility will never be an option.

Promoting agile working

Developing an agile mindset will bring you positive benefits. For example, it will help you to question the status quo and spot new opportunities; you’ll learn to cope with ambiguity and constant change - and you’ll be better able to adapt quickly and make adjustments when faced with new situations.

Another important benefit of this mindset is that it will help you to become a catalyst for promoting agile working in your team. Agile working involves empowering people, breaking down barriers, collaborating in self-organizing teams, welcoming diverse ideas, encouraging mistakes, proactively making improvements and anticipating customer needs. It enables employees to be more proactive, which not only helps them to react and adapt quickly to change, it also makes them feel more connected to the organization and more valued.

This is very different to the command-and-control management model, which stifles innovation, slows down decision making and leaves employees feeling disempowered and disengaged. Companies which continue to rely on this outdated model risk losing market share, because they won’t be able to adapt, solve problems or break down barriers quickly enough to compete.

An agile mindset is particularly beneficial for leaders and managers in organizations that want to unleash innovation and free people up to think differently and to respond more effectively to customer needs. It demands constant attention to individual and organizational performance, as well as a readiness to meet new customer and market opportunities.

By developing an agile mindset, you can enhance your own effectiveness and engagement. What’s more, by championing agile working practices, you can improve your organization’s ability to anticipate and respond more effectively to the challenge of change. That can not only improve productivity across the business, it can also enhance your employer brand.

About The Author

Val Nichols
Val Nichols

Valerie Nichols is an Executive Consultant with Hemsley Fraser, the learning and development company.