Companies adapting to today’s new business reality must embrace business agility throughout their organizations. To be successful, they need a culture of agility. Learn what a culture of agility is, why its valuable, and the six cultural strengths you need to navigate disruption, market dynamics and what’s next.
People often say that the only constant is change, but that’s only partly true. We rely on another constant every day: people — even when we work remote, primarily through technology.
In today’s digital and dynamic environment, remote teams must adapt to their new workspaces, shift focus to new projects and adjust to changing operations. Beyond our new reality, however, your organization will always need people to respond to changing business dynamics in a flexible, adaptive and rapid manner, also known as business agility.
To do so, they’ll need to form interdependent teams that can work together to meet internal and external customers’ evolving needs.
When we see an organization with such teams, we say that it has a culture of agility. Business agility is a hallmark of transformative, innovative companies, but it does not happen by default. Leaders must cultivate this environment.
The Value of a Culture of Agility
In our white paper, “Foster Business Agility Within Your Culture’s DNA to Drive Competitive Advantage,” we define a culture of agility as “a shared way of working in which interdependent teams collaborate across organizational boundaries with ease, flexibility and speed to create rapid internal and external customer value.”
Organizations that successfully implement a culture of agility activate it with a focus on individuals, teams and leadership.
- Individuals align to the business’s purpose and vision, allowing each team member to understand the company’s focus even during environmental changes and disruption.
- Teams respond to customer desires and needs by demonstrating empathy and innovation so the relationship between the organization and customer becomes stronger over time.
- Leaders adapt the organization’s design to market dynamics by maintaining a continuous focus on the outside world, allowing them to anticipate new product or service innovation by adding new roles or flattening the hierarchy as needed.
The value created by these three outcomes exist regardless of the physical location of your employees. But how do you build those values into your company? How do you create a culture of agility so everyone at your company is prepared for the next disruption?
The secret is cultivating specific “people strengths” which become cultural strengths within your organization. These strengths are essential for in-person and virtual teams to drive high performance and when they are pervasive throughout a business, create new norms.
The Six Cultural Strengths
Below, we’ll look at the six cultural strengths you should nurture to grow a culture of agility and innovation in your people and ultimately in your organization: Agility Mindset, Psychological Safety, Inclusive Collaboration, Nimble Learning, Inclusive Thinking and Change Readiness.
1: Agility Mindset
When employees adopt an agility mindset, they look for what changes in the market, stay openminded about adapting to evolving needs, and then work iteratively together to find solutions. They are more flexible and less risk-averse, allowing them to align more quickly to business needs.
To enable an agility mindset in your organization, allow team decision-makers to be close to customers so they can more easily understand their needs. You should also distribute leaders across your teams and keep the hierarchy flat, so members can collaborate and communicate freely. Be sure to design jobs and teams in a way that enables them to effortlessly adapt to the organization’s needs.
2: Psychological Safety
Teams work best in an environment where members feel safe and empowered to share their ideas freely — whether they’re connecting in person or remote. When team members have psychological safety, they are more likely to take risks, think creatively and build on each other’s ideas.
According to Google, psychological safety is the most important trait when it comes to creating great teams. Why? Because, it allows all team members to freely express themselves and contribute their ideas without fear of negative consequences. It creates a more diverse, inclusive and equitable organization because everyone can collaborate and build on one another’s ideas.
Psychological safety plays an essential role in building a network of accountable teams — a crucial step in creating a culture of agility. And now, as more people must work together in a virtual environment, it’s important to create real-time collaboration while allowing your teams to get to know one another and how best to work together.
For example, establish regular check-ins — both with leaders and as interdependent teams. Use that time to ask questions that engage team members and invite feedback, and listen to what they say. Be curious and attentive, always striving to hear the response through the speaker’s unique perspective and voice, and emphasize that everyone is in this together.
3: Inclusive Collaboration
Inclusive collaboration exists when leaders have broken down silos, allowing groups to work together and rely on each other. Teams working in a spirit of inclusive collaboration feel interconnected, with a stronger sense of shared purpose and common goals.
One way to build inclusive collaboration is to bring together representatives of each affected team, or those who are essential to solving a problem. Having team members with “skin in the game” gathered in one place — physically or virtually — allows members to share their different experiences and strengths to find the best solutions.
4: Nimble Learning
Team members approach their projects with varying levels of skills and knowledge. They don’t all start from the same place. By encouraging nimble learning, you can help them learn what they need to know, exactly when they need to know it. Allow team members to master smaller tasks so they can enjoy quick wins as they collaborate to provide value to the group.
You should also invest in time with team members to help assess their strengths, opportunities and preferences, and understand what they would like learn. Then, encourage them to create personalized paths so they can make the most of the training and learning resources available to them.
Another tip: Empower team members to make decisions and move forward without waiting for permission. It will further help them depend on each other and feel more comfortable sharing their strengths and weaknesses.
5: Innovative Thinking
Innovative thinking is essential for a culture of agility because you need innovation to quickly adapt to and solve for customer and other business challenges.
When team members practice innovative thinking, they take the empathy skills they see modeled by leaders — and the skills they learn by working with other team members — and apply them to customers, or end-users. Viewing the problem from different perspectives not only allows team members to think more creatively, but also gives them a greater sense of urgency and ownership over the solution.
One method for fostering innovative thinking is to start with a minimum viable product and present it to the customer for feedback. Once team members are confident the solution meets the customer’s most critical needs, it will inspire them to develop add-ons and improvements that will yield an even better product or solution.
6: Change Readiness
In a change-ready organization, individuals and teams are aware of what is happening in the market. Leaders who are agile know that any activity that contributes to market intelligence — even those that are informal or seem like “play” — have value. Such activities contribute to understanding how changes are affecting the business and what the business can do to adapt.
For example, online gaming is becoming bigger every day. But the online gaming market drives technological innovations that flow over into everyday consumer expectations for tools such as greater graphics capabilities, better multitasking resources, and bigger bandwidth. We no longer live in a world where clear lines exist between “work” and “play.” Innovation and change come from all sectors.
As you adopt each of these six strengths, use your check-ins and departmental meetings to encourage discussion of the broader culture and how it might affect your business and your teams’ work. And don’t shy away from change — use the agility mindset and psychological safety you have developed to support the inclusive collaboration, nimble learning and innovative thinking you need to arrive at creative solutions.
Creating a culture of agility requires an investment of time and energy from your organization’s leadership team. However, the work is not an option. The customers who drive transformation from the outside, and the team members who adapt from within, are as constant as change itself.