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5 Steps to Developing an Agile Culture

5 Steps to Developing an Agile Culture
November 01, 2019

Creating an agile culture plays a major role in making an agile transformation successful and sustainable. In fact, any agile transformation not supported by an agile culture—one that facilitates trust, transparency, support, and personal/professional development— will eventually fail.

That begs the question: why is the step of creating an agile culture often glossed over, overlooked, or purposely ignored?

Because it requires time, dedication, and soft skills not often found in traditional waterfall organizations.

Despite all of this, I do bring good news. Once you have an agile culture in place, no one in your organization will ever go back to the old way of doing things. A truly agile organization is centered on customers first—with its own team being a close second. Once teams experience the benefits of this level of collaboration, its members are hard-pressed to go any other route.

Before you say to yourself, “We’ve already achieved this level of agile culture,” let me point out that the great majority of businesses have had that very thought, but they still operate within a traditional organizational structure with strictly defined roles that rarely converge. Unfortunately, that mindset is one of the key failure points of agile transformations.

So how can your organization break free from this pattern? Let’s count the five steps to an agile culture:

Step 1: Scrap Command and Control

According to the experts at the Change Leaders Network, “Command and control as a change leadership style destroys virtually any chance of success in nine out of ten transformational change efforts.”

  • “How is that?” you may ask. Command and control:      
  • Hampers employee engagement and commitment, and often promotes resistance
  • Reduces your ability to make real-time course corrections
  • Minimizes people issues such as emotional reactions to change

It’s simple: The old-fashioned approach of barking orders from the corner office is a recipe for failure. In an agile company, everyone is responsible for making decisions that best serve the customer.

Step 2: Leave Big Teams Behind

According to business experts, smaller teams deliver big benefits when it comes to project execution.

With smaller teams:

  • Increased face time between leaders and team members drives focus and engagement
  • Greater awareness of circumstances and expectations leads to better clarity and cohesion
  • Increased interaction among members leads to increased collaboration
  • Minimal administrative requirements boost potential work time

Whether it’s a sales team or a dev team, agile companies leverage the collective power of small, nimble teams, with each team responsible for delivering a well-defined, customer-focused set of results.

Step 3: Open Up and Delegate Responsibility

Customers should be at the heart of virtually everything your agile organization does. Their demands and desires should dictate what you produce.

No matter how engaged your senior management team is with the customers, they need to recognize that they don’t have all the answers. Decision-making power must be delegated to colleagues who are closest to customers—in other words, colleagues on the frontline.

This process typically results in releases of higher quality and more valuable feedback that drive product direction and future enhancements. At the same time, newly delegated decision-makers are inspired to build tighter bonds with customers.

It’s a win-win scenario.

Step 4: Provide Supportive Leadership

Allowing others to make decisions tends to make traditional leaders nervous. What, they may wonder, are they there for?

Enter “servant leadership.” Simply put, a key goal of business owners and executives is to support managers and frontline staff—to “serve lead them”—which is decidedly different from bossing them around. It means making sure they have the strategic guidance, tools, and knowledge to do the jobs and make the decisions delegated to them.

For servant leadership to be effective, make sure that someone is responsible for maintaining a detailed overview of all project activities at every level, and that everyone has access to the overview. You should also have a mechanism in place for people to seek and receive strategic guidance from senior management.

Step 5: Make Knowledge Silos Accessible; Build Information Bridges

Traditional organizations have a nasty habit: they store knowledge in silos—and they let only a select few into each silo. That’s incompatible with agile, where everyone has access to information they need to get the job done. When organizations become agile, silos still exist, but they build information bridges to the silos that let project teams easily and efficiently draw expertise from all relevant silos.

Traditional organizations have a nasty habit: they store knowledge in silos—and they let only a select few into each silo. That’s incompatible with agile, where everyone has access to information they need to get the job done.

This doesn’t mean you should fling open the doors to all company knowledge. Some information is too sensitive to be shared widely, and inundating employees with data can be overwhelming and create unnecessary confusion. Identify the right information to be made available, and build bridges to make that happen in a timely manner.

Are You Ready for a Culture Shift?

While there are no set step-by-step instructions for a digital transformation with agile that apply to all organizations, these five steps will put you well on your way to achieving an agile culture. Always keep in mind that a key outcome is to move from traditional thinking, which puts the customer on the outside, to an agile approach where the customer is central to your work, actively engaged in the development of new products and services.

The Digital Advisory and Consulting Services (DACS) team at Enterprise Studio by HCL Technologies is the global leader in collaborating, consulting, and coaching with enterprise-level companies to connect them to the promise of business agility—the ability to sense and respond to opportunities and challenges and protect themselves from the volatility of doing business in the digital economy.