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All about agility

All About Agility Header ImageAgile vs agile: On the Mark explains:

Agile: First seen in software development teams, an Agile approach involves small, self-governing teams breaking big problems down into modules and using customer collaboration, experimentation and iteration to find solutions fast.  Harvard Business Review's Agile at Scale article is a good point of departure for more on this.

agile: Agile teams require an agile organisation. An agile organisation removes bureaucratic barriers, advocates nimbleness and overcomes risk aversion. It develops other areas of an organisation to “keep delivering to the core business whilst also honing the flexibility necessary to respond to Agile teams." Remember Agility and agility require stability.

Building A/agility into an organisation: What agile businesses have in common:

Antoni Gaudi is one of the most revered architects of all time. He founded the Catalan Modernism movement, developing an utterly unique style inspired by natural forms. He recognised a need for new architecture and broke conventional rules to create it. But, in order to 'curve the lines' he needed to ensure there was sufficient structural stability.

To become more agile, an organisation first needs to be structurally sound. It needs stability before it can implement dynamism. In McKinsey's 2018 report ,  the group outlined what agile units have in common: Collaboration, dynamic responsiveness and efficient turnaround capacities emerged as critical.  As did exemplary leadership. Leaders need to not only display servant leadership but also must build new capacities into organisations to usher in a culture of agility.

Additionally, they need to be decisive and strong about the direction they set. A paradox-savvy leader is one who can balance paradoxes in a way that optimises efficiencies. Every business has opposites: radical change or incremental change, for example. The question is how a leader marries these to meet demands. Agility requires less ambiguity and uncertainty.

Here are some of the other common traits agile organisations share, according to the same McKinsey report and the 2017 McKinsey article on agility.

  1. Shared purpose: By crystallising a compelling shared purpose, agile organisations rethink how to create value for all stakeholders, commonly positioning customer-centricity at the company's core.
  2. Small teams: Agile organisations tend to comprise scalable networks of 'small, empowered teams', while maintaining their 'stable backbone structures'. This stability is critical.
  3. It's all about iteration. Teams work in cycles: breaking problems down into smaller modules, executing in rapid bursts and then adjusting according to how performance tracks against goals.
  4. Dynamic people model: Agile teams comprise individuals with a strong entrepreneurial drive, meaning they proactively pursue – and create – opportunities in their everyday work. At the heart of every agile organisation, there's a 'dynamic people model'.
  5. New tech: Agile teams quickly adopt new tech to allow for their iterative approach and to streamline collaboration.
  6. Cohesion: Teams don't operate in silos, but rather collaboratively, with each other and the business's customers.
  7. Continuous learning plays a big part in bridging capability gaps and fuelling ingenuity. In a recent MasterStart survey, just under half of +1000 South African respondents felt they'd been held back by lack of skills.  It's critical that companies address this.

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Sarah Babb Profile

Sarah Babb
is the programme director, facilitator and lecturer for the University of Stellenbosch Business School Executive Development (USB-ED). She is a specialist in leadership development, from the design and delivery of programmes for over 20 years helping to build the capacity of leaders of the future. Sarah has designed and facilitated numerous programmes for multinationals, businesses, associations and business schools reaching vast numbers of leaders across multiple industries. 

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