8 Habits of Agile Organizations

By January 22, 2019Leadership, Teams

You would think being agile is a priority for every organization. It’s actually more exception than rule.

In many organizations, leaders and teams continue to manage uncertainty with business as usual. They put more daily pressure on themselves and each other to get more from the same approaches to their work. They work from the flawed and high-risk belief that resisting change is less risky than being continuously adaptive.

Agile organizations outperform their risk-averse counterparts because they are interested in and able to be adaptive in everything they do. They work from a completely different relationship to uncertainty. They believe every day represents two basic options: love what you do by being adaptive or drive yourself crazy being irrelevant.

Agile organizations are adaptive not because it’s in their mission, vision, values or strategies. They are not adaptive because they talk about it. They are adaptive because they invest time learning, experimenting with and cultivating the habits of an agile organization.

Among the many distinctive habits of agile organizations, here are eight.

Progress in iterations
One of the principles of agile organization is: Put something useful in people’s hands as soon as possible. We use our learning to put more useful things in their hands. This is the opposite of delaying everything until we have the whole thing perfect. Learning is getting feedback with as much velocity and quality as possible. This is the opposite of delivering on assumptions. We make progress in learning-based iterations. It makes users partners which optimizes our chance of agility and success.

Momentum in sprints
Work is timed in tempos of 1-3 weeks, 2 weeks being the most common rhythm. We shape work to get done in sprints. Nothing carries over from one sprint to another. Things get delivered as soon as they’re ready for use. It doesn’t matter what business we’re in. We can organize what we want to get done in sprints. This creates powerful focus and momentum for the whole team.

Responsive sequencing
We keep a responsive list of what’s most important for us to deliver. No matter how long this list can be, we sequence all desired deliverables from those we will produce next to the rest to follow. Given that change is life’s constant, we refresh the list and the sequence every sprint so we are always doing the right things at the right time. This gives us great pride in our work. Everyone is always working from exactly the same priorities.

Expectation management
We stay continuously transparent to those who lead us and those who use what we deliver. They always know what’s on our agenda, what’s sequenced and how things are timed. This allows them to weigh in on adjustments that are most meaningful to them. This makes us trustworthy. People bring their best selves to the table when they believe they are dealing with a trustworthy team.

Team decision making
We make decisions as a team. We are the closest to the work and see most clearly the world we work in. Because we support what we help decide, we are in continuous support of what we’re doing together. There are no motivation gaps when everyone is aligned. Balls don’t get dropped or delayed. Decisions are timely and effective because they include diverse perspectives and data.

Pairs assignments
We work in pairs. This has multiple benefits. Work and learning is accelerated. We always learn something new working along side anyone on anything. Four hands work faster than two. We also learn how to coordinate work so there is alignment is standards and adaptability.

Question based planning & decisioning
Agile teams and leaders know from a deep bench of experience that working from their questions in planning and decisioning keeps them continuously realistic and productive. Their progress is fueled by the constant iterations of their questions. They know that their knowns are their constraints and their unknowns are their possibilities, moving them forward on their responsive priorities.

Working by agreements
Agile teams work by agreements rather than by assumptions. They work from mutually crafted and tested agreements on everything that matters in their work. This includes communication, tech use, work locations and hours, on and off boarding team members and partnering with other teams. This creates a culture of trust. Trust is key because trust is the mother of velocity and agility.

The good news is that every organization on the planet – regardless of size, maturity or line of work – can in steps and stages learn how to become a more agile organization. It’s a practice that brings out the best in everyone. What could be better than that?


About Jack

In my late twenties I had the good fortune to have mentors who were practice leaders in what was then called the Human Potentials Movement. They inspired me to help organizations and communities realize their potential in ways they never imagined. It became clear this was the core gift that would shape the past 40 years.

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