How to Create an Agile Organisation – Part 3: The five cultural enablers needed to be agile, and some simple steps to shift the dial

Technology and Digital


November 16, 2017

In our recent blog on Agile vs Agility, we discussed how ‘change is the new normal’, and indeed this has an impact on the mind-set and cultural norms within organisations. The mindset and cultural enablers are more subtle and yet more entrenched in companies than the processes and methodologies. As such, shifting a culture takes time and requires small steps to achieve a movement.

Following our Agile vs Agility blog, we mentioned three agile characteristics:

  1. Embrace the power of teams
  2. Rapid response
  3. Customer Value Focused

While these characteristics provide the basis of creating an agile environment, it is when the people, and consequently the culture shifts, that the agile characteristics take hold. There are many factors that shift the dial, none less so than people supporting and embracing the changes that are happening, and as a recent North Highland survey revealed, the it is the ‘cultural buy-in at all levels of the organisation’ that facilitates true transformation.

So what are the cultural enablers? The five key enablers are:

  1. Be decisive
    1. As insight and data drive decisions in agile cultures, choices need to be made quickly and conclusively, so give the decision to the person with most information, not the most senior person in the room. You will need to research and analyse the information and then ruthlessly make decisions based on the real-time data-driven insight. Let your team make the calls when they are the ones with the most knowledge of the subject
    2. As team members and team leaders, you play a significant role in helping the success of your team – be supportive of your team to make confident judgements in the moment and stand by their decisions if they are sound, to facilitate trust
  2. Think big, start small
    1. In line with the agile characteristic; ‘be customer value focused’, be ambitious with your plans, thoughts and ideas, yet be pragmatic with what you can start with that will be simple, easy, and effective at delivering great results. Focus on the work and ideas that can result in the greatest benefits in the shortest time
    2. While starting to execute ideas is to be applauded, sticking with the plan such that you finish the work drives the greatest gains. You’ll deliver your big ideas through incremental steps, so stick with doing the small steps, and your persistence will lead you to success
  3. Move on
    1. Many of your ideas won’t materialise. Don’t worry about it; thank yourself for having so many ideas, and appreciate that those that didn’t make it allowed you to get to those that did
    2. Tell stories of failure as well as success. People listen to stories and connect their own experience to narration. People are more likely to take risks, and therefore embrace being agile, if they can share their experiences openly, and learn from their failures as well as celebrate achievements
  4. Trust your team
    1. Set a shared team goal that everyone contributes towards and is updated often. Help everyone understand their role in achieving it and trust them to do it in their own way
    2. Celebrate often. Agility often means tough decisions, working at pace and learning from failure. If your team know they are trusted to make the decisions, they will be adopt an agile attitude much more quickly, and become more loyal and effective team members
  5. Trust yourself
    1. Your contribution matters. Value it
    2. Believe in your voice at the table. Regardless of your role in your team, have the courage to be responsible for your actions. Role model behaviour every day and believe that by making a series of incremental changes you will turn the dial in becoming more agile

Being agile is complicated, yet achievable. The five cultural enablers are a start to transition and iterate changes. Start by listening to your team. Ask them what matters to them, what they want to do to change the most and how they’d like to work. Have them explain the examples of what success looks like, and have them introduce something new. Focus on trust, making quick decisions and find a balance between encouraging ambition and making small humble steps to achieve the outcome.

Click here to read part one of this series and here to read part two.