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Agility doesn’t just happen, you have to work at it

Discover the three stages to creating the right environment for agility to thrive in your organization

Published by Martin Moran 

An Agile team planning with notes on the wall

A “black swan” event. A metaphor to describe a rare occurrence that comes as a surprise and profoundly impacts businesses and the stock market. In recent years, there’s been a number of them. COVID-19 and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are two very stark examples. Both were unforeseen, have been highly disruptive and have sent shock waves through the global economy.

Definition of Agility In the Workplace

What is agility in the workplace? It’s a dynamic and multifaceted concept that emphasizes the ability of organizations and their employees to respond rapidly and effectively to changes, challenges and opportunities in the business environment.

It involves a blend of flexibility, adaptability and speed in decision-making and execution, enabling businesses to innovate, pivot and stay competitive amidst evolving market demands and technological advancements.

Agile workplaces prioritize open communication, collaboration and a culture of continuous learning and improvement. They empower teams and individuals with the autonomy to make decisions and take actions that align with the organization’s strategic objectives, fostering a proactive rather than reactive approach to change.

This agility not only enhances operational efficiency and productivity but also cultivates a resilient and forward-thinking organizational culture that can thrive in the face of uncertainty.

Importance of Agility in the Workplace

Increased Competitiveness

In today’s fast-paced and ever-evolving business landscape, agility in the workplace serves as a critical determinant of an organization’s competitiveness. Agile companies are better positioned to anticipate market trends, adapt their strategies quickly and introduce innovative products or services ahead of their competitors. This nimbleness allows them to seize new opportunities, meet customer needs more effectively and respond to industry disruptions with speed and confidence. By fostering a culture that encourages experimentation and learning from failures, agile workplaces can continuously improve and maintain a competitive edge, ensuring long-term success and growth.

Adaptability to Change

Agility equips organizations with the adaptability required to navigate the complex and unpredictable nature of today’s business environment. It involves embracing change as a constant and integrating flexibility into the core operational processes, allowing companies to pivot quickly in response to external pressures, technological advancements, or shifts in consumer preferences.

This adaptability is crucial for survival and growth, as it enables businesses to overcome challenges, mitigate risks and capitalize on changes that might otherwise threaten their stability or existence. An agile workplace is resilient, prepared for change and capable of thriving in uncertainty.

Improved Employee Satisfaction and Retention

The principles of agility extend beyond organizational processes and strategies to encompass the work environment and employee experience. Agility in the workplace promote a culture of trust, autonomy, and empowerment, where employees are encouraged to take initiative, make decisions and contribute to the company’s direction. This empowerment leads to higher job satisfaction, as team members feel valued and understand the impact of their work.

Furthermore, agile environments support continuous learning and personal growth, offering opportunities for employees to develop new skills and advance their careers. Such a positive and dynamic work culture not only attracts top talent but also significantly enhances employee retention, as individuals are more likely to stay with an organization that recognizes their contributions and invests in their development.

The need for agility

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a finance professor, writer and former Wall Street trader, popularized the term black swan event in a book he wrote ahead of the 2008 financial crisis. He argued that because these events are impossible to predict, businesses simply can’t plan for them, regardless of what they say in hindsight.

And so business leaders today, in a bid to create the illusion of control, focus their attention on ‘agility’. They breathlessly espouse how agile their business needs to be to weather the storms head. Board meetings are dominated by the pursuit of agility, while management persistently encourages their teams to work in a more agile fashion.

Nevertheless, saying you want be agile isn’t the same thing as working hard to become agile.

Characteristics of an Agile Workplace

Flexible Work Arrangements

An agile workplace is characterized by its embrace of flexible work arrangements, adapting to the diverse needs and preferences of its workforce. This flexibility can manifest in various forms, including remote work options, flexible working hours and the ability to choose work environments that best suit individual or team needs. Such arrangements acknowledge the importance of work-life balance and recognize that productivity and creativity can flourish outside the traditional 9-to-5 office setting.

By allowing employees to tailor their work arrangements, organizations not only boost morale and job satisfaction but also attract a broader talent pool who value flexibility and autonomy in their professional lives.

Open Communication Channels

Open communication channels are the lifeblood of an agile workplace. They facilitate the free flow of information, ideas and feedback across all levels of the organization, ensuring that everyone, from frontline employees to top management, is aligned and informed. Agile workplaces often utilize a variety of tools and platforms to support real-time communication and collaboration, breaking down silos and fostering a culture of transparency and inclusivity.

This open dialogue encourages innovation, as ideas can be shared and improved upon collectively, and ensures that issues are addressed promptly, allowing for quick adaptation to new challenges or opportunities.

Continuous Learning and Development Opportunities

A hallmark of an agile workplace is its commitment to continuous learning and development. Recognizing the rapid pace of change in skills and knowledge required in the modern workforce, agile organizations invest in ongoing education and professional development for their employees. This can include access to training programs, workshops, conferences, and online learning platforms, as well as opportunities for cross-functional projects and rotations that broaden skill sets and perspectives.

By prioritizing the growth and development of their teams, agile workplaces not only enhance their capability to adapt and innovate but also demonstrate a commitment to their employees’ career advancement and personal fulfillment, contributing to a more engaged and motivated workforce.

Characteristics of an Agile Workplace

Leadership Support and Commitment

Building an agile work environment begins at the top, with leadership support and commitment being crucial. Leaders in agile organizations must champion agility as a core value and demonstrate it through their actions and decisions. This involves moving away from traditional hierarchical decision-making to a more decentralized approach where authority is distributed and teams are empowered to take initiative.

Leaders should actively support risk-taking, encourage innovation, and be open to failure as a learning opportunity. By embodying the principles of agility, leaders set the tone for the entire organization, fostering a culture where change is embraced and flexibility is valued.

Creating a Culture of Trust and Empowerment

Agility in work thrives on a foundation of trust and empowerment. Trust is built by transparency in communication, sharing successes and failures alike, and showing confidence in employees’ abilities to perform their roles. Empowerment is achieved when employees are given the autonomy to make decisions, solve problems, and take ownership of their work. This requires a shift in mindset from micromanagement to coaching and support, where managers provide guidance and resources rather than direct instructions.

Cultivating a culture of trust and empowerment not only accelerates decision-making and innovation but also enhances employee engagement and satisfaction by making team members feel valued and responsible for their contributions.

Emphasizing Collaboration and Teamwork

In an agile workforce, collaboration and teamwork are key to achieving flexibility and responsiveness. Agile organizations foster cross-functional teams that bring together diverse skills and perspectives to work towards common goals. This emphasis on teamwork is supported by collaborative tools and spaces that facilitate communication and idea sharing, regardless of physical location.

Encouraging collaboration across departments and disciplines helps to break down silos, enhance knowledge sharing, and drive agility and innovation in the workplace. Regular team meetings, brainstorming sessions, and project debriefs are part of the agile workflow, ensuring that all team members are aligned, engaged, and motivated to contribute to the organization’s success. By prioritizing collaboration, agile workplaces can more effectively respond to challenges, capitalize on opportunities and achieve their strategic objectives.

Implementing Agile Work Practices

Implementing agile work practices requires a commitment to continuous improvement and flexibility. The key to success lies in choosing the methodology that best fits the organization’s culture, nature of work and strategic goals, and then adapting it as needed to meet the unique demands of each project. These methodologies offer a framework for organizations to adapt quickly to changes and delivery value more efficiently.

  • Scrum: Scrum is a framework that divides projects into sprints, typically lasting two to four weeks. Each sprint begins with a planning meeting where the team selects tasks from a backlog to complete during the sprint. Daily stand-up meetings help track progress and identify blockers. At the end of each sprint, the team reviews completed work and reflects on what can be improved in the next sprint. Scrum roles include the Product Owner, Scrum Master and the development team, each with specific responsibilities to ensure the project’s success.
  • Kanban: Kanban is a visual project management method that uses a Kanban board to visualize workflow. Tasks are represented on cards, and columns represent each stage of the process, from “To Do” to “Done.” This approach allows teams to see the status of each task at a glance, identify bottlenecks and manage workload effectively. Kanban emphasizes continuous delivery and encourages teams to pull new tasks only when the current tasks in progress are completed, promoting efficiency and flexibility

From machine to organism

For a long time, organizations were seen as machines. Hierarchies, silos, processes and incredibly detailed specialisms were all factors in running a business in a mechanistic way. And those that embraced this approach did very well. Ford is a classic example and, as we all know, it went on to dominate the car market worldwide.

But it only works as long as external factors remain fairly constant and predictable. In the age of digital disruption, economic turbulence and political instability, the machine starts to grind and churn.

Now, the idea of a business as a machine is being replaced with the idea of a business as an organism. That’s to say, something natural and evolving that can quickly adapt to the conditions it’s presented with.

This more agile, organic organization places less emphasis on hierarchy and more on adaptability, accountability and action. But to run a business in this manner requires the right infrastructure and the right leadership.

Agility doesn’t have to mean chaos

Agility shouldn’t come at the expense of informed decision-making. It’s a trap leadership teams can fall into in an attempt to be more agile. As Edwards Deming famously said, “Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion.” Business leaders need data insight to make good decisions, regardless of agility.

But rather than taking time to analyze situations before deciding on strategy, we see leadership teams trying to create the illusion of agility by deploying several, sometimes conflicting, strategies based on instinct, speculation and theory. In today’s world, that is high risk.

Instead, organizations should be using processes and technology to enable actionable insight that leads to quick, effective decision making.

For me, there are three stages to achieve this:

Stage one: Get on the same page

An important characteristic of any agile organization is that its leaders use the same data to make decisions. Yet many businesses fall at the first hurdle using disparate datasets at different times. The result? Poorly-informed decisions and strategies that need reversing or repairing.

The first step to agility is getting everyone on the same page when it comes to data and insight. This means a single source of data, cleaning up that data and agreeing on terminology that everyone shares and understands.

It’s remarkable what action can be taken when organizations look at genuinely good information rather struggling with reams of obscure data and calculations prone to human error.

Stage two: See your workforce

Most organizations have their workforce loosely mapped out in an org chart or a spreadsheet somewhere in a folder. The provenance of data may be dubious and it most likely won’t tell you whether the right work is being done by the right people at the right cost.

Being able to see the workforce as a whole and being able to zoom into functions, departments and individuals is what’s needed. You need clean data that integrates all sources to give HR and Finance a shared, consolidated view.

This allows the business to build muscle by understanding relationship between people and skills to identify strengths and weaknesses.

Stage three: Test your strategy

It might sound counterintuitive to an agile culture to spend time testing. And yet it’s critical to achieving clarity when setting or reviewing strategy. Remember, agility is about informed decisions that lead to fast, confident action. Sometimes you have to slow down to speed up.

Understanding the potential impact of strategy by modeling different scenarios that test different workforce deployments allows leaders to capitalize on business strengths while enabling them to mitigate challenges and risks.

Reaching for a strategy in the dark and hoping for the best may feel efficient in the short term but too often it leads to delay and derailment in the long run.

An agile future

Following the above stages should help create the environment for agility to flourish. Leaders then need to embrace an agile mindset and have a relentless focus on informed decision-making and insight-driven action.

What’s clear is that you can’t simply proclaim your business to be agile. You have to work at it and create the right environment, and ensure that it’s predicated on accurate data. Obvious but true. And although business agility won’t help you anticipate the next black swan event, you’ll certainly be able to adapt faster and more effectively when it inevitably arrives.


  1. Why is Agility in the Workplace Important?

Agility in the workplace is crucial because it enables organizations to respond swiftly and effectively to changes in the market, technology, customer preferences and competitive landscapes. Agile companies can adapt their strategies, processes and products to meet evolving demands, allowing them to seize new opportunities, overcome challenges and maintain a competitive edge. This responsiveness is essential for survival and growth in today’s fast-paced and unpredictable business environment, ensuring that organizations are not only resilient in the face of change but also proactive in driving innovation and improvement.

  1. Why is Agility in the Workplace Important to Employees?

For employees, agility in the workplace is important because it fosters a dynamic and empowering work environment that values flexibility, creativity and collaboration. Agility in work offers employees the opportunity to work on diverse projects, develop new skills and take on responsibilities that align with their interests and career goals. This leads to increased job satisfaction, higher engagement levels and a sense of ownership and contribution to the company’s success. Additionally, the emphasis on work-life balance and flexible work arrangements in agile organizations contributes to employee well-being and satisfaction.

  1. What Does Agility Mean in the Context of Work?

In the context of work, agility refers to the ability of an organization and its employees to quickly adapt to and thrive in changing conditions. It involves being flexible, responsive and innovative in approaching tasks, projects, and overall business strategies. Agility means having the capacity to pivot when necessary, embrace new ideas and technologies, and continuously improve processes and products based on feedback and changing market demands. It also entails a culture that supports collaboration, open communication and empowerment, enabling teams and individuals to make decisions and take actions that drive the organization forward.

  1. How to Improve the Agility at Your Organization?

Improving agility at your organization involves several key strategies:

  • Foster a Culture of Continuous Learning: Encourage employees to embrace new skills and knowledge that can help the organization stay ahead of industry trends and technological advancements.
  • Implement Agile Methodologies: Adopt agile project management methodologies like Scrum or Kanban to streamline workflows, improve collaboration and increase efficiency in project delivery.
  • Promote Open Communication: Establish transparent communication channels across all levels of the organization to ensure information flows freely, enabling faster decision-making and innovation.
  • Empower Teams: Give teams the autonomy to make decisions related to their work, encouraging ownership and accountability for outcomes.
  • Embrace Change: Cultivate a mindset that views change as an opportunity rather than a threat and be prepared to adjust strategies and processes in response to new information and circumstances.
  • Invest in Technology: Utilize technology and tools that facilitate collaboration, project management and communication, supporting a flexible and efficient work environment.

Read our agile organizations solution brief

Find out how Orgvue can help you to successfully build, run and sustain agile structures and learn more about:

  • Common challenges to overcome when creating agile structures
  • 3 steps that will enable you to successfully design, build and run agile structures
  • A SaaS platform that changes everything
  • A customer case study

Read more about agile organizations

8 out of 10 businesses have committed to adopting an agile approach. Learn how they adapt their structure in response to disruptive business conditions using agile methodology.

Martin Moran

Board Advisor, Orgvue

Martin has over 25 years’ experience in the technology industry, 20 of which have been with SaaS and cloud computing companies. He is a founding member of Salesforce and in EMEA, and began his career in technology at Oracle. He is also an active non-executive director, board advisor and angel investor. Martin served as Orgvue’s interim Chief Revenue Officer in 2020 and Orgvue’s interim Chief Executive Officer in 2021. He continues to advise growth investment company, One Peak Partners, alongside serving as chairman for a number of high-growth technology start-ups. Martin holds a degree in Accountancy from Brunel University London.

Photograph of Martin Moran

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