Organizational Agility: Team vs Organization Perspective

Can you think of an athlete or performer who is extremely agile?  It’s easy to think about an individual being agile. Now think about work teams – for example for a team of software developers – that function in an agile manner.  How agile are the individuals on the team? What agile characteristics describe how an agile team functions? Now think about the organizational level – which is much more complex.  How – and why – can an organization be agile? This article explores the differences between team and organizational agility.

This is the second of a series of four articles on the subject of organizational agility, where we explore key distinctions of agility at the organizational level.  This article, Part 2 in the series, “Team vs Organization Perspective,” looks more closely at the distinct perspectives on agile at different levels within the organization.  Part 1, “Agile Instincts and Mindset”, looks at the foundational nature of agile as compared to other approaches that people and organizations adopt. Part 3, “Adaptability vs Predictability,” considers the management friction between the two forces of adapting and predicting.  Finally, Part 4, “Balancing Planning and Adaptability”, dives deeper into the benefits and shortcomings of planning, where an adaptive approach can help optimize planning effectiveness.  

Team Agility

A team consists of a relatively small number of individuals, each of whom plays a role – usually multiple shifting roles – on a project.  The team cannot be very agile unless the individuals on the team do not have an agile mindset.

For you, the key is to take responsibility – for what you think, how you think, and what you do.  Question your thinking…and look for better solutions. And encourage your teammates to do the same.  Be committed to the purpose of the team – to the project objectives – and to your fellow team members.  

Agile has some very specific ‘ceremonies’ that are baked into the process that promote team agility.  At the core of this are daily stand-ups. It’s typical for each person to state what you’ve done since the last meeting, what you plan for today, and any issues or blockers.  This allows for short term status updates and solving of problems at the time they arise – and collaboratively. This is the essence of the agile process at work.

Organizational Agility

Being agile gets more complex at the organizational level.  Organizations are designed to perpetuate themselves…to survive via the systems they have in place.  However, sometimes – more often when industry change is rapid – these systems are actually counter-productive and can prevent the change that is necessary for survival.

Organizational agility is needed in proportion to industry change.  If your industry is tied to technology, you will likely need a lot of agility to adapt to rapid change.  However, if you are in, for example, the construction industry, your need to be adaptable to change will be less.  However, in any industry, it pays to be agile and adaptable as it encourages new ideas, which enables your organization to compete more effectively.

Just as agile teams execute agile processes like daily standup meetings, organizations can build some agile processes into their structures.  Organizations can initiate meetings to question prior assumptions, gatherings to encourage collaboration and team problem solving, and work environments to allow more collaborative and cross-pollinating thinking.  They can also inject agile thinking into existing processes such as budgeting, strategy formulation, and operations management.

Is your organization building appropriate agile thinking into new and existing processes?

This Post is Part of the Series: Organizational Agility

Here is a series of four articles that focus on the subject of agility and mindset:

  1. Agile Instincts and Mindset
  2. Team vs Organization Perspective
  3. Adaptability vs Predictability
  4. Balancing Planning and Adaptability