​So what is organizational agility?

Have you ever noticed people keep talking about things, but they’ve not aligned with what their words mean? I have seen agility measured as the number of “agile teams” and the “number of training attendees” more often than I like to admit.

Maybe we can talk about what organizational agility is not — in a word — bs. For example, re-labeling, predictability for uncertainty, or old-fashioned micro-management and fear. Why? Because psychological safety enables cognitive diversity, which enables better handling of complexity.

Organizational agility delivers value in five dimensions (See also my post on what is value, really?). Suppose we were to authentically measure organizational agility (I’m not sure that’s even possible but let’s leave that aside). In that case, it might be helpful to have a common understanding of what it is. Let’s try a one-liner.

“Organizational agility is an organization’s ability to harness change for competitive advantage (Ken Schwaber).”

Change is constant. Organizational agility is about using that reality for competitive advantage — we can’t “manage” change; we must adapt to it.

I have seen other pithy definitions also. The problem with pithy one-liners is they are a little too open for interpretation. I like to be a little more clear on the direction of travel.

It’s ok to aim for more tangible desired outcomes and key experiments on the way there, as long as we’re authentic about it. Saying “Rome wasn’t built in a day” is all very well. To continue with that metaphor, we need to lay metaphorical bricks every day, and we need to improve continually.

Lip service and complacency are a death knell for real change. Like for example, someone saying, “we’re already agile”… I have bad news for people who say that — we’re never done with continual improvement.

“↑” means more (of). “↓” means less (of).

Organizational agility is about creating an adaptable organization with a higher possibility to drive disruption in society, the industry & the marketplace. It is manifested through ↑effectiveness in optimizing current value/un-realized value with ↑frequency-of-impact, ↑quality, ↑learning, ↓drag, ↑flow, ↑efficiency, ↑work-sustainability.

It looks like cognitively-diverse (Syed, 2019) people collaboration, possibly applying holocracy, Agile, Lean, Lean/Agile, Product Management, the Three Ways of DevOps, or values/principles of a manifesto like the Agile Manifesto, Modern Agile, etc…

It feels like humanity, authenticity, leadership, engagement, and current-and-future-revenues.

Humanity: we mean ↑compassion, ↑invitation, ↓imposition-in-terms-of-ways-of-working, ↑psychological-safety, ↑trust, ↑respect, ↑team-based-commitment, ↑openness, ↑inclusion, ↑passion, ↑focus, ↑energy, and ↑fun.

I get people to sort some principles to figure out what they believe and what options might be more suitable for them. I even wrote up an approach to suit a team in 2019, the highest performing team I ever had.

Authenticity: we mean ↑self-managing-teams, ↑value, ↑outcomes, ↑impact, ↑sincerity, ↑empiricism, ↑excellence.

In the past three years, I worked with teams that went for outcomes and sincerity. The sprint reviews were the best I had experienced. The engagement level was very high between the team and the senior leaders, and the customer’s leaders.

Leadership: we mean ↑self-awareness, ↑courage, ↑go-see, ↑speaking-truth-to-power, ↑alignment-of-what-is-said-privately-and-publicly, ↓backlogs, ↑prioritization, ↑focus, ↑flow, embracing-uncertainty, serving-teams, ↑coaching-at-all-levels, ↑fixing-problems, ↑enabling-organization-design-towards-the-direction-of-travel.

I once experienced a situation where over 70% of people on the ground were convinced executives understood what the delivery problems were. Still, only 20% of people on the ground were convinced the executives were doing anything about fixing them. I get energized when executives fix problems.

Engagement: we mean ↑engagement with society, shareholders, employees, customers, consumers, end-users, partners, and other stakeholders through ↓big-bang, ↑transparency, ↑inspection, and ↑adaptation.

Current-and-future-revenues: we mean ↑meaningful-shared-purpose, ↑value, ↑understanding-needs-and-wants, ↑outside-in-thinking, ↑getting-out of the-building, ↑constraint-management, ↑optimized-as-a-whole.

I witnessed an excessive focus on efficiency more than once. As Russell Ackoff said, “the righter we do the wrong thing, the wronger we become.”

Consider this definition of organizational agility as a template to modify for your context. Whatever you do, try to clarify what organizational agility is and what it is not. Whatever you do, try to explain what organizational agility is and what it is not.

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