In any workshop I hold the last couple of years, any coaching session I do, the word “agility” keeps popping up in the vocabulary. I am a stickler for definitions as you know, so when I ask the question, ‘what does agility mean for your organisation’, I get a range of responses from blunt looks to answers of ‘we have to be faster’. Organisations have jumped on the bandwagon and are doing agility in some sort of manner or form, while at the same time, most people I speak to, are stressing out about it. One organisation is now holding meetings standing up, because apparently that makes the meetings last less… another, is empowering decision-making to lower levels of the organisation, however, they haven’t grant them the respective authority to do so and as a result the people get frustrated because they feel they don’t have the power and eventually get demotivated. Recently, I also heard that there are courses of agile coaching… – even though I hate emojis… this is where I would insert the emoji of slapping its head out of frustration… Really people? Hence, my choice of neuroticism, because executives are reacting to the concept of agility with a greater-than-average negative affect, yet keep insisting on doing it, whatever “it” is, or they think it is.
Here is the thing…. Agility as a concept is not new. It seems that the idea appeared around about in the early 1990s in manufacturing when members of industry, government, and academia got their heads together to figure out how to make the United States competitive in manufacturing. Later on, it included enterprise agility as well.
If we take Swisher’s general definition of agility, “the ability and willingness to learn from experience, and subsequently apply that learning to perform successfully under new or first-time conditions”. Excuse me, but isn’t this a mindset that one should have in business anyway? Have I missed something? Swisher goes on to breakdown the concept in categories which are:
They know what they’re good at and not so good at and actively address the not so good
They are critical thinkers who are comfortable with complexity, examine problems carefully, and make fresh connections that they make understandable to others
They understand the value of getting things done through others and are exceptional communicators who see conflict as an opportunity rather than a problem
They like to experiment and can deal with the discomfort of change; they have a passion for ideas and are highly interested in continuous improvement
They deliver results in first-time situations through resourcefulness and having a significant presence that inspires others
So, my question is what’s NEW about this? Wasn’t this always the case?
Another source of frustration is that organisational efforts to implement agility (or any concept for that matter) do not include both Behavioural as well as the Structural foundations for such concepts to be successful. The Behavioural aspect includes changes in mindset and behaviours, while the Structural aspect includes the policies and procedures that will facilitate (and not hinder) the mindset and behaviours. The first question that any organisation needs to ask, is what does agility mean for us and how will that help us achieve what we want to achieve? Agility is not about just doing things even faster… And if we dig into Swisher’s definition there is an underlying necessary ingredient for this to succeed, that in my experience with teams and organisations, they miss more often than not. The concept of Reflection. Pulling the break, stepping back or whatever you want to call it. Without that, whether you are an individual or organisation, you wont’ be able to do any of the above. And as you know one of my favourite mottos is that leadership is not just about doing, but it’s also about being.