The 12 ingredients for Agile Organisations: you fail you learn!
I can’t cook, that’s no secret. I am married to a guy from Sicily who cooks for our children and me every day. I have no business anywhere near the stove. Still, I do spend a lot of time in the kitchen, watching the Sicilian cook his meals with devotion and love. It has taught me some important lessons especially when it comes to making pizza:
- Use the right ingredients and take your time;
- You fail, you learn;
- You cannot just leave out an ingredient, and replace it with an inferior product;
- There are multiple recipes for ‘the best pizza’ (although almost every Neapolitan will disagree).
The same principles apply to Agile Organisations. After some years of studying and working with various organisations, I found the 12 ingredients that make up the pizza organisation. They are all related, you cannot just leave one out, there are multiple preparation options (depending on context, culture, courageand company phase), and the entire process requires time and attention.
So here are the 12 ingredients: it’s up to you to find the best ‘working procedure’ for your organisation!
Agile working > start small, adjust along the way, improve from feedback & experiment, make results visible & celebrate success.
Don’t start by writing a detailed plan, but draw up the outlines, get started, and adjust along the way. Divide activities into small (easily digestible) steps that create value or can be passed on for further development (instead of one big release). In the meantime, give the stakeholders a little taste now and then and ask them for feedback, giving you the opportunity to make changes along the way, and to take into account changing circumstances. Make these ‘small wins’ visible and celebrate them! This not only motivates team members but also creates awareness in stakeholders and other involved parties.
These small steps and short feedback loops stimulate continuous dialogue. Moreover, because hierarchical lines of communication have been eliminated, team members will need to address desired and undesired behaviours in others. This is quite tricky and it requires a solid set of ‘rules’ and a level playing field, allowing everyone to speak up and engage in conversations.
Make sure there is room for experimenting, starting over when failing, and offer room for continuous improvement (“We will probably get it wrong before we get it right”); many things are still unclear, unknown and unexplored. Ensure a safe (psychological) environment that offers room for these experiments.
Flexible organising > create pizza coalitions where talent is centered around (customer) needs, where transfer and crossover of expertise is (made) easy and enabled by digital tools with focus on personal connections and transparency.
Agile working also requires a different structure and way of organising. Create pizza coalitions with different roles and expertises that add value to (solving) the underlying question/issue, and that can be easily transferred from one plate to the other (like pizza slices). The team members focus on co-creation (with each other, customers and stakeholders), serving the greater good (instead of sub-optimisation) and use dedicated ‘time boxes’ for focused working sessions (instead of fragmented gatherings where no actual work is done!). Ownership is stimulated by linking a specific role to the team member’s talent, passion and ambition.
Let the team organise itself, and reach agreement on roles, responsibilities and how decisions are made. This also creates contextual leadership: depending on the context, there is always one person most suitable to lead.
In the end, it is all about personal connections and the desire to collaborate, to learn, and to work for a common goal. The more personal connections there are, the more likely that this leads to unexpected encounters that add value (quote from Ronald van den Hoff, author of Society 3.0). Digital platforms can facilitate this and show us where knowledge and expertise are located, enabling an easy, or easier, match between what is needed and what is being offered. Analysing and interpreting the data these platforms generate help us to learn and adjust.
Ensure transparency: an open culture where relevant information-sharing is evident, where people know what is going on, and where activities can be placed in the right context (what are we doing and how can I contribute?). The more fluidly information flows through the organisation, the faster and more effectively the work can be done, fostering agility and responsiveness.
Shared Purpose & Relevance > inspire team members by clarifying the shared purpose, added value and relevance
Clarify the intentions, the mission, the purpose, the WHY, the added value, the dream, the big idea of the organisation. What is the shared purpose and how is this relevant to customers, employees, the environment, society, the world? How can the expertise, ambition and passions of the team member contribute? Awesome things happen when the personal purpose of the team member and the shared purpose of the organisation are aligned and connected! Inspiring leadership, focusing on eco (it makes things better for us all) instead of ego (it makes things better just for me) gives the organisation its direction and sets people into motion.
People and Value Driven Leadership > pay attention to the person behind the professional (wholeness) and embrace diversity. Show leadership that isn’t afraid to let go, create space and give trust
Focus on People and Value Driven (HR) Leadership where people (’s needs) are placed in the center of designing processes and making policies. All talent is is taken into account: what is it a team member can do (talent & expertise), wants to do (personal drivers & ambition) and what makes him/her happy (passion). Stimulate them to ask themselves if and how they can contribute to the shared purpose and let them look in the mirror to better understand themselves, be vulnerable and take responsibility for self-management and development.
Don’t exclude people based on their differences (in hierarchy, generation, gender, background, personal drivers, etc.); consider diversity an added value and strength. Make sure this topic is not just a slogan or ‘lip service’ (because it is the right thing to say); make inclusion and equality tangible by including people with a distance to the labour market and onboarding new hires with a warm welcome, by creating a safe (psychological) environment and by not just showing interest in the professional side, but also in the person behind the professional.
And finally: encourage leadership that dares to let go, creating space and giving trust. This is potentially the most important and most difficult ingredient if you’re currently working in an hierarchical management position…
Working Out Loud!
Finalise (or start) the pizza organisation by Working Out Loud, not to be in the spotlight yourself, but to ensure that the different slices of the pizza (expertise/roles) end up on the right plates (issues/questions to be solved). This also allows you to share relevant information (awareness, allowing others to make a connection, ensuring co-creation) and offers the opportunity to ask for feedback or help (allowing you to improve and adapt on time), and to learn from each other.
Remember to start ‘warming up’ the organisation well in advance, and keep the fire burning in the meantime, allowing this to spread and to achieve the best results.
And don’t forget: add love, courage and fun to your taste!
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