Inter-team qualities for Business Agility

Business Agility is an enterprise-wide mechanism to rapidly sense, respond and deliver the right business initiatives that will benefit an organisation and its customers. To increase business agility, an organisation needs to promote the qualities of collaboration, alignment and synchronisation amongst its teams and departments.

Governance processes should be built around these qualities since it affords individuals and teams a great degree of freedom to pursue the organisation’s goals and outcomes. It will also help close the gap between strategic direction and day-to-day team execution.

Consider scaling team frameworks such as Scrum to create ways of working that promote these qualities.

Collaboration

Regardless of background, seniority or specialism, teams and individuals from across the business should have the freedom to collaborate. Collaboration can extend beyond the business to include business partners and clients.

Managers should help the business to reorganise so that cross-functional teams of specialists, regardless of department, can work as single teams to rapidly experiment and deliver business outcomes.

Alignment

All individuals should understand and be aligned to the organisation’s mission, vision and strategic direction. Each team and department should have clarity of the business outcomes that are currently being sought.

Leaders should enthuse and align their colleagues; managers should create the environment and ways of working with their colleagues which reduces misalignment.

Synchronisation

Creating cross-functional and co-locate delivery teams can greatly improve business agility. However, despite this, often a single team cannot deliver products and services on their own. Often many teams need to be involved, which necessitates the synchronisation of effort across many teams.

To illustrate this Klaus Leopold gives a useful analogy which I’ve expressed as the following:

A customer wanting to have a letter written, where each team works independently by controlling a row of keys on a keyboard. Typing the letter would be uncoordinated, slow and frustrating.

To improve time to market, it’s inevitable that teams need to interact. So, rather than teams independently hitting their keys at speed, it’s better if each team slows down, coordinate and collectively hit the keys at the right time and sequence.

How I can help

This one-pager summarises how I can help organisations increase their competitiveness through better business alignment and outcomes.

Close the gap between strategic goals and execution

Where I’ve done this: FTSE 100 company transformation programme
What I did: With the leadership team, we co-created vision statements, which we mapped to strategies and KPIs. Set-up execution teams, with backlogs which were faithful to leaders’ direction. I helped ensure day-by-day alignment and execution against the strategies.

Create a high-level portfolio view of an organisation’s or department’s goals and activities

Where I’ve done this: UK Newspaper department
What I did: I facilitated a quarterly portfolio process which prioritised goals and dependencies. I used this as a mechanism to update the leadership team (including CIO), and involved them in guiding the execution teams’ alignment and trade-off decisions.

Help determine strategic fit with the organisation’s vision

Where I’ve done this: Directors and senior managers
What I did: I ran workshops to reaffirm the organisation’s vision (“where we want to be?”) and aligned it to a set of strategies (i.e. the competitive gameplan) to create a set of innovations and breakthrough ideas with execution teams.

evolve mindsets and ways of working to help deliver business outcomes

Where I’ve done this: FTSE 100 senior managers and teams
What I did: Often starting with training, I described the impediments typical of a traditional organisation which hampers innovation and competitiveness. I coached individuals to develop a business outcome focus. I introduced principles and ways of working based on agility.

Reduce the delay between alignment effort, execution and return-on-investment

Where I’ve done this: FTSE 100 senior managers and team leads
What I did: I highlighted where the lack of stakeholder buy-in resulted in delayed execution and delayed ROI. I created forums which allowed stakeholders to understand where they could remove impediments to increase execution and competitiveness.

Co-evolve governance process that promotes innovation and execution

Where I’ve done this: FTSE 100 transformation department
What I did: I co-created a governance structure that ensured individuals were constantly aligned, with collaboration and synchronisation across the department. Teams had the necessary authority to make decisions that promoted learning and execution.

Kick start delivery teams and align teams that require their support

Where I’ve done this: FTSE 100 transformation department
What I did: I worked with leaders to set-up cross-functional teams. Teams had the right skills and autonomy to ensure the least amount of delay. Other disciplines and processes were re-orientated to support the teams, such as governance for small frequent budget cycles.

Some of the organisations I’ve supported.

Elevator Pitch

In today’s rapidly changing world, organisations face increasing uncertainty, and greater potential to excel. In this context, to ensure organisations outlearns and out-competes the competition, I advise and support leaders to execute potentially fundamental improvements to their organisation.

As a Business Agility Consultant, I support leaders and departments to ensure the right investments help their organisation continuously adapt to changing customer demand.

In order to capitalise on market changes, I help leaders and teams determine and implement the right balance of activities, strategies and the best ways of executing. This enables new innovations, and it enables improvements to current operations, products & services.

Read more about my approach and check out my CV.

My ideal client

  • Household name organisation
  • In a competitive market
  • The leadership team has recognised the need to change, are willing to explore new opportunities and ways of working, and need my support to execute them
  • Opportunity to support business agility across the organisation, not exclusively technology
  • UK, Europe and North America, but would consider any global engagement
  • Competitive contract position or consultancy engagement

Prerequisites to creating a desire for change – The 4 As

For an individual to develop the desire and willingness for a difficult change, I’ve found it helpful to consider these four stages as prerequisites: Acknowledge, Awareness, Appetite and Action.

Together I’ve called them The 4 As of Change.

Stage 2: Acknowledge the issue

The individual needs to acknowledge how an issue is impacting them personally. They need to grasp the implications of how the issue is affecting their perception amongst their peers, how it’s hindering their goals and impacting the wider organisation.

For example, suppose a globally distributed team they are managing is consistently delayed with their deliverables. For the manager to truly appreciate the issue and have a desire to address it, the manager needs to acknowledge how this issue is impacting them personally.

Stage 2: Have awareness of a solution

The individual needs to have an awareness that a solution exists and its possible benefits.

For example, a manager would need to be aware that co-locating team in one location, to enable face-to-face communication, is likely to reduce misunderstanding and delays amongst the team.

Stage 3: Develop an appetite for the change

They then need to develop a sufficient appetite to advocate for the change and its solution.

Recognising the change may be challenging because it may involve a personal, then a public, admission that a change is needed.

They need to become an advocate to gain the backing of others who may express varying degrees of support. Trials may need to be carried out to validate and convince others the solution is right.

Using the previous example, although a manager may believe co-locating is right, they may need to gain enough backing to carry out the change. Others may be sceptical if, for example, it means other managers would lose influence over individuals moving from their location; or individuals in the team may not be able to accommodate the change.

Through trials and discussions, the solution may need many alterations. If protracted it’s likely to reduce appetite and possibly prevent the change from happening.

If the manager has maintained sufficient appetite, and gained enough backing, then they are ready to take action.

Stage 4: Take action to implement the change

Now fininally, they are ready for action.

This is the final stage where success criteria are affirmed, and the change is planned, executed and then reviewed.

Coaching or line managing others through the stages

If you are a coach or line manager, the following considerations may support others progress through each of the prerequisite stages of change.

  1. As a coach or line manager, be aware of the particular stage an individual is at. Provide support that’s contextual to that stage.
  2. Know that the way to think differently is to act differently. When you encourage others to act differently, they’ll start to see and experience the world differently, impacting their mindset as a result.
  3. Since change can be challenging, suggest breaking the change into small rapid experiments. This can bring much-needed evidence and insights, which can be particularly powerful when assessing a change’s appropriateness and when developing an appetite for the change.
  4. Facts and data are often not as convincing as a compelling story, so use stories where such a change has been previously successful. Consider asking someone external to share a story of such a change from their experience.
  5. Gain peer-level support for the change. Change is more likely when others independently state its benefits, or show keenness for the change.
  6. Consider the BJ Fogg’s maxims:
    1. Help people do what they already want to do
    2. Help people feel successful

An Approach to Organisation Change

When working with organisations and clients, this is my reasoning and a suggested approach for examining where and how organisational change should occur.

For the sake of brevity, I won’t dive into detail here. Neither am I suggesting this a one-size-fits-all approach; this is a generic approach that should be customised to the client.

  1. In order for an organisation to compete it needs to establish (or reaffirm) a clear market differentiator that appeals to their customers/clients.
  2. The market is changing rapidly. There’s plenty of emerging threats and opportunities, some are known, some are unknown(able).
  3. The organisation needs to identify the cash cow operations & services they need to be maintained and improved; these drive revenue. This creates one side of what’s termed the Ambidextrous Organisation.
  4. They also need to retire operations & services that no longer drive revenue or are no longer a strategic fit.
  5. Critically the organisation needs to seek new operations & services for new or existing customers/clients. This creates the other side of the ambidextrous organisation. In reality, only a few ideas are credible to scale to become the new cash cows.
  6. Points 3, 4 & 5 should establish a continuous balanced flow of initiatives. This enables the organisation to continuously sense & respond to ensure ongoing market fitness. This creates a Lean Enterprise
  7. Especially for Point 5, since there’s a huge amount of uncertainty, the ways of working, organisational structure, success criteria and leadership style is different to what’s needed for Point 3.
  8. To seek new viable operations and services, the organisation needs to be especially outcome driven, with flexible ways of working, an experimental approach supported by leaders, close co-discovery with stakeholders, close collaboration with customers/clients, where potentially many strategies and solutions are vetted.
  9. This ability for the organisation to sense and respond is in keeping with The Agile Business Consortium’s definition of Business Agility.
Agile Business Consortium’s definition of Business Agility

Where to start

To develop and carryout changes of such significance and depth requires the direct involvement of the leadership team. The following slides provides a high-level view of what such an engagement is likely to cover.

Further Reading

Thanks to Luca Minudel for helping me strengthen this article.

Setting-up Effective Teams

For a team to effectively deliver valuable business outcomes, they should typically be set-up with the characteristics describe on this page. These characteristics will also help ensure the team is aligned to the organisation’s strategy and fulfil the needs of customers and clients

These characteristics are rules of thumb. Any compromises and trade-offs against these characteristics are likely to reduce team effectiveness and delay delivery. With continuous leadership guidance and coaching, the team should regularly review and make adjustments to find the sweet spot.

These characteristics can be viewed as enabling constraints, in that they are set of conditions which, although constraining, will enable the team’s alignment to business needs, handle uncertainty and deliver value effectively.

Each characteristic has an interactive slider. Use the slider to reveal the trade-offs and compromises for the characteristic.

Small team size over large team size

Small teams reduce the number of people who need to be kept up-to-date and therefore increases the team’s cohesion and nimbleness. Between five to nine people is the optimum.

Click on the circles to reveal the trade-offs

Co-located over distributed team

Teams who sit together are able to share, discover and deliver with the least barriers to communication. Empathy and effectiveness are maximised. When the team members are distributed, the benefits of non-verbal communication (e.g. body language) and emergent rituals are constrained.

The more the work is uncertain, complex and varied, the more the team should choose to co-locate. On the other hand, if the work is familiar, predictable and routine, then the team could be distributed.

Full-time over multiple endeavours

Teams who are full-time on a single project or initiative have the least amount of distraction. They don’t suffer the overhead of context-switching between different work.

Cross-disciplined over siloed specialisms

Teams are most effective when they have everyone they need to take a requirement through to delivery. They won’t be hampered by having to wait for, or gain sign-off from, external parties. Individuals should be T-shaped meaning they have the breadth of competencies and willingness to switch between a number of roles within the team.

Self-managing over external management

If the team has the clarity of their mission and have the competency to deliver the mission, they are best placed to discover how to manage themselves and decide how work should be delivered.

Emotional intelligence over a narrow worldview

The team should be made up of individuals who have the capability to recognise their own emotions and those of others. In a composed manner, they should use emotional information to guide thinking and behaviour, and professionally handle the inevitable trial and tribulations to achieve their team goals.

Long-lasting over short-term teams

It takes time for team members to understand each other’s preferences, nuances and specialists, and time for the team to form its culture and ways of working. Once the team has stabilised and is highly performant, be careful not to break-up the team without a compelling reason.

Leadership support over distant management

Attempting to deliver business value, particularly for new business initiatives, is inherently uncertain. Teams need support from leaders to ensure strategic alignment. Leaders should remove organisational impediments and negotiate with staunch traditionalists.

Close to customers over proxy interpretation

In order for the team to reduce the feedback cycle between learning and deliver, they must be closest in the organisation to the customers or clients. Any intermediaries will slow the feedback cycle, increase misinterpretation and reduce customer retention.

Notes

Thanks to Tom Broughton for helping me strengthen this article.