Agility is a mindset

Agility is a working culture focused on experimentation in order to innovate to add value.

«Agility is a state of mind» is one of the often repeated phrases in organisations starting to work in an «agile» framework. Those who use this expression intend to convey a change of approach to project planning and execution, a mindset open to continuous experimentation and a relentless persistence in the development of new products.

Admittedly, this is a witty phrase which focuses on people and reduces the importance of all those aspects more related to methodology. However, we can only accept this statement partly. It is not only individual mindset which needs to change in an organisation for it to become an agile company.

Agile, as well as Lean, it is a set culture, and its deployment must be treated as such if we expect everyone to share its values. People’s mindsets will only change when the organisation accepts the new values, beliefs and work paradigms.

Without a radical transformation of the organisation’s paradigms, «agile is a mindset» is just a lucky phrase printed on the T-shirt of some employee who, despite considering themselves a full-blooded «agilist», often reacts with perplexity and despair at the first setback they face or when, for example, the coffee machine in the office runs out of coffee.

Contact us to find out more about the path your organisation needs to take.

New models for the era of disruption

Recent history has seen a series of changes in most Western societies of such a magnitude that one might dare to call them major disruptions. Until the 18th century, economy depended mainly on agriculture. Most companies at the time had artisanal processes and, at most, were organised in trade associations.

In the 19th century, the industrial revolution was a disruptive change which affected society’s most basic paradigms. On the demographic level, the massive movement of people from the countryside to the industrial cities culminated in a new class distribution and the emergence of the proletariat. From a technological point of view, processes that had so far been carried out in an artisanal manner were industrialised. At the turn of the century, Frederick W. Taylor drew up the premises of the scientific organisation of labour, a new system designed to optimise production in steel mills. Taylor’s theories explained that, in order to use resources efficiently, it was necessary to assign each employee to a small group of tasks at which they would be efficient. On a practical level, such an abstract concept as people specialisation was essential to structure the functioning of the entire company: from the tasks to be performed by each employee or the hierarchical dependencies between functions, to the design of departmental structures and the objectives to be achieved by each area of the company. Organisational design along these lines seemed so rational, organised and efficient that Taylor’s model was widely accepted in the business world, quickly replacing the more anarchic and artisanal models of the time.

We can say without any fear of exaggeration that the past 20th century was the golden age of scientific organisation. A period of strong growth which has enabled us to reach unprecedented productivity levels. Access to learning skills, the progressive automation of repetitive processes and globalisation, combined with a large availability of funds, have contributed to this era of abundance.

During this period, order (or the search for order) has been a constant. From the clearly defined and hierarchical organisation charts of companies to the job descriptions assigned to each position, all are examples of a rigid organisation perfectly designed to achieve a predefined objective.

Leadership in the 21st century

Scientific organisation of work not only defined what a company should be like, but also established the competencies and skills needed to progress professionally in this work system. Throughout the 20th century, leadership positions were restricted to certain profiles: the dominant thinking was generally rational, reductionist and deeply analytical. In short, the professional who wanted to progress had to be skilled in information management and data analysis.

All these skills were highly useful in a linear and predictable world. In the 21st century, however, the world is moving towards a different framework. In this new environment dominated by uncertainty, analytical thinking, a good education or even a master’s degree are no longer enough.

Talent as we have known it to date has changed. Analytical skills are necessary, but not sufficient. In a world ruled by change, all these skills are available to both organisations and individual users at very low cost.

In this new changing and uncertain environment, the leader only adds value when they are able to share a clear purpose, a benchmark to which their entire team must aim. At the same time, this 21st century leader must accompany the whole team along the journey to reach the goal. In other words, it is not about deciphering the magic formula capable of dissolving the fog around us. There is no such formula. It is simply a matter of finding those who know how to guide their teams through this fog.