Agility in a Rigid World

Agility is a function of an organization’s culture, structure, and discipline. Lessen any of them and the output is reduced.

Culture. You can’t be agile in an organization where decisions are made from top to bottom, individual initiative is frowned upon, and mistakes are treated as illustrations of failure instead of opportunities for learning. Such organizations create teams whose members lack initiative and are afraid to speak up.

Structure. You can’t be agile in an organization where individuals are not empowered to make decisions, take action, and own their work. These are the organization where fifteen people come to a meeting—and none of them is able to take responsibility for anything. These are the companies that have five Product Owners for one mobile app.

Discipline. You can’t be agile in an organization where roles, processes, and practices change as often as the clouds on a windy day. In environments where discipline isn’t valued, strategies change, roadmaps become meaningless, iterations get extended till infinity, and work items turn into a source of chaos instead of order.

American bestselling author and leadership coach Marshall Goldsmith points out in his book, Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts (Goodreads), that most of us go through life unaware of just how much our environment shapes our behavior.

It’s just as powerful in the office as it is in our personal lives. Mind the environment that’s being created and reinforced in your organization every day. Inertia in the direction of rigidity can destroy your company’s ability to be agile.