Agile companies – those that are capable of flexing and shifting in response to change – will invariably come out ahead of those that aren’t. They’ll get to market faster. Their products and services will be better aligned with market demand. They’ll quickly seize new opportunities, and they’ll spot and sidestep pitfalls their less agile competitors won’t see coming.
It’s clear that startups have an advantage here. They’re small, their policies and processes are still in development, and they’re not burdened by overly rigid job roles and organizational structures. Thus, it’s easier for them to adopt the same agile practices that help software teams work quickly and efficiently.
Too many leaders of large companies assume that their organizations are just too big and too inflexible to be agile. They’re not. Even very large organizations can find ways to improve their speed, innovation and efficiency, and can outpace their competitors as a result. Truly agile companies do have several things in common, but size is not necessarily one of them.
#1: An agile company mindset
Organizational agility requires a certain mindset. Leaders in agile companies embrace diversity of thought, they are pragmatic, and they do their best to instill in their employees an understanding of the individual’s role in the entire organization’s success. They understand that moving quickly means that not everything will be a resounding success, but that valuable lessons can be learned from failures.
#2: Team-based approach
True agility cannot be achieved on an island or in a silo, but that doesn’t mean that agile companies dissolve their organizational structures. Even in companies where job roles are highly specialized, agility is achieved by empowering employees at all levels to collaborate cross-functionally, forming project teams that contain all the expertise necessary to get the job done.
Simply eliminating the communication barriers that have traditionally existed between disparate areas of the business dramatically improves speed and efficiency. This is especially true of companies with geographically dispersed employees and/or contingent workers. Open and continuous communication across functions ensures that teams get answers and support when they need them and decisions can be made quickly.
#3: Catalyst leadership style
The challenge for many organizations in adopting agile practices is that they seem to conflict with traditional management paradigms. It’s true that in agile organizations, leaders take a non-traditional role and that employees are given more autonomy, but strong leadership is still a critical part of the agility equation.
Rather than assigning tasks, leaders in agile companies define goals and support their teams in achieving them. They provide guidance rather than rules, and they remove any roadblocks standing in the way of their teams’ successes.
#4: Culture of continuous improvement
One of the benefits of the agile approach to software development is that teams self-optimize as they discover the best ways to work together. The same self-optimization can be achieved by any team if the organizational culture in which they work encourages them to evaluate and improve upon their processes on an ongoing basis. In an agile company, it’s understood that learning from successes and failures is essential for continuous improvement.
#5: A penchant for change
Perhaps most importantly, leaders in agile companies don’t just accept change, they embrace it, and they continuously scan the horizon for opportunities and threats. Change isn’t something to be labeled as either good or bad in the context of existing strategy. In agile companies, change defines strategy.
The advantages agile companies (and not just startups) have over slower-moving competitors are clear. Fortunately, agility doesn’t require a small staff and flat organizational structure. A company of any size can become more agile simply by adjusting its view on change, taking a slightly different management approach, and enabling insight and ideas to flow freely.
Want to learn more about becoming an agile company? Check out A Formula for Organizational Agility.