How to become agile?

Are you open for “quick and dirty”? To try “minimal workable solutions”, and develop them on the go?
Can you let go of the what (solutions and actions)?

Its place on the pyramid

In contemporary leadership, we feel that agility connects result and structure. We feel that structure is still an essential part of contemporary companies and collaboration. However, too much or too little structure can hinder the efficacy and timeliness of results. This is where agility comes into play: being flexible and adaptive without losing core stability and structure.


Look 20 years ahead but plan only for tomorrow. Times are changing quickly and being agile enough to adapt is crucial.

What you can do starting today:

Give people autonomy (autonomy enhances agility) within the stable structure of a clear ambition and playing field

The leadership funnel can be used to define stability as well as agility. Apply the tool and offer stability by defining a clear challenge, ambition and playing field. This will allow people to act quickly and confidently because they will have the autonomy they need. They can thus swiftly meet the expectations of customers (internal and external!).

Use key values to introduce the stability that will facilitate agility

Here, it is again necessary to highlight the importance of defining a playing field (see leadership funnel). Don’t make this field too practical. People often tend to limit the playing field to time, money and means. However, perhaps even more important is the playing field that is shaped by the values you as a leader consider crucial. You can gain speed and agility if you make these values explicit from the earliest possible moment. So, do your homework and define the core playing field (not in relation to a specific project or task). A way to this is to start listing what kind of solutions/actions/behaviour you hate (yes, be frank to ensure clarity, no sugar-coating!). For example:
– solutions that are not built on clear facts and figures;
– solutions that will be more of a hassle or more time-consuming for the customer;
– solutions that create problems for other departments;
– solutions that are not aligned with stakeholders’ interests; and
– solutions that will negatively impact sustainability efforts etc.
To present it to your team or organization formulate them in a positive way eg. Solutions must be built on clear facts and figures.
Crucially, you must be rigorous about the criteria you implement. Consider each criterion carefully and test it by asking yourself the following question: would I still consider a solution if it didn’t satisfy this criterion? For example, if an interesting and strong solution was suggested but it did not support the work of other departments would you consider it? If yes, then this criterion is not essential.

Go for the simplest workable solution more often

Drawing on the philosophy of design thinking, don’t dive too deeply into thinking, analysis and discussion before doing.
Past approaches to implementing solutions were often characterized by detailed analysis and planning before concrete actions where implemented. The need for agility makes this impossible in a lot of situations. Design thinking is thinking with your hands. So if there is an issue, challenge or problem to resolve, see if you can go for the simplest workable solution. This is the solution that is perhaps not yet perfect but that you can try and improve on the go. So, brainstorm and give one or more of the solutions that are suggested a try.
It is important to provide a solid framework for this approach. Don’t present a solution as THE solution. Be transparent and explain that you intend to give a solution a try, receive feedback, improve the solution if possible and then move on if it doesn’t work.

Develop people so that they can use their autonomy in an effective way

Most leaders have been promoted to a leadership position because:
– they know their field and are often a specialist in this field; and
– they take the initiative, move things forward and are active.
However, these characteristics can also be a pitfall for leaders as they can limit their power to facilitate the development of others. If you as a leader take a too active a position (knowing it all and giving all the solutions) then, according to the leadership compass, you will foster passive co-workers. They may be either on the ‘I’ side (following) or ‘we’ side (detaching) depending on your tone of voice, but in either case they are passive. In order to shape an agile company and workforce your co-workers must be more active. This means that you may need to be less active. With reference to the leadership funnel, we advise you to be active when defining a challenge, ambition and playing field but to take a more passive and coaching role when helping people to build the right solutions, actions and behaviours.

Have a look at the tools on our Compassion to Lead website. For agility, look in particular at the ‘free people’ tools.