Culture first: Focus areas for your agile cultural movement

We all know the pace of change is accelerating. We can feel it. Disruption is everywhere. Change is the new normal. Technology is outpacing individuals. Individuals are outpacing the uptake of change by organisations. And organisations are outpacing the ability of public policy setting to keep up with this change[1]. It is clear that organisations that are set up and behave in a responsive, nimble and agile way are best placed to succeed in today’s world.

Culture – organisational mindset, habits and behaviours – play a key role in driving this agility. Traditionally, cultural change is leader-led; desired cultural attributes are determined by leadership, a gap analysis is conducted, and a plan to achieve the desired culture is determined.

With agile organisations, we see a stronger organic shift in culture, a more viral cultural change or cultural movement from grassroots – from teams and employees[2]. This organic change in behaviours and norms can be instigated by anyone in the organisation creating an open, transparent and highly experimental ecosystem. While the cultural change tends to bubble up through the power of this viral cultural change, it must also be embraced by the leaders of the organisation. The role of leaders in creating an agile organisation cannot be overemphasised. Leaders must walk the talk to ensure that the desired culture is reinforced and maintained in their organisations.
So how do organisations achieve this cultural movement to be a more resilient organisation?

In this blog post, we explore 5 focus areas to consider when uplifting your culture towards enterprise agility.

1. Both Customers and the Employee Experience are critical

An agile environment is no place for sacred cows or leader picks. Customers and employees are the heart of what drives success in an agile and responsive organisation. Encourage your employees to interact with customers and involve them in designing solutions for them. Employee experience also needs to be considered as the process to serve customers’ needs to be simply, easy and enjoyable. This can also mean designing for your customers of the future.

A resilient, agile organisation:

  • Prioritises capability in human centred design and empathy mapping, enabling your customers and employees to be clearly understood
  • Promotes the testing of services and products with customers. Customer insights are critical data and should be embraced by leaders and teams alike
  • Sees customer outcomes prioritised in talent management frameworks, such as performance and recognition
  • Creates a culture that is value-focused, where employees can iterate and learn fast while prioritising the employee experience
                     Figure 1: An example of an empathy map template
2. The workspace is connected and personalised

Cubicles and closed-door offices are the antithesis of collaboration and team spirit. Teams should be empowered to set their workspaces to drive maximum outcomes. This could mean a mix of spaces for collaboration, quiet areas, and technology-enabled areas to connect virtually. More contemporary workspaces include “huddle space”[3] or the out-of-the-box gondola workspace[4], seen at Google’s Zurich office. Whatever the configuration, it is essential to set up a workspace that will best meet the team’s needs. The workspace of an agile organisation is also a powerful enabler to the transparency and openness, utilising physical workspaces to share progress, or work in progress prototypes.

A resilient, agile organisation:

  • Cuts red tape in the workplace environment, allowing for the use of walls or zones for visually displaying ideas or progress
  • Encourages feedback on visual displays to enable fast and effective iteration
  • Makes available tools for prototyping, idea generation and collaboration (such as Lego, virtual whiteboards, post-its, sharpies and digital collaboration canvases)
  • Uses symbols and visual cues to keep customers’ and employees’ perspectives front of mind (think stickers, posters or customer hats)
        Figure 2: An example of an agile workspace that promotes collaboration
3. There is a thirst and passion for the purpose of the organisation

Creating a diverse and inclusive environment that promotes different working preferences and allows everyone to show their passion is critical to a successful resilient organisation. While diversity and inclusion is king, the common connector in an agile organisation is a joint thirst and passion for the purpose of the organisation, expressed in terms of customer or mission-based intent.

A resilient, agile organisation:

  • Clearly expresses and lives the common purpose of the organisation – asks fellow team members and leaders to share what motivates them about their work.
  • Allows teams to set their own norms, values and ways of operating effectively together within the guardrails set by leaders – a team canvas[5] is a great tool.
  • Provides technology to allow flexibility in different working arrangements, while maintaining connectivity and collaboration towards team goals and sharing of stories.
                   Figure 3: An example of a Team Canvas template
4. An innate learning mindset exists and is nurtured

To become and remain an agile organisation, rapid learning is essential as is creating the right environment to do so. Learning should not be designated to a specific team or individual, rather it should be a shared organisational mindset. This is strongly linked to having an experimentation mindset, enabling quick iteration, and being nimble in pivoting or perishing an idea where the value no longer ‘stacks up’.

A resilient, agile organisation:

  • Invests in the learning and development of its people – dedicating time in your sprint cycle is an effective way to achieve this
  • Has a sharing or abundance mindset, where everyone shares ideas or insightful articles freely to inspire new ideas or points of view that challenge inbuilt assumptions
  • Uses prototypes to quickly bring an idea to life, so it can be tested. Data and insights are critical in the learning process
  • Shows vulnerability and is open when things don’t work. To quote Nelson Mandela, “I never lose. I either win or learn”

It is important however to do this in a constructive, respectful and safe environment which leads us to our final point.

5. Leaders have trust and confidence in their people

A resilient and agile organisation has trust and confidence in the ability of its people to deliver outcomes and make informed decisions. There is no room for second guessing, consensus decision making, and layers of sign-offs, which impedes operating ‘at pace’. Confidence is gained through teams swarming to rapidly generate ideas, sharing solutions with others to iterate, and in customer-tested prototypes.

The fundamental role of leadership changes in this model. No longer are leaders the final rubber stamp. Instead they coach and guide teams, remove blockers and enable teams to thrive in delivering the agreed outcome. They nurture an environment of psychological safety where it is permissible to speak up and take risks in innovation without the fear of failure or adverse professional branding.

A resilient, agile organisation:

  • Trusts decision making to the people or teams best placed to make the decision
  • Has teams that support rather than criticise each other, driven by the collective organisation purpose
  • Plays to the strengths of individual team members

Creating an agile organisational culture doesn’t mean starting from scratch, but requires a focus on connecting your culture to the existing company values. Think about the organisational ‘why’ and what purpose your culture change is intended to serve, considering what aspects of your existing culture have brought success in the past. A series of small steps that encourage experimentation, put the customer at the heart of everything, and embed ongoing iteration practices are the key to a cultural movement. These 5 focus areas will help you to embrace agile ways of working to enable your organisation to be future-fit.

Supporting Footnotes:






Want to stay up-to-date?

Stay on trend and in the know when you sign up for our latest content