The DNA of Agile Organizations

Agile organizations can move quickly and easily.

They embed agile behavior into their way of working spanning the value creation system. Agile behavior is woven into the fabric of their culture.

“Agile Culture DNA resides amongst the people in an organisation and not as much in the structure, processes and systems.”Agile Business Consortium, Towards Agile Culture.

It requires people to have an agile mindset. It requires unleashing the contribution and productivity of people, individually and collectively. It requires eliminating barriers that get in the way of an agile response. It requires a systemic view that creates a common purpose which eliminates collaborative friction.

“Agile organizations create a cohesive community with a common culture.” - McKinsey & Company, The Five Trademarks of Agile Organizations.

At its core, being agile is a mindset that drives enabling behaviors. When spread systemically, it becomes the new organizational equilibrium (homeostatic force), the new status quo that replaces resistance to change. It starts with leaders committing to an agile mindset.

   • Agile organizations have a bias for action and work in rapid cycles of sensing, thinking and doing. They are quick to sense and respond to change without compromising stability.


   • Agile organizations have a focus on speed. Speed of sensing. Speed of change. Speed of execution. Agile organizations focus on shorter time-to-value as an integral trait of their DNA.

   • Agile organizations continuously hone their ability to be agile, routing out impediments, both seen and unseen, that delay an agile response.

   • Agile organizations encourage challenging the status quo and are comfortable with continuous change.

   • Agile organizations require leaders that embrace agility. It requires leaders to commit to being agile and not just doing agile.

“Today’s successful business leaders will be those who are most flexible of mind. An ability to embrace new ideas, routinely challenge old ones, and live with paradox will be the effective leader’s premier trait. . . Leaders will have to guide the ship while simultaneously putting everything up for grabs, which is itself a fundamental paradox.”Tom Peters, Thriving on Chaos: Handbook for a Management Revolution.

Agile organizations are able to flex and are comfortable with being in a state of discomfort associated with change. This requires leaders to be comfortable with discontinuity and in so doing to overcome the deeply human fears of change, uncertainty, and loss of control.

Humans are wired to resist change as it creates a state of uncertainty that induces fear. Moreover, organizational systems seek to maintain a state of equilibrium (homeostasis) and have forward motion (inertia) that resists change. Leadership needs to have the will to overcome these resistance forces by creating a cultural climate that is comfortable with change, first in themselves, then others.

"Agility is being comfortable with the discomfort. It is having the discipline to stay the course even when your comfort zone calls you back. It’s about being confident in moving into the unknown. The second step of becoming agile is to change.”Susan Robertson, REAL Leadership: Awaken to Wisdom.

10 Steps to becoming an agile organization

1. Commit to being agile as a strategic imperative.

An agile organization commits to being agile top down recognizing organizational agility as a strategic organizational capability, that in turn, sets in motion the behaviors and business practices to be agile across the organization’s value creation system.

2. Cultivate a speed-to-value mindset.

Agility is all about speed and nimbleness. It starts with an agile mindset that is pervasive across the organization. To what end? It’s all about value to stakeholders, both internal and external to the organization.

3. Commit to rapid cycles of sensing, thinking, and doing.

The essence of being agile is to think in terms of rapid cycles of sensing, thinking, and doing, conditioning the organization’s responsive capabilities with respect to business practices and behaviors that enable it. Think in terms of business practices and behaviors that promote trust-based collaboration systemically across the organization’s value creation system.

4. There is more than one way to be agile.

Accepting a commitment to be agile, embracing an agile mindset, opens the door to creativity in building agile capability and practice. Where there is a will to be agile, there is a way to be agile.

5. Focus on outcomes, not tasks.

Think in terms of outcomes, and let your people determine the tasks required to achieve them. This is called empowerment and team self-management. Avoid breaking outcomes down to detailed components that border on micro-management behavior and practice.

6. Broaden the boundaries.

Cast a wider net with respect to the boundaries within which teams operate. Tie the boundaries to the outcomes desired. Make sure that all are vested with an understanding of common objectives and outcomes synchronized with clearly communicating the boundaries within which they need to operate.

7. Surface and eliminate impediments to agility, continuously.

This includes both seen and unseen impediments. Visible impediments include any form of wasted time and delay, such as decision-making delay, bureaucratic practice, excessive meetings, and so forth. Unseen impediments include collaborative friction, lack of psychological safety, honesty, transparency, and trust, low levels of people engagement and energy, and a work environment that is not conducive to cognitive work.

8. From hierarchies to fluid networks.

Eschew command and control hierarchies in favor of empowered networks of people that need to work together to achieve common outcomes.

9. Empower with shared accountability.

Empower the people that need to work together reinforced with shared accountability. Empowerment without instilling a sense of accountability will lead to poor results.

10. Be a servant leader.

An agile leader is a servant leader, setting direction, empowering people, coaching people, helping them to succeed and clearing roadblocks that get in the way.

Frank Wander

Frank Wander, a former CIO, is the founder and CEO of PeopleProductive (, and the author of Transforming IT Culture, How to Use Social Intelligence, Human Factors and Collaboration to Create an IT Department That Outperforms (Wiley, 2013). This unique book is the first operator’s manual for human infrastructure and will help you successfully transform your leadership style and organization.

PeopleProductive has taken that concept to the human side of the enterprise. We similarly help you find, measure and fix a broad spectrum of behavioral, emotional and enablement issues. For the first time, you can eliminate the inefficiency that holds highly productive people back and measurably increase productivity.

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