Agile Culture DNA

This brief article attempts to give a more succinct view on what an Agile Culture is and, more helpfully, what such a culture looks like, what we call Agile Culture DNA. The aim is to create a skeleton to help all of us to build upon it thriving agile cultures that not only exceed customer expectations but also ensure that all stakeholders win; leaders, staff, suppliers, shareholders and customers.

The most recent definition of an Agile culture is as follows:

Agile Culture is about creating an environment that is underpinned by values, behaviours and practices which enables organisations, teams and individuals to be more adaptive, flexible, innovative and resilient when dealing with complexity, uncertainty and change.

(Based on the works of Ed Schein, Frederick Laloux, Vlatka Hlupic, Peter Senge and Alan Furlong)

In a more general sense, Organisational Culture is quite often described as: 

  • How do things get done around here? (Handy 1999) 
  • A glue that binds an organisation together and is the hardest thing for competitors to copy 
  • Is a lasting source of competitive advantage (Mankins 2013)

The Agile Business Consortium, Culture and Leadership group has synthesised multiple Agile models to begin developing a user-friendly quick reference guide to what an Agile culture contains. It includes the following:

Purpose and Meaningful Results: The purpose of the company is clear to everyone and everyone is clear on what they are focused on and how it tangibly impacts the organisation. The staff, from senior management to new members live authentically by the organisations values, they impact how they behave both internally and externally.

Agile Leadership: Leaders have high emotional intelligence and put their people first, believing their role is to support rather than to dictate. They give constant coaching and feedback, balancing the conflict between control v’s flexibility and internal v’s external viewpoints, effectively. In addition, leaders are accountable and admit personal limitations and mistakes

Wellbeing and Fulfilment:  Individual wellbeing is seen as a critical component of collective and organisational wellbeing, not simply a ‘nice to have’. People derive tremendous personal fulfilment from their work and leaders are vocal ambassadors for the team and push back when they feel under pressure to deliver things fast. In addition, leaders give constant feedback, recognition, respect and seek development opportunities for team members.

Collaborative Communities and Distributed Authority: Leaders actively facilitate the building of community and team, so collaboration is a norm. Teams are given appropriate levels of autonomy and using ones initiative is encouraged. It means that getting stuff done is easy (there are few internal contrived impediments) and staff have access to the right level of resources and training.

Trust and Transparency: Leaders walk the talk and contribute to a positive organisational culture that embraces full knowledge and resource sharing. Dissenting views are aired openly and honestly and therefore psychological safety is built. Management are trusted because they are transparent and the organisation embraces full knowledge sharing and resource sharing.

Adaptable to Change: Agile organisations react to changes in the business environment quickly whilst maintaining a strong, stable core. As a consequence new ideas are adopted and feasibility-tested quickly and staff are willing to stick their necks out and take appropriate risks. In essence the organisation has a proactive mindset for change, rather than a reactive mindset.

Innovation, Learning and Personal Mastery: The organisations knows that most of their best ideas come from the staff not from the leaders and they are encouraged to think outside the box and to provide solutions to the business. Most importantly the whole organisation sees failure as an opportunity to learn, re-work, improve and deliver better results.

These seven core principles help to define a thriving agile culture but in the spirit of Agile, let us know your thoughts, your views and your experiences to help constantly improve this model.