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Sep 22, 2020

Today’s remote-work world involves a multitude of moving pieces and continuous, rapid change. To truly thrive, companies must infuse agility into their entire culture. 

But what does this actually look like?

A culture of agility enables interdependent teams to collaborate with ease, flexibility, innovation, and speed. It enables people to rapidly adapt to change and evolving customer insights — even when the team is not physically together. In the process, teams focus on the high-value work that simultaneously supports immediate stakeholder needs and fuels organizational progress. 

At the same time, leaders operating in a culture of agility calibrate organizational design to better respond to shifting market dynamics. 

In other words, a culture of agility allows a company to achieve a state of continuous forward progress, even in the midst of a major curveball like a global pandemic. To foster such an environment, the following five cultural strengths must be in place: 

1. Psychological Safety

When Google tasked researchers to discover what high-performing teams have in common, they found just one thing: psychological safety

Psychological safety forms the foundation of a true culture of agility. When it is present, employees know they can speak their minds and offer ideas and concerns without risk of judgement or negative ramifications. It means people feel comfortable taking risks and experimenting with process changes or fresh mindsets. The result is greater collaboration, more significant innovation, higher engagement, richer diversity of thought, and overall better results. 

2. An Agility Mindset

The idea of an agile mindset first took root in software development about two decades ago. Now, companies everywhere are adopting it to improve innovation, collaboration, and customer value and they respond quickly to evolving market forces. 

When a company has an agile mindset, individual employees and teams are fluid and aligned to a common purpose. They are able to take smart risks and rapidly iterate on ideas to enhance value. 

An agile mindset also means a company’s employees from the top down are always questioning how the business is changing, how to better meet stakeholder and customer needs, and how to quickly arrive at viable solutions. 

3. Inclusive Collaboration

Silos stymie forward progress and fresh thinking. Inclusive collaboration is the opposite. It helps companies break down organizational barriers and bring together team members from different areas. By combining skill sets in new ways, companies are better positioned to pivot to new projects and capabilities.

Inclusive collaboration begins when employees feel personally invested in the purpose they serve both as individual contributors and as a part of a larger team. It identifies and celebrates the strengths of individuals, who in turn feel they can rely on the unique strengths of others. 

When inclusive collaboration is present, company leaders consider the problem at hand, invite members from every stakeholder group it affects to weigh in, and use their insights to build a diverse team with the exact skills, strengths, and capabilities required to address the problem. 

In short, this allows collaboration to occur across the organization, bringing in skills as needed rather than having teams operate in isolation, blindly guessing at what the best solution will be.

4. Nimble Learning

The speed of change these days is advancing, and no industry is immune from disruption. To survive, companies must figure how to quickly adapt. They must determine what is needed when and then quickly provide value to customers and other stakeholders. In other words, they must be nimble learners. 

When a culture includes nimble learning, company leaders regularly reflect on the strengths and needs of the organization and its customers. Then, company leaders must take those insights to create a tailored road forward based on the available skills and tools. 

5. Change Readiness

Change readiness means a company can react to change in a way that minimizes risk and creates new business opportunities, all while maintaining a high level of performance. 

When a company’s culture includes change readiness, individual employees and teams collaborate to anticipate changes and rapidly strategize and adopt new processes and solutions to respond to those changes. As a result, they can more easily handle shifts within the business and within the market.

These five cultural strengths are interrelated. An agility mindset empowers teams to be flexible and take quick action, while change readiness helps them easily adapt to new challenges. Nimble learning allows companies to quickly test new concepts and ideas, which are made possible by inclusive collaboration. And none of these can occur without psychological safety. 

When all five cultural strengths are present, companies can achieve a culture of agility. But it isn’t just a one-time-and-you’re-done deal. Organizations must continually reinforce a culture of agility with respect, transparency, and open communication throughout the company. 

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