Agile working was introduced to complete (i.e. implement) projects that are subject to many changes and ever new challenges – both successfully and to the benefit of users.
This is exactly the situation we are in right now: due to ever new and recurring crises, almost every organization has to adapt over and over again and has to make the corresponding decisions – much more often than before. Uncertainty and lack of predictability have become the rule!
The agile values of commitment, courage, focus, openness, and respect are intended to help organizations address these situations in the best possible way. Why?
Commitment means that the employees or people of an organization are responsible for what they do and for what they don't do (and for what they see). Looking the other way is not acceptable! Each person undertakes to intervene or to at least openly address matters and to ensure that necessary action is taken. This commitment applies to a personal level, but more importantly on a team level. Nobody is left alone! Accordingly, the responsibility for the ‘right thing to do’ in times of a crisis never only rests upon one single person or leader.
Courage is necessary to realize the value ‘commitment.’ Courage means to pay attention and to address any shortcomings. Courage is also necessary when co-workers offer their help to other staff or the leader. Courage is needed to make decisions in times of uncertainty. It is obvious that this is an advantage in times of crises because the worst thing that could happen is that the organization is hamstrung as decisions are not made any more due to uncertainty.
Focus, or customer focus, usually is of high relevance. But there is not much time left for insignificant matters, especially in times of crises. In this context, it is essential that staff concentrates on questions such as: whom do we serve, why are we here, who needs us now the most, or does it even make sense to re-define our focus amidst the crisis? After all, continue doing what we have done in the past is probably not the best focus in challenging times. But the focus can also be on activities that improve teamwork if afterwards the team can pursue its goal with more strength and greater efficiency.
Openness creates transparency and trust. In order to actually live the value of commitment, team members need full transparency about what they are committing to or taking responsibility for. Nobody buys a pig in a poke! If companies want to distribute responsibility, they must also distribute knowledge. Moreover, all people affected need maximum transparency about figures, data, and facts in order to involve many people in decision making processes with the aim of benefiting from the knowledge of the many (collective intelligence). In 2017, Uwe Raschke, long-serving Managing Director of Robert Bosch GmbH, said on a conference: “We can disclose at least 99% of the content discussed on Management Board level to the entire staff.” In my view, this statement applies especially in times of crises.
We are talking about values here. That simply doesn’t work without respect! Respect means to interact with each other as equals. This is based on the conviction that no human being is better or worse than the other! Agility and any of the values mentioned above can only work if people display this kind of basic attitude. Knowledge, experience, origin, the old or the young, marital status, the interests of each and every one of us always contribute added value to any team or organization. And this leads us back to the values of commitment and courage: if a team member or leader does not pay respect to the other, it is the responsibility of all others to point out this fact and to address the matter. Don’t forget: looking the other way is not acceptable!
If a team or organization agrees on agile values, the implementation of such values must be reviewed regularly. The agile Scrum framework does this by using retrospectives. This is a meeting with the sole purpose of jointly reviewing collaboration within the team. And this meeting is important, even if it may seem that there is absolutely no time left for focusing on internal matters! Because if an organization regularly works on its values and seeks to ensure efficient collaboration, this is exactly what makes the difference; and this difference is reflected in the observation that such companies are more robust, especially during a crisis.
In a nutshell: Get Agile! Now is the time!
This text first appeared in my newsletter 'Innovation on Wednesday'. It is published every other Wednesday. For subscription click here