Embracing Agility in HR Practices – Part 2

The second part of this concept of embracing an Agile HR looks at what we as individuals can do to help transform the organization to meet the challenges of this complex business environment. It looks at how we can re-invent the workplace based on a combination of what we know about organizational development and Agile ways of working. Furthermore, it looks for opportunities to improve existing practices by finding any overlooked flaws arising from outdated ways of doing things. This helps enhance and enrich employee experience and agility throughout the organization.

To be successful today, companies must be ready to embrace change at the shortest notice. Customer demands and market conditions change every day. We have to possess a deep understanding of these changes, be able to make quick data-driven decisions, and collaborate with teams that can continuously innovate and deliver immediate value. This is the essence of Agility. It is a central characteristic sought after for an ideal organizational design. That is, hierarchies are becoming flatter; companies are more internally connected and digitized. Nevertheless, these changes are forcing HR departments to come up with more design capabilities to ensure we can successfully guide the development of modern businesses and the future of work.

Understanding Agile Organizations

Agile organizations maintain a stable top-level structure while replacing traditional hierarchies with a flexible and scalable network of teams. These networks are naturally or organically evolved, ensuring the balance of individual freedom with collective coordination. This means that not all teams need to be fully Agile. There are numerous models to choose from that have been evolved over a period. Such as Hybrid, Spotify, LeSS, Scrum@Scale, Holocracy & Sociocracy, and SAFe. Whatever Agile Model you work with, e.g. a hybrid model or a ‘Spotify’ model made up of tribes and squads, HR needs to get comfortable with how and why we scale. 

While contemplating what model to employ, it is important to understand that you will need to start small and try out different ones. Then, you need to scale the ones that work and see how it transforms into something that works for your organization. The company must also have a stable ecosystem in place to ensure that these teams can operate effectively. Agile organizations like Gore, ING, and Spotify focus on several elements.

  • A clear flat structure reflects and aids the process by which the company creates value. For example, several teams are clustered together into performance groups, called “tribes”, aimed to achieve a single mission. These groups vary in size with a maximum of 150 individuals.
  • Ensure clear and accountable roles that focus on productivity and reduces the redundancy of roles. Individuals are also encouraged to interact across the organization so that they proactively address the lack of clarity about roles. Furthermore, roles and people are treated as different entities so that responsibilities can be shared and one person can have multiple roles.
  • Senior leadership is freed to focus on the overall design of the structure and provide guidance and support to the various team below them. Furthermore, the individual teams are empowered to make on-the-ground decisions for their day-to-day activities.
  • Functional groups become communities of knowledge and this attracts developing talent that comes in to share knowledge and experience.
  • Agile organizations continuously work with customers, vendors, academics, government entities, and other partners in existing and complementary industries to co-develop new products, services, and/or solutions. This creates an ecosystem of knowledge and information and meaningful relationships.
  • Open physical and virtual work environments empower people to do their jobs most effectively in the environment that is designed for their needs. They cultivate transparency, communication, collaboration, and unexpected encounters between teams and units across the organization.

The building blocks of agile organizations are small purpose-made cells, like a living organism.  These cells or “tribes” have greater autonomy and accountability in their day-to-day activities. Furthermore, they consist of individuals from multiple fields and can be assembled and dissolved at the shortest notice. They can be comprised of groups of individuals working on a shared task (i.e., teams) or networks of individuals working separately, but in a coordinated way.