Organizational agility has become a popular topic at least in the Finnish media. Oddly enough, it seems that the layoff news is the main channel for organizations to communicate about their ambitions to become more agile - to achieve almost any strategic target one could possibly imagine. It seems that agility is often linked with targets which have nothing to do with agility.
There's nothing wrong or bad in aiming for agile organization - quite the opposite. If an organization succeeds in scaling the agile philosophy across the whole organization, it's very likely to be able to change direction and develop new products or services very smoothly.
Still, the way organizations communicate about the quest for agility makes you wonder, have they really understood organizational agility correctly?
In addition to the press releases, annual reports are common channel to highlight targets related to agility - often without any concrete achievements or actions.
All of the quotes above have been taken from real press releases and annual reports of listed companies at NASDAQ Helsinki.
The risk with unrealistic and irrelevant goals related to agility, is that the benefits are not reached and the ways of working become a mess; agile organization actually becomes fragile. To prevent agility to become a common joke or a buzzword that would solve everything, the following 3 aspects should be kept in mind.
1. Small is not automatically agile and big is not automatically stiff
Agility is very often linked with small organizations. Perhaps at least partly because companies mention agility so often in the same sentence with organizational changes - and therefore layoff's. Still, being small does not equal being agile. Even small companies can be slow and hierarchical while big organizations can be agile.
Take the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) for example. It has been develop for the large organizations in the first place. One guiding principle in SAFe is that development organizations less than 50 people shouldn't even bother using SAFe.
2. Agility does not guarantee customer oriented approach
In addition to agility, the customer oriented approach is veeeery often mentioned as target - especially when talking about organizational restructuring. But do you really have to be agile for being able to be customer oriented? Does agility turn your company into customer oriented? I doubt.
For sure, the organization can improve its capabilities to build new products and services in an iterative way, and therefore demonstrate them for customers more rapidly. But being customer oriented takes a lot more - for example identifying weak signals, trends and market changes. And agility itself is not a solution for that. You still need to listen to your customer carefully.
3. Agile does not equal speed
The primary aim for agile development methods is neither to be able to deliver as fast nor as efficiently as possible. The primary target is to deliver maximal value to the customer. Obviously agile development has often increased organizational efficiency but that's still not a good reason to go agile.
In a nutshell, the success of organizational agility depends on how well the development work (using agile methods) is linked to corporate strategic planning. The strategic targets give guidance for development while the deliverables and customer feedback give guidance for strategic planning. In addition, the development team independence is crucial for success for being able to keep decision-making - and especially waiting time related to it - as short as possible.
From communications perspective it's clear that there's a lot of room for concrete success stories, learnings and experiences related to organizational agility. Technology is becoming the business in growing amount of industries and therefore success stories - even small ones - without difficult jargon, would help companies differentiate from competitors - also in the eyes of the rare talents.
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The ability to make decisions efficiently is an essential success factor for companies, regardless of the industry they are operating in; the faster a company is able to form shared views and rate ideas, the faster it can react and adapt to changes.
Business Technology is a strategy for organizing and coordinating technology management across the organization. It requires companies to take a holistic view on development and therefore it is essential to engage experts from different parts of the organization in the decision-making process.
With traditional methods, decision-making slows down when key decision-makers’ calendars are fully booked months ahead. There are three typical challenges;
CHALLENGE 1: LACK OF SHARED TIME
Surprisingly often, an organization has a relatively small group of experts – the “usual suspects” – that is asked to express their opinions on technology related matters throughout the organization. Not that surprisingly, these key experts become easily overbooked – after all, everyone wants to make decisions rapidly since Business Technology affects many parts of the organization.
Therefore, the need for speed is actually slowing down the decision-making process, which again increases the need for speed even further. Meanwhile, the more agile competitors have probably already made the decisions, while others are still searching for empty slots in their calendars.
CHALLENGE 2: INEFFICIENT (AND EXPENSIVE) MEETINGS
Once the key people finally do get together to discuss about important topics requiring decisions, the meetings are often inefficient, and the shared time is not well spent. Often people without required competences are invited to the meetings just in case and the total cost of a single meeting is rarely calculated. And since many experts spend their days sitting in meetings just in case, they don’t have shared time for the meetings where they are really needed.
CHALLENGE 3: LACK OF SHARED VIEWS
Reaching rapid decisions requires that participants have been engaged in discussions, they have been able to reach a shared understanding on the matters at hand, and that they have committed to common goals.
Since proper facilitation methods are rarely used in daily meetings and workshops, participants might leave the room without a shared understanding and decisions are then made without proper commitment. Often the lack of shared time and inefficient meetings are actually causing the lack of shared view since the group doesn’t have enough time to concentrate on the essentials. As a result, the decisions may exist on paper, but they’re not properly applied into daily practices.
THREE WAYS TO IMPROVE DECISION-MAKING FACILITATION
1) Split large decisions into smaller, human-sized decision points
In general, it’s easier to reach small decisions than bigger ones. Try to split large decision items into smaller decision points that you bring to the table one by one, by choosing the suitable facilitation methods in advance.
This way, lengthy meetings can be avoided, and smaller decision are made sooner and more easily. In addition, capabilities to faster react to changes and see the big picture increase.
2) Involve only the right people.
It’s far easier to steer a smaller group of people than a bigger one. Make sure to involve only the key people needed in each phase – do not invite anyone ”just in case” neither in workshops nor online discussions. While most digital collaboration services allow large groups to join discussions, they rarely support facilitation methods which are essential for reaching common understanding and commitment. Just because you can, it doesn’t mean you should.
Channels like Yammer, MS Teams and Slack are very good at spreading the word, getting final comments from a larger audience and informing about progress. However, they’re not made for professional facilitation. Usually the best results are created by mixing different tools and channels according to the situation.
3) Facilitate time and place independently
Often, finding a suitable calendar slot for a meeting takes more time than the decision item itself. In the digital era, collaborative decision-making doesn’t need to depend on time or place. People can contribute to the decision-making no matter where they are located and when it best suits their calendars. Using time and place independent online facilitation solutions between (and even instead of) meetings is more efficient use of limited time and decreases company’s travel expenses.
It goes without saying that tools alone won’t solve this. What matters are both facilitation expertise and, perhaps even more a lively culture of sharing in the organization. In case the employees don’t see value in sharing their knowledge internally – or they’re afraid of doing so – it becomes difficult to get people participating in online collaboration or decision-making no matter which facilitation trick you might bring to the table.
Sofigate utilizes Roundtable throughout a wide range of Business Technology assignments led by professional facilitators. Roundtable brings together the best elements of workshop facilitation methods, social media environments, and agile principles – regardless of time and place. You can read more about Roundtable here.
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The ability to make decisions efficiently is an essential success factor for companies, regardless of the industry they are in. The faster a company is able to form shared views and rate ideas, the faster it can react and adapt to changes. As complexity increases, reaching decisions typically requires the input of various experts, which makes the decision making process slower. How to break bottle necks in decision making?
Decision making in companies is becoming more collective than before, and decisions typically require opinions from various experts across the organization. In order to reach a decision quickly, a common view needs to be formed efficiently.
As the number of participants increases, decision making becomes more complex and thus slower. There is more information available than ever to support decisions; it can be acquired more easily and at a lower cost than before. The easy access to information does not mean that people would not play the main role in decision making – on the contrary. If you want people to commit themselves to the decisions, you need to make sure that everyone has truly been able to participate in the decision making process.
How to make decisions both collectively and as efficiently as possible? Forming shared views becomes more efficient by using facilitation methods, by including only relevant people in the decision making process – and by rethinking the whole decision making forum, with the help of digital tools.
1. Split large decision items into smaller, human-sized decision points.
In general, it is easier to reach small decisions than bigger ones. Try to split large decision items into into smaller decision points that you bring to the table one by one, by choosing the suitable facilitation methods in advance. This way, lengthy meetings can be avoided and you will reach the decision sooner.
The step-by-step approach gives you concrete results along the way. You will be able to react to changes faster and see the big picture more easily.
2. Involve only the right people.
Reaching just the right decisions requires that the participants have a shared understanding on the matters – for example pros, cons, consequences, risks, opportunities and so on. If they do not, they will not commit themselves to the decision.
It is far easier to steer a smaller group of people than a bigger one. Make sure to involve only the people needed in each phase – do not invite anybody ”just in case”, not even to virtual meetings.
3. Instead of shared time, find a shared channel.
Often, finding the suitable calendar slot for the meeting takes more time than the decision item itself. Even when the meeting is set, the agenda might need to be reset as someone cancels at the last minute.
During the digital era, collaborative decision making does not need to depend on time or place. Thanks to new tools, busy key people can participate in the decision making no matter where they are located, when it suits them the best.
In our daily work at Sofigate, we use an online service called Roundtable that brings together the best sides of facilitation methods and social media. It requires from the decision makers only a daily engagement of 15 minutes, whenever they have the time.
Time and place-independent online tools make collaborative decision making more efficient and also bring down the costs, as potential travel expenses decrease.
However, professional facilitation, management skills and promoting trust can not be replaced by any tools. When the working environment feels safe, people are willing to share their expertise collectively and are more likely to reach good decisions – no matter what the decision forum is.