The Agile Toolkit: Leading in new ways

Jordana Price

By Claudia Pellegrino, Jordana Price

The most successful leaders are ‘revivers’. They transform organisations, drive forward disruptive change, and help their people to thrive. Our latest leadership research, A New Way to Lead, showcases five key behaviours crucial to this style of leadership.

Despite this, many organisations do not support such an approach, and struggle to reap the benefits of this type of leader. Instead, they are designed to support ‘survival’-style leadership. Traditional structures, processes, and silos leave leaders unable to adopt more transformational leadership styles or drive the changes that are needed in an accelerating world. But there is a solution. Bringing together the principles of revival-style leadership and organisational agility can enable organisations to unleash transformation.

Aligning your teams around a clear purpose

Purpose and profit were once antithetical. It is now clear that they must move in lockstep. To help teams thrive in uncertainty, you must provide them with a strong and clear purpose – a rallying call to arms. When it comes to organisational agility, centring on your customer is the ultimate guiding light, and can act as a driver for transformation.

Some teams will need more support from their leaders when it comes to rallying around this purpose. This is particularly true of those in the back office that can feel some distance between themselves and the customer. It is therefore important for leaders to continually reinforce the value that their teams are creating, regardless of direct engagement with the customer. An easy way to do this is to share examples of success – many employees don’t hear about the impact their work has achieved, and as such this can provide a strong case for their contribution to the organisation’s purpose.

Tasked by the UK government, we led the UK Ventilator Challenge, which aimed to produce 30,000 ventilators in just eight weeks to save patients’ lives all over the country during the COVID-19 pandemic. This powerful common goal united our teams. We designed and scaled ventilators to meet patient needs and successfully coordinated the shipment of over 40 million ventilator parts from 21 countries within three weeks. Using scaled methodologies and cross functional teams, we were able to provide a comprehensive set of skills required but also promote a cohesive team dynamic through our common purpose and vision.

Empowering teams to innovate by adopting agile values

Innovation is an organisation’s most precious resource – always needed, yet almost impossible to generate on demand. Traditional and hierarchical structures can make the search for innovation challenging. Therefore it is important that leaders empower and liberate their teams to seek out innovation in their day-to-day by:

  1. Focusing on outcomes rather than tasks – Giving individuals clarity on expected outcomes, but not dictating how they get there is a sure-fire way to create new and innovative approaches. Gone are the days of control and command-style leadership. The most successful leaders today are the ones who create opportunities for people to thrive. Agile approaches such as Scrum, which brings together team members with an array of skillsets on a regular basis to enable problem solving, emphasises the importance of cross collaboration and free thinking. More recent Agile methodologies such as Extreme Programming further build on this proven concept, enabling small release, iterated software development, and pair programming.
  2. Creating psychological safety – Psychological safety must be a core part of the team culture because you cannot innovate without failing. Trying, failing – and learning from those failures – must be not just accepted, but celebrated. We recently worked with the UK Ministry of Defence to explore psychological safety in the context of large, complex programmes. We found that as challenge and demands increase, psychological safety becomes essential. Leadership behaviours such as investing time to understand their team’s challenges were found to enhance psychological safety. This safety created environments where people felt able to take healthy risks and explore options that could generate new value.

Seeking inspiration in surprising places

Inspiration often comes from the places you least expect. New ways to do your job better can be inspired by anything, anywhere.

To access previously hidden ideas, leaders should consider implementing agile cross-functional teams. This will allow you to bring together a diverse group of people with different skills and specialisms, enabling the same challenge to be approached from multiple angles. It provides a holistic way to source inspiration as they have broader footprints as a team and can learn from each other.

A large global bank wanted to harness the opportunities created by digital disruption to improve its speed to market. PA provided a business architecture to create a lean, customer-centric operating model that enabled alignment of strategy and execution within clearly defined roles and responsibilities. This built cross-organisation collaboration and created a more integrated culture, complemented by coaching and Communities of Practice to enable greater operational flexibility and organisational adaptability.

Other ways that you can seek inspiration are through cross-sector collaborations, or the creation of ecosystems and partnerships. While this may seem surprising at first – you could pair up with a competitor – it can actually lead to some of the most ingenious solutions.

The leaders of the future won’t be successful in the organisations of the past. To truly support transformational leaders, organisations must change. They must adapt organisational agility, breakdown outdated modes of working, and move towards a more adaptable model.

About the authors

Claudia Pellegrino PA business design expert
Jordana Price
Jordana Price PA organisational agility expert

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