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Agile working is the key to success: how can we as People Professionals help our people and teams to be more agile?


Agile is a current buzzword – with so much change going on around us, organisations are looking at being able to respond quickly to changes in demand, technology and regulations, as well as the needs of customers.  The Agile methodology, taken from software development, is a way of doing this.

In a recent report by McKinsey, they found that 68% companies in all sectors want more of their employees to be working in more agile ways, particularly in sectors where there is rapid change, like high tech, telecoms, financial services and media.

The benefits of incorporating agile are impressive: 81% of survey respondents in agile units reported some increase in overall performance. They also reported 1.5 times the financial performance of their peers in non-agile units.

So as people professionals, HR, Talent and Learning and Development, what role do we play in helping our people to become more agile?

First, it’s a culture change, and by its nature it needs to be led by strategic goals and have strong sponsorship from a business leader.

Secondly, the McKinsey survey identifies a number of stable and dynamic practices that characterise an agile team or unit.  Among these are

  1. standardised ways of working
  2. rapid iteration and experimentation
  3. an open working environment, and
  4. technology tools and systems.

But L&D and HR can also play their part by driving several key features of team agility, as follows:

Continuous learning

Continuous learning is as much about reflection and review as it is about the actual mechanics of learning. Providing learning materials on demand is key, but so is making regular reflection and review a key part of team discussions: by involving the team themselves in defining the learning,  incorporating that learning into the next piece of work, and sharing it, the team will become more agile, working in an agile way and building performance improvement in incremental steps. L&D can provide the methodology and support for effective continuous learning.

A cohesive community

Bringing the right teams together and facilitating knowledge sharing and learning will build cohesive communities, which are essential for getting teams in an agile way. This follows on from continuous learning, and L&D and HR support is critical for making this happen.

Role mobility

HR are best placed to help line managers and other leaders to find the best people for a particular project or team. This can include both their technical and job role abilities, as well as their learning preferences and working styles, which can be critical to the success or failure of the project. HR can ensure people are equipped with the right skills and information for their new roles, and by providing role mobility, assist with building teams that are more widely experienced, flexible and resilient.

Entrepreneurial drive

This is about mindset as well as processes. Getting an entrepreneurial mindset into a group or a team is, like any change programme, an ongoing and developing activity. L&D or HR involvement is critical: defining what entrepreneurial skills are needed, what these skills should look like, and incorporating these skills and behaviours into the team’s daily activities.

Having defined what behaviours and skills are needed to make teams more entrepreneurial, L&D and HR can regularly get feedback on how the culture change is proceeding, at individual and team level, and make adjustments as they go along. This type of feedback can include regular pulse surveys, fast feedback and 360 feedback, which can be designed to measure attitudes, behaviours and how they change over time.

As people professionals we have a strong and lasting contribution to make in helping our people to become more effective, robust and agile.