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Agility and organizational complexity, beware of the present

Léon de Bakker
July 09, 2020

Going from A to B is as much about A as it is about B.

Beware of the present if you want to embrace agility. So, don't over-focus on your goals but give space to stop and address the present.

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The compelling promise of an agile organization understandably shifts focus to a future state of nimbleness. But it’s the present organization that will take you there. So, beware of the present if you want to embrace agility.

Especially since organizational changes have a rather low success rate. In a McKinsey survey, just 26 percent of respondents say the transformations they’re most familiar with have been very or completely successful.

This post is part of a series about technology and organizational positive impact

  1. A guide to organizational positive impact, tech edition
  2. Doing good drives profitability
  3. Major events and big statements
  4. Be consistent about your positive impact
  5. A strong purpose proposition requires agility and resilience
  6. Agility and organizational complexity, beware of the present
  7. How to create positive impact with technology? Foster critical thinking
  8. Technology as an accelerator for positive impact
  9. Assess how technology shapes your organizational positive impact
  10. Reframe technology’s purpose and strengthen organizational alignment

The organization as is

You wish for your organization to embrace a new, more resilient future. To change its course and its way of getting things done. Then you will have to achieve that with the organization as is. With all of its “old” and in part undesired behavior, products and processes. Most of the transformational issues I see, result from too strong a focus on the future. Disregarding the status quo. Not sufficiently taking into account strongly felt and deeply engrained dynamics. I’ll share with you three examples.


Senior management of a technology organization decided a few months back, that they had to go agile. After deciding on goals, a roadmap and a new organizational model, they secured budget, launched a communication campaign and put together a support team to help with the transition. Quite thorough. All set to go? They forgot to involve their lighthouse teams, suppliers and clients. Even though these stakeholders would be strongly impacted by this change and instrumental in a successful implementation. In large part this omission was the result of the profile of this organization and their management. Great at setting direction and moving into action. Not so great at stakeholder collaboration.

A bank decided to extend the Agile Way of Work beyond the technology department. As it turned out, the other departments were not happy with the transparency that comes with agility. Their support and therefore the transition stopped.

An insurance company introduced an agile model to become nimbler and increase value for investors. Core to agility is to empower teams and delegate responsibilities. Which is something neither management nor teams were used to do. The result was that decision making largely came to a stand-still, which created a disconnect between the operational level and management and seriously hampered execution.

Going agile will magnify your organization’s challenges

Changing your organizational model is exciting and opens up new possibilities. The change will also reveal fears, weaknesses, dynamics, and risks that have been with your organization for some time. Going agile won’t fix that. Quite the contrary. Going agile will magnify your organization’s challenges.

My advice. Use your agile transformation to proactively address organizational challenges. This is vital if you want to succeed in your positive impact journey. Technology can help you on that journey. Or hinder. More about that in my next post: “How to create positive impact with technology? Foster critical thinking”.

You’ll find my posts and more at SogetiLabs.


Embrace the mindset of perpetual beta

Be conscious, clear and solid about direction, the why. The how is open to change. Maybe metrics don’t work. Maybe technology changed. Or your ambition has to be restated. Maybe you have to go quicker or maybe you were too idealistic. We’re not here to keep inertia and there’s no space for legacy. Be honest to yourself and pivot when needed. Your journey is continuously in flux. Embrace the mindset of being in perpetual beta. Striving continuously to what fits the journey best. There’s no manual to follow. You’ll have to find your own path.

Be inclusive in your execution

Strive for a shared sense of purpose and values and create space for individuality. Establish solid dynamics that are inclusive and supportive. Ensure energy is invested both top down and bottom up. Revisit your structures, programs and metrics. Ensure changes will ripple all throughout your organization and its processes. Set up regular touchpoints to not lose sight of the bigger picture and to tie all individual actions together.

Beware of your agile model

There are different approaches to organizational agility. Some large-scale models demand a strong hierarchy and lots of management, staff and planning. That might not sound very agile but for some bureaucracies it’s quite a leap and for now a perfect fit. Other approaches take out layers of management. Or focus on your value chain. Find the approach that suits your organization this moment and be ready to switch when needed.

Respect natural boundariesd

Tailor your agile approach throughout your organization. Different groups and tasks require a different approach. For instance, the difference in speed, focus and mindset of selling products versus filing invoices. These different tasks require different human profiles resulting in natural boundaries within your organization. These boundaries are likely areas of friction. I notice that frameworks, such as SAFe, try to overcome this friction by extending the agile way of work to a larger part of the organization. I also notice that forcing both sides of a natural boundary to embrace the same agile way of work, is futile.

Take down man-made boundaries

Next to natural boundaries, your organization has created some on their own. Those man-made boundaries are both the result of primarily but not exclusively your organizational structure, governance structure, metrics, leadership development program, innovation model, HR guidelines and remuneration program. This in turn has created a mindset, expected behavior and processes that is at the heart of your organization and most likely do not favor change. So, to successfully become more agile, identify levers to influence those man-made boundaries and liberate your organization from inertia.

About the author

Lead Improvement Coach | Netherlands
Léon leads digital transformations with a core focus on future-proofing organizations and putting purpose into action. Aligning teams, business and IT across all layers of the organization and its key stakeholders with a wide lens and an open mindset. He studied business economics, has IT experience since 2001 and has supported organizations with their transformation journeys since 2003. Léon is passionate about all that is tech, new gadgets and visual design. Currently, Léon is working on connecting purpose and IT as key drivers for organizational change and exploring innovative ways to redefine and remeasure growth and success in a world in urgent need of more businesses moving positive impact front and center.


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