TO BUILD and lead an agile company, it is crucial that leaders and managers develop a new mindset and capabilities that will bring about self-transformation, as well as change in their teams and the company as a whole.
For many companies, survival depends on making changes to become more agile. Those who make the transition successfully are thriving and showing enhanced growth, greater profitability, a higher level of customer satisfaction and, most importantly, a greater degree of employee engagement.
The key to success where agile leadership is concerned is for leaders to change their mindset and their approach to communication and employee engagement.
Leadership agility, a fairly new and innovative approach to management and leadership, is the ability to remain fluid by changing and updating how a company does business.

There is a need to move away from the old, rigid management styles and to make way for innovation and new ideas. Being agile means being able to make changes quickly so that the company can stay ahead of the competition.
There are various steps that an agile and effective leader or manager can follow in the process of building an agile company or team.
Any manager can follow these steps, but the most important consideration is the need for a change in thinking, the need to change the current rigid mindset that prevails in many managers.

Unless there is a defined process in place for the development of a learning culture in a company, all the other stages of agile development will fail.
This new kind of agile company requires a different kind of leadership. Recent research shows that leadership and how leadership shapes culture are the biggest barriers to and the biggest enablers of successful agile transformation.
To bring about the change there is a need to change your personal mindset, as well as learn how to help teams work in new and more effective ways.
Some ideas on how to develop an agile team:

Describe what you are trying to achieve
This is something that should be discussed with the employees so that they are included in identifying the company goals and objectives and the markets within which they will work.
When people are clear about the purpose of their work and agree to it, they are better able to understand their manager’s concerns. When they are not clear about purpose, they do not feel part of a team. Agile leadership must be all-inclusive.

Clarify roles and responsibilities
Let people know by means of open communication who the team members are and how their roles relate and inter-relate.
When roles are unclear, people do not feel empowered to take responsibility. When the role is unclear, team members may end up encroaching on one another’s territories.
This can lead to conflict and will certainly undermine teamwork. It is important that you choose the right person for the right position in the team. Without the right level of competency team members will not be able to perform effectively.

Understand each other’s personalities
Managers and team members need to understand what makes each other tick or what motivates the individuals in the team.
One person can be “switched on” by a sense of loyalty and feel a need for perfection in what they do.
Another may feel challenged by accomplishment in a sales and marketing environment where the need for self-fulfilment and self-image is of importance.
Managers, therefore, need to be aware of and familiar with the different personality styles and how they can be adapted to suit specific circumstances.
The more managers and team members understand each other the better they will be able to communicate and avoid conflicts.

Cultivate a climate of open communication
You can never communicate too much in a work environment where communication relates to progress and or problems. The manager and the team members should meet regularly, say once a week, to discuss team’s objectives, goals and progress.
The best teams have the most open communication and do not avoid creative conflict. Managers need to allow debate and constructive input by team members.
Once a decision is made, each team member must support the decision and work towards what has now become the common goal.
Managers must seek the views of team members, even if they do not like what they hear. An all-inclusive approach is what allows agility to prevail and succeed.

Develop trust and ethical behavior
Relationships deteriorate when managers play favorites. The secret here is consistency in how employees are treated. Trying to get employees to compete is acceptable if it is the decision of the employees concerned.
For the manager to cultivate this competition will lead to distrust and undermine teamwork objectives.
Honesty and ethics are imperative if agility is to thrive. There can be no place within a company or team for unethical behaviour.

Evaluation and feedback
Evaluation should be ongoing in an environment of continuous and honest dialogue. Poor performance can and should be noted in open discussion sessions with the team members and with the individual employees.
Performance discussions need to be constructive so as to avoid conflict between the manager and the employee. Look at the poor performance as a teaching or learning opportunity and make the discussing of poor performance something constructive. Evaluations take place as a means to improve performance.

Create a learning culture
By following the outline above, you will go a long way in developing agility and a culture of learning.
When you create a learning culture you will encourage employees to take responsibility and to assist and support one another. Your employees can share innovative ideas and experiences and learn from each other’s mistakes and successes. Good ideas and innovative approaches can be discussed, acted upon and rewarded.

Developing a learning culture starts at the top of any organisation. If managers and supervisors are afraid of making mistakes because they might be punished, if their roles are unclear, if they are confused about the company purpose or objectives, they will not be in a position to develop effective teamwork.
Creating a learning culture helps in the development of an agile company and an organisation that learns. It is essential in the development of an agile culture where supervisors can practise all other six steps.
Relationships can only be sustained in a company that has ethics and values, cultivates trust and stimulates learning.
The failure of top management to understand this is one of the biggest reasons why companies cannot develop agile leadership.

Des Squire is a managing member at AMSI and Associates. You can contact him on 082 800 9057 or email him at des@amsiandassociates.co.za

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