The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the pace of change across the globe and many organisations have had to adapt to change quickly and effectively by building agile teams and embracing agile ways of working.
Findings from new research from Alliance Manchester Business School and leadership consultancy Cirrus have identified six key factors of team agility that enable teams to respond quickly and effectively to changing demands. When a team achieves a blend of all six, they can be defined as truly agile. The study revealed how agile teams with these characteristics improve performance at both an individual and team level, while also boosting employee engagement.
1. Multi-skilled teams: Team members possess diverse skills and assume multiple roles when working on projects, allowing them to adapt and work amongst themselves when priorities change.
2. Iterative planning: Agile teams hold regular planning meetings to stay aligned with demands by setting short-term task goals, and reviewing progress on critical tasks.
3. Customer involvement: Agile teams focus on customer needs, collaborate and communicate with customers regularly, and incorporate customer feedback throughout project cycles.
4. Team autonomy: Agile teams are empowered to decide how to complete and organise their work, which speeds up decision-making and task cycles, and enhances task effectiveness.
5. Team Speed: Agile teams accelerate their output over time through continuous learning and improvement.
6. Team Prioritisation: Agile teams focus on delivering the most valuable customer outputs by keeping to deadlines and reprioritising tasks in line with customer priorities. They are flexible in how they complete tasks while maintaining key dates.
The importance of empowering leadership
To succeed in such complex times, the role of the team leader is critical in ensuring that teams embrace agile ways of working. The research’s findings demonstrate that it is empowering leadership, in particular, that promotes agile teams. Empowering leaders do this by fostering the development of skills in teams and by motivating team members to work quickly, iteratively and responsively to changing customer demands and deadlines.
Empowering leaders also promote team agility by delegating tasks and encouraging team members to decide how to complete and organise their work. If leaders can facilitate agile team practices and encourage clear, ongoing dialogue between employees, they can build a strong foundation for success – whether they plan to return to office-based working, continue working remotely, or create a hybrid of the two. Developing an empowered leadership capability throughout the organisation is therefore likely to improve team performance and, ultimately, help future-proof the organisations.
Agile teams and resilience in the pandemic
The study ran over two periods, before and after the initial outbreak of the pandemic. Somewhat unexpectedly, pandemic-induced increases in home working had minimal effect on team agility and workplace productivity. According to the data, 80% of employees reported that they were able to maintain or improve productivity, with only one in five finding it had a detrimental impact on performance.
This implies that agile teams are resilient to major change – such as the switch from collocated to dispersed working – and hence play a positive role in fostering organisational resilience. However, whether this can be sustained over the long term remains to be seen; leaders need to remain vigilant to ‘home working’ fatigue.
Simon Hayward, CEO of Cirrus and Honorary Professor at Alliance Manchester Business School; David Holdman, Professor of Organisation Psychology at Alliance Manchester Business School; and KaraNg, Presidential Fellow in Organisational Psychology at Alliance Manchester Business School.
© Forbes 2021