Blair walks down the familiar hallway to her office. It’s been two years since she started her team on their agility journey. In a couple of weeks, Blair will be taking on a new role in the acquisition department. She’s been asked to expand the agility journey to other acquisition teams. It’s a great opportunity, and even Mrs. Banks is on board now, yet Blair recognizes that her current team is still working on building its own agility. While the team has made a lot of progress, she has come to realize that cultivating an entire agency for agility is an ongoing process, not a destination that can be arrived at. The team has learned how to reflect on and celebrate their successes while continuing on their journey forward.
By now, we hope that you, too, have made good progress, even if you and your team still have a way to go. We hope that you recognize that agility is an ongoing trek that is never fully complete. Implementing all of the ideas that we’ve shared is not something that will happen overnight. It may take many months—maybe years—to make new routines and actions stick.
If you’ve started on the journey, be sure to document your team’s progress and to track relevant metrics so you’re seeing the results you want. These metrics might include individual and team productivity, error rates, customer service scores, engagement scores, and turnover rates.
And if you haven’t started your journey, remember that we don’t expect you to be able to do everything we’ve outlined, to do it all at once, or to take it on alone. However, you will need to begin somewhere. This book is meant to be a hands-on guide, so use it as such. Circle back to chapters 1 and 2 and begin paying attention to your team’s psychological safety. Then take action, whether it’s starting a discussion about psychological safety or setting aside a few minutes to encourage a team member who has shared information appropriately.
But regardless of whether you’re beginning or continuing your journey, we want to give you a few final pieces of parting advice.
Yes, doing all of this is a big job. It may not go well at first. There will be ups and downs. Despite what happens, the worst thing you can do is to give up and go back to old ways. Reverting to old ways when things get challenging only tells people that you weren’t serious.
The next worst thing you can do is to tackle only the easy or surface-level things—if you do only some of the “agility” things, you risk confusing people, creating burnout over the idea of agility, and misaligning the organization. In any organization, all parts are interrelated—structure, processes, roles, norms, people and their skills, and leadership. Therefore a change to one part of the organization requires changes to other parts so the system can continue to work in alignment.
If things aren’t working as well as you’d like, then revisit the beginning of the process by looking at psychological safety. Ask yourself whether psychological safety is an issue. You might feel that things are safe, but others may not. Seek out your team’s opinion. Pay close attention to their actions, looking for clues about how they are perceiving the situation.
If you truly believe that sufficient psychological safety exists, then take it one step further by facilitating open conversations with your team about it. Consider starting the process by talking to a few trusted team members individually to get a sense of the rest of the team’s views on the psychological well-being and perceptions of the team. Next, try initiating dialogue with your entire team. Start talking openly about trust issues that have likely never been a topic of conversation before. Although you can’t go back and change the experiences that have detracted from people’s ability to feel safe and try new things, you can empathize with them and commit to running your team differently in the future, as long as you’re getting the necessary results. You’ll know you’ve made progress when they recognize that your intent isn’t simply to add to their workload but to help them approach that workload in a way that produces better outcomes.
Remember that not everyone will jump on board at once. It may take time for everyone to get to the point where they feel safe enough to start engaging in agility routines. But you can start moving forward with those who are ready, which will help bring along those who are reticent by showing that it really is okay to approach work differently.
Because different team members may be moving ahead with agility at different rates, cycle back through the chapters as you work to align your organization with all of the changes going on around it. We know it will be overwhelming to try to do everything! It is unlikely that everything will go perfectly, which is okay and expected. You do need to give it a genuine effort though. This doesn’t mean that you have to solve every problem yourself or have all of the answers. Your role is to lead, guide, and coach your team to approach work in a new way together, which also means talking through what works and what doesn’t.
By revisiting the chapters as you continue through the different phases of your agility journey, points that perhaps didn’t resonate with you early on might make more sense later. Or you might find that certain topics become more relevant as your team becomes more agile. Although our suggestions are based on evidence, they are not a checklist of action items you can execute in a linear fashion. Rather, we suggest approaching actions iteratively and applying learnings from one set of new behaviors to the next set your team decides to address.
Although we’ve given you several suggestions, ideas, and recommendations, we know that it would be impossible for us to think of everything. Based on your own situations and organizational culture, you will surely find new ways to apply our advice. Each organization and situation are somewhat different; therefore, implement these ideas in a way that makes sense for you.
In particular, at some point on your journey, you may need to expand the principles beyond your team. For example, it might be hard for your team to become truly agile if your boss doesn’t provide you with enough psychological safety. Similarly, if your team isn’t leading with agility and providing psychological safety to their direct reports, little change will occur. And your unit’s agility might be constrained by other units that are not yet agile themselves. In situations like these, you may need to expand your reach to other parts of the organization. Perhaps start by sharing with others that you’ve started on a journey toward agility. As you share about your team’s progress, you can offer to help them get started as well; begin by talking about the importance of psychological safety. If a higher-level leader or even a peer expresses some of the myths we’ve covered, you can use the research-based truths provided to encourage them.
In addition, much of the advice and many of the tools that we’ve presented just scratch the surface of all there is to know about these topics. So we encourage you to find additional resources—books, articles, training courses, classes, podcasts, videos—that can help you continue to develop your “agility muscles.” Some of the topics we’ve introduced that you might want to learn more about include effective decision-making, knowledge sharing, process improvement, divergent thinking techniques, effective meeting management, critical conversations, human resource planning, and employee development.
We wish you the best of luck on your journey toward agility!
Looking back on the journey, Blair thinks, “We’ve really come a long way. And we did it as a team. Our customers give us rave reviews now. We’ve increased the number of contracts we process while reducing errors. Our employee engagement scores have dramatically increased. The team members genuinely seem to enjoy their work and have received recognition for our innovative approaches. Hank and Kyle even received an award for best presentation at the annual acquisition conference. The team just feels a lot different now. We address issues head-on rather than letting them fester and then erupt. I love hearing people express different viewpoints and then work together to find solutions that work for everyone. I’m really glad to see their careers grow. A few of them moved on to larger roles and positions with more responsibility because of how much they developed as professionals. They’ve become allies in my knowledge network, which I rely on to sense what’s happening in other parts of the agency.
“Of course, there have been plenty of bumps along the way. A few people on my team were pretty resistant but finally came around once they realized that agility meant figuring out how we can accomplish our mission together—that it was not just me telling them to do things a new way. Some people got on board right away, and others took a bit longer but came around after a combination of persistence, straightforward one-on-one conversations to address their concerns, and adjustments to find the right role for them. One or two people even decided early on that agility wasn’t for them, but I found roles for them in another group. And we had to build up our ‘muscle’ for learning how to run experiments; we had many things not go well, but at least that happened during a test, so we headed off some potential big failures.”
Blair now feels confident in Barb, who will be taking over for Blair and will help the team continue its journey. And as for her own agility journey, Blair knows that it will continue in her new role.