We look at agile ways of working this month, including an excerpt from episode 7 of the Chief Wellbeing Officer podcast with global expert in agile methodology Jeff Gothelf.
Organizational agility is a hot topic. Many leading corporations around the world are looking at how to improve their customer responsiveness and transform for the digital age. Meanwhile, smaller companies with grand ambitions are looking at how they can scale effectively so that being bigger doesn’t automatically mean being slower. Yet the melting pot of tools, processes and methods from the fields of design thinking, lean and agile, also have massive potential at the individual level, and health and wellbeing specifically can benefit.
There is a recognition that simply copying the tools, methods and processes of Agile is insufficient and that culture and mindset need to be considered closely. Leadership is key, with a different approach to leading others, driven by humility and curiosity, necessary in the future of work. Thought leaders including McKinsey and IMD Business School have published work in the areas of inner agility and agile leadership behaviours which shows this new approach.
I think that much of the drudgery of work today can be linked to an anti-agile mindset: layers of administration and bureaucracy, slow decision making, lack of empowerment and autonomy, to name but a few. So in addition to doing or making better work through Agile we can also make work itself better.
All of these concepts came to the fore on a new pilot program last week for Telefónica, at the end of which I interviewed Jeff. A key part of the discussion on the experience of work is included below while you can listen to the full interview in the link that follows.
[SM] Let’s look at the why of Agile working in a broader sense. I’m thinking here of ways of working, and work being such a big part of life. Actually one of the ideas I presented in the course this week was ways of living – so can you adopt the mindset of agile in the way you lead your life. Regarding notions of health and wellbeing, perhaps happiness, takes us to consider the experience of work. I’m starting to explore how some of this methodology or philosophy of Agile can contribute to making the experience of work a lot better. So looking beyond a high level of performance and competitiveness of our teams or being more responsive to customers through agile, what else does it give us? Is work going to be better because I’m doing things, I’m finishing things, learning at a much faster rate, talking to and working with people from different disciplines. To me that just seems more attractive. So in terms of health and well-being and in the many years that you’ve been spreading the message of Agile transformation what do you see? Do you see potential for ways of working and ways of living into the future?
[JG] Yes absolutely. I spent the first ten years of my career following orders. Doing the thing that I was told to do. Creating the deliverable I was told to create. On a good day half of what I did made it into a product. On a bad day around two-thirds to three-quarters of what I did never made it into a product that a customer used or saw. Now you could argue that I was bad at my job right! But joking aside that was par for the course for the people that I worked with. And ten years into my career I really took a hard look at that and thought if this is the next 10 years of my career I’m done. I’m moving out of tech. I’m going to do something else. And really that’s when the conversation for me started to shift towards different ways of working. And so since then having been heavily involved in figuring out how to implement agility, customer centricity, design thinking, and a lean mindset into the way that I did my job, initially as a designer and then as a team leader and then as an entrepreneur I can confidently say that it changed my perception of work and my well-being and happiness at work.
From the first half of my career and those first 10 years I don’t think there’s anything I would proudly put my name on. I remember the projects as slogs, just about getting the work done. Looking back now over the second 10 years I’m really proud of what we’ve done –regardless of the success or failure of the work itself. There are stories after stories after stories that I’m proud to tell about the work that we did. It ends up being about the ways of working, the passion that the teams have, their motivation and energy. The excitement that becomes contagious in the workplace. This stems from fundamentally changing what we were asked to do. It’s a really simple concept. Like a lot of these things are but the implications are massive. And they’re not easy to implement. Fundamentally the shift for me as I started at that 10-year pivot point was instead of being told what to make or what to build or what to design, I was told which problems to solve. And that fundamentally shifts the kind of work that you do and the way that you work.
All of a sudden I’m not working on the idea that you told me to build, for which I’ll do a fine job and I’ll implement it to the best of my ability. Rather I am figuring out based on my ideas and my collaboration with my colleagues what the best answer to this problem might be. And then we are building our idea, which is far more motivational, far more inspiring, and far more interesting work to do. You’re simply happier. I first saw this several years ago. We were piloting for this way of working and other teams would look to us and say: Why are you guys smiling at work? Why is there all this activity and engagement? Why are your engineers coming in early to pull analytics reports and posting them to the walls around the office? We can’t get our teams to show up at the office before 10:00! That to me is indication that this fundamentally changes your happiness at work because it gives us more purpose. You’re not a drone. You are solving real problems and that’s the nature of knowledge work in the 21st century.
[SM] Absolutely. And it means that we keep learning. The old model that we go to school, University and then the world of work where we don’t really leverage learning is loosening. Lifelong and continuous learning is key. We also need to move beyond the dynamic you mentioned of just slogging or grinding through work. I think we now have more of that human experience, at least potentially, at work. You mentioned purpose and even just connecting with other people makes such a difference. It’s interesting also to reflect on the outputs of our work. Are we proud of what we do? and sometimes even if it’s not the task work or output, we can be proud of the experience we’ve had with others and the teamwork. Collaboration and sharing with our colleagues is part of the agile journey which really can help health and wellbeing.
About the Author
Dr. Steven MacGregor is the CEO of The Leadership Academy of Barcelona [LAB] an executive education provider and management consultancy with clients including McKinsey, Telefónica and Uber. A Visiting Fellow at the Glasgow School of Art he teaches on open and custom programs at IMD, IE, IESE and CEIBS. Formerly a visiting researcher at Stanford and Carnegie-Mellon he is the author of Chief Wellbeing Officer (LID 2018) and Sustaining Executive Performance (Pearson 2015). His twitter handle is @spmacg.