In a recent article, I introduced Organisational Agility as a cultural characteristic that can be developed.
As Edgar Schein wrote, If you have been trying to make changes in how your organization works, you need to find out how the existing culture aids or hinders you.
In that article I suggested eight critical questions to ask in order to start the process of developing organisational agility.
In this article I expand on each of them and give a slightly more nuanced explanation.
The eight questions refer to cultural styles that are related to values. These are:
To what extent is there shared commitment to the long-term vision and mission of the organisation?
Alignment comes from the interaction of two cultural values: Achievement and Fitting In.
On one hand it is about being aligned to goals and plans that fit with the wider vision and strategy of the company. On the other, it is about accepting the role that company-wide standards, methods and procedures play in achieving those goals.
How open are our people to to change and ready to adapt to the current and future external environment?
Adaptability comes from the interaction between the values of Enjoyment and Fitting In.
It is about taking on board the need to adapt in response to changes in the wider business environment, but also about the safety to be open about mistakes or deviations from plans without undue fear of consequences.
How inclined are we challenge the status quo; to improve products, services, processes and plans in support of the overall goal?
Challenging is an expression of Achievement and Freedom.
It involves critically examining decisions, plans or strategy in the interests of longer term goals, and being restless in the search for opportunities to improve the way that the company does business.
How safe is it to express new and different ideas, to be different and to take risks?
Creativity invokes the values Enjoyment and Freedom.
It occurs when people feel comforable trying out or developing ideas without immediate pressure for results or fear of failure, but also when they feel safe to push boundaries, or take an unconventional point view, when expressing themselves.
How consistently do we demonstrate the self-discipline and determination to see change through to completion?
An agile organisation also needs to Execute: which draws upon the values of Power and Individualism.
It means taking individual reponsibility for developing competence and getting access to the right tools for the job, in addition to assuming personal accountability for driving initiatives, making decisions or solving problems.
To what extent do people want and feel able to collaborate and support each other to succeed?
Effective collaboration is built upon the values of Collectivism and Power (in the sense of empowering or enabling).
It involves actively sharing knowledge and give practical support to colleagues, and seeking opportunities to consult and involve stakeholders and colleagues in shaping initiatives or outcomes
To what extent to people share an emotional connection with each other as a group, or with the greater purpose of the organisation and its place in society?
An emotional connection with the broader organisation is an expression of Caring and Others (i.e. higher than self).
It can be expressed as an emotional connection to the team, organisation and its stakeholders or customers, and/or by putting the needs of others in the organisation, or the communty that it serves, above their own
How able are people to manage their own physical and emotional needs, with support from colleagues and leader?
Finally, in an agile organisation people need to feel nurtured – that their own needs can be taken care of.
This might be about feeling cared for and supported as an individual with specific human needs, or being enabled to take care of their emotional and physical well-being at work.
Tensions between styles
It will be apparent that there is a delicate balance to be managed between these styles. In all organisations all styles have a role to play in Organisational Agility. However, the extent to which these styles appear will vary. Organisational culture, like human personality, is described in structured terms, but like people, all organisations are unique. The extent to which these tensions play out is a reflection of the prevailing culture, which can be a source of strength, or a weakness (for example if people follow process to the point, even when it is broken – which is Alignment dominating Challenge).
Genuine strengths therefore include an element of balance.
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