Following recent discussions and readings on organization design I just wanted to summarize in this post some criterias of what makes an agile organization being successful today as it may be useful for other HR and managers working on the same. This post may also be a start for further discussions and research on this topic.

According to McKinsey’s specialist Aaron de Smet: “Agility is the ability of an organization to renew itself, adapt, change quickly, and succeed in a rapidly changing, ambiguous, turbulent environment. Agility is not incompatible with stability—quite the contrary. Agility requires stability for most companies.”

In the very volatile work environment that most of the modern organizations have to face it is true that agility is very often summarized as an ability to renew its model, to make the organization evolve successfully and to adapt to a new context.

But how is agility characterized in practice in an organization and what are the factors of success that can make an agile organization succeed where others will fail ?

1- Succeeding by iteration

The first factor of success in practice in an agile organization seems to be its ability to fail fast and succeed by iteration. In a world where the success is measured in “conversion rate” being able to deliver very fast the expected solution is now a key factor of success. It means that an agile organization is an organization that is able to deliver faster by iteration to always find the appropriate solution even if the context is moving.

2- Customizing the solution

A second factor is customization. Agile organization are able to adapt and customize their solutions and processes depending on the context they face. They are implementing a concept of stability of their service with a customization that makes every customer to feel unique.

3- Co-creating to achieve a common goal

The third factor that seems important to succeed in an agile organization is the concept of co-creation. The teams are not delivering in silos, just completing their mission. They are really designing a new solution together, succeeding by using the strength of the whole group. This makes them more able to adapt to a new context, because they are not fixed in one model of work but are able to re-think their way of working together.

4- Using design thinking to re-think their challenges

Design thinking allow an organization to re-think and re-design its business to always improve its answer to the needs of its customers. It can be defined as a methodology used to solve complex problems and specifically find the best solutions for customers.

According to David Kelley, founder of IDEO “The main tenet of design thinking is empathy for the people you’re trying to design for. Leadership is exactly the same thing – building empathy for the people that you’re entrusted to help.”

For an organization to be agile, the ability to re-design quickly its proposal to fit its customers is even vital and that is specifically where the agile organizations perform better than others. They are able to anticipate the future needs of their customers in order to always adapt their offer and they are not afraid to try new solutions.

5- Positive organizational mindset and culture of change

Agile organizations also have a major difference with other organizations. They are more welcoming change as an opportunity and are eager to perform in their field to serve their customers. This collective mindset is making a difference in the fact that the organization allow its employees to propose, to dare and to think out of the box to find new solutions.

In a recent study on how to create an agile organization, McKinsey also demonstrated that agile units that embrace the magnitude of change are far more performant and dynamic than bureaucratic and even start-up units in the way they adapt to change.

These 5 factors are of course not exhaustive, but based on the different discussions I had on this topic and based on the mentionned readings, theese are definitely common characteristics of a successful agile organizations.

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