Pioneering the Self-Managing, Agile Organisation

Agile organisation

In our latest contribution Sergei Anikin, CTO at Pipedrive shares his advice on moving your business towards a self-managing agile organisation.

It is a common objective among organisations to become agile and self-managing. However, while many companies may say they want to move towards this business model, few are equipped to make the transition necessary to realise it. Frequently, these terms are used loosely to indicate a business that is dissatisfied with typical managerial structures and is employing an alternate model. More pressingly, even if there is a clear end goal in mind, there is little clarity on how to adopt this new system without alienating employees or disrupting business functions. The rise of remote working has played a significant role in promoting this business objective, yet many still fail to reconcile the practice with long-term objectives. This article will look to answer what the terms agile and self-managing denote, what this tangibly means for a business and how they can be realistically achieved with minimal disruption – particularly in a remote working environment. 

Characteristics of a Self-Managing, Agile Organisation

Simply put, an agile organisation is one which can rapidly adapt to changes in the marketplace or environment. When external factors demand change, this is the type of organisation that can rapidly iterate to optimise itself. If there are economic or social pressures, as we are currently seeing with the coronavirus epidemic, these organisations can respond accordingly to ensure their business continues to function effectively. Their agility means they perpetually seek out the best talent and rapid-test technologies available. They aren’t afraid to use non-traditional solutions if it will drive better performance. This can encompass more basic things like digitisation or the democratisation of information or more complex ideas, such as self-management.

Self-management is a natural extension of the agile organisation. In order to allow for the rapid changes that enable agility, centralized top-down decision making with a bureaucratic hierarchy stifle agility. When the decision making process is filtered through so many layers, opportunities are missed that leave these organisations behind the curve. Instead, leadership that enables action is paramount and this can be achieved by enabling self-management. For a more robust definition of self-management, we can generally consider this to be workplaces in which a manager will define the overall direction of tasks while employees are trusted to realise these goals with minimal oversight. It trusts the intelligence of employees and empowers them to make decisions to reach goals unencumbered by unnecessary checkpoints or restrictive guidance. 

How can businesses realise this?

One of the main considerations for enabling this kind of structure in the workplace is culture. Businesses need to create a focal point that perpetuates agility and self management, and make it abundantly clear what this means to employees. If these terms are poorly defined and employees feel lost, they will be ill-equipped to self-manage. The starting point is leadership that relinquishes their egos. In doing so, they are creating a safe and trusted environment. The ego-free safe and trusted space can empower employees to share their innovative ideas and solutions to problems. This forms a direct contrast to typical bureaucratic or meritocratic structures where employees will be afraid to propose all ideas and be overly cautious. Consideration should also be given to current business practices and technologies. For instance, those that support remote working will likely find that they are already preparing an agile workforce through enabling them to perform their role from any location. At the same time, employees who are able to self manage while remote working are likely to be more effective as their independence from the office environment becomes a strength and not a weakness.

Read More: UK startups will survive the coronavirus, but they need help

According to McKinsey & Co., the trademarks of an agile organisation include a network of teams within a people-centered culture that operates in rapid learning and fast decision cycles which are enabled by technology and a common purpose that co-creates value for all stakeholders. In simpler terms, an agile organization revolves around a culture that puts stock in its employees so they can quickly adjust to changing environments and are empowered to act. And this can’t be achieved without self-management discipline. 

What are the obstacles?

One of the common misconceptions about self-management is that it is entirely hands off. The paradox is that self-managing organisations do need management – and management needs leadership. This means that management, while allowing employees to approach problems in their own way, need to give them a clear overarching objective. Each team within the organisation needs to understand their purpose and what they are contributing to the overall mission. We see this in most organizations to some extent with leadership establishing different business functions (e.g. accounting, legal etc.) and allowing them to perform their role. 

Putting self-management into practice

One such example is the recent ‘Pitching Tuesdays’ which has been developed at Pipedrive. Every Tuesday at Pipedrive, team members from all levels in the organisation have an open forum to propose initiatives to the entire company. The best of these ideas are then put into action. Pitching Tuesdays are the result of a workplace culture that empowers team members to present to the wider company and demonstrate their ability to self-manage This is not only a benefit to the overall business as we can make use of all the available brain power, but to employees who get the chance to be creative, take risks and show their skills to the wider company. It creates a rewarding environment where people can realise their potential and take charge of their own career. 

Agility and self-management are terms that do live up to the hype. The benefits of implementing these practices into the workplace are considerable and should not be overlooked. Given the pervasiveness of remote working in the current climate, now is a better time than any to encourage self-management and agility. While it may seem a steep challenge to transition from existing business culture and infrastructure to this new model, it is one that will pay dividends as your employees are empowered to shape their own performance. 

Sergei Anikin

CTO at Pipedrive, with domain knowledge of banking, telecommunications, sales, fintech, finances, start-ups, agile, scrum and lean.

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