You’ve probably heard of Lego, Adobe, Bosch, and Fitbit. Each company trades in different sectors, but they have one thing in common: they work in an agile way. These organizational giants not only practice agile with scrum masters and sprints, they truly embody the agile mindset.

So, what exactly does it mean to embody the agile mindset? Well, simply put, to be agile means to empower your employees with maximum flexibility within a clear structure. There is minimal, if any, hierarchy. Employees can work without micro-management and are encouraged to be creative, think outside of the box, and continuously deliver value to their customers.

Agile Means Little Boundaries

No supervision. No set rules. Little boundaries. These things often trigger alarm bells. How can an organization function without these fundamental qualities? It begins with recruiting the right personnel. Seek those who will flourish when encouraged to try new things, experiment, and make mistakes. But also recognize that this way of working isn’t for everyone, and dare to be transparent about this in the selection process.

Then, trust your staff to work in autonomous, self-organizing teams, consisting of a diverse group of people from different disciplines—ideally, with the skills and knowledge they need within the team to be successful and reach their goals. These goals should align with and support the successful execution of the wider company goals.

An agile way of working requires people to follow a continuous learning cycle, and therefore, teams must be open to being agile about their agile ways. Ultimately, different teams will work at different paces and in different manners, but within the broad boundaries agile brings to organizations, they are offered safety and freedom to define their direction and path to get there.

Leadership Shapes Agile Ways of Working and Its Success

The benefits of working in an agile manner is usually clear to those on teams. However, what does it mean for leaders? Well, leaders in agile organizations are the enablers of change and success in agile. They must adapt their skills and mentality, collaborate constantly with teams, and ensure business processes are able to cope and thrive. Leaders are the pillars on which agile teams and organizations are built.

Leaders are fundamental to agile ways of working. How they embody change and implement an agile culture directly affects the success of employees, customers, and processes. Adapting standard processes to agile is essential for encouraging employees to take this approach in every aspect of their work. When employees get this freedom, they are better able to deliver value to their customers. Any communication between an agile organization and its customers will be flexible, leading to enhanced experience and satisfaction.

Without leaders who focus on alignment, nurturing a safe company culture, and impediment removal on a company level instead of enforcing rules, agile will not be successful.

The Keys to Agile Success

Believing and embracing an agile mindset is vital, but changing ways of working and people’s mentality is never an easy task. Here are some keys to agile success.

1. Guide, don’t manage.

Encourage autonomous, self-organizing teams, and let them make their own decisions. Does this mean there’s no boss? In some ways, yes, but we must acknowledge that absolute freedom with no direction at all is detrimental to reaping benefits from experimental learning and maximizing customer value.

Leaders within the organization should work as guides, encouraging employees and teams to be their best possible selves. They should focus on removing impediments and make sure teams align with bigger company goals.

Let’s imagine you’re canoeing down a river, as an agile leader you’ll occupy the stern – guiding the boat’s direction from the back. Your team is up ahead in the bow, taking initiative to lead the way down the river, flagging any hazards in your path. That is agile leadership.

2. Involve everyone.

Including your entire workforce in your agile way of working is very powerful. When it comes to the evolution of culture in the workplace, everyone needs to be involved. Host regular drop-in sessions, company surveys, and agile refresher training to keep a regular pulse on progress.

By using agile to implement agile, you are telling your employees that they have a say in the business, but you actually have to facilitate the opportunity for them to do so.

3. Trust, and be trusted.

A vital word in the agile dictionary is trust. We have already discussed that agile means autonomous teams and no micro-management. For employees to really believe they have both of these aspects, they must feel trusted.

Encourage a culture of trust. Embrace an open-door policy, or better yet, don’t have a separate office—at least part of the time. Make it clear to your staff that they can come to you for anything, such as issues about team dynamics or personal well-being or to celebrate successes.

4. Be honest, transparent, and open-minded.

Any, and every agile organization must continue to uncover better ways, adjust their course, and learn every day. Take the typical norms of working life, such as authorized annual leave or clocking in and out, and turn them on their head.

From the start, be honest about any apprehension you have to proposed changes, be transparent about the successes and failures of your own transition to agile methods, and be open minded when it comes to moving away from those norms. This way, your employees feel safe to do the same.

5. Encourage a strong feedback culture.

Agile is flexible and empowering for employees, but there will still be conflicts, and we must acknowledge this. As teams work closely on a day-to-day basis, it’s key to nip any problems in the bud early on to avoid disruption to the dynamic.

Realizing a strong feedback culture is key. Teach the people in your teams how to go about giving both positive and negative feedback, and make it clear that feedback is not only welcomed but encouraged. Remind them that improvements come with constructive criticism, and you shouldn’t be afraid of it.

6. Be a rule breaker.

We are brought up with boundaries. We arrive and leave school at a certain time. We must follow rules to solve mathematical problems. Telling employees and business leaders to break the rules and go their own way is against every instinct we have.

But when we embody the agile mindset, we become rule-breakers. We are not told when we must learn or be productive or creative. We are not told how to resolve a problem. Instead, we take our own path, invent our own solutions, create our own structure, choose our own methods, and challenge ourselves to use our creativity in new and exciting ways.

Originally published on AgileConnection