The fitness of a company’s contributors is a prerequisite to adapt more easily to the market requirements and to take advantage of the new technical possibilities. At any age there are these, who are agile, and those, who are not. The result is that not everyone can bend in the same way. At the same time, everybody should be entrepreneur in the enterprise, what needs preparation. This depends on the one hand on the readiness and ability of the employees and on the other hand on the leadership styles. As long as everyone has intrinsic motivation and insight into the necessity, the needed fitness could be acquired. However, this is only possible, if the management team is prepared to let go. Entrepreneurship needs sufficient freedom to develop. With the right conditions you can start to agilize. The obstacles along the way are easier to recognize in the observable business areas than the attitudes and capabilities hidden in individuals. For this reason we take a closer look at nagil (n-ot agile).
Nagile companies impede themselves with a culture that does not allow agile approaches. The following hurdles can be identified – and removed, if one takes it seriously.
- Tight information filters
The facts and figures that are available everywhere as statistics, reports and white papers are no longer in keeping with the times of the old saying „Knowledge is power“. If management prevents transparency by filtering facts and figures, agility is made impossible through power games. In an agile environment, employees as a whole know more than their bosses. Knowledge processing is time-consuming, costly and becomes more powerful, when it is spread across several shoulders. That doesn’t apply to competition-critical content, of course – what Steve Jobs experienced firsthand, when Bill Gates took up his idea of a graphical user interface and brought it earlier to the public.
The prerequisite for agility is the open, mutual discourse.
- Disproportionate hierarchy levels
The number of levels has always burdened the flexible interaction – regardless of the size of the company. The Dunbar number has shown that groups with more than 150 – 250 members tend to be bureaucratic and are only indirectly controllable. At the same time, the rule of thumb arose that the ideal Span of control is four to ten. For future, agile organizations this discussion should no longer be conducted, since many interconnected, small units (with up to nine members) generate added value for the customer in a self-organized way.
The prerequisite for agility is the transformation of the pyramid into a podular structure – the business in the business.
- Remote-controlled decisions
In the line organization, decisions take place at the top and the implementation at the base of the pyramid. If task, authority and responsibility (TAR) are not in one hand, then the employees act without sufficient right and duteousness, the management team cannot bring its powers to bear and the team leaders suffer the fate of being liable without the ability to act or having any authority. The effects on self-esteem are clear – from the hubris of the leaders to the fatalism of the team leaders to the thwarted doers.
A prerequisite for agility is the bundling of TAR under one roof at the place of action.
- Delayed action
Additionally, distributed TAR leads to a too long delay due to the remote-controlled decisions. As soon as an action is required, the employees have to obtain permission across several levels in order to be allowed to act. And this even though they know best what is needed, yet they are not allowed to decide. Especially disturbing is the demotivating effect of postponed decisions. Not enough to make them aware their powerlessness, the customers also unload their displeasure on them.
The prerequisite for agility is the comprehensive empowerment of employees for entrepreneurship – including budget and result responsibility as well as decision freedom.
- Extrinsic distress
Despite many training courses, managers are often unable to get out of their micro-management. The situation is aggravated by a lack of social competency, which appears in personal criticism and a lack of appreciation. This creates negative stress for the employees, the so-called distress. It is difficult to fight this harmful burden on its own. This leads to today’s disease symptoms, such as high blood pressure, tachycardia and burn-out. In Japan there is even a special term for drastic consequences: Karoshi (Japanese: 過労死, Overwork death).
The prerequisite for agility are empathic, supportive and assisting mentors (AKA: Bosses).
- Individual high performers
Finding individual top performers in the company, who are presented as examples to spur on the rest, shows that the focus is not on the team, but on competition between the employees. This leads to a battle situation and ultimately to a loss of friction. However, the complexity of today’s tasks requires so many skills that it is very unlikely to be found in one person. The whole is more than the sum of its parts. The (agile) team is the unit that masters complexity and creates viable solutions.
The prerequisite for agility is consistent team orientation and promotion.
Bottom line: Looking at nagile aspects of your business with the help of the previous aspects is a quick way to determine your readiness for agility. Nagile companies cannot remove the active information filters, the many hierarchical levels, the remote decision making, the delayed action, the executive-induced extrinsic distress and the lonely heroes of work. The path to more agility is only possible, when these nagile factors are resolved. The employees win in this process. The leaders are shaken in their self-esteem and need a new Raison d’être. Everything begins with the search for nagile clues.
A look at cultures always takes place from the individual perspective of the own origin. The description uses words, associations and beliefs that are unconsciously determined by the culture in which you have grown up. This begins with the filtered attention that only notices aspects for which the viewer is accustomed to – are individuals or groups at the center of interest? This continues with the world view, which provides explanatory patterns for the observed facts, e.g. religious or secular convictions. The words that are used by the observing culture are available for the description, e.g. the interpretation of terms such as freedom, work, and government. If it is followed by an action, then this act is based on the possibilities of one’s society, e.g. imprisonment vs. corporal punishment. Already Ludwig Wittgenstein mentioned “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” This turns our personal culture into the essential information bubble.
The following examples are cultural dimensions that hold this information bubble together.
One focal point of growing into the world is the social focus on oneself versus on one’s own group. The emphasis on independence and one’s own needs is an individualistic orientation. If, on the other hand, the group is the center of attention, then the affiliation and subordination of one’s own interests to the group determines one’s own identity.
When different points of view come together, the participants focus on their learned standards. For example, while the collectivists ignore the desire for personal freedom, the individualists are missing the need for affiliation. This blind spot is preserved by the constant exchange of already familiar ideas. Socialization stabilizes the information bubble that is isolated from otherness and results in the known exclusions – e.g. Xenophobia, nationalism, and racism.
The relationship between people is essentially determined by the understanding of the position, the influence and the responsibilities. Hierarchical societies quickly accept the claim to power and the decisions of superiors. At the same time, this view relieves the burden of responsibility, because the higher-ranking persons naturally take over their responsibility. Egalitarian societies, which practice a flat hierarchy with group members of equal rank, are skeptical about power claims. Since they meet at eye level, they do not understand when they are presented a fait accompli without asking and then are still expected to be committed. The understanding and acceptance of a stratification of society and the associated roles can quickly lead to tensions between different cultures – e.g. lack of or too much respect, required decisiveness.
Differences in culture are often attached to the dealing with time. This begins with the division of time into fixed sections or flowing transitions. With the introduction of ever more accurate clocks, the day could be split into finer and finer segments. Nevertheless, cultures differ in the handling of appointments – e.g. Punctuality, duration, timeliness. This includes the use of time for one or more tasks at a time – e.g. multitasking, single tasking. Strongly internalized is the division into past, present, and future. Past-oriented people value experience and established approaches. In the here and now it is all about short-term, quick outcomes. Future-oriented people are not interested in the current situation and Quick-wins, but in long-term, sustainable results. You can easily determine the view on time with the following questions for oneself and others: Where do you see the future? Where do you point, if you indicate the past? In most parts of the world it has become accustomed that we find the future ahead of us and that we point backwards into the past. There are, in fact, nations, where it is the other way around. The past is visibly in front of them and the future lies invisibly behind their back. The cultural sense of time results in filtered reports that hide other perceptions of time.
Bottom line: The few examples should make it clear that we all float in an information bubble that distorts or at least burdens our look at other areas. Our socialization has made us personalities shaped by the surrounding. The responsibility is determined by our understanding of hierarchy. Dealing with time determines the perspective of the information bubble. So today, when we talk about the information bubble and alternative facts, it is not necessarily a matter of populists, but a necessary understanding of the cultural differences. Long before the political opinions of lobbyists we are already caught up in our cultural information bubble. We only overcome the limit, when we try to break free of it and behave openly and tolerantly towards the unknown and the strange. Culture is the essential information bubble that limits us.
The more people work together, the more it matters to be aligned to a goal, to obey common rules and to understand each other. Collaboration nowadays not only takes place between functions, but also across the borders of the enterprises and the sectors. Thus, different values and rules collide. Complex structures with mutual relations and dependencies evolve. The coordination is a form of control as part of the leadership tasks *1. The good news is that leaders have the choice, how they coordinate.
Out of various possible mechanisms for coordination, the following provides a manageable mix of alternatives for controlling groups.
The introduction of market rules steers indirectly the interplay. Since all activities are connected to expenses, the contest based on supply and demand offers a quasi-automatic regulation of the options. The more alternatives are available, the smaller the costs. The rarer the offer, the higher is the price. With this approach, especially internal services that are providing cross-charged deliverables decrease the expenditures in the mid-term.
Anyagreement (e.g. contracts, policies, compliance to standards) determines the type of cooperation. The formal definition of rules guarantees early on that all involved people are clear about what is expected. Since an agreement requires the consent of all contracting parties, the interests of all are considered.
- Partner selection
The coordination through a conscious partner selection already defines before the actual cooperation the common rules. The appropriate selection criteria, admission rules and the desired etiquettes have to be visibly documented in advance. Thus, all involved people know what they are in for and whether they want to participate in this collaboration or not.
- Result orientation
The results that are agreed in as goals, synchronize all activities. This requires a consistent planning, to which the individual goals refer. The employees receive thereby a clear target and leave them with the freedom of the how-to. The HR systems for the control, the evaluation and the motivation are based on it.
The classical approach of leadership assigns the tasks, the authority and the responsibility to the participants on different levels. The chain of command that determines the control, the decisions and the escalation procedures is clearly defined. The superordinate level has thereby the right and the obligation to lead.
Pro-active coordinators keep the projects continuously moving. The so-called linking-pins assure as overlapping contact partners the mutual exchange through management-by-walking-around. A linking-pin reaches from the driver, to the caretaker, to the supporter of the collaboration. In any case, the linking-pin functions as connection between the involved units. They are able to translate the different requirements in such a way that everybody can understand and obey.
One of theoldest procedures is surely the negotiating skills of diplomacy. Similar to the linking-pin, it is only activated after there is a need for coordination. In the simplest case, the exchange of ideas begins between the involved people. However, also negotiations are organized or, in the case of crisis, mediated between the parties. A typical format is the Taskforce.
In principle, the coordination mechanisms can be used separately or arbitrarily mixed, as long as the cooperation and the goal achievement happen in the end. Since the conditions of the business are changing constantly, the hierarchy is surely the most difficult to use, since it needs a long time, in order to be established fruitfully. Linking-pins and diplomats are surely the most practical solutions in times of change and for various cultures.
*1) Additional leadership tasks are the self-management, the conception, the communication and the cooperation