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Transition to an agile organization requires hard change

Agile as a mindset is one solution to this change from command-and-control to competition by who can use the VUCA world we live in, instead of fighting it.


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Marty de Jonge

3 years ago | 4 min read

Business organizations nowadays are run less and less with a “command-and-control” mentality. At least, that counts for organizations that aim to become or stay successful in the long run. The competition perspective has shifted from the battle of companies to that of the battle of adaptability.

Agile as a mindset is one solution to this change from command-and-control to competition by who can use the VUCA world we live in, instead of fighting it.

The agile philosophy or mindset was born in the world of technology startups. This mindset invites employees to take part in developing valuable products as both workers and as customers. With the right culture, Agile principles increase efficiency and product quality. Both aspects are increased through continuous feedback from users and quick changes based on their input.

Paying enough attention to people and culture in this process is essential for successfully implementing an agile transformation.

“A transition to agility is more than a change of working method: it is a new organizational philosophy.

However, the hard part of this change can’t be achieved without the soft change,”

When the organization undergoes a total transformation to agility, it affects everyone. The change in working methods and roles finds its core in the mental change of managers and employees. That means, for example:

  • Managers who transform into guiding and facilitating coaches of teams.
  • Employees who take responsibility for team results across disciplines.
  • Steering development with the customer in the driver’s seat, which clearly drowns out harsh background noise from any hierarchy.

Precisely where behavioural change is an issue, there must be room for the growth path. Developing working methods, interacting with each other, taking responsibility and giving space. This growth path is a process that involves trial and error and requires room for experimentation. Change processed like these can’t be captured in a purely ‘blue’ change of structure, ‘rakes’ or design

https://www.slideshare.net/krivitsky/culture-follows-structure
https://www.slideshare.net/krivitsky/culture-follows-structure

The fact that the ‘soft’ change is an essential determining factor for the transformation does not alter the fact that a transformation will also require a ‘formal’ reorganization.

Functions and the related responsibilities must be redefined. So, on this basis, a reassessment of the staffing will have to take place. Three reasons for this are:

1) The current structure doesn’t go hand in hand with agile organizing.

2) Improvement of effectiveness is too large.

3) Required pace sets limits to development style.

1. The old structure doesn’t go hand in hand with agile design

The current structures in organizations mean that mandate is often divided both horizontally and vertically.

Vertical refers to the division into ‘silos’ — the departments -. This, while horizontal refers to the layers (management) of the organization. Too much of that is an anachronism in the agile way of thinking.

Appearances of old structure | Horizontal: Mandate at the top of the organization, strong escalation reflex, overload of ‘steering boards’, limited space for the professional responsibility of the experts.

Image by author
Image by author

Appearances of old structure | Vertical: All kinds of departments with their own managers, their own hierarchical lines and priorities are thronging to have a grip on (their isolated part of) the chain.

Image by author
Image by author

Agile design | Horizontal: Different disciplines unite within the value chain with one focus of control around, for and sometimes also with the customer.

Image by author
Image by author

Agile design | Vertical: More self-organization, room for a mandate from the experts, multidisciplinary teams and less traditional management from management.

Image by author
Image by author

In agile organizations, there is ample space for self-organization. The manager’s traditional role is being transformed into roles where the traditional position of “manager” transforms towards coaching and/or teaching.

We see that there is a fundamental shift in positions in an agile transformation and that often a reduction in layering is implemented that supports the new method.

2. Improvement of effectiveness is too big

In making the organization more agile, cost-cutting is not a predetermined goal in itself.

However, the agile organization has such a potential to increase effectiveness that it is almost unthinkable that you continue to do the same with the same formation.

The increase in effectiveness shows itself, among other things, in responding much faster to changing customer demand. Followed by higher self-motivation by and within teams, less fragmentation of tasks in support or staff departments, less coordination, less coordination in the form of management.

In practice, this leads initially to a change of roles and regularly reduces staffing and a significant reduction in middle management positions. This movement must be acknowledged and clearly placed in the change process in order not to lead to insecurity and paralysis for a long time.

3. Required pace sets limits to development style

The changing role perception of steering and the distribution of mandate is so large that their role interpretation is revolutionary for both teams and managers. And it is only logical that it may be followed in steps. But then the following questions arise:

  • To what extent does everyone still feels him/herself ‘at home’ within the organization when the agile transformation took place?
  • Is the change sometimes so big that not everyone has the mental flexibility to go along?
  • Is it a change that everyone wants to experience too?

If the above questions cannot be answered convincingly, the transition will take a long time. And perhaps too long for the external urgency that organisations are currently experiencing.

In summary

The transition to a truly agile organization, the transition that goes beyond just a new working method in the IT domain, is a comprehensive organizational change.

Several traces arise in this transition, sometimes with its own ‘development time’.

The transition affects all facets of business operations, including working method, structure, attitude, management philosophy and behaviour.

This change can’t be completed ‘quickly’ across the board.

A formal reorganization offers the possibility to support the change on all tracks with a ‘leap forward’.

Implement the structural changes at the beginning of the transition so that the process is lead by structure. This way learning, development and experimentation continues in the new setting. The formal reorganization is therefore an unavoidable intervention to give space to the ‘mental reorganization’.

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Marty de Jonge

As an agnostic change agent, I am constantly amazed at what happens in organizations and learn every day. Enthusiastic writer and always open for discussion.


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