Let’s be honest, agile is far from new. It’s been over 20 years since this new movement exploded onto the scene with the publication of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, promising a huge improvement to building software.
The agile age ushered in new ways of planning, servant leadership, and a whole new lexicon - sprints, stand-ups, DOD, planning poker, to name a few. With everything that came with it, this exciting framework helped guide us all, and undoubtedly, we’re better off for it.
However, for all the benefits agile has delivered, the reality is that many organisations fail to apply it effectively, mainly because they start off ill-prepared and underestimate the change needed, which often cuts deep into the organisation’s culture. I’ve seen this first hand - organisational rigidity and a lack of real buy-in from the top can often mean companies that wish to embrace agile, or agile transformation, are destined to fail before they even get started.
The good news is that I’ve seen tried and tested ways of making agile work to its fullest potential - but fundamental to them all is the adoption of an overall corporate belief in adaptability, getting comfortable with uncertainty and focusing on empowering your team members.
At Mindera, we’re one of the largest companies in the world to have adopted the TEAL management philosophy - a belief that promotes the adaptability and empowerment that is so fundamental to enabling agile.
TEAL posits that organisations should prioritise self-organisation and self-management. It sees emphasis placed on small teams, each owning responsibility for their governance and interaction with the broader organisation.
It also rejects the hierarchical line management structures that are prevalent in almost all businesses, believing they stifle creativity and productivity, and can instil a climate of fear and distrust.
To truly empower employees, TEAL organisations ask us to think differently. Job titles are avoided to discourage hierarchical power structures, aid collaboration, and help people flourish and develop around new challenges. If opportunities arise in other projects or departments, people can volunteer their time and expertise to apply their skills. This enables companies to pivot quickly - a character trait central to successful agile ways of working. It also allows for people to work on projects they think suit them best.
However, this level of autonomy and flexibility does come with its own challenges that can be a hindrance to agile deployment - not least that teams risk feeling unsupported by a wider corporate body.
This is why TEAL promotes collaboration, connectedness, and the importance of human relationships - factors so often overlooked by businesses seeking to optimise people processes in the quest for efficiency.
TEAL companies benefit from operating much more like a network where authority and leadership come from those with the most experience and who are closest to the problem at hand. Command and control behaviour is replaced with guidance, coaching, and mentoring at all levels, resulting in a much softer style of ‘management’.
This focus on people goes beyond a focus on teams and touches on clients. Forming solid relationships with your business partners and caring deeply about their success whilst simultaneously showing empathy for your own employees results in fulfilment all around.
The fascinating aspect of a TEAL organisation, and how it supports agile, is its evolutionary purpose. By being driven to do work that has meaning, rather than being focused solely on profit and growth, people are motivated to try new things - whether that’s an employee working on a new client project in a different sector or helping with operations in another department to expand their skill set - people are encouraged to try new things.
Better still, there is no corporate ladder to climb - only an abundance of opportunities to soak up being part of a strong, supportive network that fosters development.
The evolutionary mission of TEAL also aligns well with the belief in constant incremental progress that is such a feature of agile. Mindera reaped the benefits of being TEAL, as evidenced by our rapid growth in nine years and strong client relationships with many leading brands.
The more advanced elements of the TEAL philosophy may not be for everyone. However, for businesses considering agile practices, I would encourage them to look first at the fundamentals of their organisation. Consider whether you have the right cultural qualities, sufficient flexibility in organisation structure and, above all, commitment to change from the very top before starting on your agile journey. Without these, it doesn’t mean you can’t become a more agile organisation - and this should always be the goal - it’s just about being realistic about how much more productive and resilient a business can become with a more engaged and happier workforce.