How learning can support Agile transformation

Aug 22, 2022

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What is Agile?

Agile is a collaboration methodology that allows teams of any size to move faster, adapt to changing circumstances, and better serve their customers. Since its inception in 2001, it has spread to nearly every industry, upending the way teams and organizations collaborate. This post offers some background on the concept of Agile, what it means for teams today, and how learning can support agile transformation.

This post focuses on Agile transformation specifically. But for more on the role L&D initiatives can play in supporting transformation of all kinds, check out our post about Fosway's research report on Learning for Transformation, as well as this interview with Nomadic co-founder and CEO Matt Burr about his experience helping organizations use learning to drive agile transformation, hybrid transformation, and digital transformation.

The history of Agile

Google the word “agile” and you’ll find hundreds of competing definitions and methodologies, each with its own guru, and each proclaiming to be the one true way. That makes it feel like just another buzzword that will soon be forgotten.

It’s not, however, and it won’t be. Even if we aren’t using the word “agile” in a few years, its legacy will continue to shape our workplaces.

The basics of Agile

All approaches to Agile come back to a few basic principles aimed to improve the way we work with our teams. And for virtual teams, these five Agile principles are essential for staying aligned and getting good work done quickly.

  1. The problem dictates the work: In Agile organizations, people’s work is determined by the problem they are working on and by the people closest to the problem, not by top-level management. Leaders trust their teams and help without muddying the waters.

  2. The customer dictates the problem: Agile teams are relentlessly focused on solving real customer problems, whether that customer is a consumer or internal client. Everything else (office politics, bureaucracy, team member egos) is much less important than the customer.

  3. Leadership is about empowerment, not control: Great virtual team leadership means asking the right questions, not giving orders. Leaders model the behaviors they need from their team: honesty, transparency, and a willingness to admit ignorance.

  4. Fast failure and rapid learning get rewarded: Successful virtual leaders love to fail small and fail quickly. They incorporate those lessons into the next iteration of their work and move on. Long planning processes are replaced by cycles of rapid execution, learning, and adjustment.

  5. More structure but less process: Meetings are frequent––but not chaotic––and agendas are clear. But within that structure, teams and individuals have immense freedom and transparency. Everyone knows what everyone else is working on and how it all contributes to the big picture.

The role of learning in Agile transformation

It can be easy to lose sight of the human side of transformation, particulary when we're caught up in the details of any big change. Often, organizations focus on the processes, logistics, and technology needed to make business transformation happen, but forget the central part of any major business transformation: the people who will live it out in the day to day.

Preparing people for change is one of the most important parts of business transformation, and learning can play a huge role in this. It can help give employees the tools they need to adjust to the way their jobs will evolve and can also drive home the point that the organization is investing in their employees during a time of change and potential uncertainty. It can also simply make the transformation smoother. In the case of Agile transformation, mindset shift and behavioral change are both key to making this transformation effective. Teams will, after all, need to reimagine the way they think about and approach their tasks, along with the way they collaborate and work together.

This means that any learning solution that will support agile transformation needs to be effective in spurring mindset shift and behavioral change. In our experience at Nomadic, a learning initiative should have several characters to effectively support an Agile transformation:

In general, learning that effectively supports transformation will help turn the transformation from something that is happening to employees to something they are directly participating in as empowered agents of change within the transformation. Done right, learning helps employees across the organization use the transformation to open up new possibilities, both for themselves and the business at larger.

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For an in-depth look at how learning can support different forms of transformation, check out our case study about how AB InBev implemented a cohort-based learning experience for 2,000 global marketers. In particular, it focuses on how the social and collaborative learning experience helped drive innovation. Not only do the cohort members learn from each other within the marketing capability academy, but their comments, questions, ideas, and observations all become a record of insights that can lead to new initiatives and solutions, both within the marketing function and beyond.

For more information about our work building transformative learning experiences for some of the world’s top companies, including IBM, Citi, PepsiCo, AB InBev, and more, you can also get in touch for a demo!

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