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Saturday, August 8, 2020

CEO Insider

License to Thrive: How to Foster Agility and Collaboration in Your Small Business

James Bond

Where would James Bond be without his MI6 outfit?

When Bond is out traversing the world in another attempt to stave off global catastrophe — as will be the case when “No Time to Die” hits theaters this spring — M, Q, and Moneypenny act as his eyes and ears with constant communication and relevant intel. No mission goes according to plan, meaning Bond and crew must be ready to put their heads together to solve extraordinary problems.

Believe it or not, MI6 possesses many characteristics of an agile organization. By nature, agile businesses are collaborative entities. They’re built with a purpose in mind and run by a mix of in-house and remote experts whose skill sets combine to achieve the best-case scenarios. And they’re able to do this because they have freedom (both virtual and physical) to be their most productive.

An open environment is key to an agile organizational structure because it enables collaborators to communicate ideas quickly and effectively from all departments and corners of the globe. As more small businesses embrace unique collaboration methods and collect valuable insights, leaders should take a hard look at their organizational structures to ensure new collaboration norms neither shake — nor stir — their growing businesses.

Why Agile Organizations Can Fuel Small Business Collaboration

Agile company structures empower teams that usually share three common threads: Their goals are established by a panel of stakeholders, they contain cross-functional players who have complementary areas of expertise, and they are self-governed collectives of employees who are held accountable for clearly defined roles.

The agile approach first emerged in engineering circles, gaining much of its acclaim courtesy of Spotify. The music streaming service used scrum at its outset before ballooning staff numbers forced it to develop the Spotify Tribe, an agile organizational methodology used by 30 teams spread across multiple cities and time zones. During my stint at IBM, we applied an agile organizational culture called “Diamond Teams” to our marketing efforts.

Agility plays to the strength of small businesses and their limited resources. More accurately, agile processes enable employees to collaborate seamlessly across physical and virtual environments. Most modern employees want similar levels of freedom, which should show small business leaders that an agile mindset can bring the best talent aboard and accomplish companywide missions.

How to Become an Agile Organization

Whether he’s on a boat, in a casino, or being played by Connery, Brosnan, or Craig, James Bond’s team consistently embodies an agile structure so much that no mission seems out of reach. Collaboration is essential to any small business setup — as is nurturing the ability of employees to work together.

Here are four ways small business leaders can ensure their companies embody the characteristics of an agile organization:

  1. Implement agility at a project level. Scaling agility across an entire company comes with myriad obstacles. To simplify the transition,anagile organizational strategy should start with applying the approach to a smaller, more attainable initiative.
    Look for a project with an agreed-upon business objective that is manageable in scope. This undertaking shouldn’t need companywide buy-in, and it should come with low enough stakes that the impact will be negligible if it fails but significant if it succeeds.
    Starting your agile company structure at a project level allows leaders to observe successes and failures up close while determining how to best move forward. Being agile in business will always teach you something, but you need to observe, track, and learn from those experiences. Ultimately, your company’s agility depends greatly on what leaders can pull from project wins and losses.
  2. Make agility a facet of company culture. In a Gallup survey of business leaders, most respondents called an agile organizational culturecrucial to maintaining a competitive advantage. That said, less than half of those same respondents enjoy the fruits of an agile mindset in their workplaces.
    Part of that mindset is reinforcing failure as a learning opportunity. Agile companies realize that progress trumps perfection, which is why any new solution or approach they conjure is first rolled out as a minimally viable product that they expect to fail in some capacity. From that failure, companies can regroup, crunch data, and come up with a better approach or product. In agile organizations, leadership sets the tone for embracing failure.
    To gain traction, agility needs to be a companywide priority that starts at the top. Stakeholders and C-suite members need to agree to make agile implementation a corporate rock, and they must find organic ways to incorporate the mindset into their overall company objectives.
    Small businesses typically find it easier to embrace agility because they have fewer employees and barriers to buy-in. Even if you have a lower barrier to entry, don’t skip out on essential ingredients such as the promotion of a cross-functional mindset, self-directed teams, or transparency. An agile organizational transformation is more straightforward for small businesses when executives make agility a cultural expectation.
  3. Preach independence and accountability within teams. Real innovation occurs when employees feel autonomous enough to leverage their expertise and find genuinely creative solutions. Promote a purposeful and fluid organizational structurethat puts knowledgable and skilled team members in positions to flourish.
    Construct teams that contain members from different expertise areas that are all geared toward a shared goal. If the goal is to boost performance marketing, for instance, pull in potential team members who have skills in marketing-specific areas (e.g., social media, paid media, SEO, etc.) and technical aspects like website development to ensure every base is covered.
    Give these teams the room to work, but regularly check in with them to monitor progress and see how you can provide support. Make these meetings monthly and give your teams individual and group goals that they’re accountable for hitting. The level of freedom and accountability you afford is a good indication of how agile your company is.
  4. Allow for physical and virtual collaboration opportunities. About 51% of respondents to Mercer’s Global Talent Trends 2019 reportsay they want more flexible work solutions. Your agile transformation will genuinely take shape once you give teams the resources to collaborate in person and remotely.
    Outfit your physical space with huddle rooms and open workspaces that make it simpler for team members to collaborate. Equip your huddle rooms with powerful videoconferencing and virtual collaboration solutions that enable screen-sharing and make it simpler for in-office and remote employees to share insights and feel included. Small businesses that deploy these solutions open themselves up to a broader range of employees while capitalizing on the true potential of their agility.

Collaboration and agility bring out the best in one another. Together, they can uncover the kind of insights that will help your small business break new ground. Institute them in tandem to give your small business a license to thrive.


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Leonard Callejo
Leonard Callejo is the Director of Online Marketing at Cisco Webex, an industry leader in video conferencing. He resides in Denver, Colorado. Leonard Callejo is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. He can be found on LinkedIn.