Agile is a common practice for companies short on experience and on resources. Despite that, agility and growth don’t have to be incompatible. By scaling responsibly, your company is set up to mature sustainably and viably.
Most young companies are agile by nature. Their small teams and flat structures allow them to fail fast, pivot quickly, and outmaneuver their competition. But over time, as these businesses gain traction, many will experience an inevitable side effect that can be detrimental to their long-term agility: growth.
As businesses hire specialists, create managerial layers, and divide into siloed teams, their agile workplaces can quickly turn clunky. Tasks that were once simple and straightforward, such as updating a webpage, morph into complicated and time-consuming multistep processes.
This is not a healthy way for businesses to operate, especially during a time like the COVID-19 pandemic. New problems and customer needs constantly arise, and overengineered organizations are too slow to respond because their teams work in silos. In these organizations, managers need to create task forces and hold countless meetings to get aligned before a new project can begin. Unfortunately for them, agile companies are already taking action to solve them while they’re still busy talking about the problems.
As businesses grow and scale, these newly minted leaders and middle managers must work hard to maintain the agile mindset that got their companies to this point. Otherwise, innovation and productivity will likely grind to a halt, inhibiting the company’s ability to innovate and scale.
Grow With Flexibility in Mind
The agile concept is mainly applied to business environments but easily translates to personal growth. Being a collaborative and productive person who is always in search of improvement serves personal growth just as much as professional growth when all is said and done. Managers can work to keep their teams agile while their company grows if they deploy these three tactics:
- Encourage cross-departmental conversation. Managers need to prioritize being present and active in departments outside of their own specialties. They need to understand the plights of other departments so that they can consider outside perspectives before forming opinions and embarking on projects. The goal is to devise initiatives that fully suit their teams’ needs while avoiding major conflict with other teams. That kind of companywide alignment is a key ingredient to agility: If each team understands each other’s roles, priorities, and goals, they will not need to waste time playing catchup before collaborating.
At my company, we try to have cross-functional representation at every status update meeting. For example, if the customer service team was meeting to discuss an ongoing pain point, we ask someone from the sales and product teams to join the conversation and provide their input. After the meeting, these employees would communicate what they learned to their teammates to boost their understanding of their customer service cohorts.
Outside of meetings, you can leverage technology to promote cross-departmental communication. Countless solutions, ranging from Microsoft Teams to Slack, can fill this role.
- Unite around common ground. Agile teams must be willing to give and take. Not every project will perfectly align with your team’s goals. Instead, seek to understand the common ground shared by each department and employee at your company. Then, view each project through that lens.
For example, a major revenue generation initiative that shifts budget to another team at your company is one that your team should fully support. Why? Because every employee on your team would benefit from this department thriving, even if the project does not directly feed into your goals. All of your employees share the goal of long-term gainful employment and pay raises — and those would not be possible without a healthy and successful revenue generation team.
- Promote continuous feedback and improvement. Create a work environment where employees hold themselves and one another accountable. Constructive feedback should flow freely as everyone strives for continuous improvement.
Keep in mind, though, that feedback must be provided with care. It should not feel like an attack; it should feel positive, productive, and motivating — and it should be specific and actionable. For example, telling a copywriter that his work could be “a little punchier” will not help him improve. Telling him to “focus on using more vivid verbs” would better steer him in the right direction.
Managers should speak with precision, offer specific examples, and provide potential solutions to their teams. Any shortcomings should be framed as opportunities for improvement. Instead of dwelling on what went wrong, focus on what to do next time.
Burgeoning businesses thrive because of their agility. When you can stop and change course at a moment’s notice, you gain a huge advantage over your larger counterparts.
Unfortunately, many companies lose this advantage as they grow and evolve. But that is only because they create unnecessary silos and inefficient workflows. If you foster cross-functional communication and align your teams around their shared goals, you can ensure that your agility scales alongside your company.