Organizational Agility

Organizational Agility: What Makes an Organization Agile?

Making organizations agile has become a new trend in the modern working world, with many organizations claiming they are agile, but falling horribly short. The goal with organizational agility should be more than just reacting to changes in the marketplace after they happen. The organization needs to be able to respond as the changes are occurring, and the changes are always occurring.

Bringing agility to the whole organization isn’t an overnight process, and it isn’t even something you can do with a couple of team-building exercises. Agility isn’t a switch you flick on and off. Organizational agility also takes more than having a few Scrum teams; in some cases that may not even make your projects very agile.

Organizational agility is a long process that never ends. It takes a lot of work and dedication. The entire organization may need to be restructured, and the way people think has to change.

Managers don’t tell people how to do things in an agile organization, and the existence of a person whose only job is to be a manager of people is undoubtedly questionable in an agile organization. A manager might manage the workflow but not the people, that is an important distinction to make.

When it comes to the people, a servant-leader then coordinates with them to get the work done. That servant-leader is responsible for making sure those people have what they need to complete the work, but they are not responsible for making sure the work gets done (unless they are doing some of the work). The teams of people themselves bear the responsibility of ensuring the work gets done.

Below is a couple of lists of characteristics the agile organization should seek to adopt and practice.

A. The major aspects of an agile organization:

  1. Continuous Improvement
  2. Human-Centered Leadership
  3. Cultural Embrace

B. Supporting characteristics of an agile organization:

  1. Responsive
  2. Emergent Leadership
  3. Collaboration
  4. Learning

A. The Major Aspects of an Agile Organization

  1. Continuous Improvement

Agile organizations strive to be better than they are. They have a strong desire to learn from their mistakes. When issues do occur, they will studiously work to correct those issues and seek out ways to prevent the same problem from happening a second time.

But agile organizations go even further than that. They don’t just sit around and wait for mistakes to happen, they actively look for ways to make things better. The agile organization seeks to improve the processes and the people in an effort to prevent mistakes from even occurring the first time.

  1. Human-Centered Leadership

Organizational leaders need to recognize that their employees are people and people have needs. These needs do NOT include working long hours for a substandard salary or having a micromanager scream obscenities at them. In fact, people need quite the opposite.

Agile organizations recognize that people need to grow and learn. People need to be respected and have the opportunity to hone their craft to become better. There needs to be a certain level of autonomy in how people choose to go about doing their work. People also need time away from work, they need to rest at the end of the workday. The agile organization will ensure that the needs of the people are a priority.

  1. Cultural Embrace

The agile organization will create a culture that values the people and the desire to improve. The previous two major values need to become culturally ingrained in the organization. A culture of blaming people for mistakes needs to be eliminated, and a culture of celebrating people for their successes must replace it.

The employees must also learn to recognize each other as humans in an agile organization. The need to treat each other with respect. The office politics that plague some organizations should be eliminated. Employees instead engage in more transparent and constructive communication, challenging each other to do better. This can only occur through a cultural change and embrace of agile values.

B. Supporting Characteristics of an Agile Organization

  1. Responsive

The organization, in its efforts to be more agile, must become responsive to the needs of the customers and the needs of employees. Changes should not only be considered inevitable but embraced as something that will improve the people, processes, and products that make up the organization.

  1. Emergent Leadership

Organizational agility is built upon emergent leadership. The employees help guide how the organization is structured. Massive corporate structures full of managers should be critically examined, and the layers reduced. From the employees, leadership should emerge.

  1. Collaboration

In an agile organization, collaboration is about more than just working together. Working together is essential, but working together effectively is more critical to the success of the people and teams involved and by extension, the organization as a whole.

To collaborate effectively, people must be transparent and honest. They need to recognize their mistakes and admit to them. If problems arise, those problems need to be addressed openly and honestly. That does not give employees or leaders permission to place blame or attack others for their mistakes.

  1. Learning

Becoming a learning organization is critical to an agile organization, but it takes more than access to a few online courses or yearly training to become a learning organization. Employees need to share their knowledge, regular knowledge transfer sessions should be encouraged. In many cases, shared job roles can make an organization more effective to sudden market shifts by giving employees additional flexibility and skills.

Experimentation should also be encouraged within the agile organization, at least within reasonable limitations. The organization needs to be responsive to different ways of doing things, and that can only occur by experimenting. You need to learn what works and what doesn’t work.


Crocito, M. & Youssef, M. (2003). The human side of organizational agility. Retrieved from

Vastag, G., Kasarda, J. and Boone, T. (1994), “Logistical Support for Manufacturing Agility in Global Markets”, International Journal of Operations & Production Management, Vol. 14 No. 11, pp. 73-85. Retrieved from