Tap the Agile Power of Your Relational Web

Tap the Agile Power of Your Relational Web

By Pamela Meyer, PhD with contributions from Nick Freiling, Director of PeopleFish

Over the past two years, we have collected and analyzed almost 1,000 Agility Shift Inventories (ASI) from people working in organizations large and small, across industries and nations. Each individual who takes the ASI receives a snapshot of their current agility capacity and opportunities, based on their answers. They also receive our complimentary Agility Shift Catalyst and Conversation Guide, that provides a series of reflective questions and action steps to help them begin to make their own individual agility shift.

While individuals are using their results to expand their own agility competence, capacity and confidence, we have been aggregating and analyzing the anonymized results looking for additional trends and actionable insights to help our clients reach their business goals.

Our Surprising/Not so Surprising Finding

One of the first things that caught our attention was how significant a role an individual’s Relational Web plays as a predictor of their overall agility. If you are new to the six dynamics of The Agility Shift, the Relational Web is your web of skills, knowledge, talent, and resources that you need to be able to tap at a moment’s notice when things don’t go as planned or when a new opportunity emerges.

Understanding the Dynamics of Your Relational Web

The Relational Web is woven into each of the other five dynamics of agility and is at the center of the Agility Shift model, for a reason. All of my prior research and experience helping organizations become more agile and innovative showed a link between the size and diversity of the Relational Web to individuals, teams and the entire organization’s ability to be agile.

We were surprised and excited by additional correlations we found between an individual’s Relational Web and other agility-enhancing behaviors. For example, those who report intentionally making and building connections that expand their Relational Web are also significantly more likely to practice other key behaviors linked to overall agility. These include evaluating the diversity of relationships to ensure access to multiple perspectives, effectively making sense and meaning of what is happening when things don’t go as planned, and intentionally becoming aware of new resources in the environment.

The graphic below highlights some of these correlations. The graphs convert respondents’ level of agreement into numerical values in order to highlight and compare the differences in agreement between the color-coded segments of respondents.

These findings align with other recent research, such as the Google study of 180 of their teams, in which they found that the most successful teams had leaders with the largest and most diverse social networks (one aspect of the Relational Web). These leaders were also intentional about making and building their connections by doing things like regularly rotating who they ate lunch with.

We have long known of the importance of networking for career success. Our latest findings highlight the value of consistently and intentionally weaving a dynamic Relational Web for sustained agility.

So What? Turning Insight into Action

Whether you are a sole practitioner, individual contributor, or a leader with hundreds of reports there are things you can do to turn these latest insights into positive action:

Expand your awareness and access to available resources. Attend (or organize) meet and greets for new colleagues. Learn about emerging technologies or other relevant developments in your environment.

Build meaningful connections with other people. This goes beyond sending and accepting LinkedIn invites. It means understanding the value of building connections that are founded on more than their transactional or operational value.

Participate in informal networks and affinity groups. Whether in a focused Community of Practice or simply a community, you can connect and build relationships and share resources with others who share your passion for continuous growth and learning.

Review your on-boarding experience with the RW in mind—does it help people discover who does what, become familiar with available resources, build relationships?

Seek and provide opportunities to expand your/your employees Relational Web and organize/participate in:

  • Volunteer projects
  • Job shadowing/mentoring programs
  • Recreational activities
  • Off-sites
  • Industry, vendor or practice-area conferences
  • Lunch & Learns

In coming weeks, I will share more actionable insights from our research. In the meantime, I invite you to inventory your own agility capacity by setting aside a few minutes to take the complimentary Agility Shift Inventory.

We have also developed a Team version of the ASI designed to give your entire team or department actionable insights for building on their strengths to improve agility and overall business results. Our clients find this resource particularly valuable to jumpstart agility, or to help their team lay the foundation for success whether they are adopting agile project management methodology, or simply wanting to improve overall success. Click here to learn more about the Team ASI, or contact us here.

How Fit is Your Business? Part 5: Endurance

How Fit is Your Business? Part 5: Endurance

Endurance, the final of the five fitness indicators in the “How Fit is Your Business?” metaphor is a measure of sustained success, perseverance, and resilience.

Have you built systems, processes and a culture that supports sustained success?

Earlier this year many of us in North America were treated to a full out deep freeze, followed by the bomb cyclone hitting the east coast. This and my own love (and I know I am in the minority here) of winter weather has me thinking a lot about “hardiness”. Something I admire about my fellow winter sports enthusiasts is their consistent, good natured heartiness. They inspire me and in my own quest to emulate them, I came across some research on “endurance work,” which is an academic term that closely parallels heartiness, and is “defined as the ability to keep going (physically and mentally) in the face of pain, discomfort and suffering, including as a celebrated cultural practice in endurance sports such as triathlon and distance running”  (Allen-Collinson, Crust, & Swann, 2017, p. 4).

How to Be Hardy. In their study of the endurance work of high altitude mountaineers, the authors found that their participants drew on their past lived experiences of pushing past their pain and exhaustion (their embodied experience), as well as an ability to make intentional cognitive choices to push on by thinking about all they had invested in their goal and the goal itself (in this case, summiting). This is the intentional practice of endurance work and “Mountaineers must learn how to interpret sensations in order to render them meaningful, before responding to them” (Allen-Collinson, Crust, & Swann, p. 8). 

When Not to Endure. Like all guiding principles, endurance is not an absolute. Experienced climbers also know when “not to endure”. In fact, it is key to their survival. They learn to assess their bodies and the external conditions, as well as their fellow climbers to know when pushing on would be too risky—either for themselves or their fellow climbers. All too often leaders and their businesses fail because they could not adapt their goal based on new information or discoveries.

Endurance is intentional work. Yes, it requires mental toughness, but also mindful presence and the ability to fully experience and interpret subtle cues from our bodies and environment. Endurance also demands the ability to draw on past experiences of times when we forged ahead and pushed beyond previous limits, and our ability to refocus on our value and meaning in reaching our goals. Without a clear purpose, it is difficult to forge ahead when you encounter formidable challenges and obstacles.

Lessons for Leading Agile Teams

Leaders of agile teams must develop the capacity for endurance work, as well, and know when to push their teams to new levels, and when to make adjustments. They must be able to quickly assess whether or not the project pace is sustainable. If it is not, they likely need to adjust by either adding more people to the team or dialing back the amount of work they are attempting to accomplish during each work cycle or sprint.

  • How do you and your team assess your current capacity for endurance?
  • What indicators do you monitor that signal your need to adapt and adjust your team(s), workload and/or workforce?

Athletes know that their quest for success cannot lead to burnout, though all too often organizational leaders overlook their team’s capacity to endure. Ignore it at your peril. Attending and attuning to our individual and team endurance and the practices that can sustain it is a critical dimension of organizational fitness. 

Turn Challenges into Opportunities 

I have written about my passion for amateur alpine ski racing and some of the agility lessons I have learned out on the slopes. On some of the coldest days, including a day in January

Enduring sub-zero temps on race day

when the wind chill hovered between 10-15 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, I’ll admit that I was tempted to hunker down and stay cozy. And yet, I had signed up for two days of racing in Wisconsin. In the spirit of practicing what I preach and turning challenges into opportunities, I got out there and used it as an opportunity to work on my own heartiness.

The author sporting the spoils of endurance

I’m not suggesting winter sports are for everyone, however, I am challenging you to think about how you can develop your own and your team’s endurance and heartiness.

What practices do you, or could you, experiment with to enhance your ability to “keep going.”?

#MondayMotivation – Keeping Your Team Agile in the Fourth Quarter

#MondayMotivation – Keeping Your Team Agile in the Fourth Quarter

 #MondayMotivation two tiny little words that really hit home on a morning in December. With 4th quarter coming to a close the year’s end is certainly not all holiday parties and gift exchanges. For many of us, it means motivating our team to work long hours, reviewing a year’s worth of data, and creating plans for the year ahead.

 

How do we stay motivated to get the job done with pine scented, green and red distractions on every corner?

One way is to spend time thinking about what your team or business has done well over the last year. Create a list of strengths and achievements, and make time to celebrate and brainstorm how you can build on your success. Want more ideas?  Try downloading one of my favorite agile team meeting activities.

 

The new year is a great time for team development.

When planning for next year, consider agile teams can learn, adapt, and innovate in the midst of change all while using their available resources. How responsive is your team? How prepared are they to handle the uncertainty and or complexities of the New Year?

As you begin to answer these questions, consider there is now compelling research to support the business case for making agility a strategic priority for organizations across a diverse range of industries and roles. 

How Do We Grow Agility?  

  • Continuous Learning   Assessment and often re-assessment will provide your team with regular information and the time to regroup and adjust.
  • Fluid Communication –  Open channels of communication across all job functions and levels of authority.
  • All In Context –  Create an environment where teams feel empowered to respond in the moment.

To learn more read my blog Three Lessons From (and for) Agile Teams or reach out via the contact form below.

Now Accepting 2018 Engagements.  Book by December 29 to assure 2017 fees! 

Meyer Creativity Associates designs and delivers custom programs to develop your workgroup, department, or entire organization’s competence, capacity and confidence for innovating, learning and positively responding to change.  

          Our list of services and approaches includes:

Contact Pamela About Working With/Speaking to Your Team?

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Give the Gift of Agility

Give the Gift of Agility

There can be no doubt, the holiday season is upon us! I’m certain that many of you, like myself, are currently sorting through a barrage of shopping bags and cyber sales, and like me, you find yourself in search of a meaningful gift for each person on your list.

After a year of great work, I particularly enjoy recognizing colleagues, mentees and team members with a token of my appreciation. I’ve found gift cards, customized coffee mugs and stylish office supplies were appreciated (if only for the thought), but having worked with many colleagues for years, I sometimes needed a fresh idea.  This year I’ve been thinking about ways to give the gift of agility.

Here are four ideas that might fit the bill for your colleagues and team members:


Give a Stretch Experience

Offer to cover the cost of a stretch experience up to a set amount. The only guideline being that it offers a chance for your team members to venture beyond their routine and do something that scares them.  Afterward have them share their experience and lessons learned with the rest of the team.

 

 

Give Improvisation  

Improv classes are a great way to help people out of their comfort zones. While having fun and building their confidence your team will expand their ability to think and collaborate on their feet. In the Chicago area, check out the Training Center at CSz Chicago http://www.cszchicago.com/training-center/, or many other great options near you.

 

Give The Agility Shift to Your Team

Share a book on business Agility that you’ve enjoyed. Your colleagues and team members will appreciate you sharing a book that has impacted your own professional development. Don’t stop there, everyone loves a party; include an invitation to your first Agile Book Club gathering. Bringing the team together for a book and/or journal club is a great way to build community, generate ideas and reinforce a culture of collaboration and resource sharing. I can recommend reading The Agility Shift as a fun and engaging way to kick off the series! http://pamela-meyer.com

 

Give the Gift of Giving Back 

One of the most rewarding ways to give is when you see the immediate impact of your gift in your community in a way that reinforces your values. This year Meyer Creativity Associates is supporting the values of innovation, arts and youth education with a donation to The Albany Park Theater Project. If you already have a relationship with a non-profit or community organization, identify their current needs and organize a gift to help them meet those needs. Better yet, organize a volunteer day or afternoon to support the organization as a team. Not sure how to find the right fit? You can identify a volunteer opportunity in the Chicago area by checking out https://www.chicagocares.org or find an opportunity anywhere in the US at https://www.volunteermatch.org.

What gifts are you giving this year to recognize your colleagues’?

How to Help Your Team (and Yourself) Be More Agile

Reposted with Permission From the October 10, 2016 IBM Social Business Spotlight Blog by Pamela Meyer

While major corporations such as AT&T are recognizing the need to create a more agile workforce1, most continue to rely on strategies designed for the mythical stable, knowable future. Whether you are leading or a member of a software development team, developing and executing your company’s sales and marketing strategy, or working in any number of high-stakes, rapidly changing contexts, you know that your success in the moment is likely not going to be based on the finer points of your strategic plan, or even the day’s to-do list. It is also nearly certain that when the unexpected hits, your success is not going to come from something you learned in business school or other formal training program.

Despite evidence that up to 90 percent of executive action is ad hoc2, most training programs and businesses are doing a dismal job preparing their workforce to be effective in an increasingly VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) environment. Two outdated approaches are impeding organizations’ ability to create a more agile workforce, and in turn—your ability to help yourself and your team be more agile:

1) Most business school and workplace learning approaches disproportionately focus on aspects of the business that (in theory) can be controlled, which leads to an overemphasis on planning and analysis, and role-specific skill and knowledge development.

2) Most approaches to workplace learning, whether delivered at the university or at the workplace itself, are based on the assumption that information shared and skills developed in the classroom (on-ground or virtual) will be readily transferred to the complex and uncertain environment of the workplace and world of business.

The problem with these assumptions is borne out by the disheartening 10 percent of learning transfer from training room to the workplace3. Why the low transfer rates? Most learning approaches do not take into account the level of complexity required to access and translate prior learning and apply it in new and often unfamiliar contexts, let alone create opportunities for learners to develop their agility competence, capacity and confidence.

Developing the Agile Team

If you truly want to develop your and your team’s overall agility, rather than teaching new skills and knowledge with the assumption they will be applied in a known, stable context, you must seek and provide opportunities to experience situations that demand adaptive responses. This means experiences where you and your team not only need to find and frame the issue or opportunity, but also to then generate novel approaches using available resources. I am not talking about canned training activities where you work to solve a pre-defined problem (solve a puzzle, build a tower, etc.), but ill-defined, high-stakes scenarios and activities with real or almost-real-life consequences.

Such activities, whether experienced in the safety of formal training or encountered on the job, also help team members develop their capacity for learning agility. In recent years researchers have identified learning agility as the single most critical success factor for long-term career success, as well as for organizational results. Defined variously as the ability to “learn and adapt in changing contexts,”4 and “the willingness and ability to learn from experience, and subsequently apply that learning to perform successfully under new or first-time conditions,”5 learning agility is the key to success when things don’t go as planned and when new, unexpected opportunities arise. In other words, learning agility is the key to business success.

Learning-agile people and teams are better able to adapt when asked to switch roles, work in a new culture, expand the scope or complexity of their responsibilities, lead a new initiative, learn lessons from experience after a set-back and use them to guide their future success, and innovate with limited resources.

Critical Success Factors: Intentionality and Responsibility

When you make your own and your team’s agility your top priority, you must make opportunities to develop learning agility the core of your talent development and management strategies. This responsibility is not something to pass off to your HR department or Training and Development Team. In the agile organization, everyone is a learning leader. Those formally charged with people development in your organization, if you are lucky enough to have them, can be excellent partners for you, and ultimately, you are responsible for developing your own and your team’s agility capability.

In practice, this means being intentional in your agile practices and taking responsibility for your own learning, while encouraging your team members to do the same. Here are just a few best practices that companies I work with are adopting with excellent results:

  • Seek out and provide new and unfamiliar opportunities that require new learning, innovation and adaptation.
  • Practice high stakes “What, if . . .” scenarios that require your team to rapidly come up with alternative strategies and resources, in order to maintain business operations in the midst of a disruption or quickly capitalize on a new opportunity.
  • Intentionally expand, diversify and strengthen your Relational Web of skills, knowledge, talent and resources so that you have access to them when the unexpected happens.

Taking the time to be intentional and responsible for agility and to develop learning agility is well worth the investment. Studies show that adopting best practices such as these, as well as others borrowed from agile project teams, can increase your productivity as much as 38 percent.6 Even if you and your team realized a only fraction of these results, wouldn’t it be worth it?


1. Hardy, Q. (February 13, 2016) “Gearing Up for the Cloud, AT&T Tells Its Workers: Adapt, or Else.” New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/14/technology/gearing-up-for-the-cloud-att-tells-its-workers-adapt-or-else.html?_r=0
2. Mintzberg, H. (1973) The nature of managerial work. New York: Harper & Row.; Moorman, C., & Miner, A. S. (1998) The convergence of planning and execution: Improvisation in new product development. Journal of Marketing, 62(3), 1—20.
3. Brinkerhoff, R. O. (2005) The Success Case Method: A Strategic Evaluation Approach to Increasing the Value and Effect of Training. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 7(1), 86-101. doi:10.1177/1523422304272172
4. Mitchinson, A., & Morris, R. (2012) Learning about learning agility.
5. Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (2000). High potentials as high learners. Human Resource Management, 39, 321-330.
6. Salesforce.com. (2010) White Paper: Transforming your organization to agile. Retrieved from https://developer.salesforce.com/page/Transforming_Your_Organization_to_Agile

Giving (and Receiving) the Gift of Agility

This holiday season as you begin to transition from the year that is wrapping up to the shiny new one that is about to begin, you will likely be making time for celebration. Hopefully you are also making some time for reflection, regrouping, restoration and re-energizing.

In the spirit of the season and all of the above activities, I offer you a few gifts you may want to consider giving to yourself and others. Each will go a long way in helping you and your friends, colleagues and loved ones stay agile and energized in your life and work:

  • Give the gift of a new experience or adventure. It might be as simple as a membership to the local art museum, botanical garden, experimental theater company
  • Or as grand as a hot air balloon ride, cross-cultural travel, or an outdoor adventure

Give the Gift of Adventure

  • Write a note of appreciation highlighting the ways your colleagues responded to the unexpected and unplanned or turned a challenge into an opportunity.

Give the Gift of Appreciation

  • Give the gift of an invitation to participate in a new volunteer experience that is aligned with your shared values

Give the Gift of a Volunteering

  • Give the gift of self care: a spa treatment, 10-pack yoga class card, gym membership

 

Give the Gift of Self Care

  • Give the gift of time and resources to:
    • join or form a community of practice
    • attend a conference or professional development opportunity
    • develop a new idea, business relationship, product or service prototype

 

These are just a few ideas to get your creative wheels turning. However you choose to celebrate and co-create the season and the year ahead, remember like fitness, your ability to stay agile and engaged requires the gift of your continuous and generous attention.

Four Keys to Creating an Agile Organization

Just because you can hit a tennis ball, doesn’t mean you can win a game.

Pamela Meyer Agility Expert

Many of us weekend warriors know that our brilliant rallies with the backboard, don’t always translate to a stunning performance on the court. The same is true in our organizations; having the skills and knowledge (competence) for agility does not necessarily mean that you and your organization have the ability to put it into action in the midst of volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) situations (Stiehm and Townsend, 2002).

For an organization to be truly agile it must develop the capacity at all levels of the system to enhance and sustain agility. Leaders can assess their systems, processes and frameworks for their current capacity for agility, and enhance them for maximum responsiveness. Here are a few places to start, along with some provocative questions to ask:

  1. Systems and processes to convene a team of experts to respond effectively to an unexpected event or opportunity. Does your organization have a strategy to use existing technology to easily search for and assemble people based on their expertise and experience?
  2. Systems and processes that enable agile communication and collaboration. Do you have the capability to swiftly communicate with the right stakeholders in the midst of a fluid situation and/or high priority collaboration
  3. Frameworks to quickly develop new products and services (Rapid prototyping). Do your employees across job functions and business units know where to take a new product or service idea and how to move it smoothly from inception to execution? Does your organization have the capacity to rapidly prototype a new product or service in response to an emerging need or opportunity?
  4. Streamlined organizational structure and decision-making processes. Research shows that organizations that have minimal structure necessary for their specific business are more able to improvise (Moorman & Miner, 1998). Does your organizational structure and decision-making process enhance or impede agility?

With systems and processes that enable rather than impede responsiveness, organizations have a foundation for agility. This “agile infrastructure” alone will not insure individuals, teams and the entire organizational system is agile, only that the infrastructure will not be part of the problem. Organizations that are confident that all of their employees can and will respond effectively to the unexpected and unplanned also invest in developing, reinforcing and rewarding individual and team capacity to improvise to meet the changing needs of the business and its customers.

 

Moorman, C., & Miner, A. S. (1998). Organizational improvisation and organizational memory. Academy of Management Review, 23(4), 698-723.

Stiehm, Judith Hicks, & Townsend, Nicholas W. (2002). The U.S. Army War College: Military education in a democracy. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

 

This post by Pamela Meyer originally appeared on meyercreativity.com/blog 

Three Lessons from (and for) Agile Teams

Three Lessons from (and for) Agile Teams

or

“If you want to understand organizations, study something else,” Karl Weick

SWAT Team_dreamstime_xs_18800265

 

An agile team is one that can learn, adapt and innovate in the midst of change, using available resources.

There is compelling research to support the business case for making agility a strategic organizational priority. A study of 649 firms by MIT’s Sloan Center for Systems Research found that agile firms grow revenue 37% faster and generated up to 30% more earnings per share (Business agility and IT portfolios, 2006). The reasons for increasing agility are clear, but most leaders are less clear on how to enhance agility in their own organizations.
Lessons learned from successful agile teams in high stress, high risk circumstances, such as SWAT teams, film crews (Bechky & Okhuysen, 2011) and fire fighters (Weick, 1993) show us that agile groups and organizations have both the required competence and capacity for:

 

Continuous Learning

The ability to quickly become aware of, assess (and often re-assess) new information in real time and regroup (including the capacity to drop prior plans, agendas and preconceptions as they become obsolete) and respond to the situation at hand is essential to agile teams.

Fluid Communication

Agile organizationFilm Crew_dreamstime_xs_25247256s have open channels of communication across job functions and levels of authority. Critical new information can emerge at any level of the system at any time and those who receive or perceive the data must be have the confidence and competence to share it with the appropriate stakeholder.

Context

I have written extensively about the value of playspace (2010) in creating space for innovating, learning and changing. Playspace is the serious business of creating the context where people are free to play with new ideas, play new roles, create more play in the system and engage in improvised play to be effective in any situation. This is not the funny hats and games type of playspace; it is about creating a context where people do not feel constrained to respond in the moment to an urgent customer or business need because it is not in their job description.

Agile organizations require leaders who understand that agility is a key competitive advantage and who align their learning, development and business practices to develop and sustain. Lessons from high-risk teams can inspire us to action. Sometimes it is helpful to raise the stakes by conducting a thought experiment and ask ourselves, “What if our lives depended on our organization’s ability to be agile?” When we raise the stakes, we often discover capacities we didn’t know we had.

 

Bechky, B. A., & Okhuysen, G. (2011). Expecting the unexpected? How SWAT officers and film crews handle surprises. Academy of Management Journal, 54(2), 239-261.

Business agility and IT portfolios. (2006). Cambridge, MA: MIT Sloan School of Management, Sloan Center for Systems Research.

Meyer, P. (2010). From workplace to playspace: Innovating, learning and changing through dynamic engagement. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Weick, K. E. (1993). The collapse of sensemaking: The Mann Gulch disaster. Administrative Science Quarterly, 38(4), 628-652.

 

This post by Pamela Meyer originally appeared on meyercreativity.com/blog