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Building Agile Teams during the COVID Era

Building Agile Teams during the COVID Era

Going by your Company’s Playbook or Not?

Most organizations have developed certain “playbooks” for leaders, managers, and executives, during the last few years when experts realized that unexpected incidents are no longer rare. Creating a playbook can be “translated” into building sets of instructions, guidelines, tips, tricks, and advice on how to handle events, like a hurricane. Most playbooks were created for handling extreme weather conditions or events like protests, terrorism or other events that could jeopardize the image and growth of the organization. These “playbooks” have proven to be quite useful for past unexpected events. However, there was no expert that could predict a catastrophic global pandemic shutting everything down for such an extended amount of time, to write a playbook on how to handle it from beginning to end. Therefore, leaders had to improvise quickly on the spot, as the consequences of the pandemic started unfolding rapidly. Leaders had to be innovative, and they tried hard to come up with an effective way to make things work, without a playbook.

The More People the Better

Unfortunately, there is not any leader or high-level executive that could have a straight answer on how the disruption due to the pandemic could be handled effectively right away. Some experts are now discovering that some leaders could not come up with anything “good” so far because they tended not to involve very many people in the process within the risk management mechanisms. Inside an organization, managers in the lower levels of the hierarchy are always waiting for approval to act. Slowing things down through long processes is magnified during a pandemic, where the business environment is changing every day in unexpected ways.

Coordination Matters

On the flip side, the more people you involve in risk management and responsiveness procedures, the more complicated it becomes. Coordination matters and is crucial even when working in a virtual workplace. To some managers, this type of coordination was seemingly impossible. In most industries leadership was afraid that the virtual workplace would be directly linked to inefficiency, lower productivity rates and much weaker controlling mechanisms. However, we have all proven during the last year that coordination can be successful for risk management purposes and most other activities if there is the right technology in place. With the pandemic the IT infrastructure of a company entered core business operations. This coordination has proven to be successful with both synchronous and asynchronous communication styles. Surprisingly, we saw an increase in productivity and efficiency, even without those playbooks to as guidelines.

Rapid & Central without Hierarchy & Bureaucracy

Central response systems became a trend. However, at the same time these same systems became far more complicated, intricate, and sophisticated. All leaders were aiming at 2 goals: acting faster and making better decisions that could constantly change. Above all, if we just focus on these systems, how to build them and maintain them, we will lose the biggest and most significant part of the picture. Rapid response action plans are the right first move, but it does not stop there. It continues to include the following: a robust network of teams, which are strongly empowered to act outside the strict hierarchy and bureaucratic structure of the organization. This is the only solution to respond to a business environment that changes every single day in a pandemic. Speed, regarding reactions and decisions, does not go along with hierarchy procedures and internal bureaucracy. One common purpose unites leaders to create such central response teams: to handle the immense disruption that the pandemic brought up. Cohesiveness and adaptability also matter as such risk management teams are gathering critical information every day, devise adaptable solutions and put them into practice right away to refine outcomes and generate new ones. These teams perform those activities efficiently and they do it fast.

Here the experts’ advice when building a central rapid response team:

After following those simple tips and tricks, a leader does not need a playbook. However, success is not certain unless there are other elements in place. Empathy, clear decision-making processes, dynamic perspectives and a strong sense of purpose are what makes rapid central response groups to succeed during unexpected circumstances. Above all, these groups and all leaders should not look back into how they used to do business before the pandemic hit. Embracing the next normal is now the new normal. Easier said than done, but maybe there is one keyword to succeed: Agility.

Agile & Remote at the Same Time

Having powerful teams that can adapt to a fast-changing environment with disruptive technologies, digitization and extreme conditions is admirable and valuable for your organization. Many companies have achieved building up those powerful groups of people. However, the key question now is what happens to those teams when everything suddenly goes “remote”. The abrupt shift to a remote working environment has challenged most typical approaches, used by leaders to manage, lead, inspire and engage those teams. Traditionally, those teams are all located in the same area, building or region. This allowed for daily in-person communication. Building mutual trust and smooth cooperation were considered easy when people were working in the same place every day. The biggest advantage was easy and quick problem-solving and decision-making procedures. In contrast, when we move everything to a virtual space where location does not really matter anymore, things get more complicated. Reduced cohesion and elevated inefficiency are thought to be the two most important barriers to success. However, experts would jump in here and support that as long as the necessary technology is in place, teams can be effective from a remote location, in the same way they used to be from one physical location. However, some sociology experts continue to doubt that effectiveness, because above all we are all social human beings, where for most face-to-face contact is necessary for us to be productive and effective in the long run. So, based on all this information, what do experts have to suggest?

Change the Work Culture!

Agile teams working in a remote environment are a great shift for most organizations. The work culture plays a significant role to use agility in order to adapt and succeed. Sustaining the kind of community, social life and the trust that were used to uphold those teams can be hard. The work culture needs to be transformed to encourage bonding and frequent communication even with just a few video calls versus in-person meetings. Creating new unified team experience through virtual communication should be an integral part of the new virtual agile team. It is also essential to encourage, inspire, keep track, and develop the latest spontaneous ideas along with innovation efforts that will make agility the next most powerful trend in the market. Furthermore, teams may now face new challenges, such as distractions, sharing space with other family members, reduced ability to handle the new ambiguity, stress and struggles of the pandemic. These challenges may require revisiting the team norms, cultivating the team’s morale from scratch, and adapting the whole team’s approach towards a coaching leadership style.

The trick is to work backwards because what was effective inside an office building, may not work remotely. Leaders should always start considering the outcomes they used to get while teams were working from the physical office. Then, leaders should recreate in their minds what activities are needed so that those outcomes are seen again after the pandemic. During times of crisis like the pandemic we cannot stick to a guide, we need to adapt to the new normal or perhaps better put adapt to the future.

bizXL Solutions is offering its expertise on agile Developmet teams and learning and development solutions. It is also providing sophisticated advice for organizations that are considering going agile and remote at the same time, optimizing their work processes and culture.

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