5 Traits most Agile Organisations have in common.

17 August 2021

Strategy, structure, process, people, technology… the move to full-on organisational agility implies many choices at many levels.

author picture Article written by Claus Fjelding Whitt

Reasons to go “Agile” enterprise-wide[1] are plenty. Think of customer satisfaction, employee engagement, operational and financial performance … all these key indicators of long-term success get a massive boost, if you go Agile the right way. Our last post took a data-driven approach to explore the outcomes. But while there are many clear benefits, there are also a number of pitfalls. No “Agile” transformation is meant to be easy. From vision to action and deep-seated change, the road to implementation is probably longer than you think.

This series of two blogs shares Change Management best practices to guide your efforts. But before we discuss lessons from past experiences (part II), let’s start with what most agile organisations have in common (part I)[2].

5 Traits

Long gone are the days when businesses were relying on hierarchy and specialisation as performance drivers. The accelerated pace of changes and technological disruptions are forcing organisations to be more responsive and efficient - in a word, to be versatile. Organisational agility is multidimensional by design. According to McKinsey (see graph below), it is built on 5 pillars that, together, form the backbone of a fluid, change-ready, yet structurally stable organisation. Strategy, structure, process, people, technology… the move to full-on organizational agility implies many choices at many levels. And once the transformation is complete, here is what it looks like:


They have a "Northern Star" or deeply embedded vision. “Purpose helps people see stability as critical to flexibility[3]”. A customer-centric organisation is able to pivot quickly and allocate resources accordingly. But a shared purpose is what makes a fluid operating model sustainable. Employees know what to do, clients know what to expect and partners where to inject resources.

Their structure looks less like a pyramid and more like a living organism. Teams form or dissolve depending on demands and missions, weaving a dense internal network of moving units – much like a living organism that keeps evolving and adapting over time. End-to-end accountability drives efforts and engagement, empowering highly skilled individuals and self-managing teams.

Their processes crush down decision-making and learning cycles. Speed is the mane of the game. Time to market is reduced to a maximum. That means rapid iterations (sprints and releases), a mindset leaning on the experimental side (“failing forward” if need be), training delivered right on time, and everyone’s eyes set on producing minimal viable products.

They foster a people-centered environment. Flat structure, high-trust environment. Research shows that agile practices “generate proactive norms”[4]. Individual development and collective purpose are tightly interwoven in a culture "that ignites passion" and fuels an (i)entrepreneurial spirit. Leadership serves the people.

They leverage cutting-edge technology to enable their products. They are early adopters. They constantly upgrade and investigate disruptive technologies deriving from advancements in AI, machine learning, cloud-based innovations, and the Internet of Things (IoT) - to name but a few. Technology supports operating processes and communications to increase responsiveness and stay ahead of a fast-changing market.

Going “Agile” might seem like a daunting task. Unfortunately, there is no shortcut. But you can certainly leverage CM processes/tools to lay the foundations of the change, avoid pitfalls and stay the course. Our next post looks into what makes and breaks agile transformations. Stay tuned!


[1] Please note that we refer here to organisational agility, unless specified otherwise (Agile methodologies).

[2] This blog summarises main insights from McKinsey (2018), The Five Trademaks of Agile Organisations. [online] https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/the-five-trademarks-of-agile-organizations

[3] Chavez, M. (2018) Unlocking Agility through purposes, Forbes 29/06/2018. [online] https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelchavez/2018/06/29/unlocking-agility-through-purpose/?sh=7f1021d778bf

[4] Proactivity must be understood as employees performing their tasks “in a self-starting and future-oriented way”. Junker, L. (2021) et. al Agile work practices and employee proactivity: A multilevel study, in: Human Relations, I-29.  [online] https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/00187267211030101

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