Organizational Agility: Crucial in Times of Crisis

On my grandfather’s southern Idaho farm, the first sign of springtime is often the arrival of the Canadian geese.  Perched on a bluff overlooking the Bear River a mile or so away, Grandpa’s farm is an annual stopover for the northbound flock.  When it is time to leave, the geese form their signature “V,” noisily honk as they ascend in expanding circles, and then point northward and disappear from sight.  The V formation optimizes the strength of the birds, creating lift and allowing them to fly further with less effort.  While there is always a leader at the front of the V, the leadership rotates, using the strength of various geese; and no singular goose tries to do the work of the flock single handedly. 

The flock always knows where it is going.  Regardless of year-to-year weather variations, the migration route doesn’t alter significantly, and the flock is always focused on its ultimate goal.  If a particular goose becomes too weak to fly, a few geese will stay back until it is well and then together they will hurriedly catch up with the flock.  The flock always has a leader, it always adapts to changing situations, and it always looks out for the weaker members – in short, it demonstrates organizational agility.

Everything seems – and is – different now

The spring of 2020 will long be remembered by business leaders as the season that changed everything.  Only a few months previously, the progress of modern medicine would have made the possibility of a global pandemic seem unimaginable.  As political leaders seek to right the ship and medical researchers hasten to find solutions, business leaders in organizations of all sizes are faced with new survival challenges, and many are left unprepared.

While having a good organization design in place is essential when facing a crisis, organizational agility may ultimately be a significant determinant of business survival.  Companies that have resisted, for example, utilizing remote worksites, now find themselves scrambling to maintain necessary business functions.  When the immediate crisis ends, which organizations will survive and eventually thrive?

Organizational agility is necessary to survive a crisis 

Organizational agility is the ability of your organization to adapt rapidly to environmental (both internal and external) changes in positive and productive ways.  Agility enables key decisions to be made timely and effectively.  The person leading the theoretical “V” (who we commonly refer to as an “Alignment Leader®”) may need to rotate or shift to incorporate new strengths and energy to assist the team.

An agile organization will constantly evolve under the influence of disparate factors, while maintaining core values and avoiding chaos.  Dynamic decision making will become necessary to find solutions to global disruptions of supply chain and workflow.  Correctly applied strategy will deliver a framework for decisions that may ultimately alter long-established procedures and will provide a good counterbalance to the chaos of global uncertainty.   In the words of former Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, “Every little thing counts in a crisis.”

Here are a few things to consider:

Does your team know where you are going? 

While many heart-wrenching tragedies, challenges, and distractions may have slowed your organization’s progress, keep your team engaged in achieving as many of this year’s goals as possible.  Remind them of your business strategies and listen carefully to innovative approaches that may foster new ways to achieve your aims.  Be sure that your “new normal” workforce does not lose sight of what is expected.

Is your team prepared to win back whatever may be lost by the global pandemic? 

As the business environment improves, be sure that your team is energized to carry on.  Psychologists refer to the human tendency to focus on negative experiences as negativity bias.  Pessimism and negativity bias can easily take hold in an organization unless Alignment Leaders® understand how to create positive experiences.  As you focus on rebuilding the energy and resilience of your team, you will be able to instill in your employees the confidence and optimism necessary to drive success for your organization – particularly as the world as we know it comes out of difficult times.   

Are you using the individual talents of diverse and potential leaders to strengthen the team and allow it to fly further? 

A report published by Sweden’s Linnaeus University in 2010 found that hiring talented people alone was not enough to create a sustainable competitive advantage for an organization.  Rather, an organization needs enough of a “flat and flexible structure to allow a high level of traffic of ideas.”  Every member of your team has the potential to contribute to the success of the whole.  A high level of appreciation and respect for the unique talents of each individual – allowing your people to lead the “V” of specific and personal assignments — will foster greater commitment to overriding goals.

As we find our way through this “whole new world,” comforting and caring for those in need will be our first priority.  Looking ahead, we should consider that organizational agility is not just for geese.  Every business needs an Alignment Leader® who knows how to create “lift” for the organization by preparing for the immediate future with a well-structured, agile organization that facilitates clear understanding of goals at every level of the team.