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Being Disrupted by Digital Natives? Empower Small Teams Using Agile Techniques to Remain Competitive

Team imageDigital natives are threatening the way traditional organizations do business.  The dated authoritative structures and imposing mindsets of the executives of traditional companies are in stark contrast to today’s technology-savvy startups and digital-native companies.

Traditional firms are running out of time to revisit their strategies and promptly transform in accordance with the rapidly evolving markets and business environment.  They need to focus their attention towards eliminating bureaucratic challenges, such as resource scarcity, fragmented processes, siloed environments, as well as lack of innovation.  Conventionally-run business entities can learn a few tricks from agile organizations.

Agile companies develop small teams—comprising a few people who possess the required key skills to accomplish strategic initiatives—as their basic organizational unit.  Rather than converging information technology professionals in a centralized department, agile firms group software designers and engineers in individual teams, to work uninhibited on high-yielding initiatives.

This necessitates the senior leaders to create an enabling environment for the small teams to flourish, by offering them adequate authority required to match the pace of the digital economy, equipping them with top talent, offering suitable tools to act promptly, and constantly gauging their performance.  The leaders need to let the small teams make everyday decisions independently, allow them to escalate the judgments only in dire circumstances, and take time-consuming administrative tasks off of them.

The approach for the organizations to empower small teams and smoothly transition to Agile way of working consists of 4 key steps:

  1. Create independent teams in impactful areas
  2. Place strong performers on the independent teams
  3. Provide teams with a clear view of their customer
  4. Allocate resources up front and hold teams accountable

Empowering Small Teams Flevy

1. Create independent teams in impactful areas

The first step for an organization to embrace Agile method of working is to create independent teams in impactful areas.  Autonomy is clearly beneficial for the team building, particularly for teams working on functions serving the customer directly or affecting customers’ experience.

It is equally important that the executives choose teams of people possessing different skills and capabilities.

2. Place strong performers on the independent teams

The second step to a smooth transition to Agile ways of working is to place strong performers on independent teams from the start.  Senior executives are often reluctant to put their top performers on autonomous teams—considering the task far from being mission critical—since their inclination is to rather have them engaged in strategic endeavors.

Selecting the right, talented people paves the way for the teams to thrive and helps train managers shortlist and create more autonomous teams, and provide teams with a clear view of their customer.

3. Provide teams with a clear view of their customer

The third step in empowering small teams is to provide the teams with a clear view of their customer.  Agile and digital-native companies place a consistent emphasis on improving customer experiences which offers the independent team an opportunity to have a clear and consistent perception of business priorities.

4. Allocate resources up front and hold teams accountable

The last step for an organization to embrace the Agile way of working is to allocate resources up front and hold teams accountable.  Teams working on client-facing roles almost always acquire the resources, information, consents, and finances required for new projects.  Their issue is not scarcity but rather sluggishness.  Once the teams have the required resources and authority, senior executives need to meaningfully measure the teams’ achievement, ensure achievement of desired results, hold teams accountable for delivering outcomes, and promptly reassign resources from under-performing projects to encouraging ones.

To manage and motivate autonomous empowered teams, training and coaching mid-level managers to adopt new behaviors to enable the teams function in a truly agile way is critical.  This is often challenging for managers developed in traditional organizations.  The 3 critical mindsets which should be encouraged in managers working to empower small teams include:

  1. Define outcomes—then let teams chart their own path toward them
  2. Participate in the team’s “stand-up” meetings to enable their success
  3. Commit to retraining managers for their redefined roles

Interested in gaining more understanding on how to effectively Empower Small Teams?  You can learn more and download an editable PowerPoint about Empowering Small Teams here on the Flevy documents marketplace.

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About Mark Bridges

Mark Bridges is a Senior Director of Strategy at Flevy. Flevy is your go-to resource for best practices in business management, covering management topics from Strategic Planning to Operational Excellence to Digital Transformation (view full list here). Learn how the Fortune 100 and global consulting firms do it. Improve the growth and efficiency of your organization by leveraging Flevy's library of best practice methodologies and templates. Prior to Flevy, Mark worked as an Associate at McKinsey & Co. and holds an MBA from the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago. You can connect with Mark on LinkedIn here.

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