Creating an Agile Mindset – How?

The advantages of agility are well known by most people. Flexibility, self-organized teams and delivering a functioning, qualitative product faster to the market or customer. And even though it sounds great in theory, in real life it barely works. Why?

Because, people rarely truly think agile. They are only agile on the surface. In general, they do belive in agile methods, but secretly they are still stuck in old structures and ways of thinking. Oftentimes unconciously – and that’s the problem.

As usually the case, it is not easy to change. Transformation always sounds scary and negative and people naturally resist change. Especially, if it was not someone’s own idea, but e.g. the one of management.

Because of that, I asked myself, how to support people, give them security and free space to change their way of thinking. My core theme is: Creating psychological safety for the change to happen.

Psychological Safety

Everbody knows sentences like: As a team leader you have to create an environment people feel safe in. Build a team your employees feel comfortable in. An environment in which nobody is afraid to speak up and state their opinion. This kind of workplace would be regarded as psychologically safe.

But how to achieve that? There are a thousand books and studies, each presenting diverse methods and analysing different behaviour. In the end of the day, I think it all comes down to the team leader being empathic, authentic and open.

Empathy: For me empathy means in this case (changing people’s way of thinking) not simply some basic empathy. That means not simply recognizing that somebody is in a bad mood and bothered by something and react accordingly. No. Empathy during change means for me, that you put effort in understanding the people and their reasons behind certain actions. It is not just the superficial ‘what’ somebody does or ‘how’ somebody behaves, but ‘why’ people act and think the way they do. Because only if your put effort in going one step further, I believe then you are able to truly understand others and thereby, give them exactly what they need. That also means certain aspects they need to be able to change.

Authenticity: That is also a typical sentence written down in every management handbook – you got to be authentic. What does it mean to be authentic? For me it is irony in itself, that you have to explain people on how to be themselves. Because that’s authenticity – being yourself. That includes presenting yourself simply as you are, as boss also talking about your weekend or telling a joke and having coffee with your team. Being authentic does not mean to openly present all your weaknesses or that you can not be strict sometimes as a team leader. Being authentic simply means for me, that you do not overthink every action taken and that it is totally fine as a team leader to be wrong or funny sometimes, too. When talking about such topics I like to refer to the fact that no normal person would ever question themselves like that in the private environment. Am I authentic when I am with my friends? My family? Of course, you are, because you are relaxed and just yourself. And this is exactly what I believe is needed way more in business life – letting go and being yourself – that’s the secret to authenticity in my opinion. Of course, always take care of not losing competence and respect!

Openness: In most cases I read about or observed myself the basic problem was that employees or management was not open to change. Topics, ideas or behaviour which was not according to your own values was rejected or judged. And that’s fatal! Especially, to establish an agile mindset! Being agile is about being open and flexible, so to create an agile mindset you should not only live according to your own rules and standards.

For me, all these aspects play a big part in building a psychologically safe environment. They are not new or secret strategies, but oftentimes only superficially done and the talk is not walked. To implement them as managers is often hard to do – mostly because they are afraid of loosing power and authority.

But seriously? In my opinion, when you are being authentic, and the team respects you for your positive characteristics and skills – isn’t that a whole better, different form of respect? Having authority and power because of your character and competencies instead of simply your position. And this social bond and status is in a certain way much stronger than any other. This kind of power is the one you need to convince people to change and open them up to new structure. In that sense – welcome agile mindset!

Author: Melanie Bühne

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