The historical management concept of a supervisor managing a fixed group of employees to accomplish a stable set of activities is well suited for driving efficiency in a known environment, but it will not work as well in today’s unpredictable, dynamic business climate. For an enterprise to be agile and responsive to today’s butterfly customers, it must have flexible mechanisms for accomplishing ‘work’ that change frequently in terms of type, volume, duration, and skill set required.
Roles not jobs
Rather than a fixed job description that outlines specific tasks to be performed and how they should be accomplished, employees in agile organisations are more likely to play positions comprised of multiple, variegated roles that change in number and scope, as business needs change. For instance, instead of performing the job of ‘customer service manager’, an employee might accept the position of customer leader, initially tackling the roles of customer ‘X’s champion, specialist on a particular product and member of a cross-selling committee. Over time, the customer leader completes some roles and commences others such as trainer or focus group leader. These agile role descriptions come with a set of defined responsibilities, but ultimately leave the decision with the employee on how best to accomplish the work.
In an environment where opportunities appear (and vanish) quickly, it is crucial to be able to rapidly deploy resources – both capacity and capability – where they are needed. A resource management function can serve as a clearing-house, matching qualified staff with new roles, based on employee availability, workstyles, and timeframes required by the role. With this type of model, line managers share their authority over staff with the resource management function to gain greater overall agility.
Although virtual teaming is not a new concept and is already used extensively in project-based organisations, it is becoming far more common phenomenon in an agile organisation. Rather than relying primarily on fixed departmental structures, an agile organisation creates teams on an ad hoc basis, and then disbands them as soon as the task or project is complete. Teams coalesce around a specific customer issue or opportunity and consist of a mix of roles from different business components (both inside and outside the organisation) and various geographies. Within teams, members interact based on their role – not by organisational hierarchy, rank, or protocol.
With pockets of expertise scattered among business components, organisations will need a method for exchanging knowledge and building deeper capabilities in particular subject areas. Communities of practice can provide those connections. Even though they can originate on their own, agile organisations may elect to establish a structured, highly facilitated community to stimulate leading-edge thinking on a particular topic or encourage dissemination of best practices. Whether face-to-face, virtual or both, community interaction must be regular to keep members engaged. And although these groups tend to be self-managed, they do depend on a certain amount of organisational support – such as collaboration tools.