True Agility Starts With Collaboration

team gathered around laptop

by Ann Drinkwater

Organizational design and business agility has always been an area of interest to me, long before they were buzz terms. I enjoy assessing the people and goals of organizations and analyzing the psychology behind it all. In 2007, I completed my first formal agile training and certification (Scrum Master). This program was energizing and inspiring, not just for the learning aspect, but because of the way agile can transform our working lives. Immediately following the course, I found opportunities to utilize the approaches discussed, including implementing Scrum for eLearning course development. While the organizations I supported were not always ready for true agility, I hung on to the overarching theme and message behind agile.

Many people have written and expressed frustration on what agile is not. For those who see the power in agile, you will also see that agile is not a tool, it is not turning requirements into user stories, it is not packaging agile as a daily standup (where everyone sits due to the length) and it is not being a development focused business. Agile is focused on value creation. And at the heart of agile is how value is created. Many individuals in organizations think that their independent work creates value. In many cases these individuals are creating value, but all too often, they operate in isolated, disconnected work streams and are creating their personal version of value. It goes back to what the customer is willing to pay for, what will move your organization to the next level and developing organizational momentum that is in lock-step with the customer. Many organizations even go so far as to say they are agile or collaborative. Do we really understand what it means to collaborate? I believe this is at the heart of it all.

If we understand and practice collaboration, we will be in tune with customer needs/changes and be so closely aligned that we are one step ahead of the what our work should deliver. The agile manifesto also talks about interactions over processes and tools, working software over documentation, and responding to change over following a plan. I feel all of these can be achieved through true collaboration and alignment. To fully collaborate, I believe the following pre-conditions need to be met:


  1. Individuals need to leave biases at the door
  2. Individuals need to be able to communicate expectations
  3. Individuals need to be committed to keeping their promises
  4. Individuals need to be self-aware and able to give fully to the team
  5. Individuals need to be committed to the success of the team and organization overall, letting go of personal competitive needs
  6. Individuals need to be respectful not only to new ideas, but to other individuals at large

Here are my top 10 ways on how to foster collaboration and create a culture that is ready to be agile:


  1. Be present for team members
  2. Practice active listening
  3. Create safe spaces that allow team members to grow together and individually
  4. Be accountable to the team
  5. Avoid blaming others for misses
  6. Be patient and generous with your time
  7. Ask for help
  8. Share credit
  9. Challenge the work being done to ensure it is essential
  10. Appreciate team members and communicate their value

I am a strong believer in changing the way we approach work and perform work for optimal individual and organization growth. Perhaps this is why many agile transformations start, but fizzle out or end up being a waterfall-like process branded as agile. The old adage, “nothing worth having is ever easy” comes into play here. To move yourself and organization to operating with agility, requires more of a cultural shift than ever before.