Organisational agility can stop culture debt weighing you down

Have you ever heard of ‘culture debt’?

Just like technical debt in IT, culture debt can be costly in terms of time, money and resources. Left unmanaged, culture debt creates unnecessary complexity, stifles innovation, limits growth and negatively impacts employee engagement.

Culture debt is the negative impact an organisation’s existing culture has on its ability to adapt to new challenges and opportunities.

The idea behind culture debt is that the accumulation of processes, behaviours and working practices that develop over time can hinder success if they don’t evolve to align with current and future needs.

Organisational agility, on the other hand, is the ability of a business to rapidly and effectively respond to change. It’s an objective, a mindset and a continuous journey, aimed at accelerating the creation of value.

It is achieved by transforming organisations from highly controlled to more agile environments that are fundamentally assisted by digital tools and ways of working, and are capable of dealing with complexity, uncertainty and change. Organisational agility produces organisations that can continuously assess and improve their operations, processes, results and ultimately, their cultures.

So how do you build organisational agility?

An organisational agility journey is best started at a small scale because successful lasting change is usually incremental. In our experience, organisations tend to start their agility journey by doing at least one of three things: shifting mindsets, experimenting with ways of working or redesigning their systems.

1: Shifting Mindsets

Establishing agility as a core element of your organisation’s culture requires intentional effort.

Get your people comfortable with agility by:

  • Educating leadership on the concepts, advantages, and defining traits of agility and self-management
  • Organising immersion experiences and sharing real-life examples to broaden perspectives and inspire new thinking
  • Developing a compelling vision and a set of achievable goals that form the foundation for your agility journey
  • Providing support to address and overcome obstacles to agility, like psychological safety

2: Experimenting with ways of working

To cultivate organisational agility, a focus on experimentation and innovation is essential.

Start fostering an adaptive and innovative culture by:

  • Developing guidelines for teams to determine the most effective tools (e.g. Scrum, Lean, Kanban) for their specific context
  • Supporting teams to trial new practices, assess their outcomes, and refine their approach through controlled and safe experimentation
  • Encouraging the acquisition of new skills and knowledge, and providing the necessary resources and support to work productively and adaptively

Through continuous experimentation, evaluation, and improvement, organisations can drive better performance incrementally, becoming more agile over time.

3: Redesigning the system

Hardwiring agility into the operating system is essential for organisational agility.

Cultivating a culture of continuous improvement and collaboration requires a transition from traditional hierarchies and siloed processes to cross-functional teams and decentralised decision-making.

Enhance your system by:

  • Adapting structures and systems to support agility
  • Aligning critical skills and shared capabilities, and streamlining resource management so skills and capabilities can be accessed when they’re needed
  • Prioritising a customer-centric approach that’s focused on outcomes rather than deliverables
  • Reducing bureaucratic processes and hierarchies so an agile approach to decision-making and timely responses to changing circumstances become possible

Organisational agility is a long-term solution for managing culture debt because it helps businesses continuously adapt to change, proactively manage and evolve their culture, and achieve long-term success.

An environment that is agile, adaptive, and able to continuously improve prevents culture debt from accumulating, allowing businesses to get on with innovating, growing and flourishing.

So, take a moment to reflect on your own organisation and think about where culture debt might be weighing you down.

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