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3 principles towards sustainable agility

In our ever-faster changing digital world, flexibility is a crucial differentiating factor. Agility can be the answer, but where to start? Basically, in a transition towards more agility, the goal is to free the organization from standing still and to allow continuously changing patterns to find their way in and take shape.

In order to make that kind of change in an organization, a different approach than the traditional change management is required. In an agile transition, the goal is not to shift from one fixed state to another. Rather, you move from a fixed state to a dynamic, flexible continuously moving situation. The 3 following principles will help you take on the daunting challenge.

1. Agile and Newton hand in hand

Using a bit of imagination, an agile transformation actually has a lot in common with Isaac Newton’s insights. In the first of his three laws of motion, the renowned scientist states, “an object either remains at rest or continues to move at a constant velocity, unless acted upon by a force.”

It’s an interesting thought experiment to tweak this law of Newton and apply it to an organizational model: “An organization without external influences will either remain unchanged or – in the best case – move at a slow, constant speed.”

Change thus begins by one or more impulses on the organization. However, in accordance to Newton’s first law, as soon as the impulses cease, the organization will simply crystallize for another long period in its new state.

So, the goal when making an organization agile, is to install a system that keeps firing new impulses into the organization, avoiding it to stall. Additionally, if these impulses get fired from the inside of the organization, a sustainable model is created.

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2. Give the right impulses

Each organization struggles with its own specific set of challenges. Depending on the nature of these challenges, different impulses are required. Carefully identifying the challenges and responding with the appropriate impulses is key to success. Here are 4 examples of possible challenges and impulses:

  • Most often people first need to be inspired before they are willing to change behavior. An agile inspirational training is then a good start. Behavioral change can not be imposed, can it?

  • Organizations struggling with open communication culture and transparency, can start with visualizing work in progress (through Kanban/scrum boards), status (through information radiators) and the vision (through simple visualizations)… Ultimately information transparency is key to quickly adapt direction.

  • Organizations sensing the burden of traditional silos can begin by performing one or more Value Stream Mapping workshops. After all, why is it so hard to imagine aligning goals and synchronizing efforts beyond the traditional boundaries?

  • Teams and organizations struggling with focused and effective meetings or collaborative decision processes can benefit from facilitating techniques. Everybody likes to engage in interactive and effective meetings.

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3. Focus on the internal engine

As we all know, when coming in contact with new information, it needs practice, reminders and real life experience. For this, external coaching to support the change in behavior is required.

It’s logical that the first steps in an agile transformation are heavily focused on training, workshops and agile coaching. But once the transformation is well underway, these external impulses should be replaced by initiatives from within the organization itself. This can only happen by working towards a smooth-running internal pulse engine, run by the individuals of the organization themselves.

The impulse approach towards an agile organisation

In other words, at some point, the coaching focus should shift towards the internal engine, away from the external impulses. An organization only reaches agile maturity when it can successfully work with a permanently changing workflow without any outside help. This is, of course, the moment that the external coach hands the reigns back to the organization entirely. So a good agile coach is not only working on change (by using external impulses), his or her chief mission is to get the internal engine of the organization to a point of agility that it can independently generate its own impulses. In short, first get the internal company machine working, and then make sure it doesn’t stall.

Following are examples of initiatives that definitely make sense in the light of the above:

  • Setting up a culture of reading groups
  • Coaching the coach
  • Structurally installing slack-time where people can be Creative
  • Introduce coaches to the local agile community through shared participation in meetups, conferences ...


At its core, a future-proof organization has to be able to set up new value streams faster. A true agile organization can quickly adapt to changing circumstances. Going back to the physics metaphor: an agile organization already figured out how to overcome inertia whenever strategies and operations need to be adapted quickly. Additionally, these adaptations initiate from the core of the organization: the individuals working at the company.

Impulse driven change can truly change an organization toward agility if the goal of the impulses and coaching are there to help the organization getting on their feet to be sustainable and self-governing. Ultimately, an agile organization should constantly gives herself new impulses to stay future-proof.

Author : Bruno Dauwe
Additional contributers: Herlinda Maes, Tom Hendrickx, Franky Redant, Cor Laan
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