It’s a common misconception that working in an agile way means focusing on achieving goals fast. This is then translated into pushing people to work harder, typically under severe time pressure, which is a stressful and unsustainable approach. Agile working isn’t simply about speeding up existing processes, it’s about radically challenging our beliefs about how work gets done.

Leadership agility is not:

  • Changing team structure
  • Speeding up existing processes
  • Simply emphasizing the need to collaborate

Leadership agility is:

  • Team members being proactive and raising issues before they become a problem
  • Rapid resolution of problems when they do arise, resulting from effective brainstorming
  • Having a ‘psychologically safe’ environment in which people feel confident to express their viewpoints

As both agile working and diversity and inclusion have become strategic business priorities, the common response has been to identify ways in which these ideas create tension. On the surface, they look diametrically opposed: one says, be lean and move fast and the other says, include different perspectives and take time to deliberate. However, on closer examination, it’s clear that working in an agile way and being inclusive aren’t only interrelated, they’re interdependent. Said another way, you can be inclusive but not agile, but you cannot be agile and exclusive.

The reason for this is because working in an agile way means working in teams. Agile is, at its core, a rapid action learning process for teams. Action learning is a process that involves teams working on real problems to develop new solutions to pressing, complex problems. And there’s evidence to suggest teams who can handle complex problems and adapt rapidly to changing circumstances are in fact inclusive. These teams tend to be made up of people who are different from each other; and different not only in terms of age, gender and ethnicity, but also in terms of personality and thinking styles. Their blended viewpoints and skills work together toward a common outcome, one that adds significantly more business value.

Leaders who genuinely want to be effective and agile need to pay as much attention to developing their own interpersonal and relational leadership skills as their ability to drive outcomes. Their development needs to be toward becoming ‘goal-influencing’ leaders who facilitate an atmosphere of inclusivity at the individual and group level. Leaders who shape the future know how to manage the agile-inclusion paradox. They leverage their relationship skills, foster inclusion and solve complex problems at pace.

See below for practical tips to become an agile, inclusive leader:

  • Learn more about agile working: Attend a panel, take a course, speak with an expert. Help your businesses become more agile by conducting extensive market research to better understand the marketplace.
  • Train in facilitation: Learn how to engage diverse thinking styles, approaches and opinions in a constructive way. Practice running creative workshops or team meetings.
  • Help employees operate optimally: Get to know the individual members of your team and their stories. Through this, establish a system for accountability, assigning individuals to roles and tasks where they feel valued and included.
  • Build an internal network: Connect colleagues from different backgrounds and in varying roles, tapping into their expertise for a more creative outlook. Create fluid, open communication streams allowing all parties to actively contribute ideas.
  • Protect against personal biases: One example would be to put a structured hiring process in place to ensure your company reflects diversity – demographic, cognitive, stylistic, and/or experiential/cultural.
  • Manage stress levels: Learn practical and personalized methods to strengthen resilience for yourself and your people.

To read more about the agile-inclusion paradox, read Global Head of Diversity and Inclusive Leadership Anita Kirpal’s full article in People Matters. If you’re a leader looking to find out more about ways to foster your organization’s culture, click here to learn about YSC Consulting’s stance on Diversity and Inclusion. You can also contact YSC for more information.