Change in large organisations: adapt & accommodate

Sometimes making change in a large organisation is like pushing water up a hill. We used to describe the team I was a part of within the large corporate organisation that I worked at as the “speed boat beside the oil tanker”. But you need to come home to the mother ship. And sometimes there is a oil leak and you are trudging through sludge. As you try to innovate and move towards agility, one side of senior management wants you to “get it out” and the other wants you to “get it perfect”.

How does a company effectively execute change? Agile as an operating model is something that Spotify has made look very sexy. They split the team into Squads, Tribes, Chapters and Gilds where they are given specific problems to deal with. With a common goal the teams cluster around a specific issue and solve it effectively and efficiently. With a matrix approach they create meritocracy and holacracy where the structure is flat and chaotic — it reminds me of a bee hive!

Bees give us a great example for how this works in nature. A honey bee colony typically consists of three kinds of adult bees: workers, drones, and a queen. Several thousand bees cooperate in nest building, food collection, and rearing the young. Each member has a definite task to perform and surviving and reproducing take the combined efforts of the entire colony.

That is great for smaller organisations who have less complexity and staff so they can either start up in this way or change the structure at an early stage. Examples of larger organisations who have adapted this “Hive” way of working by isolating teams to work on specific areas or projects are are:

  • Aviva, who have built a digital garage out in Hoxton Square which is a centre for innovation
  • British Gas who isolated a specific team to build their smart home product, aptly named, “The Hive”

On the other end of the scale you have large complex government organisations where there is a web of interconnected teams. You cannot simply isolate teams as they are so interrelated. You cannot “pilot” an organisation change as this involves HR processes and would need to be delivered all at once with the relevant consultations.

So, how can large organisations effectively execute cultural change? Let’s go back to the original Agile Manifesto for Software Development. If we take the agile manifesto and adjusted it for organisations it might look something like this:

“We are uncovering better ways of developing
(software) ORGANISATIONS by doing it and helping others do it.
Through this work we have come to value:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working (software) PROCESSES over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on
the right, we value the items on the left more.”

And just by changing 2 words you can adapt and accommodate the Agile Manifesto to suit your organisation!

About Sajni Lakhani: I am an operations and strategy specialist with 8 years experience across both start-ups and blue-chip organisations. I am passionate about making impact and generating value within businesses.

Thank you to Comotion for organising the associates’ breakfast last week where we were able to discuss and learn about this topic.