How to create and anchor a culture of agility
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Digital transformation is about tools and talents, but they cannot do the jobs all by themselves. Quite the opposite, in fact. You have to roll out a culture that encourages cohesion, cooperation and agility. Your collective performance depends on it.
According to a 2016 McKinsey study1, corporate culture has a strong impact on performance. Silos, risk aversion and lack of global vision are all cultural obstacles that equate to negative economic performance. Back in 2002, the major actors in Silicon Valley were in competition to build the online advertising system of the future – a market that came to be worth several billion dollars. In creating AdWords, Google won the battle against the giant Overture, even though the latter’s human, technical and financial resources were far superior. How? Overture was weighed down by a rigid bureaucracy, whereas Google prioritized trust, flexibility and collaboration with its teams. It was the culture, not algorithmic expertise, that made the difference.
Building an agile culture: a leadership skill that can be learned
Google is an agile, learning company, immensely capable of navigating its particularly turbulent, uncertain industry. Its success is based on a high degree of employee commitment and cooperation. Google’s high level of cohesion was not initially part of its DNA: it was constructed over time. Author Daniel Coyle argues that this kind of collaborative, fluid culture is necessarily constructed via a voluntary process. Cooperation requires practice, motivation and commitment. Coyle identifies 3 key messages that agile business leaders at companies including Google constantly give their teams: 1) You are safe; 2) We share the risks; and
3) Here are the goals and values we are pursuing together. When consistently sent and updated, these messages feed into a sense of belonging, trust and commitment.
Group chemistry: the key to performance
Top-performing teams are not necessarily made up of the brightest, most experienced people. This is because individual skills don’t determine collective performance as much as the quality of the interactions between team members, or their chemistry. This fact is illustrated by the “marshmallow test” devised by the engineer Peter Skillman and staged in a TED talk by Tom Wujec2. The game saw teams of kindergarten children consistently beating students from the universities of Stanford, Taiwan and Tokyo as well as lawyers and CEOs, at building the tallest tower using dry spaghetti, Scotch tape and marshmallows. How can this be? The children did not adhere to ideas of status and authority, and so felt safer and more confident in collaborating with their peers.
1. McKinsey Digital Survey 2016 based on responses from 2135 managers.
2. “Bâtissez une tour, bâtissez une équipe” by Tom Wujec (Ted.com, February 2010).
Excerpt from Business Digest N°285, April 2018
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How Netflix built a culture of agility
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