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Why Agile is More Often a Buzzword Than a Reality

By Iliyana Hadjistoyanova | May 17, 2022 | 0 Comments

Agile communications is a collaborative and flexible approach to managing comms projects. It uses iterations to test and learn, empowers the team to own the outcome, and enables responsiveness to changing needs. It’s a powerful concept that can significantly boost the value comms teams deliver to the organization. It’s also a popular buzzword that leaders like to repeat. And, it’s often misunderstood.

Stringing together a few Agile practices and telling the team to apply them starting next month because they’ve worked elsewhere in the organization, is of little use.

You might be the boss, but for this to really work, you need to keep in mind that at the heart of Agile communications is a cultural evolution that has two components.

One is leaders who are confident enough in their teams to cede authority to them. The other one is a team with an empowered mindset that helps them make autonomous decisions. Let’s have a look.

Leaders Trust and Enable Teams to Operate Autonomously        

There are three prerequisites to consider before piloting Agile to help transition authority from the team leader to the team itself:

  • First off, confirm internal stakeholder support. You need to make sure that everyone, all the way from the top senior stakeholder level, down to individual members of your team, is primed to the idea. They need to be open to experimentation and comfortable with change and ambiguity. Since those of you who are leaders have access to all of these audiences, you’re best positioned to broker that agreement across various levels of stakeholders.
  • Then, you need to identify a sponsor for the pilot. This could be a leader or someone else influential that will save the team time by taking care of high-level hurdles and will advocate for the project and the team. You don’t want the team to lose precious time going back and forth on sign-offs and chasing leaders around for approvals.
  • The final, and most crucial, point here is all about trust. In an Agile pilot, leaders need to be comfortable ceding authority and allowing their teams to make independent decisions. People need to feel confident in their ability to make decisions without constantly asking for approval and reassurance. Micromanaging is a big no-no in this model, and leaders have a key role in driving that culture of trust. 

Teams Undergo A Behavioral Transformation

Telstra Communications is a fantastic example of a smart leadership team that realized the benefits of Agile come from changing how team members view work, and their role in it – internalizing collaboration, fail fast, experimentation, etc. – alongside changes in processes [Case Study: Methods to Rightsize Agile Implementation]. Here’s how they did it:

  • Identifying ‘success behaviors’: To help team members make the shift to Agile, leadership encouraged the team to identify behaviors critical to the Agile pilot’s success. After some time, the team share their experiences on what worked – and didn’t work – and what attributes all colleagues should embody for team success in Agile. These success behaviors orient team members towards what mindsets and norms need to change when shifting to Agile ways of working. 
  • Devolving problem-solving powers: By empowering the team to identify success behaviors, leadership encourages autonomy on the team and builds their accountability for success. Communicators receive coaching on how to embody these success behaviors, building their capability and confidence in new ways of working to fully embrace the Agile mindset. 
  • Providing consistent feedback: One example of a success behavior the team identified was, “People who give and receive feedback with positive intent.” This means the team are expected to ask for and receive ongoing peer feedback. This was a stark difference from Telstra’s previous feedback culture. Colleagues used to deliver feedback to the employee’s manager, who would then compile and share the feedback with their direct report. When practicing the new behavior, team members were initially resistant to delivering feedback directly to peers or receiving feedback from colleagues who they “didn’t work for”. Telstra’s leadership coached them to approach peers directly with feedback and provided sessions and resources on what a healthy feedback culture in Agile looked like. 

Remember, behavior change doesn’t happen overnight, but through lots of practice and consistency, which are both key in successfully shifting the way people do things day-to-day.


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