“Agility is a philosophy of life and work”
Kristine Biegman has been working for four years as an innovation consultant, coach and trainer for launchlabs Berlin. Here she tells us what agile working does to companies and especially to their employees – and what role interior design plays in this.
Dear Kristine, you work as an innovation consultant, coach and trainer at launchlabs. What does agility mean to you?
For me, agility is first and foremost a philosophy of life and therefore also of work. It means staying in motion, following the flow, the energy of change. Not trying to prevent it, but creating a space for it.
How does that work exactly?
First, good listening and close observation are important. After all, it is about recognizing developments and needs in the current environment. Successful organizations are those that look at these issues from different angles with an open mind, thereby develop refreshing perspectives and then react with appropriate, non-ordinary solutions.
In addition, it takes insight and energy to strengthen one’s own agile mindset: the company should be open to change and innovation and consider ‘what’s happening out there’ as a source of inspiration rather than a threat, and design its own structures accordingly.
This is often not so easy for traditional companies.
That is true. People used to think that you could conquer the world with an irrefutable master plan if you just didn’t deviate from it. But that is an illusion. Because: What exactly is the world we want to conquer? What does it look like? In our time, in which we have to get used to a new normality almost every day, everything is in motion. The future can take on endless forms. Actually, this time is ideal for agile work. Only with agile approaches can one find the right direction in times of upheaval and help shape the future in a meaningful way.
How can one promote openness in companies?
I work with people on their foundation. To give them the confidence that they are capable of dealing constructively with change in the long run. And in doing so I also work on the foundation of a company.
In my workshops, I start off playfully and try to get people out of their usual ways of thinking and acting, away from their own issues for the time being. Because some employees have been working for years or decades in the same, often hierarchical structures.
What does playful mean?
Through structured practical exercises I help participants to experience the principles and advantages of an agile approach for themselves. These have hardly anything to do with their direct everyday life. This is my intention so that they do not get stuck in their usual thinking. Such a walkthrough does not take longer than 45 minutes.
This makes it clear to many people that the world is unpredictable and that an open ear and eye towards the customer or user is indispensable. That business verve is largely based on empathy and fast cycles. And that it is okay to have a certain amount of uncertainty. Furthermore, a “just try it out” – attitude brings success. Most people enjoy working agile because they can get personally involved and can think things in new ways – no, they even have to!
The reaction is therefore often the question: “Why can’t I always work like this? Because people see that they can achieve results even when they are detached from waterfall structures. And even better than before. They regain inventiveness and ease, see the sense or nonsense of their work, because they are closer to the users and their needs. For them, the first exercises are often real aha-moments.
Does everyone really take part then?
In 98% of the cases the answer is “yes”. Maybe also because I personally believe deeply in “agile” – if used in the right places! – and on the other hand, I can easily understand in which work environment the participants are currently working and which questions and uncertainties the agile approach can raise. This makes it easier to communicate clearly and openly without preaching or defending. With a portion of positive thinking and humor, I invite them to try something new and offer a metaphorical parachute when they jump.
I also take great care to link the game to their reality. It is very important that this translation takes place in joint reflection. I am lucky that I have also worked in large hierarchical companies, know both worlds and therefore can build bridges.
Nice to know: Often it is even the slightly older people who blossom. But there are also younger people who realize with horror that they lost their creativity at work very early. Both of these things touch me deeply and are the greatest source of inspiration in my work. For me, there is nothing more important than people that are confident and fully involved in their work.
What challenges does agility bring with it?
There is a common thought: “It is the people who stand in the way of an agile transformation. They are simply too rigid, not brave enough, not creative, they don’t want to”. It is precisely this thinking that slows things down.
I actually meet people who have often tried to solve a certain problem for a long time. They no longer believe that it can be done or that it can work differently. Their creativity has often been stopped by bureaucratic walls. Or the company has changed so often that employees have become tired.
Others are young and inexperienced, but open-minded. Their refreshing view of things is unfortunately not always welcome and new ideas are pushed aside.
All this leads to a certain passivity, cynicism, a dying creativity, a loss of self confidence. I am firmly convinced that people are adaptable and full of ideas by nature. In such situations it helps to rekindle one’s own creativity and effectiveness, at first detached from the company. At the same time, a connection with like-minded corporate pioneers and with the management levels should be established. In this way, the agile knowledge and understanding of it within the company is increased so that more permeable structures and appreciation for new things can be created.
I also meet people who have worked successfully in the same structures for a very long time and are initially critical and say: “This is not for me. Why should I? Things are going well this way, aren’t they?” Sometimes I agree with them: “agile” does not always make sense everywhere and not everyone should work like this. So I try to find out: What does the vision look like? Where should agile be goal-oriented?
The same applies to companies that want to become agile to follow the trend. Agile is a much-heard term: “If you can’t do it, forget it” is a much-heard opinion. Especially when the call for change comes loud and clear “from above”, without a clear justification and without the will to establish a suitable structure and to take a close look at the management style, I am initially reluctant. Here, too, I critically question the purpose, so that “agile” does not become a trendy, but empty and thus useless concept.
After all, I come across organizations that are benevolent and have a positive attitude towards innovation: They send their employees to a different environment with the clear message to develop something new. Some even hear from their managers: “You don’t have to perform, but you can try anything.” However progressive and free that sounds, people are often totally confused, asking for a clear direction. This is where I often come across major leadership issues and the real task is not to continue the agile transformation but to redefine leadership.
In general, I try to break up fixed structures and ways of thinking, introduce empathy as a keyword and create space for people who are open and enjoy trying new things. And this is how some critics are finally convinced.
So: I plead for a selective, energy-driven turnaround in companies. Only where complex problems are being worked on in a dynamic environment and only to those who are curious and enjoy taking unknown paths do I recommend using “agile”. It is not a miracle cure for everyone in every situation. And that is a good thing.
Can launchlabs be a role model in this area and if so how?
We try to be as agile as possible ourselves. We try out a lot and reflect if it might fit for us and the situation. All members of our team have an open ear and a positive-critical eye. They are good listeners, trained in giving feedback and consider how we can further improve structures. Our team spirit is also particularly strong. We are there for each other and take the individual needs of our colleagues into consideration. Our offices can also be flexibly designed with the furniture by ´What if we fly`. This helps to boost creativity.
How important is interior design for agile work?
The space we work in does a lot to us. We also let it work for us intentionally. At launchlabs, we can work sitting or standing, move freely and work in teams. But it’s just as possible to withdraw and work alone or make phone calls. But an effective space is not purely functional: it is also about aesthetics, about surprising elements, about a homely atmosphere where you can relax and be inspired to perform. Space and culture in a company influence each other enormously. Everything is designed to be very open, which also opens up people’s minds. I love it when customers visit us and say: “But I want to work like this! We then see how we can make this possible in their premises – considering their context. Apart from a few smart interventions, something like that needs a vision above all.
What would you wish for?
I would wish for a working world that is empathic and open-minded, that allows different perspectives. It’s all about the mindset!
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