How coaching can help build an agile organisation

Building an agile organisation takes more than just acquiring skills, tools and processes

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The concept of agility is not entirely new. However, it is getting more attention as organisations are exploring options to transform their ways of working. It is especially relevant now as we still face many uncertainties and concerns brought about by the two-year pandemic, such as ‘The Great Resignation’, the talent war and thoughts about the future of work.

Having completed a college degree in information technology, which includes a combination of both technical and business classes and having worked with organisations that are undergoing agile transformation, my curiosity on the topic grew. As I dug a little deeper, I stumbled upon the concept of ‘people agility’, which got me even more curious upon realising that it aligns so much with what coaching is about.

But before that, let’s take a step back and define what organisational agility means.

What is organisational agility?

Aaron De Smet, a senior partner at McKinsey & Company, defines it as “the ability of an organisation to renew itself, adapt, change quickly, and succeed in a rapidly changing, ambiguous, turbulent environment.”

‘Rapidly changing’, ‘ambiguous’ and ‘turbulent’. These words seem to perfectly describe the world we’re in today.

Building an agile organisation takes more than just acquiring skills, tools and processes. According to McKinsey, “The trademarks of organisational agility include a network of teams within a people-centred culture that operates in rapid learning and fast decision cycles, which are enabled by technology and a common purpose that co-creates value for all stakeholders.”

1. Strategy – North Star embodied across the organisation

2. Structure – Network of empowered teams

3. Process – Rapid decision and learning cycles

4. People – Dynamic people model that ignites passion

5. Technology – Next-generation enabling technology

The people component must not be forgotten as organisations invest in digital transformation, more efficient processes, and a better defined and aligned strategy.

After all, the shift to agile is not just a shift in the way one does things but, more importantly, in the way people think and how they see themselves and the organisation.

This is where coaching comes in.

Coaching and agility

The International Coaching Federation (ICF) defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximise their personal and professional potential

Unlike mentoring, where the mentor tells the client what to do based on the mentor’s experiences or expertise, coaching puts the client in control. The conversation is a safe space to share and speak up, reflect, learn, create new insights, discover possibilities, and create accountability towards action.

And this is precisely what a people-centred organisation is like. People are engaged and empowered to more quickly and effectively work together in creating value.

As we dig deeper into coaching and agility, we’ll look into the agile people practices suggested by McKinsey and how they relate to some of the ICF core competencies.

Agile People Practice #1: Shared and Servant Leadership

Leaders’ mandate in agile organisations has shifted from the old ‘command and control’ to engage and empower. Pia-Maria Thoren, author of Agile People, describes the role of leaders as gardeners who create an environment that supports growth and abundance.

How?

Just as coaches cultivate trust and safety (ICF Core Competency #4), leaders must create a safe space for employees to think, speak, feel and act. Creating a psychologically safe space where one won’t fear being judged or making mistakes encourages curiosity, creativity and possibilities.

Leaders, such as coaches, must also listen, evoke awareness and facilitate growth (ICF Core Competencies #6, #7 and #8). What does this mean? It means, listening to employees and asking questions that allow exploration and new perspectives. It also means concretising learning through reflection, action design and accountability.

Agile People Practice #2: Cohesive Community

A cohesive community is built on a shared purpose and culture. While shared purpose is more closely aligned with the first agile trademark, strategy, it can only come to life through people. Culture, on the other hand, starts with leaders. A cohesive community can be fostered through leadership based on trust and respect. Again, this is closely aligned with how coaches create a safe and supportive environment (ICF Core Competency #4).

Agile People Practice #3: Entrepreneurial Drive

An entrepreneurial drive means having the necessary characteristics to succeed as an entrepreneur – ownership, love for one’s product/service, ingenuity and relentless pursuit of goals. It is a drive that comes from within. For organisations, this means attracting and retaining motivated people to take ownership and accountability not only to execute but also to create.

Intrinsic motivation can come from realising and understanding how one’s mission and purpose aligns with that of the organisation. Shared leadership by getting people involved in both plan and action gets the job done and increases the sense of ownership and accountability. This is enabled and amplified even more with coaching – through a space of trust and safety, active listening, evoking awareness to possibilities, and supporting sustainable growth. When employees are trusted, they do their best. When employees know that exploration and experimentation are encouraged, they are inspired to innovate.

Agile People Practice #4: Role Mobility

The fourth, agile people practice, is more about creating structure and process that allows people to easily move into different roles in the organisation. However, the method would only be effective if leaders play the catalytic role of talent managers, who acknowledge, respect, or even celebrate unique styles, talents, insights, and experiences. Again, these are all part of the ICF core competency on trust and safety. A manager who is unable to see and appreciate the uniqueness and talent of an employee may be a hindrance rather than an enabler of role mobility.

“Coaching is key to organisational agility”

Agile people practices revolve around trust, psychological safety, respect, learning and growth. All of these are aligned with what professional coaching is all about. Coaching, in this context, is not just a skill that leaders must have but is a way of being in an agile organisation.

It is even more crucial now for leaders to embody the role of a coach and experience being coached themselves. Through coaching, minds expand, perspectives widen and shift, and possibilities are created.

Coaching helps build organisational agility. Experience coaching now

The International Coaching Federation (ICF) is the world’s largest organisation leading the global advancement of the coaching profession and fostering coaching’s role as an integral part of a thriving society. Founded in 1995, its 40,000-plus members located in more than 145 countries and territories work toward the common goals of enhancing awareness of coaching and upholding the integrity of the profession through lifelong learning and upholding the highest ethical standards.

Through the work of its six unique family organisations, ICF empowers professional coaches, coaching clients, organisations, communities and the world through coaching.

In India, ICF is represented by six vibrant chapters, all led by volunteers — ICF Bengaluru, ICF Chennai, ICF Delhi NCR, ICF Hyderabad, ICF Mumbai, and ICF Pune.

Kristine “Kurly” de Guzman is a career and leadership coach based in the Philippines. She is a Professional Certified Coach, by the International Coaching Federation, and a Certified Master in Career Services, by the National Career Development Association. Her coaching and consulting practice reflect a divergence of her strengths in strategy, empathy and appreciating individual uniqueness, plus her experience in coaching, project management, people development, leadership, L&D and IT. She is passionate about helping leaders and mid-career professionals thrive in their careers. She is a self-published author of a book on career transition towards the pursuit of meaning.

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