Agility: It Rhymes with Stability
According to McKinsey researchers, agile organizations are both stable (resilient, reliable and efficient) and dynamic (fast, nimble and adaptive). To master this paradox, agile organizations design certain structures, governance and processes with a relatively unchanging set of core elements — a fixed backbone, if you will. Then, they create looser, more dynamic elements across these areas that are designed to adapt quickly to new challenges and opportunities. The concept can be described using a simple product analogy — the smartphone. The hardware and operating system form a stable foundation, while the application layer builds in “white space” for new apps to be added, updated and then deleted over time.

Researchers highlight three core areas where balancing this tension between stability and flexibility — or hardware versus white space — can be achieved by any company or association. First, an agile organization chooses which aspects of its structures it considers primary, and where all of the necessary infrastructure will reside. As need arises, cross-functional teams or temporary performance cells are set up to analyze growth opportunities, define product strategies, decide where the organization should invest resources, and drive collaboration across functions. Second, when fast decisions need to be made by a group, there is a need for a dynamic governance structure to rotate individuals in and out of committees as market needs demand, hold virtual meetings when possible, and spend those meetings engaging in real-time decision-making.

Third, an agile organization places importance on standardized processes. Particularly for an association, this comes into play when local divisions or chapters of a given organization have different processes in place for similar functions — oftentimes working at cross-purpose with each other. Creating a common operational language, codified in one standard process framework, can harmonize an organization’s processes and enable it to implement ideas faster and much more efficiently.

Finally, an important prerequisite for achieving both agility and stability is putting in place the behavioral norms necessary for success. While agile organizations share a few behavioral norms, such as bias for action and the free flow of information, other norms vary according to the nature of the organization and the specific recipe it adopts to encourage a healthy, high-performing culture.
McKinsey Quarterly (12/15) Aghina, Wouter; De Smet, Aaron; Weerda, Kirsten
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