How an Agile Approach is the Perfect Blueprint for Inclusive Behaviour
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What is an ‘agile’ business? At Made by Many we’re experts and after 13 years of embedded agile practices, we can say with learned confidence that it’s one that is capable of working in a way that puts iteration, experimentation and learning at the heart of its culture. What can be overlooked by businesses is the fact that an agile approach, when viewed beyond the paradigm of engineering or manufacturing, also provides us with a perfect blueprint for inclusive behaviour.
Agile working (or ‘making, testing and learning’ as we call it!) at Made by Many is the binding agent between teams and clients that ensures all of our digital transformations are successful. We bring our clients into the heart of their own problems and empower them to become part of a solution that, before working with us, seemed impossible. But how do we do it? And how can you learn to do it too?
Working in an agile way prioritises a number of values which drive inclusive behaviour. People are at the heart of the action in an agile team - not the technology, which is a common misconception. Emphasis is put on the power of individuals, interacting together to drive an agreed outcome. Whether the outcome is a digital solution, a manufactured ‘thing’ or even a new HR process, agile rituals give a voice to all team members and prioritises the Inclusion of all viewpoints. Incorporating these viewpoints and opinions into the ‘making’ phase is what makes the outcome stronger. So empowering and then capturing differences in opinion is imperative.
In an agile team, all efforts are focused on producing something - on taking action - not talking about producing something. This commitment to action over words helps ‘de-wing’ a character found in all organisations - the ‘talker’. There is nothing more excluding than being forced to listen while a colleague ‘holds court’ in a meeting. Admit it. You’ve been there. It’s exhausting and isolating. But by working in agile ‘sprints’, you’re only as good as the last thing you ‘did’ (not the last bit of guff you ‘said’). So, membership of your team comes down to the delivery of the action you collectively agreed to and collective agreement means no one feels left behind and everyone feels included.
That’s not to say that communication isn’t important in agile approaches - it is. But it’s the tone, calibre and variety of styles used that demand focus. ‘Stand ups’ happen every day. They are swift, laser-accurate renditions of ‘where we are’ and ‘what next’ with a smattering of ‘barriers and blockers’ thrown in. You remain on your feet (there’s a reason the Queen always insists her Prime Ministers stand during her weekly audiences…) and they are usually no longer than 15 minutes long. Demos (or sprint reviews) are regular demonstrations to the client on the progress the team is making, so that the client is included in the process, can have a voice in the next iteration and feels journeyed across the future direction of travel. ‘Playbacks’ are a showcase of the final product - an inclusive ‘story’ of the end-to-end process. It’s a chance to celebrate the outcome together and make decisions about what happens next. Lastly, retros - the conversation that happens after the project has ended - allow the team to reflect on the project so that the team can learn from the experience and work more effectively in future.
If you can learn to work in a way that puts agile rituals at the forefront of your collaboration and you work hard to ensure these rituals are well-observed, you’ll have built a team that includes everyone and is much stronger as a result. With just one word of warning: nothing breeds greater division in an organisation than a sea of perfectly-crafted high performing teams who aren’t integrating with one another. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that agile means inclusion. Agile promotes inclusion but you still need to ensure teams interact beyond their silos. The solution? Don’t be afraid to mix your teams up. Don’t be afraid to rejig the office seating plan. And use every opportunity (and bit of budget) to get together as an organisation and tell the story of the teams’ successes.
The first word in the Agile Manifesto is ‘We’ - says it all, really!
We’re Made by Many – a digital innovation consultancy that build digital tools and products which drive growth and enrich the lives of those who use them. If you’d like to explore how to implement more agile ways of working, get in touch. Look out for our ‘Agile Rituals’ workshop, in association with Inclusive Employers, in 2020.
Head of People, Culture and Learning