The 3 Core-Concepts of Team Agility

Agility Consulting |

Tight Loose
By Mike Richardson, Team Agility Practice Leader

I love my colleagues’ new book, “Focused, Fast & Flexible: Creating Agility Advantage in a VUCA World” (Nick Horney & Tom O’Shea) which I had the honor of writing the forward for. Leading our team-agility practice, I love to extend the themes of focused, fast and flexible into the 3 core-concepts of agile-teamwork:
  • Focused … a new journey-oriented paradigm of focus … Triage.
  • Fast … understanding the OODA Loop of fighter-pilots … Fast-Cycle-Teamwork.
  • Flexible … understanding the design of a modern jet-fighter-plane … Finding the Agile Middle.
Agile teams understand the interplay of these 3 core concepts to meet the three dimensions of their team-agility challenge and avoid team-fragility.

Finding the Agile Middle

Tight LooseA modern jet-fighter-plane is designed as an AND-proposition of stable and unstable at the same time.The airframe is intentionally designed for “radical instability” whilst the fly-by-wire system is designed for stability, making micro adjustments to the flying control surfaces with a frequency response which can keep up with the instability of the airframe. I first learned this insight when I joined a world leading fly-by-wire solutions company, for which I ultimately became the Sales & Marketing VP.

A jet-fighter-plane is one of the most agile things we can think of as it seeks and finds the AGILE MIDDLE of stable and unstable all at the same time as an AND-proposition. In business teams, we can easily veer from the agile-middle. Things can easily become too tight, structured, ordered, bureaucratic even, and over-planned, especially if we let logical, linear, analytical personality types prevail. Things can easily become too loose, unstructured, chaotic, hair-on-fire/seat-of-the-pants even, and under-planned, especially if we let manic creative personality types prevail. We can easily get stuck in “OR” thinking (which is right, one or the other?), which results in fragility, rather than finding the agility of “and” thinking.

Fast-Cycle-Teamwork

When we put a pilot in the fighter-plane, the fighter-pilot’s agility has to keep up with that of the plane. To achieve that, pilots are trained in the context of a famous model called the “OODA Loop” (OODA = Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) invented by USAF Colonel John Boyd who, getting so good at it, became known as “40 Second Boyd”. He threw down the challenge to fellow fighter pilots that, from a position of no advantage (other things being equal – nose to nose, same speed, same altitude, same weapons, same everything), he would win a dog-fight within 40 seconds, which he did most of the same. He understood, that one thing was not equal which determined which pilot won – who had the smaller, stronger, faster OODA Loop? In business teams, as we struggle with the dog-fight of decisions and actions required every day, our OODA Loop can easily become larger, weaker and slower, going open loop even, resulting in slow-cycle-teamwork. The secret to fast-cycle-teamwork is keeping our OODA Loop smaller, stronger and faster. I leveraged this insight when I first became a CEO, of what was a turnaround situation, and I discovered on day 1 that our most strategic customer was on the verge of cancelling our most strategic contract. I instigated a daily scrum meeting, every day without exception, of all the key players until we had stabilized the situation. It worked so well, I didn’t stop, but up-framed the daily scrum to be for the whole business, not just that project, with the whole management team. Thereafter, I did that in every business I ever ran.

Triage

Fighter-pilots have no choice except to be fully-triaging the unfolding dog-fight, with as small an OODA Loop as possible and finding-the-agile-middle. Triage is a word we find used in similar situations which are a real-time unfolding, high-stakes journey of a situation. Fire-fighters fighting a wild fire. ER doctors receiving a trauma patient, first responders to a natural disaster. Triage is an acute form of time management, priority management, resource management and attention management. If our attention lapses from full-situational awareness (full-triage) to partial situational awareness (partial-triage) bad stuff happens. We are so focused on one critical thing, that we don’t see other things taking shape around us which will soon be more critical, or one short term factor that we don’t see long term factors taking shape, or tactical issues that we don’t see strategic issues taking shape. In business teams, partial-triage invariably results in chronic crises management – our partial triage is so consumed by the present crisis, we don’t see the next one taking shape and we lurch from crisis to crisis to crisis. Full-triage deals with the present crisis while continuing to scan with full situational awareness to see the next crisis taking shape and doing the work required to avert it. As Roberto Unger said, “The task of imagination is to do the work of crisis without the crisis”! I worked in this mode when I was a Petroleum Engineer working on offshore oil and gas drilling rigs, an environment which was very unforgiving of partial triage.

The focus of our team-agility practice is to help teams institutionalize the mindsets, methods and means of these 3 dimensions/core-concepts of team-agility, to be focused, fast and flexible, creating an agility advantage in an increasingly VUCA world. Is your team agility advantaged or disadvantaged? Agile or fragile?

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Focused, Fast & Flexible

Focused, Fast & Flexible

Nick & Tom's new book, "Focused, Fast & Flexible: Creating Agility Advantage in a VUCA World", is now available for purchase on amazon.

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