Agile organizations quickly adapt to an exponentially changing world. Three types of leaders are agile: Deborah Ancona

Deborah Ancona teaches at MIT’s Sloan School of Business and is the founder of the MIT Leadership Center. Talking to Srijana Mitra Das, she talks about agile organizations, the X team, and “sensemaking.”

Q. What is the core of your research?

A. I started by studying the team and asking how I could understand why it would improve the performance of the team. What came to my mind was the idea of ​​Team X. Externally oriented groups learn across boundaries, gain peers in the realm of the organization, and connect to the outside world with a larger ecosystem. I have found that this external focus is better than the internal focus for the sales, product development, hardware, software, manufacturing, and management teams.

The second area of ​​my research deals with the MIT Leadership Center.

Here, we study leadership abilities and precursors to leadership development. The third part is about “agile leadership,” that is, how businesses move from bureaucracy to more agile learning and networking.

Q. What is the reason for agile organization?

A. Agile organizations can quickly adapt to an exponentially changing world. Previously, we called the world “VUCA” or “volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous.” Currently there is a VUCA world on steroids. The pace of change is accelerating rapidly. Agile organizations adapt quickly by having three types of leaders.

The first type is relatively low within the organization, and these are entrepreneurial leaders who invent new products and new business models. They will be the innovation engine of the organization. Second, it enables leaders to help entrepreneurial leaders move their ideas forward and communicate their strategic needs. The third form of leadership is usually at the top of the organization, designing leaders. They design game boards where entrepreneurial leaders work. Build teams, access resources for new ideas, and develop the ability to continue learning. It also creates a fanning mechanism to balance innovative freedoms without confusion.

Southwest Airlines is one example. People on the ground have figured out how to achieve paperless ticketing and the shortest airplane turnaround time in the industry. However, they have a selection committee that listens to new ideas, tests them, and decides which ones to move forward. These are architectural leaders — they communicate so much that strategic thinking is always communicated throughout the organization.

Other examples include WL Gore, Pixar, and parts of Microsoft.

Interestingly, through a pandemic, pharmaceutical companies worked in a much more agile way, creating what we call a “team of teams.” Most vaccines and new Covid drugs are not only working alone, but also created by companies created in collaboration with regulatory agencies, universities, other pharmaceutical companies and biotechnology groups. A team of teams from multiple organizations was able to experiment and break down the usual steps to get things done faster, helping to develop products in unprecedented ways.

Q. What is “sense making”? Why do you think this is the key to change?

A. “Sensemaking” is a term coined by Karl Weick of the University of Michigan. We interpret this as understanding the context in which you are manipulating. That means answering the question — what’s happening there? This is important now because it is important to have senses, pictures, ideas for these changes if our environment is changing very rapidly. Our old mental model of what’s happening is outdated.

In the pandemic, things have changed so much that international development banks need to understand what their clients need. By doing this, they can switch from simply lending money to working in a public-private partnership — therefore sensemaking is the starting point for more effective action. Understand how technology is changing, how customer needs are changing, what competitors are doing, new operational methods you want to emulate, social, political and economic environment. Helps to do. It helps you get a fresh picture around the work you are doing — it helps you innovate more effectively.

Q. What is an “imperfect leader”? Why do you admire this?

A. In reality, most leaders can’t do everything. Most leaders have what I call a leadership signature. This is a unique teaching method, including what they are very good at and what they are not good at. The idea behind imperfect leaders is that not everyone is perfect in everything. Understand how imperfect you are and what your strengths and weaknesses are. Don’t put the burden of trying to be perfect. Instead, build a team that can complement your skills. Together, you can create a complete leader.

The views expressed are personal

Agile organizations quickly adapt to an exponentially changing world. Three types of leaders are agile: Deborah Ancona

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