No improvement without movement. Agile working: the future for companies.
Magazine contact #23
As Wiesner-Hager too is confronted ever more frequently with agile modes of operation – particularly in the area of office design – we did a thorough study on the topic and held a very enlightening interview with Valentin Nowotny, author of the book “Agile Unternehmen – Nur was sich bewegt, kann sich verbessern” [Agile Companies – No improvement without movement].
What led you to write this book?
Nowotny: In my view, the topic of agility is the next great step forwards in the knowledge society. In the days of Internet 4.0 and the 3-D printer, even production is no longer what it used to be. Quality and speed are increasingly becoming international success factors. Many great names such as Google, Amazon and Spotify are leading the way: old, traditional business models are being forced open and new ones created.
What exactly is “agility”?
Nowotny: Agility is a new management approach in which the customer no longer revolves around the company, but the company and its staff – with their activities and services – around the customer. Feedback is not a debt to be discharged, but a debt to be collected by the company. Agile working means checking things out as quickly and as thoroughly as possible, but it also means failing consciously and “cheerfully”, with the aim of finding out even more quickly where the routes to success lie.
Agile companies are focussed, quick and flexible – characteristics to which every organisation aspires. What is the secret behind this?
Nowotny: It is no longer the one “at the top” who must make decisions, but those who are closely involved decide within the framework of strategy. The secret is for this strategy to be so well formulated and communicated that everyone understands it and can contribute to implementing it with their own work.
In your book you describe “New Work” as a countermovement to long-established management systems. Is this agile spirit of optimism already perceptible in European companies?
Nowotny: New Work means working on a level playing field where the best idea counts, not the will of one individual. Bosses are no longer bosses in the traditional sense, but mentors and helpers in the search for the best ideas and sophisticated implementation concepts.
To achieve agility, where is the best place to start and what is the best approach?
Nowotny: A small pilot project, a department that would like to work in a different way, these are starting points for gathering initial experience. However, if many areas are to be reorganised, more intensive planning is required, e.g. in relation to the working environment, management tools and of course also company culture and values.
In your book you write that successful implementation of agile working methods is often associated with change processes relative to company culture. What consequences does this have for senior staff, management and employees?
Nowotny: Change concepts, culture shift and more agile structures are often interrelated. Change projects make it possible to approach changes comprehensively, culture shift challenges the previous self-image and forms of cooperation, and with agile concepts a promising methodological direction is taken.
Generation Y demands meaningful work and the opportunity for self-development. Do you think that agile working methods can help fulfil these demands?
Nowotny: Yes, insofar as this can be reconciled with the company’s vision and mission. It should also be clear that agile working isn't always easy. It primarily means taking responsibility. The team promises results – with Scrum, for instance – and then tries very hard to achieve these. If they succeed in integrating everyone in accordance with their abilities, self-development, of course, also becomes possible. Cases of overload as well as underload must, however, be addressed and resolved at regular feedback sessions, otherwise it is impossible for everyone to achieve a 100 percent performance. And that is the aim of agile working – making 100 percent achievable for everyone.
Nowotny: Movement in space, sliding walls, rapid reorganisation, making it possible for teams to achieve an optimum spatial environment for communication in each individual case, these are important parameters for experiencing professional agility. “Form follows function” may not be a new concept, but it acquires new significance in this context: whenever focus, speed and flexibility are required, then the working environment must make this possible. If this is not the case, then it imposes restrictions. From an agile point of view, it would be desirable for groups to have maximum scope for configuration. A space is today not defined for all eternity, but must be flexible in use and serve the function required in each case.
What spatial structures does an agile working environment require?
Nowotny: Generous spatial designs with group working areas, including spaces for working groups to withdraw and plenty of walls with boards or other utensils to display thoughts, assignments, operating numbers, ideas and new processes –as well as areas for relaxation. There is no reason why the human aspect should not become evident; people should feel at home. I see a true team office here, but also with the possibility of involving colleagues from other departments as well as customers and networking partners. Much of what used to be reserved for advertising and communications agencies is now slowly gaining majority appeal!
Only if knowledge actually does “circulate” in adequate form can an organisation really change for the better. In your opinion, at what places within a company is such knowledge passed on?
Nowotny: There are many types of knowledge transfer; the most interesting are frequently the forms which are not so directly visible. In this sense, the office grapevine is a good amplifier and an element promoting a positive dynamic of change. The more places there are within a company which provide an inviting atmosphere for a short pause and exchange of views, the better the transfer of knowledge. Green islands with stimulating elements such as art or a small photographic exhibition, or interesting results from workshops which invite reflection – embedded in an attractive, welcoming environment – these are things that make improvement possible.
Valentin Nowotny, Certified Psychologist, Certified Media Consultant, Master of Business Administration (MBA), studied in Trier, Berlin and Cambridge (UK). He worked for many years as a projects and accounts manager for pioneering IT and consultancy companies where he gained extensive project and management experience. He is a visiting lecturer at a number of universities and colleges and the author of the books “Praxiswissen Coaching” [The Practice of Coaching], “Die neue Schlagfertigkeit” [New Wit], “Erfolgreich Trainings und Seminare gestalten” [Successful Organisation of Training Courses and Seminars] and “Erfolgreich Trainings und Seminare planen” [Successful Planning of Training Courses and Seminars]. He is also the founder of “dvct – Deutscher Verband für Coaching und Training e. V.” [German Association for Coaching and Training], today the largest German coach and trainer association with some 1,400 members. For many years, Valentin Nowotny was the Managing Director of a well-known training and consultancy company in Hamburg. Since 2015 he has operated an internationally oriented training and consultancy company based in Berlin-Pankow under the name “NowConcept® Perfect Training Results Worldwide”. As an agile coach, trainer, consultant and moderator with international experience he works for wellknown German DAX and MDAX companies in German and English both in Germany and abroad. He specialises in the coaching of agile teams, training courses and workshops on leadership, negotiation and communication in the team and on the introduction of new agile methods in companies.