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Agile working is the only way forward: Interview with Edyta Ponarad

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The concept of agile working has been around for decades. But it's perhaps never been more relevant in our rapidly evolving world, as companies continue to adjust to new ways of working.

We spoke to consultant, coach, and facilitator Edyta Ponarad about the benefits of an agile approach and how organisations can adopt methods like SCRUM to revolutionise innovation and project management.

When did you first discover the benefits of agile working?

“I have coached leaders and management teams in companies all over the world for many years. Whilst every organisation is unique, I saw similar issues arising regarding lack of innovation, hierarchical approaches, turnover of talent, etc. I started researching agile working around five years ago and using SCRUM methodology in project work and have seen first-hand the results it can deliver.

For me, agile means flexibility and being open-minded.

It’s also about scanning the outside environment, ensuring that you are constantly aware of what is happening around you in your team and your organisation. It is vital that you are being clear on what you want to achieve. Additionally, when working in teams, it means employing the best of people’s potential to ensure the project is delivered, understanding your team member’s skill level and potential, and utilising their skills properly.”

Why is agile so important?

“Especially in the context of the VUCA world we live in and the rapid pace of change we are experiencing, both at the macro and micro-economic level, I believe that agile working is the only way forward.

When I started to work in the corporate world many years ago, we have been preparing 5-year strategic plans. We worked in a stable environment where we felt we could predict the future and build a business strategy around it. That’s not a realistic approach anymore. The COVID19 pandemic has proved that and accelerated the level of disruption and pace of change all companies face.

But moving from traditional methods to agile working isn’t easy. Many organisations strive for this empowering, quick decision-making approach but fail to make the necessary system-wide changes. In my experience, there are two key stumbling blocks:

  1. The ego of the leaders and managers – individuals who are high on the organisational ladder and reluctant to pass on responsibility and control to those working for them
  2. The hierarchy of organisations, with power kept at a top-level, not at the level at which work is actually done

Agile works well when you have a leader who is ego-less. Someone comfortable with letting go of control and accepting that they may not always be correct. With a leader like that, the team can work in an agile way. Still, most organisations are run in a very hierarchical way, keeping decision power at the highest level and not at the implementation level.

One of the principles working well for agile teams is that people implementing things should have the power to decide – to put their ideas into action. This isn’t about total devolution of leadership. People with the decision-making power, be they leaders or team members, must be involved along the entire journey of the project for it to succeed. Particularly if you are using SCRUM methodology, at the end of each sprint, you meet with the whole team for a retrospective; to come together and reflect on what went well and what didn’t go so well, so the team is improving all the time. By breaking projects down into smaller chunks and regularly collaborating with the project sponsor/product owner, you are re-contracting with them all the time.”

How can simulations help companies adopt agile ways of working?

“I have worked with business simulations for twenty years and seen their benefits for many organisational objectives. It’s been fascinating to see simulations developed that specifically teach teams how to work in agile ways and scale agile working for entire organisations.

In my experience, simulations are very good at teaching people about the mechanics and patterns of human thinking. I like that you can run a simulation several times and gain different results. I purposefully repeat simulations with clients so that they can see that one approach will not always win. They must be agile to scan the environment, see what is happening around them and plan strategically every time.

Playing simulations two or three times allows the participants to see their learning curve and what it takes to get things right. Through the simulation diagnostics, I can discuss with participants what’s happening in their team and teach them what they can do differently. When they see their improved results, it’s very powerful for learning.

To me, the greatest gift leaders can give to themselves and their teams is making sure there is time to reflect.

During workshops, after participants play the first round of the simulation, I always ask them to reflect on their progress so far. This is part of agile methodology in terms of team and individual development; experiencing or doing something and then reflecting on it. It’s simple but often overlooked in our time-poor, task-driven world. People have so many things on their desks that they just want to get things done. But taking time out, whether during the typical working week or learning experiences, to pause and consider if the team is doing the right things, in the right way, is incredibly valuable.”

Edyta Ponarad is a specialist in team effectiveness and organisational development. She successfully solves crisis situations in teams, especially conflict mediation and facilitation of difficult processes. For the past five years, she has utilised strategic games and business simulations to help teams develop decision-making processes and cooperation.

Working with Ososim, she is an accredited facilitator of our Clean Sweep competitive business acumen simulation, helping participants improve their knowledge of financial value creation and market drivers. She also facilitates our Agile Build and Hydro Laos simulations which are focused on tackling the challenges of continuous change and managing the needs of complex stakeholders.