How to create an agile culture

Head of Agile at Allianz Consulting, Dr. Marcus Raitner, speaks with podcast moderator, Ingo Notthoff, about building agile cultures, and the role of leaders and employees in the process of becoming an agile organisation.

Marcus Raitner
The Agenda Podcast

The Agenda brought to you by Sherpany uncovers the journey leaders take from facing challenges to making decisions. In this unique series of podcasts, leaders talk candidly with podcast moderator, Ingo Notthoff. #LeadingTogether

In this podcast episode, you'll hear:

Head of Agile at Allianz Consulting, Dr. Marcus Raitner as he discusses the reasons why it is important to build agile cultures, and how organisations can start this process. With a professional background in computer science, Marcus is now an agile coach guiding companies on their journey to becoming 'elephants that can dance' in agile-driven environments. He is also the author of the "Manifesto for Human(e) Leadership", a book on new leadership in the age of digitalisation.

Here are some of the topics covered in the podcast episode that will help you learn more about what it means to create an agile culture:

  • What to ask when starting the journey towards agility
  • Why is 'being agile' so important
  • How to boost agility by connecting people, and teams
  • The purpose of meetings in agile organisations


*Please note: The podcast episode is available in German.

How to create an agile culture with Dr. Marcus Raitner

 What to ask when starting the journey towards agility

"The dancing elephant is an agile company. The apparently heavy-handed can dance, can become agile. That's exactly what it's about. You have now seen companies from the inside and accompanied by agility. It's about business agility. It's about being adaptable in a world that is becoming more complex, more diverse, more unpredictable. 

This world needs new skills. It needs the ability to react faster, to adapt to something new faster. We have not learned this from companies for the last 30, 40, 50 years. They have optimised differently. They have optimised for efficiency, for stability, for other markets. Now, for 10, 20 years, we experience much more complexity. This complexity requires the agility of companies to be able to survive.

What questions should organisations ask when they start?

The first and most important question is always 'Where to?' [...]

Agility has nothing to do with efficiency at first, even if a sprint feels fast. Basically, it's about delivering something quickly, giving something to the customer, and getting feedback from this delivery to be able to decide from it, whether we are on the right track or whether we have to change something. That's why 'what' to me, at the beginning, is so important."


Why is 'being agile' so important

"Every company is agile in a certain way. That's a steep thesis. Do companies that want to survive have to adapt to their environment all the time? Do they have to produce new products? The question is, does the speed of adaptation fit the environment? My thesis, or the thesis of many, is that the environment, the speed on the outside, has increased significantly in the last decades, but companies' ability to adapt to it did not.

They are still in a paradigm that passed 20 years ago, but no longer fit now. If every company was really agile, then people would no longer have to worry about it. If the framework conditions had not changed, which is not true, they would not have to change. The question is how much the framework conditions have changed? How different are the markets compared to the past? How much more agility do we need? [...]

The Amazon website changes every second, because a microservice is deployed somewhere, and the thing consists of several hundred or so.

Spotify constantly tries out something new for the customer, and if the button works better left down, then it stays down left. Done. This basic attitude of constantly trying something out, and learning through it, can be seen nicely in agile companies [...] Agility means empirical approach. That means we work with hypotheses that we falsify or verify on the market."

Agility is a reaction to understanding the environment.

How to boost agility by connecting people, and teams

"I believe empowerment to let them [people] really participate, is the decisive factor. Peter Senghi once said 'people don't resist change, they resist being changed'. That is the core of all change management in agility, to make the affected participate. 

How do you connect people?

From the beginning. For example, at BMW, we had this change program in IT. We called it very modest, 100% agile, But it was not top-down. We thought in silence about what the future of the organisation would look like, and then made a funny change theater to roll it out, and convince the employees. 

Instead, we actually painted this vision, and said it very consciously: We don't really know how we will get there. We need the help, you have to participate. We do it from the small to the big. We are slowly learning, we are developing these models, and the working method together. Of course, it takes much longer, but with this involvement and also this empowerment of the employees , they are allowed to participate [...] 

The leadership in agile organisations creates framework conditions, creates the context in which the employees work, gives the necessary information, almost all information, so that almost all employees can decide again as the boss. That's what it's about. That's a fundamental principle. From this very controlling, very small-scale, very micromanaging to going out of basic attitude to an attitude 'I have to shape the environment, I have to shape framework conditions where employees can grow' [...] I like to quote the CEO of Netflix, who in the Netflix Culture Statement says 'context, not control' is his paradigm. So, he gives the context, but he doesn't have to control it, and he's proud when he doesn't make any decisions as CEO [...] 

The customer does not buy marketing or HR or design per se, the customer buys the finished product. That means we have to look at the value chain. And then we see that this value chain moves from department to department to department and it is interrupted. That's the problem. If we want to become agile, then we will only be able to do that if we go along this value chain, work together in one team, and be interdisciplinary. Otherwise, we always have these handovers, then we can make every department agile for itself."


The purpose of meetings in agile organisations

"Agile organisations are better because only meetings that are really needed to get the work going take place. 

There are also meetings in Scrum, they make sense in the sense of this workflow. Meetings have different purposes. One hand, there is a coordination meeting, where I have the classic daily meeting in a Scrum setup, where the team meets every day for a few minutes and just says where are we, where are there problems; that's just for coordination. If I know that this meeting takes place every day, then I can also survive the remaining 95% of the time without a meeting. I can rely on it to come back, and the next day I can address it. 

The second category of meetings that I find in agile organisations is to maintain this rhythm, to maintain this cycle. There is always something that is planned in advance. What do we do for the next three weeks? What do we want to achieve? At the end of this cycle, we look at what we have achieved, what we can learn from it. So you always find this cycle. The meetings also have this clear purpose. On the one hand, we plan, on the other hand, we look back at what we have achieved and reflect on what we can improve. There is a very clear structure of what these meetings can achieve. 

The standard corporate meeting is mostly a mixture of that, and poorly prepared.

What does a meaningful meeting look like for you? 

It has a clear purpose. It is well prepared and, to my taste, it is also written. I like this approach from Jeff Bezos very much with his narrative memos, where he says 'now six pages have to be written in draft first, not PowerPoint'. Then read it together at the beginning of the meeting, so that we all have the same stand."

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Marcus Raitner
About the author
Dr. Raitner guides organisations on their journey to becoming more agile. In the past, he worked in IT for different companies. Since 2022, he is supporting the agile transformation of the Allianz Group worldwide. Dr. Raitner is a published author and speaker.