Is Your Leadership Truly Agile?


Highly educated employees don’t want to be micromanaged. In survey after survey, skilled workers tell researchers they need autonomy to do good work. Establishing an agile organization is one way to ensure that your employees use their talents and energy to benefit the bottom line. In the most productive organizations, agility starts with leadership.

According to McKinsey research, nearly 40% of organizations have restructured themselves to become more agile. As Aaron De Smet writes for McKinsey Quarterly, both employees and managers must be flexible in an agile workplace.


Team members must understand that they work within a matrix. They may belong to a core unit, such as human resources or mobile product development or quality control. Each employee also belongs to a squad. The work in the squad is typically project-​oriented. When the current project is completed, the employee will join a new squad and start on a new project.

Agile Leadership Types

De Smet also identifies three types of leaders in a successful organization. First-​level managers, or squad leaders, “plan and orchestrate execution of the work.” Team members can go to squad leaders for coaching, advice, and feedback. Squad leaders keep their eyes on the ball and make sure the work is being completed. They plan out what needs to be done and make changes as necessary. For example, if Contributor A is doing such a great job that the schedule can move up a week, the squad leader assesses everyone else's status, and then makes the decision. While they are not traditional bosses, their energy and enthusiasm for the project should inspire the team.

The next management level, populated by tribe leaders, is all about managing the organization’s resources with the goal of maximizing value. As a tribe leader, you’ll pull employees from various department or divisions to form squads. You should be on the lookout for employees who will make good squad leaders. These employees may have mentioned their interest in a management position. More importantly, these employees should demonstrate a true interest in helping co-​workers succeed.

As De Smet observes, the concept of matrix management is nothing new. When the entire organization devotes itself to agile teamwork, employee performance improves. Employees also appreciate the opportunity to participate directly in the company’s successes and will likely be more loyal.