Agility in Action: A COVID-19 Case Study

Interstates recently chose to move toward an agile organizational design model to better handle market disruptions. Unbeknownst to us at the time, the biggest disruption in recent history was right around the corner: a global pandemic brought on by COVID-19. Although we were still amid structure and systems changes, we were fortunate enough to have a foundation in place that made decision-making and operating during a crisis effective and efficient. Two main components of Interstates’ swift response to COVID-19 rested on key agile principles:

  1. Forming mission-specific teams quickly
  2. Setting direction with decentralized decision-making

Forming Mission-Specific Teams Quickly
As COVID-19 descended on the United States, like many organizations, Interstates was left with lots of uncertainty but needed clarity on how to move forward. Our CEO formed a team to focus on our crisis response, using our mission clarity framework which focuses on knowing the purpose of the team, staffing the team with expertise and diverse opinions, and having a plan with needed decisions outlined. From there, more teams were formed to focus on our emergency response, workforce planning, client connection, internal and external communication, as well as proactively leveraging new opportunities that could arise during this time.

Some teams were newly formed while pre-existing teams were modified, each with a specific mission to achieve. As time has continued, different members have been added to and subtracted from these teams based on need. We are now coming to a transition point where some of these teams will disband as we move past crisis mode.

If we hadn’t made those key organizational design changes before the pandemic began, we likely would have only relied on existing teams and missed out on the expertise and viewpoints that we were able to successfully leverage to ride out this crisis.

Agile in Action Tip: Always have someone on a team you think will challenge the status quo or provide a different perspective. A team full of seasoned experts needs someone to challenge their mental models.

Setting Direction with Decentralized Decision-Making
The COVID-19 crisis forced our leaders to make decisions every week that they had never faced before. Although many of our leaders were inexperienced with crisis decision-making, they were still the best people to make decisions regarding their teams. Clear, centralized direction needed to be set while leaders also had the freedom to decide what was necessary for their respective areas of the business. Interstates leaders successfully executed this decision-making model with workforce planning, client connection, operational execution, and strategic pivots in focus. We are constantly evolving as an organization, and the success of decentralized decision-making during this crisis is something we will carry forward

Agile in Action Tip: Delegation is a great development skill necessitated by crisis situations. Leaders should not take back anything they delegated, including decision-making authority, during the crisis unless necessary.

Moving Forward
We continue to learn what works for our agile organizational design model and what could be made better, but having a test like the COVID-19 crisis proved that we are on the right track and Interstates is in a strong position to withstand the duration of the COVID-19 crisis and other tests that will continue to come before us.

Danielle Crough, Vice President of People & Culture