Agility in Action: A COVID-19 Case Study

four people looking at engineering drawings

Danielle Crough, Vice President of People & Culture | May 20, 2021

In 2019, we 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 our 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, we were left with lots of uncertainty but needed clarity on moving forward. Our CEO formed a team to focus on our crisis response, using our mission clarity framework, which focuses on knowing the team's purpose, staffing the team with expertise and diverse opinions, and having a plan with needed decisions outlined. From there, we formed more teams to focus on our emergency response, workforce planning, client connection, internal and external communication, and proactively leveraging new opportunities that could arise during this time.

Some teams were newly formed while we modified pre-existing teams, each with a specific mission to achieve. As time has continued, different members were added and subtracted from these teams based on need. Eventually, we disbanded some of these teams as we moved 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 leverage to ride out this crisis successfully.

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 business areas. Our 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 the crisis is something we are carrying forward.

Agile in Action Tip

Delegation is a great development skill necessitated by crises. 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 we are in a strong position to withstand the COVID-19 crisis and other tests that will continue to come before us.