Agile working in multidisciplinary teams makes work more enjoyable and ensures that your customers receive better service. This is a key conclusion from Mike Hoogveld’s research on the effect of agile working on customer service
In today’s fast-paced, competitive world, corporate managers are increasingly realising that working in silos seriously impedes innovation. Companies set up along traditional functional lines tend to be slow to change and inflexible, often unable to respond to customer demand.
Led by a shared vision and purpose, agile organisations are supported by a dynamic project-based structure and fuelled by empowered, motivated teams. These teams come together fluidly to work on a project, evolve as the project changes and dismantle to form new teams as the project wraps up.
But I wanted to know more about variety in teams and try to find out how they work and how successful they can be especially in a customer service context.
In order to this, we conducted a large-scale survey and completed a case study at four major energy suppliers. I decided to focus my research on these areas because energy companies are complex organisations with a product that is not very distinct from its competition. That’s why good performance is vital in the customer journey (all of the interactions that a customer experiences are so important for energy companies).
We found that the agile approach means working with a multidisciplinary team for short periods or ‘sprints’ to complete a project focused on the customer. This enables teams to easily respond to customer’s changing wishes and needs. We also found that staff felt more satisfied with their job when working in varied teams.
The research also found that having this variety in teams makes work more enjoyable and means that customers receive a better service.
Effect on the team
Agile collaboration with various experts in a team is a great learning experience for employees. In an agile work environment, teams have the freedom to define how they work. They like being responsible for what is delivered to the customer as well. It’s also satisfying to produce something tangible in a short period of time, and that makes the work more enjoyable.
However, the condition is that all internal business processes must be well-aligned with each other. The biggest success factor in this regard is working in multidisciplinary teams: you have all the expertise on board and can operate as a mini-enterprise. This means you benefit from increased speed and more satisfied, loyal customers.
The study also revealed that leadership is a determining factor in the success of agile working for the customer. In other words, managers and supervisors should collaborate with employees to set priorities and formulate goals, but then give them the space to pursue these in their own way.
Agile working demands facilitative leadership. Leadership is heralded as being one of the most vital and crucial elements in driving innovation and change within organisations. It can mean the difference between success and failure.
Quality leadership requires someone to constantly adapt to situations. That requires individuals to consistently rely on their intuition and gut feelings to surmount the occasion. This doesn’t mean that you should not attempt to formulate a plan but always be willing to arise to the occasion and adapt to any situation.
A facilitative service-oriented leader is someone who thinks first of others rather for themselves, cares about the individual needs of all of their followers, and is fixated on fighting for what is best. Facilitative Service oriented leaders know their strengths and identify areas for personal development. They use their best skills to leverage support and mobilize their teams.
In this context it means that managers and supervisors should collaborate with employees to set priorities and formulate goals, but then give them the freedom to pursue these in their own way. The effect is improved speed and quality for the customer.
This effect is being amplified when you put a team together in the same place, so that they have face-to-face communication.
Not a quick fix
I should stress that agile working is not a goal in itself, but a means to bring about change. It’s a common pitfall to think that this can be achieved with tools and techniques alone.
I think many companies need to abandon the idea that agile working is the solution for all their problems. Sometimes the organisational context simply isn’t ready for it. People within the organisation also have to be willing to change their mindset. This includes not being afraid to make mistakes so that you can learn what does and doesn’t work in practice.
In addition to displaying facitilive leadership, you need to have the courage to critically examine your own organisation and ask: why are we doing this? Only then can you address the question of how to use tools and techniques to achieve your aim. In short: agile working is not a quick fix, and this often turns out to be difficult for companies that are wrapped up in day-to-day operations and take little time for real innovation. In fact, it’s a common pitfall to think that this can be achieved with tools and techniques alone.
Final advice to managers
This new configuration requires a different kind of manager – one who understands multiple functional areas, can leverage the expertise of people with diverse skill sets and, most importantly, has the courage to challenge the status quo.
Managers can no longer think of themselves as gatekeepers whose task it is simply to comply with company norms. The focus needs to be on empowering teams and exchanging information with peers. The critical success factor centres around spurring team members to work creatively and innovatively.
I think developing agile teams is absolutely vital in order to adapt, survive and thrive in this vortex of change, you need to build an agile organisation that acts as an ever-evolving organism rather than a rigid machine.
Mike Hoogveld is an expert in the field of future-proof organisations. He is an associate at nlmtd and has more than years of international experience as a manager and advisor in a wide variety of organisations. In addition, Mike is a start-up mentor, conducts academic research at Nyenrode Business University, and teaches at various universities and business schools. Mike is also a popular speaker who is highly appreciated for his inspiring, energetic and practical approach. He wrote several bestselling management books on future-proof ways of working.