Agile Corporate Culture – What’ s It All About? (Part 2)

The culture of a company is the beliefs, values and behaviors that shape the social and psychological environment of the organization (Needle, 2004). As a 2017 Capgemini change management study shows, the companies that transform most successfully are also those that involve their employees in the transformation process from start to finish and thus actively promote a change in corporate culture[1]. Many studies from science and practice also make it clear that the path to an agile culture is not an easy one. In a recent article, the consulting firm McKinsey has published four lessons learned from its experience with clients around the world that offer a good approach to how companies can foster the development of an agile culture (McKinsey, 2020):

  1. identify the status quo and set the goal: executives and management must first understand the current corporate culture, including the pain points. This inventory serves as a starting point for establishing routines or structures in the company that have an impact on the mindset and behavior of employees. Next, a vision of the desired cooperation, behavior and values of the company must be defined.
  2. focus on personality: the changes should be made personally meaningful for each individual employee. To do this, managers must give their employees the space and support to define what an agile mindset means to them. This process can be strengthened by an open exchange of personal experiences and opinions.
  3. cultural revision of corporate structures: Even the best-designed cultural programs can fail if the organizational context does not support the new ways of thinking and behavior. To maintain an agile culture, structures and processes must be redesigned to support the values and behaviors.
  4. continuous learning: Continuous learning is a core principle of agile working. This also applies to the agile culture. Successful agile transformations have shown how important it is to monitor progress and regularly review to learn from successes and failures. In this way, good developments can be better anchored and potential for improvement can be recognized and acted upon early on.

These four lessons learned show that a variety of adjustments are needed in a company in order to pave the way for an agile culture, but also that it is possible to create the basis for it. It can be stated that culture is a critical success factor in the agile transformation of companies. Although companies can embed agility in their structures, processes and technical infrastructure, this does not lead to the desired success without the corporate culture developing accordingly. Companies must therefore consider their culture as a critical component of their transformation project.

[1]Eugster, J. (2020). Führung im Wandel – Veränderte Anforderungen an Führungskräfte und Teamleiter


Agile Business Consortium (2018). Towards an Agile Culture.

Agile Business Consortium (2020). Agile Culture DNA.

Caligiuri, P. (2012). Cultural agility: Building a pipeline of successful global professionals. John Wiley & Sons.

Denning, S. 2016. “Understanding the Three Laws of Agile,” Strategy & Leadership (44:6), pp. 3–8.

Dove, R. (2005, May). Agile enterprise cornerstones: knowledge, values, and response ability. In IFIP International Working Conference on Business Agility and Information Technology Diffusion (pp. 313-330). Springer, Boston, MA.

McKinsey (2017). ING`s agile transformation.

McKinsey (2020). Doing vs being: Practical lessons on building an agile culture.

Needle, David (2004). Business in Context: An Introduction to Business and Its Environment.

Roy, R., and Sarkar, M. 2016. “Knowledge, Firm Boundaries, and Innovation: Mitigating the Incumbent’s Curse During Radical Technological Change,” Strategic Management Journal (37), pp. 835–854.

VersionOne (2020). 14th Annual State of Agile Report. Yang, C., and Liu, H. M. 2012. “Boosting Firm Performance via Enterprise Agility and Network Structure,” Management Decision (50:6), pp. 1022–1044.

Katharina Schache

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