Back to Top

The way toward an agile communications department - Step 1: Culture

Core components of agile corporate culture

Agile transformation cannot be achieved without a fundamental change in corporate culture. The dimensions and elements of a cultural change process, however, are interpreted rather differently by companies. 
There is no clear definition of what exactly an agile corporate culture looks like. However, some core components can be found in the literature:

  • a focus on collaboration and teamwork
  • flatter hierarchies and democratic participation of employees in decision-making processes
  • a focus on self-management and empowerment
  • the associated relinquishment of control by managers
  • an openness to trial and error and
  • a continuous willingness to learn


Three dimensions of agile culture

Some aspects of corporate culture focus more on physical environments, others more on psychological aspects. Overall, three main dimensions of corporate culture can be identified:

  1. Physical work environments that seek to enhance creativity and collaboration. (e.g. open office spaces, specially designed meeting)
  2. work culture that focuses on the empowerment of employees, lateral leadership, democratic forms of decision-making, personal fulfillment, and purpose.
  3. Employee agreements that focus on the well-being of employees. (e.g. flexible working hours, home office, sabbaticals)


New approach to leadership

Despite the importance of these three elements, the most important success factor for a cultural change is the support of the (top) management. In order for culture change to become more than some abstract concept, employees have to perceive that change is real and their superiors should lead by example. In fact, implementing a new corporate culture is more a leadership question than an internal change program.

  • Managers should take on the role of coaches and enablers who give their employees the greatest possible freedom but are always available as consultants.
  • Hierarchies will not be completely abolished but will have to be lived differently. Clearly defining new leadership roles and having them filled by capable employees is a major challenge. 
  •  Culture and leadership are inseparable when it comes to the agile transformation.


You can find further information und case studies here:

About the research project

  • The research project was headed by Prof. Dr. Ansgar Zerfass and Dr. Lisa Dühring at Leipzig University. It was carried out from July 2017 to July 2020 and used a multi-faceted approach. 
  • Thirty-eight interviews were conducted with chief communication officers and senior communication managers from multinational companies that provided insight into the impact of agility on corporations and their communication departments today.
  • Ten case studies have been conducted in selected companies that have different levels of experience with agility. Overall, 92 interviews were conducted, each of which lasted approximately an hour with a diverse range of personnel, including CCO board members, heads of strategy, senior communication executives, junior communication staff, human resource managers, agile coaches, and other employees related to the agile transformation. 
  • In addition to the interviews, we also gathered insights during informal conversations and by attending several workshops and meetings. We also analyzed the documents made available to us.
  • Finally, the compiled knowledge was bundled to describe a five-step change process that visualizes the most important steps of the agile transformation.

Key findings

  • Step 1:  Create a work and management culture, in which the agile transformation can take place. This can be realized by a change of the workplace to support collaboration, creativity and flexibility. On the other hand, it requires a leadership culture that focuses on trust, empowerment and self-management.
  • Step 2: Implement the right working platform in an agile project organization. This does not imply restructuring the department's organizational chart, but rather focusing on the team- and cross-departmental work. This can be encouraged by using agile tools and methods.
  • Step 3: Old departmental structures and hierarchies have to be adjusted or even dissolved. It is necessary to review established power and management structures so that the agile transformation can be sustainable. 
  • Step 4: When hierarchies and management positions are eliminated and employees are confronted with changing tasks, a new compensation and incentive system is needed. As well career paths and competence management must be designed differently.
  • Step 5: The performance management must be adapted. Previous approaches are too inflexible to take into account the volatility of today's working reality. In the future, performance evaluation at shorter intervals at team level will play a greater role. At the same time, it is important to critically question constantly which dimensions of agility really make sense for a department. Agility should never become an end in itself.