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The way toward an agile communications department - Step 2: Work

Requirements for agile work 

When thinking about agile work, many people immediately think of reorganizing departments, dissolving old structures, and abolishing the hierarchy. However, working in a more agile way is possible in existing structures, too. 

  • Agile work means organizing work in such a way that employees can respond quickly and proactively to the immediate task at hand. It means giving them the space to work efficiently and effectively, within a team that comprises the right people with the skills and competencies needed to do the job.
  • It is important to establish processes that enable people or teams to work together as efficiently and smoothly as possible to achieve optimal results with as few resources as possible.
  • Corporate communications, especially internal communication, is becoming more and more a cross-cutting function that interacts with many areas of the organization. Communicators, therefore, need to be open to new tasks, topics, and colleagues.
  • Agile work requires a high level of commitment and openness on the part of managers within corporate communications and in other departments to allow for new forms of work design and cooperation.

"It is critical to bring the right mixture of experienced employees and employees that know the company  together to drive that agile project efficiently."

Anja Dietze, Head of Brand Management and Digital Marketing, SCHOTT

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.