What agility means during a crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented our agency with challenges. But by thinking agilely, fostering the right corporate culture, and focusing on employees, we were able to use the past few months to our advantage – and continue to develop.

We did what we’ve done time and time again: We tried to explore new paths. To think in new ways. When the pandemic started, no one had any experience in this before or could say what this situation would mean. We couldn’t ask other companies, partners, or clients for advice – no one had ever lived through something like this before. So, we relied on our agile way of thinking. We went step by step, trying new things, learning, and adapting. We have always had a clear goal in mind: We wanted to look at the situation – as bad as it might be – as an opportunity.

Shaping change

It was clear that we – as an agency, as a company – would have to change to make it through the pandemic. But we wanted to be the ones to shape this change, so we initiated a series of new formats, e.g., the ‘Tell Me Opportunity’ sessions. We invited every employee to brainstorming sessions to discuss what to do in the current situation.

We discussed what it meant for our employees to work from home while having to care for their children. We discussed the challenges our clients were facing – and how we could support them. The response from the agency was tremendous. In one session alone, we received more than 500 suggestions, and countless ideas were contributed over discussions on Slack. We also used the collaboration tool Mural, an online whiteboard that is particularly helpful for brainstorming in groups.

The importance of the right corporate culture

These brainstorming sessions showed that the success of an agency like IBM iX depends on its employees. They are our capital. We use their ideas, their creativity, their suggestions, and their knowledge to inspire our clients. Especially in a time like the pandemic, it is important to be aware of this because this special bond, our lively company culture is in more demand than ever. All our employee surveys confirm this. The team spirit, the community, and the unique company culture are reasons why people choose to work here. That’s why we developed an Agency Playbook. With it, we are giving all our colleagues a guideline. What’s our mission? What are our values? How do we want to function as a community? We try to answer these questions and orient our employees.

Be a role model and show appreciation

What else do we do to nurture an agile and creative corporate culture? We rely on role models and managers who live and exemplify the agency’s values. To show our employees respect and appreciation for their commitment remotely, we developed ‘Family Nights’. We use them to give the project teams a stage to present exciting cases and celebrate wins together. This creates visibility, helps them learn from one another, and acknowledges the work of each employee – no matter where they’re working from.

The pandemic also challenged us as a managing team. We didn’t call what we did ‘sprints’, but ultimately, the way we worked functioned according to this principle. We often asked ourselves: What have we achieved so far? What needs to happen next? During a pandemic, it’s difficult to plan beyond months because many decisions have to be made and implemented on short notice. How exactly do we need to support employees working from home? What technical equipment is required? None of this could be covered by rigid annual plans.

What still remains

Today, it’s already clear that we will try to retain and continue to work on many of the things we learned over the past two years. For me, the biggest lesson learned is that none of us can be certain about what the future will look like. We have experienced how quickly everything can change. No matter what plans we put in place, we must always be able to be flexible when responding to change. For me, agility is much more than just a management trend or a question of the zeitgeist. It’s an insurance policy for the future. At the same time, the past few months have shown us again that despite all the digitalization, it is people who matter – their communities, the culture, the togetherness. We are currently working on a sort of set of rules for the new way of working that has emerged. We still need to come up with a title, and it certainly won’t be a rigid compendium of ‘dos and don’ts’ – more so a manifesto that defines us as a community and our way of working.


Got curious? Learn more about this topic in the corresponding bonus episode “HR during Pandemic” of our podcast “The Agile Truth”.

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