Skills shortage, digital transformation, big data, generation Y! It becomes complex and dynamic in companies and there are many challenges to ensure the future viability of these companies. According to many media outlets, companies are trying to become “agile companies” or aspire to “digital leadership”. In order to shed more light on this topic, nine managers met in Nuremberg on 21 July 2016 for a workshop for 5 hours to clarify the question: “How do we make our companies fit for the future, agile and evolutionary?”.

Procedure and participants

The Roundtable was anything but an information event. Each participant had the opportunity to present his/her way of presenting his/her company agilely and evolutionarily in a set slot (short presentation and open dialogue). Thus, each participant was asked to actively participate in the design and present his project. During this time, I have taken on the role of moderator and “timeboxer” (observance of speaking time). The following table shows the participants of the roundtable and the current focus of the participant in the context of frameworks for agile companies and digital leadership.

digital leadership agile unternehmen

Results of the Roundtable digital Leadership and agile companies

A total of 4 participants took the opportunity to present a current agile lighthouse project or their approach to digital leadership. After each post, the open dialogue was started.

Contribution 1: Digital Transformation and Agility

The first contribution was the presentation of a research project by one of the largest trade unions in Germany. Companies are becoming “digital corporations” and the agility required by this requires guidelines. But the concept of “shaping qualification as a basis for social security together” was also part of the core message of the study. The individual sub-topics of the study were then discussed in an open dialogue.

Why do we need agile companies or digital leadership?

“Agility is a behavior” and no method match all participants. Complexity is increasing as a focus of digital transformation, and companies are seeking “digital leadership.” Complexity can lead to silo thinking, and companies need to make decisions quickly and flexibly to attract and retain customers and talent.

Agile employees have an agile mindset and human maturity. Agile employees want to work with the companies and develop together with them.

What are “agile qualifications”?

Graduates are often described in magazines as agile and agile. The participants disagree with this thesis. Due to the current system, applicants are often rigid and “system-compliant”. “Applicants squeeze themselves into a job advertisement,” the participants say.

An applicant should not be able to do what the company needs today, but should be willing to learn what the company needs tomorrow.

How do I find agile employees (agile HR)?

According to the participants, recruiting is becoming more and more a “belly decision” and focuses on the central question: Can and does the applicant want to work with me?” Many certificates and too good grades even cause “mistrust” among the participants of the Roundtable, because it could be a “career individualist” or a “certificate hunter”. In the end, however, all participants agree: it is not enough just to hire “agile employees” to become an “agile company”.

The central task of agile HR is to ask the question: How can we work together?”

What is agile leadership and digital leadership?

“The really good employees choose their boss.” This is the first contribution of the Roundtable on this topic. According to the participants, the task of leadership is to “get rid of themselves”, “to live culture” and to “take care of itself”. Agile employees need more feedback than “normal employees,” according to the participants.

Team leaders are part of the team and must set themselves the goal of “abolishing themselves”.

What and how are agile decisions made?

The participants of the Roundtable agree that decisions must be made close to the market and that employees often make better decisions as managers themselves. The rule of thumb of the participants is that if an employee decides for himself, the decision is in:

  • 70% of cases are better than those of the manager,
  • 20% equal to that of the manager and
  • 10% a wrong decision.

Contribution 2: Agile and digital marketing

Every company wants to make the difference with marketing. In order to make this distinction, a company needs cross-functional marketing teams (e.g. marketing logistics teams).

The participant from the management of the IT logistics service provider strives to establish an “agile business relationship with the suppliers” in his company. In this way, he wants to set goals and budgets and to trust the supplier that he implements these goals in his own way. The test subject sees the difficulty currently in finding such a supplier, who is able to deliver such a “cross-functional logistics IT marketing team” and has the courage to implement such projects.

“Marketing is very fast-paced, the new is not new enough and everything is digitising. Agility should be established as part of the brand rather than creating a “hedging mentality.”

In an open dialogue, the participants agree with the promoter and criticize too much hedging mentality. Target images become extremely important and the question “What are we going into the race for?” is not asked enough, according to the participants. With traditional methods, according to the participants, it has not worked before and its credo is: “The new is less wrong than the old”.

Contribution 3: Scrum Principles and Agile Transition

Companies are too concerned with themselves rather than offering real value to customers.

The promoter, 6 months ago, faced the situation of becoming the new IT manager of an IT service provider with the task of an “agile transition” of the 24-person IT department. He set himself the goal of increasing customer satisfaction, productivity and employee satisfaction.

In the first step, I made my individual office available as a meeting room and sat down as a team!

The promoter observed the team for the first 14 days and introduced some scrum principles together with it. He himself lived up to the values of Scrum by clearing his office and changing his title to “Scrum Master”. Furthermore, he implements Dev-Op’s approaches such as a direct extension via telephone for the customer to the developer and fast release cycles. Scrum meetings and other Scrum Masters were also formed from the team. In the current step, the participant is to pave the way for cross-functional teams.

Agility requires a “hero” who shows agility and a leadership that allows agility!

In the open dialogue, processes were first discussed. Processes are not fundamentally bad and some core processes are necessary in every company. However, the participants agreed on the need to define guardrails. The guardrails should be questioned as soon as an employee is “aneckt” to this . All participants also praised the high human maturity of the promoter. As an IT manager, clearing the individual office does not seem easy. The experiences of the other participants also show that agility always seems to need a “hero” who acts as a role model.

Contribution 4: Self-organization and holacracy

“Agility is not a method. A person can also be agile without methods.”

At the end of the roundtable, a participant presents his/her method of restructured his/her company. Due to the shortage of skilled workers and the ever-increasing customer expectations, the company, as an attractive employer, has committed itself to reacting quickly and individually to customer requests. The participant has reorganized the 3 business units of the IT service provider.

  • Holacracy for Consulting
  • Scrum for the in-house software division
  • Classical organization for the software solutions division

The cross-sectional disciplines such as marketing were filled with the role “Marketing” in each area. The rating of the promoter is:

Scrum is slow, holacracy is sluggish and the classic business unit is not necessarily “unagil”.

In an open dialogue, the participants exchanged their experiences with these models and found that every person and every form of organization can be agile. According to the participants, each individual is required to help shape this, because no framework can achieve this. Also, some employees don’t want to be so “hyperagil” and always decide everything for themselves. On the subject of digital leadership, the participants agree: “A manager should try to abolish himself every day.”

Summary and feedback

In the first step, I would like to thank all participants for the sometimes very long journey and the time they have sacrificed for the research project. All contributions were very well prepared and each participant communicated his feedback constructively and openly. From all 4 contributions, we were able to learn that companies are changing. This change is interpreted and implemented by each company in its own way. It is important, however, that frameworks around agile companies and digital leadership do not provide the right answer, but human maturity and common sense are required in order to become truly agile.

Join the next Roundtable!

See how other companies are facing digital transformation or skills shortages! Are you also interested in digital leadership and agile companies? Then take a look directly at the information page for the Roundtable on Agility and connect with me and the experts. The next roundtable on agile companies and digital leadership is already in the pipeline and I look forward to welcoming you. Take a look at my other book suggestions on agile organization.

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I blog about the impact of digitalization on our working environment. For this purpose, I present content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday work. I am a manager in an SME myself and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the chair of IT Management.

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