Agile working – just another buzzword? Or does it have a role to play in the modern workplace?

Human Resources 19th October 2021

Agile. A term we hear plenty of these days. Is it just jargon – the next in an unending stream of business buzzwords? Or does the term represent something relevant in today’s HR space?

Let’s try and separate the myth from reality.

What is Agile working?

Originally, ‘Agile’ was the term used to describe a mindset in the software development sector.

These are the principles as defined in the Agile manifesto –

“We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it.

Through this work, we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions – over processes and tools

Working software – over comprehensive documentation

Customer collaboration – over contract negotiation

Responding to change – over following a plan

While there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.”

Why is the Agile trend happening now?

Individuals, teams and organisations are looking for new ways of working. It’s a cliché – but a true one – that all industries are facing and responding to disruption and globalisation. There’s a growing need to manage the resulting uncertainty and complexity. This is where ‘Agile transformation’ comes into play.

What does Agile working look like?

Agile teams self-organise – they have the autonomy to manage their own agenda. They work in ‘sprints’ or short blocks of activity, which they test and adapt again and again. This result? Constant ‘course-correction’ means that product development happens faster and more efficiently.

Becoming Agile also means being able to change direction at any time. This allows teams to be more responsive to the environment and market.

Agile has many benefits for employees too. It generates positive energy, and  can bring an end to silos within teams and organisations.

What does Agile mean for HR?

Although the Agile approach started life in the software sector, it’s now spreading to others, such as HR.

HR teams are starting to use Agile thinking in both tactical and strategic approaches. They are beginning to help organisations to focus on purpose, values and behaviours – not only on KPIs.

Businesses are increasingly realising the importance of observing how customers engage with a service or product – then using this data and insight to influence future development.

How does HR become an enabler for an Agile organisation?

A simple answer – by evolving ways in which businesses approach reward, performance, talent, learning and recruitment. By supporting a culture of collaborative networks, continuous improvement and incremental.

For example, you can start to use Agile frameworks like ‘Scrum’ – a lightweight yet powerful set of values, principles and practices.

‘Scrum’ is where cross-functional teams deliver products and services in short cycles, enabling

– Fast feedback

– Continuous improvement

– Rapid adaptation to change

– Accelerated delivery

Agile has many benefits but is only part of the solution

Agile working can help you design and deliver at a faster rate. However, it’s the customer who validates the outcome at every stage.

It’s important not to over-simplify Agile – not to think of it as a cure-all solution to every contemporary business challenge. Clearly, there are functions that are unlikely to benefit from the Agile approach – such as Payroll.

Applying Agile working techniques

Agile practices are having an increasingly profound impact on our working practices. This is set to continue with growing numbers of companies now attracted by the prospect of Agile methods.

Agile isn’t about being trendy – working a four-day week. It’s about embracing a mindset, not a new set of tools.

The potential to transform the organisation with Agile working is within the grasp of many organisations. HR has a key role to play in making it work. HR needs to work to understand where and how to apply Agile principles.

Teams need to understand where long term planning still makes more sense and adapt their approach accordingly.

The key is to be bold.





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Are you considering a change to your organisational structure? Could Agile work for you? For support with helping your workforce to adapt and thrive to new workplace circumstances, talk to us.

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