From Empowerment Dynamics to Team Adaptability

From Empowerment Dynamics to Team Adaptability

From Empowerment Dynamics to Team Adaptability: Exploring and Conceptualizing the Continuous Agile Team Innovation Process

Anastasia Grass, Julia Backmann and Martin Hoegl

Originally published: April 10, 2020 (PDMA JPIM • Vol 37 • Issue 4 • July 2020)
Read time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

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To foster their innovation teams’ adaptability, organizations are increasingly relying on agile teams. While research on the adoption of agile methods and practices has grown tremendously in the past decade, little is currently known about the human side of agile teams and how it contributes toward the emergence of adaptability. While the Agile Manifesto states that individuals and interactions are more important for agile product development than tools and processes, research on how these interactions unfold is still in its infancy. To shed light on the human side of adaptability, 44 semi‐structured, in‐depth interviews were conducted with team members and leaders from various teams at three organizations (i.e., two German and one multinational European firm). The inductive analysis identified empowerment as a focal human factor for adaptability emergence. A model of the continuous agile team innovation process is developed and uncovers the importance of dynamic empowerment states and their temporary equilibria for team adaptability. The underlying findings demonstrate that empowerment is not a static state, but rather emerges through the interactions between various actors. Specifically, the team and its leader engage in both empowerment‐enhancing and empowerment‐reducing activities. These activities are further influenced by the agile team’s immediate context: Two‐fold customer influences, that is, supporting and hindering empowerment interactions, and the organizational environment, that is, undergoing an agile transformation and supportive top management behaviors, play an important role in affecting the empowerment dynamics that result in team adaptability. As such, this study contributes to the innovation and management literatures by revealing the dynamic role of the empowerment and adaptability constructs for agile innovation processes and the importance of various actors and the organizational environment for fostering adaptability. Practical insights are offered to management, teams, and team members on how to create conditions for empowerment dynamics and consequently adaptability to unfold.

Practitioner Points

  • Agile innovation teams and their leaders should pay particular attention to the dynamics of empowerment. The customer and the organizational environment affect these dynamics between agile teams and leaders.
  • The repeated and change‐driven iterations and temporary empowerment states foster team adaptability, an important capability for the continuous agile team innovation process.
  • Creating conditions for giving and receiving empowerment and training can help both agile teams and their leaders find a suitable level of empowerment that is considerate of potential reasons why complete empowerment might not be necessary or useful.
  • Team adaptability as a result of empowerment dynamics requires an environment characterized by empowerment‐oriented top management structures and an organizational culture corresponding to agile principles.

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