Agile working, swarm organization, flat hierarchies — we are hearing these buzzwords more and more. They’ve been generated by digitalization and by the realization that traditional hierarchical models can’t keep up in the modern world. That’s because if companies want to attract the most talented candidates on the job market and enable them to develop the best products, they need to operate quickly and flexibly. Michael Poerner, who is responsible for global organizational development at Daimler, explains what agility in working life really means.
Please briefly introduce yourself.
I’ve been working at Daimler since 2013, and I have a background in science and consulting. Before I joined Daimler, I lived in Shanghai and received my doctorate there. My wife comes from the American Midwest, and we have a daughter who is almost two years old. In my leisure time I love to go sailing.
How would you define agility?
By agility I mean a modern type of cooperation that meets the demands of a fast-paced world. It’s a customer-centered working method that achieves results faster and adapts flexible to new requirements.
How is Daimler dealing with this topic?
Daimler regards it as an opportunity. Our company has decided to establish swarm organizations that work together in agile ways. This is part of our Group-wide initiative Leadership 2020, with which we are radically transforming the work culture at Daimler. With this initiative, the Group is moving in the right direction. For example, last year I worked as part of a swarm on the question of how we can think ten years in advance and design the profiles of future jobs.
What was it like for you to do agile working within a swarm?
What I liked most was the speed and the flexibility. We did have a rough concept of phases and milestones, but we revised it every week. Spontaneous changes, such as those made by the customers, could be quickly integrated into our schedule. Of course this also means that it’s harder to predict what’s going to happen in the weeks ahead.
What was the teamwork like inside the swarm?
On the one hand it was a challenge, because we were located in different places, but on the other it was incredibly motivating. This new kind of cooperation sparked people’s curiosity and inspired a lot of power and creativity. Without this energy we would not have managed to rethink a quantitative topic in qualitative terms. In the development phase we worked with design thinking and the scrum method, and we conducted our weekly sprints via Skype.
You’ve said that agility represents an opportunity. How can a working method contribute to corporate success?
Agile working helps to accelerate work processes so that you can come up with results faster. It also increases the participants’ motivation and their sense of identification with the company. That’s because it gives them more leeway, more opportunities for productive involvement, and greater incentives to be creative. And it’s a good feeling to think in new ways. There’s more than one “right” direction that has always led to success. Instead, there are also other ways to reach your goal — and this path can be flexible.
Have you got any personal tips for people who want to try out agile working methods?
Yes, they should come to work at Daimler, because this is where they can really try out agile working. ! But seriously, here’s my tip: Be open to it and just give it a try. It’s not a question of working methods that are good or bad, right or wrong. That was the winning argument for us too.
Has your product been changed, thanks to the agile approach?
We think that in the swarm we’ve developed something that we could not have developed this quickly or at this level of quality in any other way. Thanks to the mix of experts across business units and our flexible methods, we’ve begun a tremendous transfer of knowledge.