Creating Agile Culture

Andre shares how to create agile culture.

By: Andre Kotze

Creating Agile Culture

In a time where the frequency of disrupting events is increasing, the ability to quickly adapt – known as agility – is crucial for the success of any organization. Companies characterized by their agility are more likely to prosper in the face of swift changes. This raises two important questions: how can organizations cultivate agility, and how can individuals within these organizations become more agile?  

Organizations function like complex ecosystems, with communication serving as the vital web that interlinks strategy and culture. Within this framework, behaviors are not just actions taken to achieve goals, but also crucial tools for enhancing effectiveness. Culture is profoundly shaped by leadership—emerging out of the behaviors that leaders consistently exhibit over time. It is assumed that leaders will adapt their behaviors to suit different situations. However, in our observation of decision-making behaviors at AirtimeBA, we have found that the most frequently exhibited behaviors are often those that contribute least to fostering an agile culture. 

Consider a typical team meeting. Our extensive analysis, based on over a million observed behaviors, reveals that ‘giving information’ is the verbal behavior most displayed in meetings. People tend to share their thoughts and knowledge. Although disseminating information is essential, it often doesn’t promote the kind of dynamic engagement necessary for creative problem solving, strategic competition, or agile collaboration. Information sharing is useful for setting the scene with context and specifics, but  a balance is needed between giving information and other behaviors, especially if the priority is agility and the need for swift decision-making. 

Our data also show, perhaps surprisingly, that the verbal behavior ‘seeking reasons’ is least recorded in meetings. One would expect that effective collaborators would naturally be curious about the reasoning behind each other’s ideas. However, our experience suggests otherwise. ‘Seeking reasons’ is critical for agile communication, yet it is one of six key verbal behaviors that are frequently overlooked and under practiced. Despite being underutilized, these six behaviors have a powerful impact on enhancing individual and organization agility. Here are the six underutilized verbal behaviors:   

 1. Seeking Proposals
A question that seeks suggestions from others.

This behavior is essential for fostering agility; it acts as the foundation for innovation by welcoming collective expertise, embracing diverse perspectives, and encouraging team members to take ownership. More than just facilitating internal team dynamics, actively seeking proposals yields a variety of strategies and options. This diversity not only helps to reduce risks but also enables organizations to be agile. 

2.  Seeking Reasons
A question that specifically asks for the logic or reasoning behind what another person has said.

Seeking Reasons is the practice of asking questions that probe the underlying logic or reasoning of someone’s statement. This behavior is crucial for deepening collective understanding and refining the quality of group reasoning. Internally, it fosters trust and transparency, laying the groundwork for open communication and mutual understanding. Externally, it sharpens strategies, ensures that assumptions are consistently questioned, and promotes a culture of accountability. 

3. Testing Understanding
A question that either checks if the speaker has understood someone else correctly or provides an opportunity for others to check if they have understood the speaker correctly.

Testing Understanding’ functions as the guiding compass for teams, ensuring that members are not only on the same page with plans but also have a similar comprehension of them. The behavior is vital for maintaining alignment and avoiding misdirection. Beyond the confines of the team, it instills confidence in decisions, assuring that each action is taken with clarity of task and purpose. 

4. Building
Ideas that expand upon another person’s ideas or suggestions in part or in whole.

Building indicates a willingness to listen and a genuine interest in exploring the value of a colleague’s thoughts. Rarely are complex solutions the brainchild of a single individual; more often they are the result of a collaborative process where team members layer their individual insights. The presence of building behavior in a team signifies that its members are engaged, open, and receptive to each other’s contributions. 

 5. Disagreeing
Reactions that show disagreement with the content of what another person said.

Disagreeing is a crucial behavior that contributes to the resilience of an organization. Within a team, it acts as a safeguard against group think by ensuring ideas are rigorously scrutinized rather than merely accepted. This process of critical examination strengthens ideas. In a context requiring agility to navigate, the act of disagreeing fuels critical thinking, encourages the questioning of standard practices, and helps identify potential oversights. Disagreement must occur within an environment of trust and psychological safety, where individuals feel secure in voicing differing opinions, in order to improve the quality of decision making most directly. 

6. Bringing In
Giving an opportunity to another person to speak, typically using their name. 

Teams are diverse; they include both introverts and extroverts, with the former less likely to vie for attention to voice their ideas. ‘Bringing In’ ensures that these valuable but often unheard insights are shared, fostering a culture of generative dialog and inclusive thought. This inclusive atmosphere is fertile ground for creativity and innovation. Sometimes individuals may hesitate to speak up, doubting the value of their contributions. It’s important to recognize that not all ideas need to be fully formed or perfect. An idea that seems marginal at first can spark a chain of thought that leads to successful outcomes, particularly when the team collaborates effectively. 

The mindful use of behavior plays a direct, helping role in generating outcomes. The six behaviors impact an individual, a team, and an organization’s ability to be agile as shown below. 

Impact of the Six Behaviors on Agility 

Seeking Proposals 

  • Pool expertise to enhance problem-solving and decision quality.
  • Grow ownership and commitment to accelerate adoption of solutions.
  • Generate diverse strategies that leverage strengths and mitigate risks.
  • Foster a competitive culture that drives continuous improvement.
  • Cultivate an environment that encourages innovation and adaptive strategies.
  • Embrace a collaborative approach to uncover and address potential challenges.

Seeking Reasons    

  • Deepen logic and understanding to optimize decision-making.
  • Build trust and transparency, encouraging open dialogue that challenges assumptions.
  • Foster accountability through critical thinking.
  • Strengthen strategy formulation with informed perspectives.
  • Enhance problem-solving by identifying root causes and possible impacts.
  • Spark innovation with curiosity about underlying reasons.

Testing Understanding

  • Ensure messages are understood quickly to speed up workflow and decision-making.
  • Make swift, informed decisions that build confidence and reduce risk.
  • Help to refine the logic of people who prefer to ideate out loud.
  • Clarify expectations to help others learn effectively and perform tasks correctly.
  • Prevent misunderstandings and clear ambiguities to facilitate learning.
  • Act decisively to resolve uncertainties and maintain momentum in projects or tasks.


  • Demonstrate listening as listening enables this behavior (building on others’) ideas to occur.
  • Increase respect, trust, and confidence between people.
  • Develop the capability to innovate as the team becomes more efficient at thinking together, making use of its collective intelligence.
  • Achieve buy-in to solutions as they will contain elements of other people’s thinking that they, in turn, will be more willing to support.
  • Grow influence and mitigate conflict.
  • Contribute to a positive experience of teamwork and increase the likelihood that people will want to work together.


  • Prevent groupthink to encourage diversity of thought and strengthen outcomes.
  • Enable the development of psychological safety to foster critical thinking.
  • Increase rigor and challenge the status quo for more robust solutions.
  • Reinforce shared goals while identifying errors or blind spots.
  • Encourage a culture where questioning is valued and errors are seen as growth opportunities.
  • Optimize resource allocation by leveraging diverse perspectives and increasing decision-making rigor.

Bringing In

  • Fill knowledge gaps and stimulate creativity to grow possibilities.
  • Build trust and engagement, enhancing team morale.
  • Optimize resource use for a competitive edge in the market.
  • Reinforce a collaborative culture to expand tactical approaches.
  • Understand and connect with like-minded thinkers to foster innovation.
  • Provide a nurturing environment that strengthens the team’s creative and competitive capabilities.

By consistently incorporating these six behaviors into their daily interactions, leaders can significantly enhance the decision-making processes within their teams and gradually shift the organizational culture towards greater agility. The impact of these six verbal behaviors on the inner workings of an organization is substantial. A clear understanding and application of these behaviors can unlock the full potential of people and teams.  

Agility with verbal behavior among leaders is impactful. Leadership is not just about directing; it’s about creating a workplace-culture capable of leading from every seat, able to think generatively, and take aligned action. Leaders need to model these behaviors to grow this capability within their organizations.  

The skillful use of verbal behavior can transform organizations to become more agile and effective. As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, complex, and disruptive, mastering these six less-used, more influential behaviors will be key to any enterprise’s sustainable success. 

 Andre Kotze