Organisational agility: new research reveals what’s slowing businesses down

Collective intelligence

4 min read


  1. Business leaders don’t think their organisations are agile enough; nearly two-thirds (57%) report high levels of friction.
  2. Agility blockers exist across all three research areas: focus, critical thinking, and internal communication.
  3. Ineffective management reporting and meetings present a particular challenge to business leaders — but the issues are within their gift to fix.

Agility is big business, with the global market for agile transformation estimated to be worth nearly $30bn annually.

Strip back the jargon-heavy methodologies, however, and it’s much simpler than the consultants and tech vendors would have you believe.

Because a business’s ability to get things done isn’t determined by the CEO’s views on agile versus waterfall or the number of Six Sigma Black Belts in the executive team. Rather, it’s driven by your ability to harness your team's collective intelligence — that is, your ability to get everyone in the business using their brains and applying them to the problems and opportunities that matter most.

It sounds simple enough. But new research by Board Intelligence reveals that few organisations are moving as fast and smart as they need to.

Do business leaders think their organisations are agile?

Over the past year, nearly 100 business leaders have completed Board Intelligence’s Agility Friction Test. They’ve rated their business’ overall agility and identified its friction hotspots by answering questions about their team’s critical thinking, communication, and focus — together, the capabilities that underpin collective intelligence.

The findings reveal that agility, while highly prized, is a frustratingly elusive goal.

Just 4% of business leaders reported low levels of friction overall. In contrast, nearly two-thirds (57%) reported high levels of friction. What’s more, a quarter (26%) recorded high levels of friction across all three dimensions — critical thinking, communication, and focus.

What’s slowing businesses down?

For most businesses, the problem is focus — or a lack of it. 77% of respondents reported high levels of friction in this area, and two-thirds (66%) of those who reported high levels of friction overall pinpointed focus as their friction hotspot.

It seems the problems start in the boardroom:

  1. 91% thought their board should spend less time in the weeds to focus more on the organisation’s big-picture vision and goals.
  2. 92% admitted they often lost sight of those goals in the cut and thrust of the day-to-day.

Not only are decision-makers struggling to stay focused on what matters, but they’re also concerned that the wider team is pulling in a different direction.

  1. 83% were worried that their organisation’s values hadn’t filtered down through the ranks.
  2. Only 29% believed that they’d put robust enough processes in place to ensure key decisions were aligned with those values.

What about critical thinking and communication?

Agility blockers aren’t limited to focus and alignment, of course. When it comes to critical thinking and communication:

  1. Only 12% believed they had the quality of thinking they needed throughout their organisation.
  2. 79% said they don’t have the time and space to routinely step back from the day-to-day and think.
  3. 93% of organisations recorded high or medium levels of friction around internal communication; for critical thinking this was 87%.

We’re struggling to find the time and space to think about the things that matter, and we don’t think hard enough or make it count when we get the chance.

For many business leaders, these challenges are exposed in management meetings and reports — the routine rituals through which businesses are run. The research found that, rather than providing vital fuel for the business, these activities are slowing them down:

  1. Only 14% of management teams produce well-thought-through plans that decision-makers can act on.
  2. Less than a third (31%) of business leaders think their management reports are easy to read and make sense of.
  3. 85% believe their internal reporting drowns decision-makers in detail.

What’s the solution?

The good news is that all of these points of friction are within a business leader’s gift to fix. And it's easy to find the tools that will help them do it.

The first step is to adopt the Question Driven Insight (QDI) Principle — Board Intelligence’s methodology for high-quality thinking and communication. It’s a playbook for creating the conditions that unleash collective intelligence, and it’s been used by a wide range of large organisations, from Fortune 500s to government departments, to improve organisational agility.

“We get to the crux of the discussion more quickly and make all the decisions we need.”

~ Executive, Reckitt, FTSE 100 — read the case study

The second step is to bake the QDI Principle into your organisation's rituals, so you can get everyone thinking well, all the time. And board and management reporting are perfect examples of the sort of routine business activity that be repurposed to build collective intelligence.

Our AI-powered software platform, Lucia, is designed to do just this — guiding the thinking and writing that goes into board and management reporting, turning it from a backwards-looking time sink into an activity that drives insight and action.

It uses real-time AI-based feedback to make it easier for people to think and write well, and to align their thinking, and the insights and ideas they generate, with the organisation’s goals.

This then helps decision-makers at every level of the business to have better conversations about the things that really matter — and get more done.

  Lucia   Write great reports, every time    A thinking and writing platform that helps you to write brilliantly clever and  beautiful reports that surface breakthrough insights and spur your business to  action. Find out more

What you need to know, when you need to know it

Register for our newsletter to get a monthly compilation of our latest chair interviews, governance research, and upcoming webinars and events, along with weekly round-ups of the top news that matter to board members.