improvisation mindset

Stefan Kollmeier: “Leaders need to learn to let go of their power and to trust their employees, while the employees often need to unlearn hierarchy, too.”

ARYZE has interviewed Senior Manager of Organizational Interventions for Digital Transformation and Culture at Lufthansa Group, Stefan Kollmeier about how we collaborate. After giving a lecture on “acting agile in a corporate world” at the Innovation Roundtable 2019, we wanted to find out more about the way we collaborate and what improvisation has to do with it.

Stefan Kollmeier is a facilitator, leadership trainer and applied improvisation coach next to his corporate job as an organizational developer for digital corporate culture. His passion is to inspire people to collaborate more and better, find their authentic leadership style and to create the right culture for innovation. 

Why is it so important nowadays to act agile in the corporate world?

“The world around us is becoming more and more complex and there are no analytical and one-size-fit-all solutions for this. When the challenges businesses face change their shape and size with rapid speed, adequate solutions need to adapt at the same pace. The plot twist: to deal with growing complexity, you need to increase the complexity of solutions as well. Ironically, a study by Boston Consulting Group shows, that the increase in business complexity in the past 20 years lead to a disproportionate increase in complicatedness (instead of complexity) in companies worldwide – a big difference. This does not mean, that every corporation needs to embark on a journey towards a company-wide agile transformation, tough. The traditional organizational models are still valid and efficient for large parts of the organization e.g. industrial operations, safety-critical functions etc, while other parts of the organization benefit from agile structures that allow adaptation to external factors. Even more important is the agile mindset of leadership and staff.  It is a prerequisite for success when dealing with complex problems.”

How can an agile mindset be implemented?
improvisation agile mindset
Stefan Kollmeier by Marcel Felde

“It all starts with a common understanding, what an agile mindset is – which can be difficult given that “agile” is one of the most-used buzzwords in the business world today. For my work, I use a set of principles that are my “minimal system requirements”:

  1. Mental flexibility to constantly adapt to new developments with a positive outlook and a growth mindset,
  2. An ability to iterate, meaning to try things and to learn from the outcomes and – even more important – to let go of ideas that do not work,
  3. Empathy: The ability to put yourself into the shoes of customers and colleagues,
  4. Authentic and transparent collaboration,
  5. Empowerment: this includes both the delegation of power from traditional hierarchies and leaders to the employees as well as the employee’s ability to accept that power and to start creating.

The last point is also why implementation of an agile mindset needs to be started from both ends of the pyramid. Leaders need to learn to let go of their power and to trust their employees, while the employees often need to unlearn hierarchy, too.”

Why and how should we change the way collaborate?

“As the described complexity of the world demands an increase of business complexity, the answer lies in the construction of a system that is able to constantly adapt- also called a complex adaptive system. This system resembles a network of interactions between individuals inside and outside of an organization that calls for authentic and transparent collaboration. As an actor and coach for applied improvisation, I like to compare this to the way we tell a story on stage. In improv, you have no script and there is no time to agree on a story beforehand. All you do is live, so you have to find a way to align the stories that all the actors on stage have in mind in real-time – a perfect example of a complex problem. There is a set of guiding principles that help improv actors to achieve the task of telling a coherent story live. The most basic one is very simple but elegant: “YES AND”. The YES is the reminder to open yourself up to the ideas from the outside world respectively those of your partner and to let go of your own ideas. But it does not stop there. The AND advises you to contribute something yourself in return. Through repetition of this principle, the story emerges step by step in a highly iterative and collaborative process. See this as the basic building block for a network of interactions and you arrive at a complex adaptive network. In this regard, the business world can learn a lot from applied improv or spontaneous art in general.”


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