Case study: The Warehouse Group’s digital agile bootcamp - Success through sustained grit, teamwork, and innovation

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Nick Mackeson-Smith
Nick Mackeson-Smith
Chief Curiosity Officer, Founder and Director
September 5, 2020

Case study: The Warehouse Group’s digital agile bootcamp - Success through sustained grit, teamwork, and innovation

When I think about grit, I think of fitness classes that are gruelling, punishing, and challenging; at times, they can be the last place you want to be. Grit is the thing that gets you through the difficult and in to high performance. In business, grit can also be applied in much the same way - It’s a doggedness and unfailing desire to push on through despite the size of the task ahead of you. I’d define grit as having a number of core elements:

  • an attitude that doesn’t even know the meaning of quitting
  • an ability to tap in to previously unknown or hidden energy sources and use them when needed
  • a relentless focus on the attainment of the future end goal - not on the present experience of any current pain
  • an inability to take no for an answer

It’s all about achieving the most challenging and difficult things. You don’t need grit to make a cup of tea (unless you want to make one at the top of Mt Everest in a blizzard). You don’t need grit to answer the phone if it rings, or run a team meeting, or run a sales pitch.

Grit is something that should be reserved for exceptional times, because it consumes so much energy, and takes so much effort.

To see someone at the gym apply grit can be impressive. The person who just seems to keep going - even when they look broken. To see a whole group of people pushing themselves beyond their limits at the same time (think F45 classes) can be an overwhelmingly impressive, and sometimes intimidating experience.

To see someone even need to apply grit in the workplace is much rarer; our office lives rarely push our bodies to their physical and mental limits. To see an entire team apply grit at the same time is a window into another world of possibility.

What’s clear, is that the application of grit can only be sustained for so long - too much adrenaline, and fatigue and exhaustion can set in. High performance turns to tiredness, which turns to a breakdown in the ability to perform even basic tasks without making mistakes.

The balance is really really hard to get right.

Something special happened this week. In New Zealand, a large retailer ran a fully virtual 2-day agile transformation event. That in itself would be a massive achievement, given the complexities of designing, planning, and executing such an event - let alone maintaining the attention of 1000 people, keeping it fun, educating them, and building a great sense of momentum in launching a new way of working. What made it all the more challenging was that this entire event had to be rebuilt from the ground up, with only 2 weeks notice, and whilst dealing with Covid-19 lockdown restrictions. Original plans were for an arena-event, with a whole range of tactile interactive exercises, and lots and lots of close contact and relationship building. All of that had to go out the window. Grit was needed...

To say that this has never been done before would be a huge understatement.

“How on earth are we going to do this?” can go only really go one of two ways:

  1. a feeling of helplessness, an abject lack of ideas, and an unwillingness to attempt the seemingly unachievable.
  2. a sense of excitement at the unlimited possibility of the unknown, and the wonder and joy at the pursuit of the as yet unachieved.

We chose number 2. The grit was in play.

The team of people who pulled together to make it happen were diverse in their skillsets and experiences. Many had never worked together before. Employees of six organisations came together in the act of operating as one - to create something magical and captivating and experientially awe-inspiring.

With no time for team building events and no ability to even get together in person (because of lockdown restrictions), the team had to find other ways to move into operating as a cohesive and high performing team. They did it through giving trust unearned to the people around them to do the best that they possibly could do. They did it by having extreme clarity of focus on what done looks like - what good will feel like - and how every single piece of the puzzle needed to fit together. We extensively used Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Miro, email, OneDrive, good old fashioned phone calls and te messages - to make sure that we stayed in touch, could collaborate, could plan, and could ideate together wherever we were. We met each other’s families and pets (on Zoom), we even crossed time zones to bring in expertise overseas. We all collectively stepped out of our comfort zones and deep into the learning zone - and stayed there for a full two weeks.

Questions occupied our minds, like “how might we simulate agile ways of working in a half day activity that 1000 people can work on together in their teams of up to 14 people (or squad) whilst being in their own homes and without us being able to send them any materials, and finish with a product or service that adds value to the business in real life?”

We’d originally planned to build an enormous city out of Lego in an arena - that now seemed like child’s play.

Everything changed. We used agile ways of working and design thinking to create our event. Ideation, prototyping, testing, refining. On repeat. For every single aspect of the event. The entire team was involved in every decision, so that we could ensure that we’d covered as many angles as possible.

Many of the things we came up with had never been done before - mainly because they’d never needed to have been done before. Most organisations would baulk at the idea of running towards a significant challenge with only limited time and no precedent for success to follow. But not this retailer. Their desire to succeed created a necessity to innovate - cancelling or postponing wasn’t even considered as an option. We move ahead, we discover new ways to do things, we grow together, we rise as one.  

The execution was as close to flawless as possible. It far exceeded the expectations of everyone who experienced it. It set a new bar for how virtual events can (and should) be done, and it made every single one of us involved want to do it all over again.  Congratulations to The Warehouse Group on their amazing agile transformation. We wish you every success in your new way of working.

Teamwork builds teamwork. Grit inspires grit. Innovation drives innovation. Success breeds success.

Photo by İrfan Simsar on Unsplash

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September 5, 2020
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