Agile Workplace

4 Tips for Designing HR for Agility

February 2, 2022
9 min read

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As the workplace and workforce continue to change, so does the role of HR. What challenges lie ahead and how can applying Agile practices to the HR function prepare HR leaders to navigate the volatile business landscape?  

In The Josh Berin Company HR Trends 2022 Report, they state, “Challenges ahead will include upskilling the HR team, organizing HR around agile design and delivery, and continuously innovating around the employee experience, recruitment, hybrid work, and multigenerational career paths.” 

We tuned into Hacking HR’s panel session, Designing with Agility: Creating Agile Culture, Processes and Systems, to hear from the panelists: 

In this session, the panelists provided advice for HR leaders who are ready to transform their workplaces and processes with Agile thinking and practices. Let’s dive into the four key learnings to help you get started with applying Agile to your HR functions.  

Learning #1: Bringing Design Thinking and Agile methodologies ensure our HR & PeopleOps processes are people-centric.  

Before we dive into these learnings, we need to understand how Design Thinking and Agile are intertwined. Simply put, “Design Thinking is about finding user problems to go solve, and then agility is about the practice and the approach to solve those problems,” noted Bianca. 

So, how do these practices apply to HR? Traditionally, HR has been perceived as valuing processes over people. It’s ironic “to have human anywhere in your name, and not value the actual human—the one that you're supposed to be designing all these processes for,” said Trent. 

That’s where Design Thinking and Agile come in. When we apply Design Thinking to an HR discipline such as rolling out a benefits plan, before designing the benefits plan, we need to engage our clients (our employees). 

“We actually have to make them happy and get in the seats with them and find out what are their pressure points,” said Trent. After this, then the Agile methodology is applied to approach the pain points that you want to address to be able to increase that employee experience.  

Because Agile and Design Thinking are client-centric, you're inviting that client to review the work so far and provide feedback. “That's where the two really come hand-in-hand. It starts with design thinking and the client-centricity and agile just takes it and continues through the actual process development and implementation,” added Trent.  

Learning #2: Adopting an Agile mindset drives connection, engagement and communication in a remote and hybrid workplace. 

When we’re working in a remote or hybrid workplace, communication and collaboration can be challenging. In the office, we cross paths with people organically whether it’s by the coffee machine or at the ping pong table.  

“When we're working remotely or in hybrid organizations, we just don't have the same opportunity for organic connection,” said Bianca. “Agile can be highly inclusive because you really are engaging everyone at the table. We get that opportunity to engage and to connect with people that we might not necessarily connect with.”  

Bianca said, “By approaching our work in our projects this way, then we're able to engage and to connect with people sooner because they're going to be invited to the project board, they're going to be looped in at timely spots along the project.” 

Another benefit of Agile is the visualization of work it provides. This not only acts as a productivity tool and gets your team laser-focused, but it’s also a huge motivator since progress is being documented, noted Candace. 

By visualizing our work, we agree on what work is going to be done, the amount of time and who’s doing it. “For leaders, it provides that ability to see what work is being done, what work isn't being done, and whether there are any blockers,” said Candace.  

Learning #3: Maintaining psychological safety is key.  

A key part of implementing Design Thinking and Agile techniques are testing and experimenting. To create an environment like this psychological safety has to exist.  

“If I'm going to mess up and fail, test and experiment and go fast, for people who may not be used to this, there can be worries about feeling like I will get in trouble,” said Bianca.  

“Our sprint reviews and retros will not be effective if it's not psychologically safe,” added Candace. “If it's not okay to fail, then it's a shame and blame culture. This is a place where HR can really support other teams in stepping in with engagement surveys that are measuring psych safety and can speak to leaders about addressing where there may be some gaps or concerns.” 

So, what are some practices that can help create a safe space that encourages collaboration and engagement? 

Trent believes in calling out the behaviour as it happens. “Sometimes people are just not aware of how they're coming across. So, if you call them in the moment, they're able to see it, and they can make amends right then right there, which helps and it develops that team unity.”  

Another way to create a safe space is by establishing team norms. “Establish those norms and make sure that everybody agrees and ask for feedback. And when someone steps out of those norms, you'll be the first person to correct it. But then also encourage other team members and give them the authority to be able to do the same,” said Trent. 

Bianca also shared the importance of looking for signals when you’re working with your team. “If they’re not raising issues, raising concerns, raising opportunities, then there's something wrong. And so, I need to look for signals where that has gone silent.” 

Learning #4: You don’t need to understand everything about Agile methodologies to get started.  

It's common for people to have the expectation that they need to become an expert in an Agile model and understand everything before getting started. Guess what? The HR leaders on this panel are here to tell you that you don’t.  

Here’s some advice the panelists shared when it comes to implementing Agile in your organization or team. 

  1. Bianca mentioned the importance of having the right mindset—both organizational and personal. In addition, your motivations as an organization need to be aligned. That means understanding why you as a company are moving towards an Agile model.  
  2. Choose an Agile model. “There are a lot of different structures of Agile. You need to choose the model that works for you,” advised Bianca. 
  3. “Just start. Take one principle to practice, and start”, suggested Candace. “Pick one thing that you could deliver value quickly on, but then practice visualizing it and putting it onto a board of some kind.” 
  4. “Focus on that one thing that you want to implement,” said Trent. 

Watch this Agile HR video to get started. 

Become a Certified Talent Scrum Master 

Are you an HR, PeopleOps or Recruitment professional who wants to gain the knowledge, tools, and skills to apply Agile and Lean methodologies to transform your workplace? Enroll in our Talent Scrum Master course! You’ll learn how to apply design thinking techniques to build human-centric experiences, prioritize and manage your work effectively, redefine and redesign your HR processes, and much more. Learn more and enroll today.

"The Agile PeopleOps Scrum Master course taught me how to better prioritize and be more people-focused. One of the best parts of this course was Candace’s teaching style and how she made the course interactive and engaging. I've taken quite a few courses where there's a lot of material that isn’t applicable. For this course, all the material was very useful and valuable not only for human resources but for any role and life in general. I am excited to apply all the things I learned to my career."

Sara Stephenson, HR Professional

About the author


Teamit helps growth-focused companies recruit top talent, scale quickly and build high performing technical teams in North America and South America.