We recently connected with Agile Six leaders Brian Derfer and Josh Quagliaroli to discuss the strategy behind avoiding middle management layers; the opportunities and challenges of self-management; focusing on work with a purpose and how that translates to partnering;  and how they have found success supporting culture with a remote first workforce.

Intentional from the Start

Coming together to discuss the formation of the company, Agile Six founders, from the start, knew they wanted a different company, a company that fulfilled needs they had found lacking in companies they had worked for, or with, over time.

While initial goals and core values were aspirational, they were refined over time to ensure they maintained intent and purpose. This has meant taking note of frameworks within other firms they encountered along the way and adopting what made sense. At least some inspiration was derived from Frederic Laloux, a former associate partner with consulting firm McKinsey & Company, who developed the notion of TEAL organizations as being focused on three key ideas: self-management, wholeness, and evolutionary purpose.

Avoiding the Mire of Management Layers

Adhering to the notion of self-management, Agile Six has deliberately turned away from multi-layered hierarchy and titles that imply levels of formal authority leading “from the top,” instead opting for a model of self-management with coaches working with teams as peers. Implementing this model required a forced pivot a few years ago when the company found itself organically developing those very levels of management.

Instead of leaders directing and approving decisions, Agile Six is guided by its values of wholeness and trust. This emphasis on values means team members are enabled to do what is necessary for their jobs, set within guide rails mandated by industry standards or government requirements, and fueled by advice as needed from coaches. Budgetary guidelines allow people to accomplish the work needed and are preferred over restrictive hard and fast bottom lines. It also means things like time off are taken at each team member’s discretion, understanding requirements based on outcomes and supported by the rest of the team.

This organizational style also means leadership tends to allow conversations and ideas to flow from within and across teams. Answers driven from the community as a whole are examples of the success of self-management and are celebrated by the organization.

Challenges to Self-Management

As is the case with many industries, burnout and high levels of stress can be common in civic tech. Self-management for the company’s 60 plus employees is at least partially intended to allow people to take time as they need, with leaders understanding their role is to support everyone within the organization and to hold space for others to lead.

While growth and scaling requires people with a focus on various aspects of strategy, finance, operations and so on, the focus at Agile Six is less personnel-focused and more about cultivating a soil and laying roots in which the team can grow, evolve and thrive.

Confident of their path, Agile Six has created the full-time position of a self-management coach to ensure people transcend traditional ways of working they may bring from prior roles, and so they enjoy a more fruitful and fulfilling work experience. All of this falls under the model of treating employees better so they build better for the populations Agile Six serves – those seeking better government services.

Purposeful Work

Seeing core values in workplace kitchens and breakrooms across industry, the Agile Six team felt it was often unclear how these documented values factored into the operation or business of the companies displaying them. Again, focused on its just cause of building better by putting people first , Agile Six’s values factor into every business decision at all levels. Rather than thinking from the lens of just business growth, decisions consider whether potential work can make a difference, and whether the company can execute and play a role in making that difference.

Focused on work under the digital services umbrella and under that lens of pursuing work that matters, Agile Six recently novated its T4NG contract to a company it thought better suited to the role, instead focusing on its work under the VA CEDAR IDIQ and programs and efforts where it can have a more direct and successful impact.

Beyond VA, Agile Six is currently focused on work at CMS and CDC, and recently added OPM to its portfolio. While not an outward facing entity, OPM supports the team’s goal of building better for government employees who are then supporting the public in various areas. From a purpose view, the company is always looking to make an impact, to create a bit of a forward nudge in improvements for users.

Purpose in Partnering

As purposeful as it is in selecting projects, Agile Six is also deliberate in the partnerships it enters. Going beyond an initial get to know you meeting, relationship exploration may bring delivery teams on both sides together to ensure the two sides communicate effectively and are aligned in how they work. It may mean trial efforts to ensure the goals and strategies of both sides are aligned so that as decisions are required, both sides are coming from a shared intent and approach focused on outcomes over profits.

Being intentional about its team and their experience, partnerships also consider the experience of “Sixers” as they are called, within the larger operation of a partnership, what culture they will be immersed in, and whether they will still enjoy a similar experience to what they are accustomed to at Agile Six.

Supporting Culture

Guided by the principles that leaders are there to hold space for teams to succeed and self-manage, the ideal that everyone should be seen, heard, valued and feel safe, Agile Six leadership is focused on providing advice and context as they can, on making invitations so all on the team feel they can contribute in meaningful ways. Invitations include digital contracting meetings and storytelling sessions focused on social media planning.

Initiatives such as a DEI Lab bring together diverse teams and people from different practice areas supporting different agencies. Communities of practice, initiatives to support training, geographic location groups, and Slack channels allow people the opportunity to come together across a variety of interests. On the lighter side, a food channel invites people to share creations; there are channels for book club, pets, and families of all kinds. All of these provide the opportunity for people to share bits and pieces of their personal lives and to get to know others beyond the workspace. Those who may not be interested in the more community-focused activities have opportunities to engage in the company’s operations through direct questions seeking opinions and thoughts along the way, so they are included and met where they are comfortable.

Understanding there is not a single right way, the company will remain agile in its efforts, re-evaluating as time passes to ensure its community is as connected as it wishes to be.

Beyond its Walls

As a founding member of the Digital Services Coalition, Agile Six has spent the past several years heavily invested in ensuring this community had the direction and support it needed to succeed. Now firmly entrenched, Agile Six CEO Robert Rasmussen, who initially started the group that eventually became the DSC as a supportive community for non-traditional contractors, and Agile Six President Dan Levenson, who was the first President of the DSC, , have both stepped back from leadership roles in the DSC in order to make space for others to take the helm.

Outside of the GovCon space, the company has implemented a number of employee donation-matching programs, most recently to support Hurricane Ian relief efforts. By embracing similar community support campaigns at various times, Agile Six hopes to ensure Sixers feel the company’s investment in and support of both the communities in which they live and the global community.

About Agile Six

Agile Six is a full-spectrum digital services, Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB). We combine government transformation, service delivery, agile coaching, and a team-based culture. Built on a shared belief that government software should be just as efficient and engaging as commercial products, we have implemented agile digital services transformations on numerous contracts. Our unique experience and collaborative approach allow us to inject commercial-grade innovations into government spaces with ease. Agile Six was founded on a shared belief in and commitment to strong government digital services delivery. We are a founding member of the Digital Services Coalition, a group of commercial digital services firms committed to building better tech for the government. This commitment to building a better citizen-centered government is what brought us to this space and we are using this energy to deliver the next generation of software innovations to customers.

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