Change Mag

Challenges of agile work

By Lukas Bargel, published on 30 November 2022

Agile working is not always easy. "You have to change" is heard from various corners. But the fact that this may not always happen so quickly is quickly forgotten. With this article, we take a closer look at the topic of challenges in agile work. 

Agile work poses different challenges depending on the position  

Market pressure is growing, the pace of change is increasing. The shift from a traditional way of working to agile is riddled with challenges. People in different roles are confronted with different challenges. Therefore, we systematically address different levels and their challenges:  

  • Challenges of the company 
  • Challenges of the executives 
  • Challenges of the employees  
  • Other stumbling blocks in agile

Before that, we'll give you an overview of what changes when you suddenly work in an agile way. What is the agile transformation all about? 

The agile way of working brings with it new tasks  

With the beginning of the 21st century it has struck: the agility hour. Many organizations want and need to adapt and are jumping on the agility wave to keep up in the rapidly changing environment. Compared to the classic working style, this brings changes:

  1. Introduction of a new agile mindset 
    The introduction of agility not only entails a different working style, but rather an entire mindset must change. Agile values and principles must be anchored and lived in the organization and in the minds of the employees. Often, the entire organizational culture has to be turned upside down.
  2. The hierarchies become flatter 
    The new mindset entails a rethinking of the understanding of leadership. Leadership no longer means telling employees how to do things, but rather that each employee decides for the most part independently how to complete tasks and also who does what in the team. Managers now take a coaching stance. They stand by the employee and try to remove obstacles to enable successful work.
  3. From lone wolves to teamwork 
    Agile working also means self-organized work by the team. You decide together as a team, according to the so-called pull principle, who does which task. In this way, each person can choose according to his or her strengths, thereby increasing the overall quality of the product. However, tasks that promote learning because they do not correspond to one's own strengths should also be included.
  4. Responsibility and initiative are required 
    New and perhaps somewhat unfamiliar for some people is therefore the high degree of personal responsibility. Due to the high level of transparency in agile work, everyone knows what needs to be done, but must therefore also act on their own responsibility. Everyone is responsible for achieving the team's goals.
    This excerpt of changes from a classic to an agile way of working suggests that this brings some challenges in a transformation ...

Herausforderungen im agilen Arbeiten 1
The larger the company, the more complicated an agile transformation often turns out to be

Agile transformation: A challenge for the entire company 

Depending on the size of the company, an agile transformation can proceed differently. It is often the case that small organizations, such as start-ups, find it relatively easy to adopt an agile approach, whereas larger organizations often find it more difficult, partly because they still think and act more hierarchically. A common stumbling block in the course of agile transformation is the agile mindset that is not yet in place. Organizations often scale agile work too quickly, burning resources and experiencing disappointment. 

TIP: A cultural change takes time and should take place step by step and be professionally accompanied. It is better to start small and learn quickly than to start too big.. 

Challenges of the managers

What is the situation for managers and what challenges do they face? As described at the beginning, not only the role descriptions change in the agile way of working, but also the understanding of one's own work. For a manager, this usually means that he or she must learn to let go at the appropriate points.

  • For a manager, agile transformation often feels like handing over the reins. Suddenly, the team decides on the distribution of tasks and the manager may feel disempowered.  

TIP: Keep in mind that you give the team more responsibility and thus contribute to employee satisfaction. If you are satisfied, you are usually more motivated. The trust in the team will mature and you will also enjoy your freedom, because you can concentrate on other tasks.

  • Agile change also brings with it another task: adopting a coaching and supportive attitude. Especially for very dominant and hierarchically thinking managers, this may prove difficult to implement.

TIP: At best, take on a coach or sparring partner yourself to experience how good it can feel to accompany and empower people on their way to their own solutions. It's worth starting with yourself here. 

Challenges of the employees 

It is also a big change for the employees. The many new terms and concepts that are thrown at you can cause a great deal of confusion at first. In particular, however, the following stumbling blocks often cause employees difficulties at the beginning:  

  • The pull principle means that everyone takes on the tasks themselves. No sooner said than done. However, it often involves more responsibility to commit to a task independently. Many people can't handle so much newfound freedom and the responsibility that comes with it, especially at the beginning. 

TIP: Stay calm. Especially in an agile culture, mistakes are allowed. Because they can contribute to learning and thus the pressure that may arise from responsibility is manageable. 

  • The many meetings, in which agreements and feedback are constantly being made, and the resulting high level of transparency among each other, can feel like an exhausting control authority for some.  

TIP: Always remember the positive effects of feedback and experience them. You have a team behind you and are not solely responsible or have to show what you have done or not done on your own. That would miss the agile mindset.  

Other stumbling blocks in agile 

What other challenges can arise during an agile transformation? 

  • Prinzipiell hat agiles Arbeiten den Ruf schneller zu sein als konventionelles Arbeiten. Dennoch geht es gerade am Anfang in der Regeln langsamer, weil Vieles ungewohnt ist.   

TIP: Of course, a relearning process at the beginning means a loss of speed, because you haven't developed a routine yet. But again, be patient and keep at it, because you will soon see that agile working enables you to achieve top performance with reduced stress.  

  • During the gradual introduction of agility, there are often pilot project teams that are already working agilely and others that are still working conventionally. Sometimes, unfavorable office gossip arises here. The frequency of meetings in particular is often ridiculed from the outside, since it is not known what agile working actually means and entails.

TIP: Whether you are in an agile or conventional unit, communication and (knowledge) sharing help break down biases and generate understanding.  

  • The many terminologies and methods in agile work can sometimes be confusing. Especially when you have to adhere to many new rules, it often seems narrow-minded or can sometimes even feel forced. 

TIP: If a rule really doesn't work for you, change it! Nothing is set in stone in agile. Once the agile mindset is in place, the exact rules and methods are important, but secondary.  


The motto is to try it out: be transparent, communicate openly, but courageously embark on the new adventure and learn to swim in the agile current - after all, there is a lot to gain, e.g. self-determination and joy in effectiveness 😊 

If you would like support in this, please contact our service line Timmermann Partners. In addition, our specially developed ChApp (Timmermann Change-App) offers divsere courses and content. Find out more about the ChApp here. 

We will be happy to help you in a non-binding initial consultation and determine together how we can best support you and your organization.

Topics: Agilität

Using agility correctly

Finding a good mix is not always easy and requires some basic knowledge of agile methods. If you are interested in agile, feel free to contact Timmermann Partners at any time. We will be happy to help you with a no-obligation initial consultation and determine together how we can best support you. 

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Lukas Bargel
Project Leader

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