What do you look for when you're looking for an agile team?
What do you look for when you're looking for an agile team?

How to tell if a company is really agile

Tools to evaluate the true culture

Culture is the driving force of the behaviors of an organization. Healthy culture, happy people, quality products. Dysfunctional culture, unhappy people, error-filled products.

Culture however is not easy to see from the outside. Often you have to rely on what is written down on paper or the brief interaction during the recruitment process to serve as your guide deciding whether the organization is a cultural fit for you or not.

Mostly, and sadly, many people rely on the employer to decide whether you will be a cultural fit for them, neglecting their own needs. But you know yourself much better than any recruiter ever will, and cultural fit is as important for the employee as for the employer.

It is thus important for the potential new colleague to take cultural fit into their own hands rather than be disappointed after the honeymoon period of a new job has worn off.

How to evaluate the agility of a company

There are just too many companies out there claiming to be agile when they merely adopted a scrum board. One of the worst things for a true agilist is joining a so-called agile company just to find out that there is very little agile about it. Once agile, it’s hard to go back to bureaucracy.

So how do you tell if a company is really agile or just saying they are to the outside world?

From personal failures and successes in past job searches, below are some things to look out for and explained by comparing it to the organizational development model by Frederic Laloux in his book called Reinventing Organizations.

Image from Reinventing Organizations resources.

In summary, for those not familiar with the model, the organization’s maturity is mapped against the colors of a rainbow, starting at the lowest frequency color of red, moving to the higher frequency of green, teal and beyond. The closer an organization is to teal, the more agile and less bureaucratic an organization.

An agile organization is Teal, but Teal is more than agile.

Most large corporates today operate mainly from an amber-conformist or orange-achievement culture, where bureaucracy, rules and procedures dominate and a strong hierarchy of power exists. Green-pluralistic is typically all the non-profits, operating from a value-perspective and honoring the individual with Teal-evolutionary running the organization based on trust, implementing self-management practices and evolutionary development processes and support.

As the relationship between the organization and the new employee is driven by the heart of the organization, namely Human Resources, it makes sense to dig deeper into the recruitment process as a reflection of the heart of the company as a whole.

Below are some pitfalls and red flags to look for in your job search if you’re in search of a truly agile organization.

The job description

A job description is the first point of interaction you might possibly have with a future employer. It is a necessary evil as it specifies the need that the company currently has. It is also an easy way to spot the agility and operational model of the organization as a whole.

Here are a few things to look out for to help you rate the agility of a company.

Take into consideration that an organization is more complex than a few interactions or processes, and it is possible that there might be more agile teams behind a non-agile HR department. It also depends on your personal level of agility and what you are looking for in an organization.

How did you first hear about the job opening?

If the job description is posted on a generic job board like Monster, chances are you are dealing with an amber or orange organization, where standard procedures are followed.

A Teal organization will be the one proactively looking for talent, not waiting for someone to come knocking on their door in response to a broadcast message to the world.

They value culture more than anything else, and is very picky with who they allow into their inner circle. They’ll keep an eye on you, evaluating your fit for culture and purpose by your interactions with the world, not the words you put on a piece of paper.

Do they make use an agency for outsourcing?

If they make use of a recruitment agency — run as fast as you can. The more agile, the more integrated the functions of the organizations. Outsourcing such a crucial part of your business might be a red flag, indicating a culture where management are too busy to be bothered with the people issues.

How automated is the application process?

When the recruitment process is automated and you’re asked to complete all your personal information that is already in your resume into a job engine according to their format, it’s a warning sign of an organization operating mainly from an orange paradigm.

An organization operating from an orange paradigm runs a business like a machine, where each person is seen as a replaceable resource that needs to be told what to do.

It also indicates that you might need to change in order to fit in with their culture, rather than embracing individuality, showing a level of inflexibility.

What does the job description look like?

How long is the job description? How unique is the contents? How much emphasis is placed on personal values and skills rather than technical abilities?

Look out for generic job descriptions or anything more than one page. Those 5 page job descriptions that look as if they’ve been copied and pasted from a template because they look exactly the same as about a thousand other job descriptions, just with another company name attached to it.

An agile culture values people and individuality more than processes and tools.

They are looking to find someone to complement an existing, unique team of people, not merely replacing a cog in the wheel as would be the case in an orange organization.

An agile job description is short, gives responsibilities rather than detailed tasks and interactions, and focus on behaviors and skills.

How long does it take to get a response?

The longer it takes to get a response on an inquiry or application, the more likely that the organization is driven by bureaucracy.

An agile company won’t wait to act when they find someone they would like to engage with. Responding promptly indicates that they value you as a person as well as your time. It shows that they don’t deem themselves as more important as you.

What does the recruitment process look like?

There are a number of things to look for, but in essence, the flexibility and the level of involvement of the team are indicators of agility.

A long recruitment process only involving talking to HR and the managers, like a bad sales pitch, indicates an organization is possibly operating from an orange paradigm.

An agile organization will be flexible to your needs as well as theirs. They’ll meet you halfway.

They will involve the team you are to join in the recruitment process, understanding that it is ultimately the team’s decision, not the manager’s whether you’re a good fit or not. When you don’t meet the team at all, it’s a clear warning sign that the team’s voice is not as important as it should be.

An agile organization will allow you to join a team meeting, which I would highly recommend, as meetings are the true teller of any culture.

Is the team looking forward to get together? Are they reporting to each other, rather than to the manager? Do they leave energized? How long is the meeting?

How do they treat outsiders?

Are they open to outsiders, arranging public get-togethers where people can see what the company is like? Do they respond on social media? Do they even have a public social media profile where people can reach out to them?

An agile company has at it’s foundation respect for people, treating each person as important — whether you are the cleaner or the CEO. This respect is best evaluated when they don’t know who you are. Try to interact with them on social media or at a public meetup and see how the react and respond.


Culture is the number one source of happiness or unhappiness in an organization. It is each person’s responsibility to make sure that they are a cultural fit before they engage with a new organization or team.

Human resources, as the heart of an organization, is the driver of culture within an organization. The recruitment process and interaction with Human Resources will be a very accurate tool to evaluate the true culture of an organization, not relying only on what they tell you.

How do you evaluate culture? What is your success and failure stories? Please share your thoughts on the subject in the comments.

Originally published on Medium: https://everydayagile.com/how-to-tell-if-a-company-is-really-agile-d5db1104c3b4