An Agile Inspired Model of Personal Development

Agile Can Help Simplify Personal Development

After years of dealing with ineffective performance and development systems, and when reflecting on the success of agile in achieving more meaningful and lasting change, an obvious question emerged. Can agile teach us something about how organisations do personal development?

Research shows leadership and personal development can get lost in systems, plans and processes. The policies, forms and awkward development discussions can become more about filling in boxes than undertaking actions that lead to learning and growth. In contrast agile is altering change management by providing the environment, tools and support for action to simply get the job done. Agile’s high trust environment incorporates responsiveness and delivery which follows an experimental trial and error model, rather than a highly structured and inflexible mechanistic approach.

With this in mind, it seems an agile inspired development model should promote the same experimental mindset and focus on seizing opportunities that are present in the moment. This recognises that learning and growth opportunities may not always correspond with our carefully crafted plans and expectations however well thought out and structured they may be. Also small actions can build and create the momentum and confidence for further change. This is about accepting that all the circumstances that may provide learning and growth are not known, and a flexible mindset is needed to ensure readiness to take advantage of any opportunities as and when they arise.

The following five points draw together perspectives from Agile, Mindset, Mindfulness, Motivation and Coaching that collectively provide an agile inspired model as an alternative to traditional mechanistic thinking and actions around personal and leadership development.

Promote small actions in the right direction to fuel learning as well as inform next steps

Agile is about small, meaningful and value added change not huge cumbersome projects. Personal development can also work with a similar concept through small meaningful actions that are timely and relevant to the individual’s desired development route, as and when the opportunity presents. These small growth actions can be powerful disrupters of ineffective habits, and also serve to provide feedback on what might be possible in the future to further enhance an individual’s development.

Encourage moment by moment awareness to challenge habitual, autopilot behaviour

In order to identify these learning opportunities, learn to switch off auto pilot and practice being more mindful. This will enable connection and engagement with moment by moment experience and, through this, opportunities for learning that may otherwise be missed. With an agile informed approach to development, learning moves from being about rigid action plans in a performance review or goal setting workshop to focusing on learning opportunities that emerge through engagement with day to day interactions, issues and events.

Promote a growth mindset rather than build more process and structure

To grasp opportunities as they arise a different mindset is required. Carol Dweck developed the idea of a growth or learning mindset, and it is fast becoming mainstream in a number of large organisations. A growth mindset means that individuals are encouraged to engage with learning through having an experimental, action oriented mindset despite the possibility of failure. Actions, errors and reflection become the currency of change, not elaborate and complex plans, processes and systems

Connect behaviour change with individuals’ personal ‘why’ and organisational values

Evidence shows that if new behaviours are linked to a central and deeper meaning such as our personal purpose and passion, we are more likely act despite the discomfort associated with the new experience. These intrinsically motivated actions occur when individual’s link directly to their fundamental vision of themselves. Also by building employee awareness of organisational values and strategy the confidence to back off traditional development process controls and put more trust in employees will be created.

Increase coaching and reflection to support learning and inform future focus

To support this change the role of leaders in an agile development model is not only about helping people identify opportunities to learn and grow, it is also about supporting them to sustain the discomfort necessary to try something different. Providing the psychological safety and support to encourage experimentation with new ways of working to build capability becomes the key role for leaders. So rather than directing and managing development systems and processes, leaders focus on building trust through coaching and support to help individual’s tap into their purpose, strengths and authentic core.

Learning in an agile informed development paradigm has the potential to enable people to more quickly acquire the skills needed to collaborate, build teams and respond to changing circumstances. Leaders too will find a new purpose based on a clearly defined coaching and support role. The challenge is to replace the mechanical thinking about human behaviour and motivation with an approach that supports mindful engagement and moment by moment learning and growth powered by an individual’s purpose, strengths and authenticity.

For more on how to benefit from practical mindfulness strategies in the workplace go to

Author: Graeme ByeApril 11, 2018


Graeme Bye is an organisational psychologist with a background in corporate organisations in HR and Leadership Development.

He coaches individuals and teams and includes mindfulness practices and techniques to improve effectiveness, manage stress and achieve focus.