This week we were fortunate enough to hear from both Andreas Holmer, Co-Founder & CEO of MAQE Bangkok and Arinya Talerngsri, Chief Capability Officer, MD and Founder of SEAC about the future of Agile transformation in Thailand, why Mindset is crucial to change and why people are the key to driving organisations forward.
Let’s start with some introductions. For those of us who don’t know you yet please share with us who you are and what you do?
I’m Andreas Holmer, I am a designer by trade. I’m CEO and co-founder of MAQE and I’m also a bit of a writer with my Work Matters newsletter that goes out every Friday.
I’m Arinya Talerngsri. I am CCO, MD and Founder of SEAC (South East Asia Center). I created SEAC for the purpose of helping organisations in Thailand gain strong, competitive capability on a global scale.
A recent study showed that only 9% of organisations in Thailand are at the advanced stages of “digital agility”. What are you seeing as the skills needed by organisations that want to be successful with agile ways of working?
Digital Agility is a subset of business agility. It’s the ability to reconfigure the organisation according to changing circumstances. As everyone knows, we have had a lot of changing circumstances in the last few years. So to be able to rapidly pivot according to changing customer needs is key. But while we talk about Digital Agility, it’s only an enabler. The real crux is people. How we organise and how we collaborate. Digital is only a tool. It’s what we do with it that matters.
At SEAC, we’ve understood for many years that everything begins with Mindset because Mindset drives behaviours. If you simply try to teach a new skillset without addressing the underlying mindset, the change won’t stick. So, before talking about skillsets, we need to talk about and address the mindset of an agile leader and agile practitioner.
Once this has been accomplished, we can build the skillsets and provide the toolsets. These skillsets need to support both the hard and soft sides of building digital agility. Of course, people need to be re skilled and up-skilled in the hard digital and agile skills and frameworks, but equally important are the soft skills that support what is in effect a transformation process. Agile working requires people to. collaborate, empathise, communicate, create, test, and iterate (at speed) like never before. Where we often see organisations run into problems with moving to agile is in failing to address the human side, both in terms of mindset and soft skills.
What are the trends you are seeing with agile transformation in Thailand today?
There’s a growing interest in new ways of working and this is not just in the software development space. Too often Agile is restricted to the IT or tech teams. But agility is a company-wide initiative. We’ve seen that things are moving in that direction here, but there is a lot more that needs to happen yet. It’s encouraging to see that the interest is there though.
We all know that the Covid pandemic accelerated the pace of digital transformation around the world and particularly in this region and country – accelerated by 10 years according to McKinsey. It was inspiring to see how many of our clients – particularly those involved in those industries hardest hit by lockdowns, such as hotels, retail, and food responded.
I think the challenge now is how to retain this spirit, this flexibility and willingness to embrace radically different ways of operating the business now that the very tangible threat of Covid and lockdown has faded. Thailand is a very resilient country and people with a gift for improvisation and finding a way forward in times of crisis. I believe the challenge is how turn the urgency of a crisis into a new culture and practices that preserve this bias to action, openness to experimentation, flexibility in roles, and passionate customer centricity as business returns to something like normal.
Which skills are essential for building high performance teams?
For me, the answer is trust. I have seen this personally and research suggests that high-trust organisations outperform more traditional command-and-control structures across the board. Trust allows for new ways of working and thinking. If you trust your people you can decentralise authority, dismantle rules and create an environment that fosters innovation.
Before talking about skillsets, I need to come back to my earlier point about mindset. A high-performing team is one where the team members are committed and accountable to shared goals, both within the team and in terms of the needs and goals of other teams and the organisation. In my mind, a team can only be described as high-performing if it is helping other teams and the organisation to succeed, not just because it delivers on its own narrow goals.
This requires people to be open and curious about how their work impacts those around them – and to strive to find ways to be helpful to others. The way that work is traditionally managed, and performance evaluated, can turn work into a competitive individual pursuit in which individuals endeavour to stand out and get ahead. Superficially, this leads to high-performing individuals who may be very good at what they do and very accountable on a personal level, but a group of high-performing individuals is not necessarily a high-performing team. It’s a matter of changing the mindset from “I do my job (and everyone else should do theirs)” to one of “How can I do my job in a way that helps other people do theirs?”
What can you tell me about the future of coaching within agile transformations and what are the benefits that enterprise agile coaching brings?
Coaching is different from instruction and mentoring. As change agents, we don’t tell others what to do. Our role as coaches is to help people make their own decisions, which sets them up to be more successful in their aims. They need to believe in their decisions but THEY are the domain experts.
I think Coaching is THE leadership skill for the 21st century. It also builds trust.
Agile Coaching provides practices and mental models that can drive organisational change. What to do, when to do it and why we are doing it are difficult questions to answer. But Agile Coaches can help to leapfrog that whole discussion. This helps us to spend more time on people, which is what really matters.
Agile coaches also have the framework to be able to communicate organisational change in a way that is not threatening. Change can be scary and part of our job is to make it not scary.
Any transformation is by definition a major change. It involves stopping doing many of the things that have been expected, successful, rewarded, norms and practices in the past and learning new skills, new mindsets, and new norms. This cannot happen overnight, and transformation is a process not an event. It will seem awkward, unfamiliar, even threatening. People will naturally tend to revert back to the old. ways, and it will be a case of 2 steps forward and 1 step back for quite a while until new ways of working start to create new norms.
Clearly, within this context it’s essential to have an internal cadre of people who are both experts in the agile process and also in the art of coaching. These people can provide the ongoing, on-demand, little-and-often support, encouragement, visibility, and focus that are all essential to keep the transformation front of mind and to continually build, hone, and reinforce new mindsets, processes, skills, and practices.
How can change agents and leaders within local organisations find a better way to move their whole organisation forward?
This might sound strange, given that most change and transformation initiatives are company-wide, but my suggestion would be to start small. Start with one team, department or business unit. Begin to manifest change in one place to begin with. Then you can celebrate and publicise small wins. This helps to build momentum within the wider organisation. People will then want to join in with something positive or find out more about it.
Recognise that they are involved in a transformation not a change event. Accept responsibility and recognise the fact that there is a shortage of skilled labour in the context of digital agility. It’s up to them to invest the time, effort, money, and persistence to reskill and reorient their organisation. It’s going to take time, it’s going to take a very strategic approach, and it’s going to take champions and coaches up, down, and across the business to lead the way and provide the support and safety net for people to leave their comfort zone and try something new.
How can people join the conversation and can you recommend any books to read in this space?
First, sign up for the free webinar with Simon Powers. There will be some real insights
coming out of that I think. But you can also sign up for my Work Matters newsletter, where I
talk about organisational change and the future of work on a weekly basis.
Thinking about trust and organisational change beyond IT agility, I would recommend Brave New Work by Aaron Dignan or Humanocracy by Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini. These books paint a vivid picture of what the next-generation Agile organisation looks like. Oh and I’ve heard that Change. by Simon Powers is pretty good too…
At SEAC we believe that learning is best when it is a community activity. One of the important facets of becoming more agile is embracing diversity and a ‘learn from everywhere’ mindset. Lifting Thailand’s digital and agile savvy is a tide that will lift all boats – or leave us all stranded if we miss it. So, my advice is don’t wait for your organisation to act, take responsibility for building your digital and agile capabilities to stay relevant. Join events like Simon’s upcoming webinar, read, listen and watch the huge quantity of shared experiences, lessons, and theories in books, articles, and videos. Most importantly, start talking, listening, and sharing your experiences. Become an advocate and champion in your organisation and an influencer in the wider business community. Professional social media provides a platform to share ideas and experiences. If we all get involved, we all benefit.
What does it mean to you to make a difference in the world of work?
For MAQE it means everything. Our mission is to (literally) change how the world works. We might be a technology company but we’re very aware that the problems that should be tackled are often less about tech and more about people. Digital tech is only a tool. We have to make good decisions on what to do with it. It’s what we do with tech that matters.
It’s why I founded this business 30 years ago. I was strongly inspired my parents to look to how I could help my country and region develop. Everyone could see that Asia would become the growth engine and dominant economic region in this century, and that Southeast Asia with its 650m people would change beyond recognition. When I began, Thailand was growing quickly as a manufacturing economy.
Over the last 30 years we’ve seen a rise in the service economy and now, of course, the move to digital. This is a huge opportunity and a huge challenge for Thailand. It’s an opportunity to build a front-rank high-skilled developed economy and to democratize opportunity to a much wider proportion of our people. It’s a challenge because we have a low base of highly skilled digital and agile workers, and we are surrounded by motivated competitive nations who will be happy to take our place if we don’t succeed in making this digital transformation at the national level.
So, to me, making a difference means making a difference for the almost 70m people of Thailand. It means giving as many people as possible the opportunity and choice to live a fulfilling life with an engaging career. Our company mission is ‘Empowering Lives Through Learning’, and that’s what this means, to give people choices through education and learning.
Find out for yourself about the future of Agile transformation in Thailand and bag yourself a 10% discount code for the new double ICAgile certified Enterprise Agile Coach Bootcamp, which will take place in Bangkok this November, by signing up for our FREE webinar with Simon Powers on the 6th September.