Interview
"Agile leadership attracts agile employees"

Dr. Sabine Sickinger, Director of Organizational Strategy and Administration at the Fraunhofer Institute for Cognitive Systems IKS, talks in the following interview about how dynamic research work succeeds through agile project organization.

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Dr. Sabine Sickinger
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Dr. Sabine Sickinger is the Director of Organizational Strategy and Administration at the Fraunhofer Institute for Cognitive Systems IKS

Frage

Hans-Thomas Hengl:

There has been a lot of talk about agile project management over the past few years. It sounds like a buzzword from an American business school…

Antwort

Sabine Sickinger:

It’s a lot more than that of course. Agile project management, which you frequently hear about in this context, is simply an element of agility. In particular, agility and agile work environments also encompass agile leadership, plus the organizational culture and structure. It always includes the employees as well. People are always at the heart of agile work.

Frage

Hans-Thomas Hengl:

And that was different until now?

Antwort

Sabine Sickinger:

Absolutely. Agility offers a clear contrast to the conventional hierarchical work structures that we have been familiar with to date. It no longer has to do with authority or an authoritarian leadership style, but represents a totally new approach to leading and developing a company and its employees. The concept specifically targets companies.

Frage

Hans-Thomas Hengl:

The question is, how can a research institute profit from an agile approach?

Antwort

Sabine Sickinger:

Agility and agile work environments require the establishment of goals with the employees, but guardrails are set up within these objectives within which the employees can carry out their activities independently and with relatively wide latitude, plus they can assume responsibility and strengthen their decisionmaking skills. This helps them identify more strongly with the goals of the company or institute, and encourages them to address issues and problems with courage and curiosity and find solutions. At the end of the day, the entire institute benefits. Processes become leaner and more efficient and you sense a much higher degree of dynamics, which allows the institute to react to changes from the outside more rapidly.

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Frage

Hans-Thomas Hengl:

What does agility mean with respect to Fraunhofer IKS specifically?

Antwort

Sabine Sickinger:

First and foremost, agility affects the management culture. If we look at employees with and without management responsibility, then in both instances we need completely new skills that are currently not required to this extent in companies with conventional, hierarchical structures.

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Moving away from inflexible, rigid training and education plans, and shifting to flexible, situational-dependent learning formats that are aligned with the requirements of the projects and the needs of the employees.

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Dr. Sabine Sickinger

Director of Organizational Strategy and Administration

Frage

Hans-Thomas Hengl:

Which skills?

Antwort

Sabine Sickinger:

We’re talking about skills such as the ability to work independently and structure one’s own work, the courage to make decisions on one’s own and to assume responsibility. It’s also about a completely new learning culture that we want to usher in at Fraunhofer IKS. That means moving away from inflexible, rigid training and education plans, and shifting to flexible, situation-dependent learning formats that are aligned with the requirements of the projects and the needs of the employees. That means we need employees whose skills are decidedly different from those needed in traditional company or institute environments.

Frage

Hans-Thomas Hengl:

That certainly has an impact on future recruiting.

Antwort

Sabine Sickinger:

Of course. Fraunhofer ISK should also grow significantly from the standpoint of its personnel strengths. That means we have to already begin the recruiting process. It’s really important that we find employees who are well-suited to and are willing to accept an agile work environment and enjoy working within one. In other words, we want people whose mindset fits within the agile structures that we are building. I’m convinced that agile leadership attracts agile employees.

Frage

Hans-Thomas Hengl:

What is Fraunhofer IKS focusing on with respect to the issue of agility?

Antwort

Sabine Sickinger:

At the heart is the organization structure – how we organize Fraunhofer IKS in order to carry out our projects, our research activities and deal with the customers, all with the goal of solving their problems. We will go down completely new paths, away from conventional, hierarchical-based departments. Instead, we will create an agile foundation that allows the institute to operate at the program and project level. That means program or department managers don’t necessarily have to have disciplinary responsibility as well.

This approach will also be reflected in our new facility in Garching. We will move away from long hallways that branch off to single offices, which is really not conducive to good communications, and create a lot of open spaces. We will think about coworking spaces, or offering environments in which everyone can find whatever they need to carry out their activities at any time: more peace and quiet, more communication and information sharing, or even space for virtual collaboration.

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