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Education competencies: Organizational agility

This competency is one in a set of complete functional and behavioral qualities that, when fully realized, can help lead to professional success. View all competencies .


Knowledgeable about how organizations work; gets things done both through formal and informal channels; effectively maneuvers through complex political situations.

Proficiency level

Level 1: Basic Level 2: Intermediate Level 3: Advanced Level 4: Expert
Understands the reasoning behind key policies, practices, and procedures Understands the origin and reasoning behind key policies, practices, and procedures Understands the origin and reasoning behind key policies, practices, and procedures, and diplomatically communicates that to others Understands and appreciates the origins and reasoning behind key policies, practices, and procedures, and is involved with their evolution
Aware of the cultures of organizations Understands the cultures of organization and acknowledges corporate politics as a reality Is cognizant of organizational culture and politics, and appropriately adjusts personal style to be effective Studies other organizational cultures and politics to glean insight and to gain fresh perspective of his or her own organization
Can get things done through formal channels Gets things done, both through formal channels and the informal network Builds numerous and effective relationships through personal networks inside and outside the organization Is a consummate networker who can initiate relationships within and between organizations that leverage the strengths and capabilities of all parties
Works well with his or her supervisor and coworkers Relates well to and regularly interacts with both authority figures and peers Advises others on how to deal with complex political situations Is actively sought after in order to provide guidance and assistance in dealing with complex political situations
Can work his or her way through touchy situations Maneuvers smoothly through complex political situations Anticipates complex problems and watches for telltale indicators that warrant intervention

Identifies where the land mines are and plans his or her approach accordingly

Overdoing organizational agility

  • May be seen as too political and spending too much time maneuvering for advantage
  • May spend too much time and energy working on issues that lack substance
  • May not be trusted, telling others what they expect to hear rather than what he or she knows to be true
  • May overstate what he or she knows
  • May be seen as manipulative and scheming

Essential questions

To improve your proficiency, ask yourself the following questions on a regular basis:

  • With whom will I network this week?
  • Do I recognize and take my issues through the proper channels of my organization?
  • Can I explain to others why certain policies and procedures are in place and needed?
  • How, when, and where will I interact this week with those in authority in our organization?
  • How, when, and where will I interact this week with my peers in our organization?
  • How can I personally connect with someone I perceive as a mover and a shaker in our organization?

To avoid overdoing organizational agility, ask yourself:

  • Am I spending too much time and effort trying to gaining favor?
  • Am I too concerned with pleasing others?
  • Am I wasting time on inconsequential issues?

Interview questions

  • Being cognizant of organizational culture and politics is useful in many circumstances. Tell me about a time that demonstrates your ability to appropriately adjust your personal style for the purpose of being more effective because you understood the dynamics of a specific organizational culture and its politics.
  • Tell me about a time that demonstrates your skill to both anticipate and solve complex political problems.
  • Describe a situation that demonstrates your skill in building and using effective relationships and networks, both inside and outside of an organization.
  • Describe a situation that demonstrates your skill to maneuver through complex political situations.
  • Describe a time that demonstrates your skill to anticipate, plan for, and mitigate complex political situations.

Learning on the job

Learning on your own: These self-development remedies will help you build your skill(s).
  • Get an assessment: Try to do an honest self-assessment on your skill at getting things done smoothly. Ask others you work with for feedback.
  • Shake things up: Do something different; try things you don't usually do. Learn from others who do things more effectively than you.
  • Leave a positive impression and be people-sensitive: Craft your style to leave positive impressions; for example, be a good listener. Recognize people's differences and that each requires special treatment and consideration.
  • Think equity: Provide help as well as ask for it. Appeal to the common good. Establish reciprocity.
  • Assess people and learn to read non-verbals: Determine who really wants to help and what they want in return. Watch for changes in body posture (crossed arms, staring). Do a live-process check.
  • Understand the complexity of organizations: While it's possible an organization's structure is simple, most are not. Know on whom you can rely to expedite things and get things done.
  • Understand an organization's function: Look beyond what you see to what's in the background. Determine the demand characteristics or requirements of each situation or person, and select from among the various skills, tones, and styles to find the best approach to make things work.
  • Have patience; keep political conflicts small: Know the steps necessary to get things done, and be patient enough to follow the process. Stop once in a while to let things run their course. Avoid extreme statements, and separate the people from the problem. If you can't agree on a solution, agree on a procedure to keep things in motion.
  • Practice responses and be flexible: Mentally rehearse scenarios. Gather information and prepare countermoves. Go to the toughest critic first to get the worst case out first. Have a contingency plan.
  • Get to know the movers and the shakers: Learn who the people are who get things done in the organization. Learn from them. Likewise, avoid the resisters and the stoppers.
Learning from develop-in-place assignments: These part-time develop-in-place assignments will help you build your skill(s).
  • Integrate diverse systems, processes, or procedures across decentralized or dispersed units.
  • Plan for and start up something small (athletic program, suggestion system).
  • Launch a new project, procedure, or curriculum.
  • Relaunch an existing project or procedure that is not going well.
  • Be a change agent; champion a significant change, and work toward implementation.
  • Take on a tough and undoable project, one that others have tried and failed.
Learning more from your plan: These additional remedies will help make this development plan more effective for you.
  • Learning to learn better:
    • Monitor yourself more closely and get off your autopilot. Look at each situation from a fresh perspective. Ask yourself questions consistently, and try new solutions for old problems.
    • Be alert to learnings when faced with transitions. Review what is similar and what is different before transitioning between old and new situations. Determine which past lessons and rules apply and which need to be changed.
    • Pre-sell an idea to a key stakeholder. Identify those whose support you need. Collect information you need to be persuasive, and try to pre-sell your solutions.
    • Sell something to a tough group or audience. Understand opposing viewpoints; find common ground. Prepare yourself with your best data and arguments.
    • Rehearse successful tactics, strategies, and actions. Mentally imagine how you will act before you actually present. Anticipate reactions and your response to them. Consider best- and worst-case scenarios, and rehearse staying under control.
    • Examine why you judge people the way you do. List the people you like and dislike and why. Discern what you have in common with them.
  • Learning from experience, feedback, and other people:
    • Learn from those in authority. Distance yourself from your feelings, and analyze what they do and do not do well. Choose to imitate the successful behavior.
    • Learn from interviewing others. Ask what, how, and why they do what they do, where they learned it, and how they keep it current and relative.
    • Learn by observing others. Objectively study what they do.
    • Get feedback from peers and colleagues. Promote trust to get honest, quality feedback.
    • Be cautious of feedback obtained in temporary and extreme contexts. It likely won’t reflect your normal behavior.
    • Use multiple models. Select role models of towering strengths (or glaring weaknesses). Learn from characteristics rather than from the whole person.
    • Consolidate what you learn from people. Write down rules or principles you learn, and share them with others.
    • Learn from poor authority figures. Determine what makes them bad examples, if you are part of the problem, and if others regard them the same way. Avoid reacting out of anger and frustration, and resolve to not imitate poor behavior.
    • Learn from bad situations and mistakes. Determine why you made a mistake. Be resourceful and integrate what you learn into future situations.
  • Learning from courses:
    • Participate in orientation events that communicate the strategies, mission, and goals of your organization.

Recommended readings

  • Alessandra, Tony, Ph.D., and Michael J. O'Connor, Ph.D.The Platinum Rule.New York: Warner Books, 1996.
  • Ashkenas, Ronald N. (Ed.), Dave Ulrich, Todd Jick, Steve Kerr, and Lawrence A. Bossidy.The Boundaryless Organization: Breaking the Chains of Organization Structure, Revised and Updated.New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Inc., 2002.
  • Aubuchon, Norbert.The Anatomy of Persuasion.New York: AMACOM, 1997.
  • Brache, Alan P.How Organizations Work.New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2002.
  • Dominguez, Linda R.How to Shine at Work.New York: McGraw-Hill Trade, 2003.
  • Dobson, Michael S., and Deborah S. Dobson.Enlightened Office Politics: Understanding, Coping With and Winning the Game—Without Losing Your Soul.New York: AMACOM, 2001.
  • Drucker, Peter F.Managing the Non-Profit Organization.New York: HarperCollins, 1990.
  • Edel, T.R.Wake Me When It’s Time to Work: Surviving Meetings, Office Games, and the People Who Love Them.Houston, TX: Cashman Dudley, 1999.
  • Finkelstein, Sydney.Why Smart Executives Fail: And What You Can Learn from Their Mistakes.New York: Portfolio, 2003.
  • Hawley, Casey Fitts.100+ Tactics for Office Politics.New York: Barrons Educational Series, 2001.
  • Honold, Linda, and Robert J. Silverman.Organizational DNA.Palo Alto, CA: Davies-Black Publishing, 2002.
  • Janasz, Suzanne C., Karen O. Dowd, and Beth Z. Schneider.Interpersonal Skills in Organizations.New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin, 2001.
  • Kissinger, Henry.Diplomacy.New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994.
  • Korten, David C.When Corporations Rule the World.San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2001.
  • Lareau, William.Dancing With the Dinosaur: Learning to Live in the Corporate Jungle.Clinton, NJ: New Win Publishing, 1994.
  • Linsky, Martin, and Ronald A. Heifetz.Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading.Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2002.
  • Machiavelli, Niccolò.The Prince.Translated by W. K. Marriott. Introduced by Herbert Butterfield. [Abridged ed.]. Ann Arbor, MI: J. W. Edwards, [1946] [1958, 1968]; New York: Bantam Books, 1984 (Reissue edition).
  • Manchester, William.On Mencken: Essays.New York: Knopf, 1980.
  • Nalbantian, Haig R., Richard A. Guzzo, Dave Kieffer, and Jay Doherty.Play to Your Strengths.New York: McGraw-Hill Trade, 2003.
  • Paine, Lynn Sharp.Value Shift.New York: McGraw-Hill Trade, 2003.
  • Parekh, Bhikhu.Gandhi’s Political Philosophy.Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1989.
  • Reardon, Kathleen Kelley.The Secret Handshake: Mastering the Politics of the Business Inner Circle.New York: Currency/Doubleday, 2001.
  • Roosevelt, Franklin D., Buhite, Russell D., and David W. Levy, (Eds.).FDR’s Fireside Chats.Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1992.
  • Sathe, Vijay.Corporate Entrepreneurship: Top Managers and New Business Creation.Boston: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
  • Segil, Larraine, Marshall Goldsmith, and James Belasco (Eds.).Partnering: The New Face of Leadership.New York: AMACOM, 2003.
  • Silberman, Melvin L., and Freda Hansburg.Peoplesmart: Developing Your Interpersonal Intelligence.San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2000.
  • Walton, Mark S.Generating Buy-In.New York: AMACOM, 2003.

Next steps

Copyright © 1992, 1996, 2001-2003 by Robert W. Eichinger and Michael M. Lombardo. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This work is derived from the LEADERSHIP ARCHITECT® Competency Library developed and copyrighted by Robert W. Eichinger and Michael M. Lombardo for Lominger Limited, Inc.

This competency is one in a set of complete functional and behavioral qualities that, when fully realized, can help lead to professional success.

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