In an ever-changing world, businesses need to adapt quickly to survive. Agile working is crucial to this, and the team at Adventures with Agile know this better than anyone. Under the leadership of Founder and CEO Simon Powers, the firm has achieved amazing success. Named CEO of the Year, 2022 – United Kingdom, London in CEO Monthly, we caught up with Simon to find out more about what drives him forward, and what has kept him and his team at the forefront of the agile revolution.
When things go wrong, it’s easy to assume that other people are to blame. This is especially true of those in leadership positions. These businesses are often run by people who struggle to adapt to changing circumstances. In the modern world, change is not only the only constant, but happening at an increasingly fast rate. Change happens at the top, no matter how big the organisation, and the team at Adventures with Agile are ideally equipped to bring that change to life.
For corporates, governments, charities, and other large entities around the world, this small but mighty firm has managed to establish itself as a pioneer in the world of agile working. Over the years, the team have specialised in building safe spaces for growth, innovation and risk management. While many leaders believe that agile is for software, it is very much a mindset that involves an entire business. There are enormous benefits that can come from this way of working if leaders are willing to take the first step into uncertainty.
Guiding people to run businesses better is something that Simon Powers feels passionately about. “I had spent many years working in organisations and as a freelancer, going in and doing work,” he tells us, but after six months, I’d lost enthusiasm for the job. It was always the same old problems. I started questioning myself: “Why did I start moving jobs every six months and so on? Is it me? Is it the people? Is it the technology? I loved them all.”
For Simon, the world of work was one which was inherently static and inflexible. Once established and successful, many businesses don’t change because they don’t see the need to. “It occurred to me that it was the culture of most organisations that are so dead,” he explains. “We come into the office with a quarter of ourselves. No wonder I wasn’t happy because I like to bring my full self to whatever I do, and I had to leave half of that at home. I had a choice. Either put up and shut up, quit work altogether, or do something about it. Change the world of work, change the culture of our organisations.”
Change is not easy in any situation, but it was a new challenge which Simon brought his full self to. Uncertain if he was the only one, he organised a business leaders’ meetup, with a guest speaker who would talk about culture and work. Eighty people turned up. “I realised that everyone feels like this,” he says with a smile. “So many people have wanted to make a difference to their way of working. I thought I was alone, but loads of them were interested.”
From these humble beginnings, the meetups continued. They soon grew from a passion project into the thriving success that is Adventures with Agile. The business offers impressive enterprise and team coaching to executive teams and HR departments. Over the years the team have managed to transform how firms operate. “It’s not about people doing a good job,” Simon tells us. “A good job can be the wrong job to do. It’s about finding new ways to adapt to new situations.”
Since founding the business in 2013, Simon and his team have had to learn and adapt quickly. Whilst many competitors focus on implementing standard processes and frameworks, Adventures with Agile has always prioritised staff capability. “It seemed to me that there is one common element in every organisation, and that is people,” Simon tells us. “Our values come from a deep understanding of how people face, embrace, or reject change. Our models and approach are based on a deep respect for people, and a belief that most people want to do the right thing, work hard, and create great products, services, and experiences”
The successful expansion of Adventures with Agile has been a direct result of this approach. “Enabling and empowering people has always worked in an organisation’s favour,” Simon observes, “and when coupled with our belief of thinking big and starting small and incrementally, we have been able to grow ourselves and our clients progressively whilst keeping risk and disruption low.”
Perhaps one of the keys to the team’s success is the way in which they view themselves as partners as opposed to purely consultants. If a business is not interested in change, then Adventures with Agile will not work with them. “We have been able to grow a strong loyal culture across our network through authenticity and inclusion and have been able to keep adapting without burning out through our use of our own models and approaches,” Simon tells us.
This commitment to authenticity not only keeps the team grounded, but has allowed Simon and his team to develop a tremendous reputation within the industry at large. Simon’s team haven’t had the need to engage in traditional sales activities. Instead potential clients approach the team, having heard about them through others. “Our business is about people and that means relationships are everything,” Simon says. “This starts from the first interaction with our clients and usually lasts many years. We attract the right clients who resonate with our approach as they read our thought leadership about organisational change and want us to create that capability inside their own organisations.” Because one of the core aspects of agile is creating the space to make that change, it’s easy to see why many company leaders struggle to adapt to the challenges the team present.
Like many businesses, Adventures with Agile had to change dramatically as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Our coaching and training were all in-person,” Simon explains. “Overnight, we lost all our sales.” With a full staff to maintain, Simon and the Adventures with Agile team did what they do best. They adapted. They changed. And they did it fast. They were the first organisation in their sector to offer courses publicly online, a mere six weeks after the announcement came through. “I attribute this incredible turn around to our company culture and our ability to enact the agile ways of working that we help our clients with,” Simon says, proudly.
The continued success of Adventures with Agile has driven massive changes in how the team operates. It has also empowered the team to make new and exciting decisions. “The most significant shift for us in the next twelve months though will be the formation of a new organisation to allow our existing AWA global brand to focus on training,” Simon explains. “The new organisation will focus on supplying highly trained coaches to work inside of organisations to build their change and coaching capability. Unlike the larger consultancies we are not offering to do the change for our clients, we are instead helping them build internal capability so they can make the changes they need themselves.”
For Simon, therefore, the future is bright indeed. “As we grow, I am learning more about myself and how I conduct business,” he tells us. “I love learning for learning’s sake and each year I like to take on a new personal challenge to learn something new.” He has just released his book, “Change”, a guide to enterprise agile coaching. Looking forward, he’s planning to spend his time writing more articles and white papers around human-led change. As the world continues to adapt in the post-pandemic world, it’s clear that the guidance of people like Simon is going to be crucial.
“T we are successful is because we do what we teach others,” Simon says as we round off our interview. “We eat our own cake. By embodying what we teach we have not only proven our approach works for our clients, we have proven it works through our own company.” For Simon, agile isn’t just an approach which applies to business. It’s one which will begin to shape the world in which we live. “Nobody knows what the future will hold. There’s enormous ambiguity – things aren’t clear and still have to navigate through. There’s no perfect route, but agility gives a way to include everyone as far as possible.” We can’t wait to see more of the world he hopes to create come to life.