White Paper: Tensions in Organisations Transforming to Agility

Tensions in Organisations Transforming to Agility

Research from Agile Research Network 


Transforming into an agile organisation is challenging because it involves complex changes across the organisation including changes to strategy, structure, culture, operations, and technology. Although much has been written about organisational agility, practitioners still call for authentic accounts and concrete experiences to help them understand how to transform. This article is based on three case studies of diverse organisations transforming to agility and provides an account of each transformation. Each organisation chose a different focus for their transformation: culture change, strategic change, and operational change. Each organisation faced challenges that resulted in tensions. We present 13 tensions from three cases, which illustrate the kinds of tension that organisations face in agile transformations. We consider these 13 tensions through the lens of paradox theory and thereby produce both practical guidance and theoretical contributions. We show how questions generated from this perspective may be used to guide transformation leaders and managers in addressing the tensions they will meet. Our findings provide empirical evidence for the tension categories in paradox theory and show that tensions occur during transformations to agility and not just in fully agile organisations. 

Transforming to organisational agility is hard. It requires considerable time, effort and perseverance, involving changes to strategy, structure, culture, operations, and technology. Much has been written about organisational change and transformation and although frameworks and guidance for organisational agility exist [8], practitioners still call for more examples to support them in answering “How to” questions. They seek authentic accounts and concrete experiences of organisational transformation, rather than theoretical models to help them understand how to transform, and how to address the challenges they face. 

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Agile Research Network

Agile Research Network

The Agile Research Network (ARN) is a collaboration between researchers at two UK universities at the forefront of investigating agile methodologies. The Open University (OU) has a strong research record in using agile methods in practice. The University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) has a strong record of linking research, teaching and practice through industry-based research and practitioner-focussed Masters and doctoral programmes. ARN is funded through a number of sources; currently, it is funded by the two university members and the Agile Business Consortium.
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Agile Business Consortium

Agile Business Consortium

The Agile Business Consortium is the professional body for business agility. We’re all about community – whether you’re a multinational working through a large-scale transformation, a new start-up, or a contractor, we can support you to achieve more, to grow more, and to build your business agility. As a global not-for-profit organisation that’s been around for over 25 years, our knowledge and experience around agile competencies and behaviours can offer you the guidance you need to reach your agility goals. Together with our partners, we create and share agile research, case studies, resources and tools that help you compete in today’s uncertain world. A registered not-for-profit, we’re the world’s longest-standing agile-orientated organisation. We’re the brains behind AgilePM®, AgileBA®, AgilePgM®, AgilePfM™ and AgileDS™. Based in the UK, we have members in over 30 countries around the world.


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