In years to come, what will be written about 2020? There are some obvious events that will undoubtedly monopolise much of the headlines and research. Yet one thing that probably doesn’t naturally come to mind is what has felt like the largest, most concentrated exercise in organisational agility.

We’ve experienced an organisational equivalent of the Apollo 13 mission over the past nine months and counting—an exercise in how to save organisations and respond to changing environments and operating constraints. We’re living through a period, which is still going on, that has been filled with case studies of resilience and agility. This blog considers the importance of organisations in how they adapt to respond, rebound and reinvent through the pandemic.

Houston, we have a problem

The NASA Apollo 13 mission launched on 11 April 1970. Two days into the three-day journey to the moon, disaster struck. A malfunction caused the spacecraft to lose two of the three fuel cells and release its oxygen into space. NASA stopped the problem from becoming a disaster through ingenuity, intelligence and unparalleled teamwork. A well-documented part of the story is the resolve shown by the mission control team by reportedly saying that “failure is not an option” and that no matter how difficult the challenge, they would get through the adversity of the situation to safely bring the crew home. The successful outcome was due to an incredible number of factors, including teamwork, leadership and a mission-orientated approach to solving problems. One capability that was also prevalent was organisational agility. 

The difference between those that evolve and extinction

In highly uncertain and volatile times, the same set of skills employed by the Apollo team are needed to help organisations navigate adversity. People have been at the centre of how leading organisations adapt how they operate during these times. Agility involves the ability to change direction rapidly. If I think about it in a sporting context this can take many forms, from simple footwork to moving the entire body in the opposite direction while running at a high speed. Thus, agility has a speed component, but this is not the most important component of this trait. Agility goes beyond just speed. It includes balance, coordination, and the ability to react to a change in the environment. In context of the events of 2020, agility is the ability for organisations to respond quickly in a coordinated way to a changing external environment, making the difference between those that evolve and those who become extinct.

Unprecedented levels of change

Arguably making the comparison between the Apollo 13 mission and what organisations have experienced in 2020 is a big call. If we consider the drastic and fast moving changes to organisations’ external environments, and then overlay the “traditional” challenges of responding to customer and market changes while keeping employees safe, this year’s events have created a significantly more difficult management ask. The unprecedented amount of change that organisations have had to and continue to face has been extraordinary. They are having to adapt how they are structured, how they work, with whom they work, and how they collaborate at speed. People and technology are at the centre of these changes. Technology has become a key enabler for new work practices, impacting an employee’s career journey by shaping the future of work for years to come. 

A new future of work is clearly achievable

The events of 2020 have reaffirmed that humans are highly adaptable. The speed at which people changed the way they work and embraced new technologies has clearly demonstrated that changes in the way we work moving forward is clearly achievable if executed with a clear purpose and leadership. 

For organisations to move to a more agile approach, it is important to focus on the outcomes they want, starting by assessing readiness and maturity across skills, process and technology. Organisations moving to agile methods should start their journey by establishing a clearly laid out plan of actions. 

Planning requires bringing the right people together from within the organization as well as trusted partner to determine common objectives, goals and key milestones, as well as to think through a clear strategy for adoption.

Innovative workplace practices and employee journeys

As the dynamics of a different workplace become the norm, organisations have several opportunities and challenges. Leaders in workplace management recognise they need to pivot to become more agile organizations to become more adaptive and resilient. Using technology and focusing on people, they are implementing innovative workplace practices that adhere to new government constraints whilst enabling their employees to thrive and change, which in turn, enables their businesses to thrive.


CGI has authored white papers on mastering business agility and enabling the future of work to help leaders take actions that help their organisations not only respond during this critical time, but reinvent ways of working to emerge from it stronger than before. If you would like to explore these topics with me, please reach out and connect.