How can education learn and benefit from ING and their new ‘Agile’ way of working?

By the TEDxAmsED Content Creators - Apr 11th, 2017

Business is, unlike classical education, constantly undergoing change with new methods and trends. The newest trend (originally developed in the Information and Communication Technology sector, or ICT) is working according to the philosophy of ‘agile working.’ This method gets rid of the classical way of working and has, instead, a much stronger focus on rapid change. Some characteristics of agile working are: the close collaboration of employees with different expertise, cutting complex projects into manageable pieces that are close to the customer, and the use of ‘Scrum’ boards that enhance the visibility of the workload and the division of tasks. This revolutionary method has not just been adopted by new- age businesses such as Spotify, Google and Netflix, but ING has also implemented this philosophy in its organization since 2015, and is the first bank to do so. This change has had great impact on the bank and its employees, but it has definitely been a successful one.

Could this method be applied to school systems too? Feike Dunnewijk, responsible for HR policy and ‘tooling’ regarding organizational development (agile working) at ING, seems to think so. We interviewed Feikje on this subject and asked the question: what lessons can be drawn from your (new) way of working, and how can these be implemented by our schools?

“Working in teams consisting of different expertise could also work very well when applied to schools”
“The biggest change in our organization,” she tells us, “is working in so-called ‘squads.’ Squads are small teams consisting of employees, all with their own expertise, who work together towards a mutual purpose. Where previously personnel worked in his or her own business unit (marketing, IT, etc.), now a team holds members with different experts. A team consists of, for example, marketers (or ‘customer journey experts’, as we call them), and IT developers, all with their own specialization. They work side by side in a room, set up goals together and are, as a team, responsible for the final product, as well as individually responsible for their own expertise. This makes it possible to test a new idea directly by using the knowledge of the individual experts.”

“This way of working could be easily applied to the educational system because,” as Feikje argues: “why should pupils be good at all subjects? Now, everyone needs to pass each test, but wouldn’t it be better to look at the individual qualities of the pupils and strengthen those?”

“You can team up the students, letting them work on a joint project where every child can show his or her talent. Divide the students into groups consisting of those with different strengths: someone who is great at math, someone who stands out in linguistics and a creative mind who has a talent for drawing. Let them collaborate on a project where each student can add something to the team and everyone is responsible for their own part, but also where they can see clearly what the others in their team are doing. Let them work in these teams and you’ll see them flourish. The creative one will shine, but the others too can finally show off their talents.”

“The younger children are when they discover their talents, the more they can benefit from this in their adult life when they can say “this is what I thrive in.”
“Our school system should therefore focus much more on the qualities of individuals, such as what happens in corporate life. In business, and at ING in particular, ‘learning’ gets special attention. We focus on learning by implementing a personal development program (giving employees’ insight into their own talents), training and exchange opportunities that enhance the employees’ growth and development of talents.”
“Nowadays we often see that adults are not yet aware of their own talents, but the younger children are when they discover their talent, the more they can benefit from this in their adult life when they can say: “this is what I thrive in.” Once you have that insight of the talents you possess, you can work much more efficiently to increase this talent and be at your best. Schools have an important function in achieving this goal: teachers should hold a much more supportive role to serve the talents of children.”

“Scrumboards give clear visibility and direct overview, which works well for children too.”
“The use of scrum boards, used in nearly every ING team, would be a great addition within schools. A scrum board is nothing more than a board where all tasks written on post-it notes are shifted from the ‘to do’ side to the ‘done’ side, within a certain timeframe. There is a clear division of tasks, and by making use of the board every member of the team can see what needs to be done and which tasks are completed, openly marking the progress of the project.”

“For children too, this way of working can be effective,” Feike says. “Currently, they often have no overview of what is expected from them while teachers have a clear sense of the level that has to be met by the students at the end of the year. Let’s take math for example: by visualizing the different subjects on the scrum board (telling time, multiplication tables, mental arithmetic, etc.) every child knows exactly what is expected of them and when, plus they can monitor their own progress.”

“Experimenting sounds risky, but when you keep it very small, it actually is the most risk avoidant way of working.”
“Another example of agile working,” according to Feikje, “is working by trial and error. Within ING this method is often used and has turned out to be a very successful approach when used on a small scale. A new app, for example, will now only be tested by a small group of 100 consumers. If it does not work, they will try it again a month later, with an adapted version.”
“When you shift this focus to education, the school system tends to fully draft an idea before they implement it,” but as Feikje argues, “why don’t you just test it on a small scale!?
Give teachers the opportunity to try out a new approach on a very small scale (with only a few students) by doing things just a little bit differently than usual. Observe what happens—what does and does not work? If it doesn’t work, there is no reason to panic; it is actually the most risk avoidant way of working because you have kept it small. If it does work, you can implement this method or idea for the entire class. This gives teachers more autonomy and room for creativity, but also benefits the students who learn to contribute, give feedback and see for themselves that making mistakes is not a bad thing, but actually quite valuable.”

“Flexibilty is crucial for success in the future.”
“Overall,” Feikje states, “I feel that flexibility is crucial for success in the future. The question we need to pose then is: are you, as a human, capable of adjusting yourself to your changing environment? In our educational system, we have to start teaching this adaptability as early as possible. In this sense, education should have to learn from the ever-changing business environment, and schools have the task to create and implement the new ideas.”

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