How do I foster adaptability in my team?

The art of life is a constant readjustment to our surroundings. –Kakuzo Okakaura

Last week we explored ways to maintain personal adaptability. This week we explore thinking about expanding individual adaptability to team adaptability.

Business leaders have been exploring the  topic for decades – having a team that can adapt to new opportunities, streamline, or improve has always been topical for organizations. Regardless of the consensus on the importance of an adaptable team, how to get a team of people to shift gears at a reasonable pace is still a grey area.

First understand the hurdles towards change:

The thought of change triggers our fight or flight reflexes. The concept of learning organizations, which foster learning, growth and exploration, could work well if we didn’t instinctively defend our old familiar assumptions and biases. When confronted with a new idea, or a new way of doing things, the reflex is to defend the old idea, sell the familiar concept, or preach against change. In Jim Collins book, Think Again, he refers to these responses, as the prosecutor, the politician,  or the preacher.

Author Daniel Dworkin recommends three actions that can help teams engage whole heartedly in being adaptable:

Inspire through words and actions:

By creating a compelling big picture that the team can visualize and get excited about realizing,  clears apathy and reluctance. Carol Dweck explains in her book “Mindset” that the power of visualization is huge, and can help individuals and teams become clear about a future state, and the pathway there.

The actions of moving towards a new state should be noticed, and recognized; and at the same time be modelled and turned into a learning opportunity.

Get into the feelings:

The discomfort of change is often an emotional experience. By creating a safe space where people can talk about the feeling associated with change, during and after the change, helps to overcome the emotional discomfort.

The ability to recognize and communicate about how change makes us feel – and to regulate our emotions while doing so – helps us to better navigate through it.

When the team becomes more adept at talking about feeling, we can start attaching feeling to a future state to make the drive to adapt even stronger.

Create experimentation norms:

To become more adaptive, creating a culture of experimentation is helpful. It reduces the permanent change anxiety and may even foster some curiosity in the team. While experimenting, as with all science, we should develop a clear hypothesis, measures for success, failure and something in-between. How will you normalize all three outcomes as equally valid and valuable? When and how will the team check in to assess progress and explore potential next steps?

Moving towards a post-Covid world where the pace of change will remain, having an adaptable team will remain a superpower.

Adaptability is about the powerful difference between adapting to cope and adapting to win. –Max McKeown


  2. Think Again, Jim Collins
  3. Mindset, Dr. Carol Dweck