A team of adaptive workers is a collaborative group dedicated to continually coordinating their efforts to adapt to ongoing change. Learn how to know if you had an adaptive team. In addition, discover how roles can change and how you can adapt your management strategy.
- Now let's say you have an entire team that's quite comfortable with the status quo and is completely unprepared to adapt to change. Then suppose you spent a significant amount of time helping a single worker on your team to become more adaptive. You regularly mentor that worker so they naturally come agentful, continually looking for new problems to solve, developing innovative solutions, and embracing a constantly-changing environment. Now you have one person who's an adaptive superstar, and the rest of the team isn't.
How's that working for you? How do you think the majority of the team is going to treat that highly-adaptive worker? Human nature being what it is, the most likely response will be for the team to reject that change agent. Then you'll be right back where you started. That's why it's not sufficient simply to have one or two adaptive workers. You need a team of adaptive workers, a collaborative group that's dedicated to continually coordinating their efforts to adapt to ongoing change. So how would you know if you had an adaptive team? First, the team shows that it would be empowered to determine the most important problems to be solved on an ongoing basis.
Second, the team would rapidly split those problems down to their component parts, then distribute them among the appropriate team members. Third, they demonstrate that they were continually updating their plans to reflect their renewed understanding of a changing landscape, whether from input by a stakeholder or because of a changing market condition. Fourth, once they've finished a project or initiative, they would rapidly determine their next priority. And without prompting, they take the initiative to start the next challenge.
Let's talk more about that second point, distributing problems to be solved between different team members based on their roles. There are plenty of management theories and inventories that help define the different kinds of worker skills and personal attributes, from the Myers-Briggs type indicators personality types, to Strengthsfinder's list of key capabilities. I'm not going to recommend any particular approach to understanding the different kinds of contributions that your team members might make. Choose the approach that works for you.
What is important to understand is the mix of roles on your team. That's why there's an exercise with this video, to help you define those various roles of your existing team members. What I will suggest is the process your team uses to distribute those tasks. An adaptive team will treat each new set of challenges by determining the problems to be solved and the ideal skillsets for generating successful results. They'll then distribute the tasks that need to be performed to the most appropriate team member.
An adaptive team will decide who has the closest skills, or the most relevant experience, or a similar body of knowledge, or who might be able to learn the missing skill really quickly. They won't criticize the team member if they aren't perfect at the work, or if they take a while to get up to speed. They'll simply support the team member and continually have an open and honest dialogue about how effectively the team is working together. This kind of challenge is common in under-resourced teams, whether it's in a startup or in a Skunk Works group inside an organization, maybe a non-profit or a financially-challenged company.
If you don't have the luxury of bringing in some help, whether due to time or cost, an adaptive team will figure out how to get the job done. Now, what a highly adaptive team will do is determine if the missing skillset is critical to the project. And if it's a make-or-break capability, the team will rapidly find someone outside the team to fill that hole, if they have the necessary time and budget. A highly adaptive team will be able to immediately integrate that new member into the group, giving them the information they need to be effective, and then dynamically binding as a team around the problems to be solved.
So what kind of management strategy makes possible this approach to adaptive teamwork? As you've probably guessed, it's a pretty hands-off management style, with an adaptive manager who serves mostly in a leadership and coaching role. Now, that can be uncomfortable for some managers, especially when you see the team stumbling or not working in as synchronized a manner as you think is possible. It can take a considerable amount of self-restraint to sit on your hands and keep yourself from messing with that team dynamic.
If it ever seems that your team isn't adapting on a continual basis, here's the most important step for a manager to take. Ask the team to review its overall goals and their timeline for delivering results. If they're on-track, don't interfere. Let them work to recalibrate their efforts to adapt to any major change that has affected their plans. However, if they're out-of-sync, encourage the team to determine on their own how to get back on track.
Only when and if they repeatedly are unable to get in sync should you step in, and help them to understand that they need to specifically develop the skillset for adapting to change as a team.
- Characteristics of adaptive workers
- How to be an adaptive manager
- Honing self-management skills
- Developing proactive workers
- Importance of goals in adaptive work
- Developing and supporting remote workers
- Empowering adaptive workers to solve problems
- Collaboration and adaptive teams