• Mellanie Page

3 Scientific Ways to Develop Team Adaptability

Updated: Nov 3, 2019

The one constant in business is change.

Having adaptable staff is not only valuable, but necessary.

Before getting started, let's dispel some common myths:

Staff that have good ideas and strong opinions, can't be adaptable. Staff that don't have any ideas or weak opinions are the only ones who "go with the flow".

Change is never good. I can't blame staff for being overwhelmed, moody, and rigid about it.

How can we support an #adaptable workforce?

Prime staff to BE adaptable - In other words: if you want adaptable staff, remind them to be adaptable. Humans are wired to hear people speak for the sole purpose of generating a response. We are trained to fight for survival: survival of our ideas, our values, our beliefs, and our success. A simple reminder to be open-minded and flexible at the start of a meeting or when anticipating healthy conflict can increase the likelihood that staff will listen to each other, challenge each other, and become more disciplined in adaptability. 

In his book Traction, Gino Wickman provides an example of a company that used this trait as a core value: "McKinley has a core value called "Gumby." It gave each of its employees a Gumby doll with an attached label explaining that Gumby is flexible, helpful, optimistic, honest and pure, adventurous, fearless, loving, and everybody's friend." I love the visual of a flexible staff that can roll with the punches and be a true team player.

On the opposite token...

Ditch the “My Way or the Highway” approach - Imagine a boss tells a staff to do something and that staff immediately (without a single consideration for the request) begins their rebuttal. Whether under their breath, in a threatening email, or to a co-worker at the water cooler, complaints about this very scenario happen every single day. The refusal or noncompliance related to employees who aren’t fully on board with an idea or plan is often misunderstood. Underperforming staff are often written off as “rigid”, “combative”, or even “lazy”.

However, I would argue that the person at fault in this widespread scenario is actually the boss. As the leader of the organization, a boss should strategically motivate staff to perform. Allowing staff to contribute, share ideas, and gradually (and ultimately) buy-in to THE idea is key to adaptability. Anyone can be adaptable when the idea was “theirs”, right? The ability to receive feedback, openly debate topics, and collectively decide on a goal is key to a successful team.

Pair change with positive experiences - Let’s be honest: change is usually difficult for most people. It is associated with stress, frustration, and uncertainty. As leaders, we can change that tune. We can strategically plan events of change to be POSITIVE.

If you anticipate a new meeting on the calendars might increase stress, pair it with a free lunch or a dress-down day. If you have to change a policy, procedure, or other company standard that may negatively impact staff, be HONEST in your delivery. Answer questions, validate concerns, and empathize. Being listened to and feeling heard can be an easily overlooked, yet extremely powerful reinforcer. In most cases, taking this approach can transform an experience of change from something negative to something that can ultimately strengthen a team.

Changes that are managed with consistent and predictable patterns of preparation, discussion, and understanding can calm the typical fight or flight response and train our staff to approach changes with resolve, excitement, and focus. 

This article is part of a series that focuses on optimizing staff performance.


Wickman, G. (2011) Traction. Dallas, TX: BenBella Books.

To learn more about assessing and optimizing the performance of your team, visit our site.

#performance #performancemanagement #employeeadaptability #employeeperformance #OBM #OBMconsultant #managertraining

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