In just a few short weeks, the world of work has undergone significant change. Teams that worked closely together in one physical location now operate remotely and are learning how to adapt to the changing needs of their customers while doing so.
Clearly, we are in a moment of unprecedented and rapid transformation, which calls for teams that can pivot quickly. Today, major change can literally occur in the space of a few hours, which means your team must be open, collaborative and ready to alter plans and modify processes at short notice.
Being adaptable isn’t a new requirement though. It’s also not one that’s going to disappear any time soon. Today’s short-term uncertainty hasn’t altered the longer-term reality that our world of work is in constant flux thanks to disruptive technology, new emerging trends, restructures and industry shifts. We know that change is inevitable, which means that the benefits of creating an adaptive team will last well beyond the months.
Here’s how to encourage adaptability in your team in the weeks, months and years ahead.
1. Model adaptability. It was Gandhi who said, “Be the change you want to see”. This famous quote has long been an inspiration for positive change and it’s certainly true that if you want your team to become more adaptable, you’ll firstly need to model this behaviour yourself.
To do so, be receptive to new ideas and concepts. Respond positively and pivot quickly when conditions change. View challenges as opportunities to find new and unexpected solutions. Don’t lose your cool when faced with the unfamiliar and instead calmly deal with it. Be curious and ask difficult questions. Always have a ‘can do’ attitude, even if that means adjusting your own way of working or routine to better respond to new circumstances. Learn new skills and bounce back quickly when things go wrong.
In short, lead from the front by demonstrating for your team what adaptability in the workplace looks like.
2. Have a clear common objective. At a time of rapid and tremendous change, it can be difficult to keep key priorities in mind, especially when those priorities are also shifting. But to deliver the outcomes required, your team must firstly understand what they need to work towards.
So, prepare your team by clearly communicating your objectives and what you expect from them. Define what success looks like. Then ensure your team is aligned with these expectations and keeps them front and centre. All ideas, solutions and output should line up with these expectations accordingly.
By establishing a common objective and clearly defining expectations, your team will be able to adapt plans and solutions and achieve the desired outcomes even when further change occurs in future.
3. Encourage diversity of thought. Diverse teams bring different perspectives to the (remote) table. When change occurs rapidly, a team needs to avoid group think. Instead, your team – which should consist of people with diverse backgrounds, experiences, personalities and thoughts – should be open to each other’s opinions and, crucially, really listen to them.
So, ask your team to avoid judgement and really pay attention when new solutions are proposed by taking a moment to understand and find value in each idea. Such diversity of thought will allow your team to collectively explore ideas that may otherwise not have been proposed or considered.
4. Embrace innovation. At times of significant change, there’s no point continuing to do the same things you’ve always done. This is the time for innovation, creativity and flexibility. So, help your team to understand the problems that need to be addressed and then empower them to work towards solutions. Make it clear that failure is part of this process, and that’s fine. What’s important is that the people in your team keep experimenting and coming up with new ideas to solve the problems faced.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks to innovation occurs when staff fear that others in their team will criticise their ideas. But by encouraging diversity of thought, as indicated above, you’ll create an environment where people feel comfortable offering their suggestions without fear of reproach.
Another is a lengthy internal approval process. If several people all need or want to have their say by reviewing every solution proposed, people are less likely to suggest ideas, while those suggestions that are finally approved will not be implemented in a timely manner.
5. Collaborate. Team members can help each other adapt and innovate by regularly and productively collaborating. Encouraging your team to come together to collaborate allows them to communicate with transparency, share new knowledge, ask questions and support each other. It creates an environment where their knowledge is pooled, and everyone has equal opportunity to share their ideas.
In addition, collaboration often sparks insights and new ideas that one individual may not have been able to come up with in isolation. This helps a team become more responsive to change.
6. Experiment. In non-business critical areas, you can give your team the freedom to experiment and learn from their results. Look for small problems for which your team can trial a new approach. Ask them to propose a solution, implement it, measure the results and then re-evaluate to see if further changes are necessary.
Take the fear out of this process by making it clear that any failure is a learning opportunity. This gives your staff the opportunity to propose and test ideas, which they then refine and improve, without worrying about blame if the result is less than anticipated. It allows them to learn valuable insights that will help inform future ideas.
7. Encourage upskilling. Employees who regularly push themselves outside their comfort zone by learning and developing new skills or working on stretch projects are more likely to cope well in uncertain situations. Their curiosity leads them to regularly respond to new trends by learning and adapting their skills, thinking and processes.
At times of change, such people will seek out the tools required to help them adapt. Encouraging your team to regularly upskill therefore not only empowers them to keep themselves at the growing edge of their career but helps them adapt quickly thanks to a growth mindset.
Creating a team that can embrace and adapt to changing priorities quickly can make all the difference between success and failure in today’s world of work. By putting these suggestions in place, you can create a team that’s capable of pivoting and adapting to changing business needs to help your organisation survive and thrive, no matter what comes your way in the weeks, months and years ahead.
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