Six Enemies of Adaptability – and What to Do About Them

The need to be adaptable – to develop adaptive intelligence at both a personal and organisational level is well stated. In fact, it is something that is overstated. It is the most important thing if one is to thrive in the future. There can be no more important a conversation.

So what exactly is ‘adaptive intelligence’?

Essentially it is the capability to use information to manage (challenging) situations, communicate and connect with other people, and educate yourself on the surrounding context or climate.

An important question to then ask is, ‘what are the things that block adaptability’? Or to put it another way, ‘what might be the enemies of adaptability’?

Here would be six common ‘enemies’ that thwart adaptability; and some tactical questions/suggestions as to how to defeat them.

1. Knowing for certain

It is not what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so“. – Mark Twain
A ‘knowing for certain’ leads to fixed assumptions. Fixed assumptions lead to an arthritic condition that limits flexibility. When we know ‘for certain’ it means we stop asking questions or that we develop huge blind spots that allow bad habits to breed unchecked. Curiosity and questions are important in galvanising adaptability and when there is an absence of curiosity and questioning – or worse still when they are actively discouraged, the causality is adaptability.

Reflective Questions/ Action:

What is it ‘you know for certain that just isn’t so’? Add this question to your next team agenda and see what your team comes up with. What are the questions you should be asking, but aren’t? Why not?

2. Habits

Being adaptable requires identifying mindsets and behaviours that we need to change. Of course ‘wanting’ to make this change is an important part of the equation! Habits can get in the way of such change. It is hard to change old habits and develop new ones but this is exactly what adaptability demands.

Identifying the habits that are blocking a change in both mindset and behaviours is the first step in gaining a clear picture of what needs to be done in order to start the adaptive process. Flexible mindsets and behaviours are an essential part of what it means to be adaptive.

Reflective Questions/ Action:

What are some of your ‘work habits’ (the way in which you approach your job)? Where did they come from and are they still serving a future fit purpose? Which of these might need to change as you think about the work you will be doing three years from now?

3. Fear

Fear is a very real block to developing adaptive intelligence. For some, this will be more of an obstacle than it will be for others. The fear blocking adaptability will have many guises: What if I fail? What will I lose? What will I have to let go of? What will others say or think? And so the questions will keep coming. Fear can lead to a very real paralysis that inhibits or blocks adaptability. Identifying this fear and facing it (easier said than done) is the start in overcoming it and embracing adaptability.

Reflective Questions/ Action:

When you think of the future – what do you fear the most? Why? What might be your ‘sense of loss’ in making any of the changes that you feel will need to be made if you are to adapt?

4. Organisational Hierarchy

A hierarchical structure makes adaptation far more problematic. The reason is that effecting change can only really start from the top in a hierarchy. The lower levels (often acutely aware of the need to change and adapt) are usually powerless to effect the necessary change. The ‘command and control’ leadership style that usually is indicative of a hierarchy means that others within the structure are unable to initiate change. Information and control flow ‘downwards’ and over time there develops unresponsiveness within the lower levels within the structure and a kind of ‘wait to be told’ type of malaise sets in.

Research reveals that creating opportunities for self-organisation is a characteristic of adaptive intelligence and creating such opportunities results in increased sustainability. This should be all the motivation needed for leaders to ensure that they create such opportunities within their structures!

Reflective Questions/ Action:

How might your structure be inhibiting the development of adaptive intelligence within your organisation? How could you increase opportunities for your team/organisation to ‘self-organise’? (Why not discuss this with them?)

5. Short-term Thinking

Short-term thinking means that the changes we make tend to be incremental and the action taken is in response to immediate pressures or opportunities. Many of the metrics in place drive and reinforce a short-term thinking mentality within a business and this is extremely dangerous. Leaders need to lift their heads and ensure that they and their team are ‘looking out the window’.

They need to be looking at the horizon and do, what we at TomorrowToday like to call, ‘think like a futurist’. Smart leaders intentionally cultivate questions and conversations that force their team to consider the long-term consequences of the decisions and actions taken today. The issues around climate change have helped raise the awareness and importance of thinking long-term.

Reflective Questions/ Action:

How far into the future are you and your team thinking? What are you measuring (and why)? How might this impact your ability to think long-term?

6. Spending too much time on the dance-floor

In the Adaptive Leadership model, a distinction is made between the ‘dance-floor’ and the ‘balcony’. The idea is that leaders need to spend more time on the balcony from where they are able to get a different perspective of the dance-floor. When on the dance-floor one’s perspective is limited to the immediate surroundings and in a world that is complex, connected and fast-changing, being on the dance-floor can be dangerous because of what is unseen.

Most leaders spend too much time on the dance-floor. A quick and easy ‘test’ of this would be to look at your last few leadership team agendas. The chances are that you will see an agenda dominated by ‘operational issues’ (the dance-floor) and little that is forcing the conversation to consider the bigger picture, the ‘out-there’ disruptions that need to be given careful attention.

Spending too much time on the dance-floor inhibits the ability to see the adaptation that is needed. It feeds off of ‘short-term thinking’ and means that dance moves are honed rather than calling for an entirely new dance.

Reflective Questions/ Action:

Review your last few agendas and put the dance-floor / balcony assumption to the test. What could your individual / collective balcony look like? How could you begin to access it and how will you create such accountability?

These six ‘enemies of adaptability’ represent but a start in what might be your most important journey as a person and/or as a leader. Intentionally building the capacity to be ‘future-fit’ – or to adapt to a changing context to thrive, cannot be emphasised enough. This is important work at both a personal and at a leadership level.

Veranderingsbestuur: Robert Terry Action Wheel

Die afgelope week het ek saam met ‘n werkgroep gedink oor veranderingbestuur binne ‘n organisasie wat heelwat geskiedenis saam dra en hoe moeilik dit is om so ‘n organisasie in verandering in te begelei. Hierdie wiel van Terry help daarmee om die fokus op die regte plek te behou.

Terry Action Wheel
Authentic Leadership: Courage in Action Robert Terry

Geskryf deur Frederick Marais:
Robert Terry se teorie, Authentic Leadership: Courage in Action (Jossey-Bass 1993), help ons om insig te bekom in die gebruik en misbruik van mag in die hantering van konflik.  Eers ‘n paar algemene opmerkings oor Terry se teorie.
Terry se teorie bestaan basies daaruit om die aksie of dinamika in ‘n sisteem te ontleed.

Terry identifiseer 6 vorme van aksie in ‘n sisteem wat ter sprake kom wanneer die sisteem blootgestel word aan transformasie: (sien hieronder ‘n meer uitgebreide verduidelikking van elk van die aksies)
Terry se wiel:

1. Mag- Die is die energie van ‘n aksie
2. Missie- Die fokus of “waarheen” van ons aksies
3. Bestaansdoel of bedoeling- Die “hoekom” wat ons aksies motiveeer
4. Konkrete bestaan (existence)- Die konkrete realiteit van waaruit ons aksies voortspruit.
5. Bronne- Die konkrete bronne waarmee die aksie realiseer. Alles wat konkreet gemeet kan word val onder hierdie kategorie.
6. Strukture- Die die organisasie kanale- di planne, strukture ens. waardeur die aksie gekanaliseer word.

Volgens Terry is hierdie 6 aksies in ‘n spesifieke interaksie met mekaar. Hulle vorm saam ‘n wiel wat die momentum van die gekulmineerde energie van die 6 aksies voorstel. Die interaksie tussen die 6 aksies is belangrik en in ‘n baie spesifieke orde. Elke aksie is afhanklik van die volgende aksie om suksesvol te realiseer (sien weer sy skematiese voorstelling).

Terry se wiel verbind daarom elke komponent met die volgende komponent deur middel van ‘n pyl: Mag(energie) realiseer konstruktief wanneer missie- of fokus in plek is.   Wanneer daar in die sisteem ‘n magskonflik is, word dit nie reggestel deur op die konflik te fokus nie maar deur die fokus te verskuif na die missie. Missie(fokus) kan net realiseer indien bestaansdoel(hoekom) duidelik is en gesag het in die sisteem. Die logika is dat ‘n organisasie met fokus-missie, maar sonder ‘n duidelike bestaansdoel of “hoekom”, nie werklik oor die energie sal beskik om die missie te realiseer wanneer daar teespoed kom nie. Bestaansdoel(hoekom) kan net realiseer indien dit konnekteer met die konkrete bestaan van die organisasie. Die konkrete bestaan van ‘n organisasie is die realiteit van waaruit alle aksies ontstaan. As die bestaansdoel of bedoeling van die organisasie nie grond vat in die werklike konkrete bestaan daarvan nie, is daar geen aksie nie maar net idees. Konkrete bestaan is net moontlik indien daar (meetbare) bronne is om dit te laat bestaan. Mense, tyd, geld en infrastruktuur.  Dit dien geen doel om oor die bestaan van ‘n organisasie te praat indien daar nie bronne is nie. Bronne sonder stukture kan geen energie kanaliseer nie.  Strukture is dit waardeur bronne gekanaliseer word om in diens van die bestaansdoel en bedoeling te funksioneer. Strukture kan nie sonder energie aksie tot gevolg hê nie. Water kan nie in ‘n kanaal loop indien daar nie gravitasie is nie.

As ons Terry se wiel toepas op magsverskille of konflik beteken dit dat wanneer daar konflik is, die probleem nie in die konflik is nie, maar in die onduidelikheid van die missie of fokus van die organisasie. Konflik in sigself is nie sleg nie, dit dui op energie, maar is onproduktief- energie word vermors, omdat daar nie fokus is nie. Ons spandeer daarom in die vennootskap baie tyd om oor missie-Gemeenteroeping en Visie vir Beliggaming te praat omdat dit ons help om fokus te ontwikkel. Dit is kontras ons praktyk om strukture te gebruik om die konflik te hanteer.  Wanneer ons strukture gebruik benut ons die reëls, bestaande planne en prosedures. Dit egter, plaas druk op ons hulpbronne, wat druk plaas op die voorbestaan van die organisasie ens.

31 Augustus 2008.

Wat my laat dink dat wanneer jy die organisasie aan die volgende stap van die wiel wil blootstel moet jy dit motiveer met twee stappe vorentoe. Wanneer jy mag wil establish moet jy dit motiveer met doel. Wanneer jy doel wil establish moet jy dit motiveer met betekenis. Wanneer jy betekenis wil establish moet jy dit motiveer met huidige realiteit. Wanneer jy huidige realiteit wil establish moet jy dit motiveer met bronne. Wanneer jy bronne wil establish moet jy dit motiveer met strukture. En uiteindelik, wanneer jy strukture wil establish moet jy dit motiveer met mag.

Die argument moet altyd ‘n stap vooruit wees om die huidige kwessie sinvol te beredeneer.