in Improvement & Development

Building an Adaptable Team: 6 Ideas

Ability to deal with rapid changes and uncertainties on the field is as critical a skill for organizations/teams as it is for the military troops. In military operations, lack of agility can have more serious and rapid consequences. In case of teams, individuals and organizations, the consequences may not be visible in a short term, but they eventually surface.

Organizations and teams that can adapt quickly not only just survive, but also uncover hidden opportunities. If you are a business owner, leader or an improvement manager, here are 6 essential strategies to build a team capabilities that help them remain agile and adaptable:

  1. Focus on the ‘customer’ and ‘value’: As a leader, your first job is to ensure that your team members understand your business, how it adds value to the customer and what differentiates the organization. Most of the processes should be modeled around the meeting the needs of customers and elevating your capacity to deliver the products/services. When you are ‘ears-open’ about customer’s unique needs and context, your team automatically responds accordingly. Once your team knows how to meet the expectations, they can then focus on adding value.
  2. See ‘Systems”: If your team understands your business broadly, it is also important for them to understand the elements of work, how they are inter-connected and what are the systemic implications of not doing something well.
  3. Balance “Structure” and “Chaos”: Companies that build repeatability of their success through hard wired processes and structure find it difficult to change directions when the external situation (economy/demand-supply etc.) changes. On the other extreme, companies that only thrive on chaos will not be able to scale up their operations. It is difficult to strike balance, but important as well.
  4. Strive to be ‘Lean’: Activities that do not any direct value to customer, or do not increase your capacity to deliver should be assessed very critically. Every unnecessary or redundant process step is a cost, that needs to be cut. “Improvement” does not only mean addition, but most significant improvements focus on elimination and simplification.
  5. Iterate: All big programs in your team/organization should be divided into smaller chunks and should be delivered iteratively. The idea is to collect feedback as early as possible. Lean start ups who build product first build the “minimum viable product (MVP)” and ship it to get feedback from the users. They do re-planning and incrementally develop the product, so as to incorporate changes effectively into their product.
  6. Collaborate: If your team knows how to pick clues by collaboration with industry experts, customers, end users and business and then act upon it, your organization/team will be able to closely understand the trends, foresee the changes and respond accordingly.

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Join in the conversation: Have you been a part of an “adaptable team”? How did you ensure that your team effectively responded to changes? How did it go?

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Update: Last Saturday (19-Nov-2011), I delivered a talk at “Sandhan” – a virtual classroom that is connected to over 900 colleges of Gujarat via VSAT. The topic was “Career A-Z: Essential Strategies For Building Expertise and Succeeding” where I laid out 26 ideas to build a career in knowledge oriented world. The talk received a very good feedback. Video/presentation will be posted soon.

  1. I really like #3, Balance “Structure” and “Chaos”. Too much of either will slow everyone down. Regrettably, many companies err on the side of too much Structure. This appears to stem from the old command-and-control mentality. If they would only allow their teams to self-organize, they’d strike a much better balance. One can only hope that more companies will give it a try.

    • @Vin – Thanks for the comment and affirmation. I agree that companies are obsessed with structure, mainly because structure gives a false feeling of predictability. Structure is important to ensure that things you do well are done well. Managing external ambiguities requires a mindset that is more responsive and adaptable. To strike that balance is critical in the current context.

  2. Its such as you learn my mind! You appear to understand so much about this, such as you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you can do with some p.c. to force the message house a little bit, however instead of that, that is wonderful blog. A great read. I’ll definitely be back.

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