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.

Styles of leadership and being adaptable

I am learning some very important lessons in managing people and style of leadership. Let me explain.

I have worked with different types of managers – from micro-managers to delegators to empowerers. Each one had a different style of managing people. But each individual was limited to one style of leadership. A micro-manager would micro-manage everybody in his team and a delegator would delegate everything without looking at the individual capabilities at the receiving end.

I have learnt that with each individual on team, a different leadership style is needed. Each one needs to be managed differently. Leadership styles can be collaborative, supportive or authoritative.

In this context, I read an interesting post over at Dan McCarthy’s blog “Great Leadership” which defines 10 styles of leadership.  Four important styles of leadership includes:

Directing Leaders define the roles and tasks of the ‘follower’, and supervise them closely. Decisions are made by the leader and announced, so communication is largely one-way.

Coaching Leaders still define roles and tasks, but seeks ideas and suggestions from the follower. Decisions remain the leader’s prerogative, but communication is much more two-way.

Supporting Leaders pass day-to-day decisions, such as task allocation and processes, to the follower. The leader facilitates and takes part in decisions, but control is with the follower.

Delegating Leaders are still involved in decisions and problem-solving, but control is with the follower. The follower decides when and how the leader will be involved.

Bottomline: Managers need to adapt their managing style depending on who they are managing.  One size does not fit all – and one management style does not work with all.