• canibarro

Building Adaptable Teams

In a world of extreme uncertainty and constantly changing conditions, perhaps an organization’s most valuable resource is the adaptability of its people

Leading through volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity is challenging. Drastic change, conflicting priorities, competing demands and constant crises can feel never-ending. Keeping people engaged in the midst of all this is difficult.

At this moment in time, we're all operating on top of a lot of feelings & unprocessed thoughts, which makes it hard for us to focus or do our best work. Tending to your people and yourself is priority number one.

And as you press forward, the need to be agile and adaptable is critical. I get to work with some of the most amazing leaders. However, what I’ve found is that it’s not enough for leaders to be agile and adaptive. Your influence has a limit. Your management systems need to be designed to support learning for results or your teams will be stymied as they attempt to navigate rapid change.

Your teams will need to rely on the systems you’ve built to move things forward. Now may be a time to assess if your management systems will support agility or if you need to adjust them.

Here are 4 things to consider about your management systems that can hinder your ability to be agile:

1. Your leaders and teams CAN'T SEE THE WORK.

Plans, schedules, and priorities tend to be invisible, often coordinated via email, through conversation, or tracked in our own heads. When others can’t see how much work we have or the status of the project, they often give us more work than we can handle or shift priorities assuming we can deal with it. If you can’t see the work, then you can’t support each other effectively. What aspect of the work does the team need to make visible and see together (capacity, project status, daily priority, plan, schedule)?

2. Your leaders and teams CAN'T SEE THE WORK MOVE.

Because the work itself is often invisible, it can hard to see how plans are progressing. We end up wasting people’s time and increase their anxiety by sending emails asking for status updates, which pulls them from their workflow to spend time investigating and searching for answers so they can respond. The more you can make visible what is moving forward and what is not, the more likely you will mitigate an issue ahead of time versus respond to crises later. The 5 biggest things to make visible:

  • Dependencies (known and unknown)

  • Unplanned work (known and unknown)

  • Work in Process (and where in process it is!)

  • Conflicting Priorities (as we understand them)

  • Issues waiting to be resolved (show me them!)

3. Your leaders and teams CAN'T SEE THE OBSTACLES to the work.

Issues stay hidden or sit waiting for someone to make a decision, leading to crises. Too often we find that if issues were identified early and often, they would prevent crises. Once crises hits, it requires an enormous amount of time, people, and resource to solve it AND disrupts our planned work resulting in meetings/plans being rescheduled, decisions waiting longer to be made, and work falling behind.

Make issues & obstacles visible... daily. Teams that SEE together, can LEARN together and ACT together. When we don't see together, we can only act in silos and our best ideas are lost in the whirlwind of the daily crises. Our goal is to move away from daily individualized trouble-shooting in silos to daily team-based problem-solving and experimentation.

We always make sure that issues AND ideas are made visible. Same principle here for ideas:

  • Make ideas to test VISIBLE

  • Make the trystorming with tests of change VISIBLE

  • Make the learning from the trystorming VISIBLE

  • Recognize efforts to come up with, test, and implement ideas VISIBLE


Our management needs to keep pace with the process & the circumstances. Most of our work is highly variable, constantly changing and ever evolving. When teams wait for weekly staff meetings to talk about issues, it’s often too late to do anything about them. In today’s environment, sometimes even one daily huddle is not enough. What could you accomplish if you could had a rhythm of continuous alignment with your team to see the work, see it move, see emerging issues and have your whole team involved in planning and problem-solving?

Your business cannot outperform your culture AND your business systems are one of your biggest drivers of culture.

Ultimately, how your team achieves results is an indicator about the sustainability of those results over the long term. Agility comes from a daily experience that breeds the mindset that Improving the work IS the work. Your management systems are either informing this daily experience or they aren’t. You can make sure they are.

In my next article, I’ll share how to begin building an atmosphere to support greater agility and adaptability.

Impact supports growth-minded organizations with training & implementation of management systems designed to scale impact. We take a culture-first approach with our training and implementation. We know your business cannot outperform your culture AND as you grow your management systems become one of your biggest drivers of culture.