Adaptability: the power of resistance and assimilation

Adaptability: the power of resistance and assimilation

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”
- Charles Darwin

Within a stable, low-growth macro and micro environment, organisations can survive by honing processes to maximum efficiency, perfecting every aspect of the operating system and maintaining the strategic status quo. A traditional approach can be adopted and orderly decision making ensue. There will be some wins and some losses but the forward trajectory will largely be preserved.

Not so in times of instability, change or growth (and when are there not such times) where constant evolution and rapid adaptability will be necessary for survival. We need look no further than the current political environment to see the failures of intractability – adherence to an argument once made without adjustment to a shifting picture is fruitless. Shows of strength and parades of intellectual dialectic will achieve little.

We should expect our leaders, of companies and of the country, to be flexible and adaptable; to be able constantly to assess and reassess the needs of the customer (or the electorate!) and the capabilities of the organisation to meet them most effectively. What worked last year really might not work now.

To do this, a leader must understand collaboration. The Thomas Kilmann Conflict Model Instrument suggests a two-by-two matrix of Assertiveness and Cooperativenss.

Assertiveness is the degree to which you fight for your own view or needs. Cooperativeness is the degree to which you seek to satisfy the other side’s views or needs.  Thus, little or no concern for the needs or perspectives of others will mean you either assert your position and thus create a Win-Lose (you win, they lose) or you avoid the whole debate. This is different from accommodating their views in entirety (which then inverts the Win-Lose (they win, you lose) and is really a Lose-Lose situation. It results in a decision, not agreed to or accepted by one side but merely avoided, with all the passive aggression that implies. Such decisions are highly unstable. They will be difficult to motivate a team behind as they lack true sponsors and the clarity or cohesion necessary to form a viable cornerstone principle. A compromise is obviously, mostly, a good thing – you win a bit, I win a bit, you lose a bit, I lose a bit; shared pain and gain.

But the nirvana in resolving disagreement or opposing views is Collaboration – if achieved it is the Win-Win – a solution that satisfies both sides’ needs and concerns. For this to work, each side must be honest – about what is real need versus preferred need; and adaptable – willing to look at each element from different perspectives, eager to add information and opinion to the picture to elicit greater understanding of both positions and to create the clarity and focus that enables a way forward to emerge.  Entrenched views must be discarded and an iterative, flexible mode of review and decision making adopted.

The leader is the lightning rod that enables connections to be made – of people and of ideas such that decisions are formulated in unison and not dictated. They should empower people, promote ideas, encourage diversity of thought and applaud experimentation.

Leaders, in all spheres, that can do this will ensure the continuing competitiveness of their organisation behind a shared vision and culture.