If your car had broken down and you took it to the mechanic, they wouldn’t start by changing the spark plugs or ripping out the exhaust pipe. They’d spend time understanding what the issue was then (hopefully) fix it. Okay…sometimes they might not fix it the first time and you may end up having to pay five-hundred dollars and still have a car that was only 90% fixed. However, my point is, if something is not working the way it should be, then it makes sense to understand the problem first, before you start trying to implement a solution.
Organisations are no different.
If your organisation is not as adaptive as it needs to be, the first place to start is by understanding what the real problem is, before attempting to make adjustments. Failing to do this means organisations fall into the common trap of spending large amounts of money for very little return and more significantly, causing unplanned consequences that actually make the organisation less adaptive (not more so).
To illustrate, think about your own organisation. Is it as adaptive as it needs to be? If it’s not, how clearly do its leaders understand what the problem is? Further, do they understand it clearly enough to address it in a consistent, effective and aligned way?
If you answered along the lines of ‘no’ or ‘not really’, the chances are your organisation is caught in what I call, The Adaptive Dilemma. As you’ll see in this video, it’s underpinned by five core reasons and means the organisation enters a vicious cycle from which it is difficult to escape.
The five core reasons sitting behind The Adaptive Dilemma are:
the absence of a clear language that can be used to discuss, develop and measure adaptive capability
limited understanding of how adaptive the organisation is or what causes it to be that way. This means any attempts to change never address the real issue and often make matters worse
the absence of a clear picture regarding the desired outcome or alignment regarding how adaptive it needs to be within the organisation’s chosen environment
the fragmentation of adaptive capability across the organisational structure. While many people own a part of the puzzle, no one is responsible for ensuring it neatly fits together or that it shows the right picture
the inability to make adaptive capability a priority and the sense that no one knows (or can agree) where to start.
When combined, these five reasons place leaders in a paradoxical situation. They know their organisation is not as adaptive as it needs to be, but they don’t know what the problem is, nor do they have a shared language they can use to talk about it. Consequently, leaders can’t agree on the type of organisation they want and even if they could, it’s no one’s job to create it. Thus, being adaptive never makes it onto the priority list and because no one really knows what the problem is, they don’t know how to fix it or where to start.
So, if you are a leader in an established organisation that’s caught in The Adaptive Dilemma, what can you do about it?
At the start of this conversation I mentioned that the first place to start when solving a problem is to understand what the problem is. As you watched the video above, if you found yourself nodding vigorously then you’ve just identified your organisation's problem. That's positive because it means you now have a basis upon which to move forward. What remains is for you to help others in your organisation understand the problem too. You might raise it in your next team meeting? Or ask other leaders the questions I just asked you, or share even the video.
The key thing to remember is that if you want to create a more adaptive organisation, it doesn’t start with a business case. It starts with a conversation and someone who is willing to lead it? Why shouldn’t that someone be you?