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Adaptability in the Workplace: What is it & Why is it Important?

Tips to improve adaptability and flexibility in the workplace

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To see adaptability in the workplace look at the big legacy companies continuing with hybrid work models post-pandemic.

Commonwealth Bank, CSL, Rio Tinto, Wesfarmers, Woolworths, Macquarie Bank and Telstra are embracing adaptability and flexibility in the workplace. (1)

Change doesn’t have to fill us with fear. Adaptability in the workplace is about courageously and positively embracing that change and changing yourself to respond to it.

We learned in our masterclass with executive coach John Spence why adaptability is important in the workplace and core adaptability skills to set you up for the future.

So, in the lead up to the event, let’s explore adaptability and flexibility.

What is Adaptability in the Workplace?  

Adaptability is adjusting to changing conditions at work as needed.

Your ability to determine what's relevant, to forget obsolete knowledge, overcome challenges, and adjust to change in real time is called your Adaptability Quotient (AQ) (2)

Impact Players author Liz Wiseman says a trait of adaptable team members (she calls them ‘impact players’) is they get their arms around chaos, instead of freezing up.

They see challenges as opportunities, and embrace messy problems, unclear roles, unforeseen obstacles, moving targets, and unrelenting demands.

“These are the everyday, perennial realities of the modern workplace,” she says.  


Free Download: How to Create a Culture of Accountability in 2023

Why Do We Welcome Adaptability, Resilience & Optimism in the Workplace? 

When COVID-19 hit, the global workforce became a mass experiment in fast-tracking adaptability skills.

Many workers had to install and learn new technologies, attend virtual meetings, work without supervision, and care for their team’s and family’s wellbeing during lockdowns.

As a result, adaptability, resilience, and optimism rose in importance as highly regarded skills in the workplace.

As John Spence says, organisations must be adaptable, agile, nimble, and resilient to survive in today’s marketplace.

“However, organisations are not adaptable. People who have a high AQ create organisational adaptability.” 

4 Types of Adaptability Skills For Employees 

Adaptability covers a range of skills we can rely on during times of change. By strengthening these skills, team members can help build their own ability to adapt, as well as the overall adaptability of the team and the company. 

Without further ado, let’s look at some key skills our expert authors and speakers are telling us will be needed into the future.                                          


Ability to Work as a Team  

Getting team culture right, where all team members move as one dynamic entity, is one of the most powerful things you can do for future success.

Organisational health expert Patrick Lencioni, back for our Global Headline live online event in May 2023, is author of The Ideal Team Player.

From his previous event on team building;

3 virtues of an Ideal Team Player

  1. Humble – they share credit and celebrate the team’s collective win.
  2. Hungry – they are motivated and diligent. They go above and beyond.
  3. Smart – they are emotionally intelligent and exercise great judgement.

An ideal team player must have all 3 attributes. Having only 1 or 2 of these virtues makes you less than ideal.

With these attributes, the team member can adjust as needed to band together with other team members to deal with unexpected changes.

Ability to Communicate Effectively  

Adaptability is a soft skill, as is ‘communication’. Both are interpersonal skills that require self-awareness and being a good communicator can help employees improve their AQ.

After all, a team member can only embrace new opportunities if they can communicate their needs and ideas, listen actively, ask questions, convince others with their arguments for change, explain things succinctly, and argue their points effectively.

Charlene Li (‘The Disruption Mindset’) says enterprise collaboration tools and platforms like SharePoint, Teams, and Slack are ideal for communication, breaking down the ‘power distance’, and building trust.

Being Resourceful  

When Jethro Jones interviewed for a job of principal at Tanana Middle School in Fairbanks, Alaska, he was told the school was being considered for closure due to declining enrolment.

Undeterred, he became one of the best adaptability in the workplace examples by telling his staff it was a ‘unique opportunity to take risks and do things differently.’

With the students they built hockey rinks, repaired furniture, made ‘escape rooms’ and started up programs and clubs. They taught sign language, raised awareness about suicide, and ran programs to prevent bullying. The school became a model for personalised learning across the district.

Interestingly, when COVID-19 hit, the teachers didn’t miss a beat because they had developed new mindsets of being resourceful and adaptable. (3)


Being Open to Learn  

Adaptability is really all about critical thinking and continuous rapid experimentation.

Take successful clothing retailer Zara. According to Josh Linkner, author of ‘Hacking Innovation’, Zara is continually learning with a sophisticated feedback system.

Store managers report back on initial design runs and adjustments are made before mass production.

Team members with a learning mindset are also more likely to be highly adaptable when transformational change requires it. 

For this reason, incorporating social and emotional learning opportunities for team members is good for team flexibility and adaptability, as well as engagement and retention.

4 Benefits of Adaptability For Employees 

Someone who rolls with the punches, and with a smile on their face, will always be a top pick for employers. With rapid changes in the business world, organisations need adaptable employees to help them add value, stay relevant, and fend off competition. Here are just some of the benefits of adaptability for employees.


You Become More Valuable


It goes without saying that a flexible and adaptable employee is more valuable to their employer. As Liz Wiseman (‘Impact Players’) says, such employees venture beyond their assigned job to tackle the real job that needs to be done, and focus on where they are most useful.

“As they do, they increase organisational responsiveness, create a culture of agility and service, and build a reputation as flexible utility players who can be valuable in a variety of roles.”

You’re Better Equipped to Lead 

Research by the Centre for Creative Leadership (CCL) found that the inability to develop or adapt was the most frequently cited reason for career derailment among North American managers.

Adaptability is a requirement for leadership in the modern workplace.

The most adaptable leadership styles are ‘situational leadership’ and ‘adaptive leadership’, two of the 10 leadership styles, and probably the picks of the lot when business-as-usual is disrupted.

Adaptive leaders are great with people, and capable of shifts that move an organisation towards a future state. Situational leaders have multiple competencies they can bring to bear in times of crisis.

You’re More Resilient  

By seeing challenges as opportunities, team members with adaptability skills can deal better with difficulties. In fact, they can thrive on those challenges.

This April, Growth Faculty has a live and interactive masterclass on developing adaptability and resilience fitness with Andrea Clarke – Future Fit: Adapting and Responding to Change

Andrea says adaptability and resilience are needed for leaders to transform their teams and be ready for uncertainty.

You Learn to Embrace Change 

One of our speakers Shannon Byrne Susko demonstrated an ability to embrace change by creating 3HagWay to save her tech company Paradata.

Showing extraordinary adaptability under pressure, she ‘gutted out’ a strategy – a totally new business model - that turned her company around so successfully it was bought by a competitor.

Shannon says the process was iterative, improving it each time. That called for flexibility, adaptability, and grit.

Asked her secret of success? “A team that was as committed and gritty about the win as I was.”

Learning to embrace change helps you to thrive during downturns, about turns, and disruption.

Learn How Adaptability & Resistance Can Help You (& Your Teams) Manage Change 

Adaptability is embedded into the 5 levels (or pillars) of strategic thinking says John Spence.

“Strategic thinking goes hand in hand with organisational adaptability, which calls for PASSION, PERSISTANCE, PRACTICE, and PATTERN RECOGNITION (according to The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance),” he says.

If you'd like to increase your professional and personal development why not consider becoming a Growth Faculty Pass holder? Unlimited access to 40 live virtual masterclasses and Global Headliner virtual events - PLUS year-round leadership content at On Demand with videos, podcasts and book summaries. Join a community of knowledge seekers who are inspired by the best. See who's up next.

1.     Emma Koehn and Jessica Irvine, 2021, ‘The Five Day Office Week is Dead, Long Live the Hybrid Model, says Productivity Boss’, SMH and The Age survey.

2.     Callum Hughson, 2020, Adaptability Quotient, The Ivey Academy

3.     Story p. 10 from Impact Players by Liz Wiseman

Photo by LinkedIn Sales Solutions on Unsplash


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