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Teams in Action

Coming to Grips with a Complex Adaptive System
The term complex adaptive system describes systems that are dynamic and adaptable, much like those found in nature. A system is complex when it has many interacting parts that generate ongoing change. Teams of today face challenges in exactly the same way. Every day a lot of teams are doing things they’ve never done before. They are looking under rocks they’ve never noticed. Underneath, the level of complexity in the unfamiliar far exceeds those in the familiar. Instead of finding one or two things they don’t know how to do, they discover fifteen more waiting and don’t even know that they don’t know. And just as they learn how to do the right thing, they’re doing a great job at doing the wrong thing right. Resilience often entails responding well to change, while adaptability moves us from overcoming a challenge to thriving beyond it. We don’t just “bounce back” from challenging situations – we “bounce forward” into new realms, learning to be more adaptable as our circumstances evolve and change. Learning new skills in an uncertain environment where knowledge is a moving target is now a competitive imperative in most industries.

Continuous Learning – Learning agility, emotional/attitudinal flexibility and behavioural versatility are all part of a multidimensional understanding of adaptability. Interpersonal adaptability breeds effective situational adaptability. It is not only desirable but necessary to work effectively with the differences of people. It enables each person to become more comfortable with each other. It is entirely within our control to change our behaviour in order to “do what does not come naturally, when it is necessary to do it.” While learning new behaviours is normally invigorating, it can feel daunting during challenging times. Interdependencies with related feedback loops are the hallmarks of complex systems, invariably giving and asking for feedback are essential skills to learn, practice & master.

Purpose & Vision – That’s where a sense of purpose & vision comes in; it provides meaning and motivation and offers a framework that makes hard work worthwhile and expands tolerance for change. When team members feel that their purpose is aligned with that of their team and organisation, the benefits expand to include stronger engagement and self-efficacy, as well as heightened loyalty. Unless the brain learns something new, it will forecast what will happen based on what it has seen and learned before. It records, recalls & relives. That is why people often default to certain ‘old’ behavioural patterns, especially under stress.

A Different Leadership – Restoring on all levels, self-respecting and self-determining adulthood. Understanding some people see themselves as more powerful than their environment and want to control the situation like the high ‘D’s & I’s’ of the DISC personality styles. Others tend to see the environment as more powerful than themselves and consequently comply and go along with it, claiming that it is out of their control, like the ‘S’s & C’s’ of the DISC personality styles. Our default patterns may serve to protect us in the moment. But ultimately, they may hinder our ability to adapt and respond appropriately in ways that a new situation requires. Early influences however reduce our range of responses, often limiting us to the same old repetitive dysfunctional ways of communicating in given situations, if we are unaware of them. It is in this sense, by lifting these “behavioural embargoes” we regain our personal power and freedom to take charge of the way we communicate and get what we want despite what we are presented with.

Healthy Relationships – Strong interpersonal relationships in a team bolster adaptability, since human beings need meaningful connections to survive and thrive. Healthy team dynamics also foster adaptability. Working in teams influences the extent to which we prioritise learning, especially from setbacks and failures. Some typically go through their daily work routine actively engaging with tasks and often indirectly engaging with colleagues to help achieve those tasks. But the emphasis is misplaced; inattention to the behavioural differences of team mates is actually counterproductive to both our well-being and our productivity in the team. Team leaders do have a unique influence on which team culture is adopted depending on the degree to which they foster psychological safety and trust. Put simply, by creating psychological safety, team leaders simultaneously demonstrate their own adaptability and create an environment where adaptability can flourish and their teams can deal successfully with an unpredictable and changing future. Cultivating an attitude of, “Yes we can” in the minds of every team member!

Building Adaptability – Habit shifting work behaviours is possible only through immersive in-person experiences. Simple adaptability relationship agreement exercises with ‘learning partners’ that participants can practise in their day-to-day work, can accelerate learning and behaviour changes. Progress need to be assessed frequently with Intégro’s TeamingExcel® multi-rater software feedback tools that assess the effectiveness of adaptability learning of teams and participants. Team leaders need to understand adaptability is a skill that is mastered with continual practice – the ability to “learn how to learn” does not materialise overnight. In a world of constant flux, it is a crucial skill-set that will result in healthier and more effective responsive teams & successful organisations.

Resources: Johan Cronjé; Specialist Team Coach, Intégro Learning SA; Amy Edmondson Professor at Harvard Business School, author of ‘Teaming’; How Organistions Learn, Innovate & Compete in the Knowledge Economy