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3 Ways to Build Adaptability as a Core Organizational Competency

Often when working with an organization, we hear from leadership a desire for their workforce to be more adaptable. Their reasons vary. Some are working within a resource-constrained environment (e.g., they face limitations on staffing, budgets, and other resources necessary to complete their work). Others see their staff hindered by silos and cultural behavior that doesn’t lend itself to information sharing. And all are trying to keep up with evolving trends in their industry. Ultimately, all of these organizations are looking for their staff to be able to adapt to continual change as they work to fulfill their mission and provide exceptional service to their customers.

At EK, we couldn’t agree more that organizational adaptability is imperative. When we are working on a Knowledge and Information Management (KIM) initiative for a client, we take a holistic view of the organization to understand how people work together, how they share information and resources, and how management processes govern their work. For organizations grappling with this same issue, here are a few ways to build adaptability as a central competency in your organization.

Foster cross-organizational connections and knowledge sharing.

We’ve worked with a range of organizations, where the extent to which their staff collaborate and share information differs greatly. We’ve observed workplace cultures where staff are reluctant to share information for a variety of reasons, and others (including our own) where information is made available in real time to all. Moving towards a collaborative working environment that adopts open, transparent communication practices is not easy, but when information is shared sporadically or solely between team members, what one knows becomes mostly dictated by one’s social network. Organizations then run the risk of duplicating efforts, making decisions without considering how they’ll impact other internal groups, and missing opportunities to exceed the expectations of their customers.

The need for a more collaborative approach to working presents the opportunity to think through how you can build personal relationships among colleagues who don’t normally work closely together and create stronger connections between organizational departments. Try hosting staff-driven town hall meetings, where employees report out on the work they are accomplishing. This format facilitates staff recognition and highlights work that others in the organization might not be aware of. These town halls can facilitate connectivity between staff of different departments, enabling them to collaborate in unexpected and productive ways. Additionally, consider other ways (e.g., open meeting formats, rotational programs, communities of practice) for individuals to see how the business looks from inside another group. As your staff spends more time with people from different departments, they come to understand the larger environment in which decisions are made and understand how each group is collectively contributing to the organization’s purpose. They build a more holistic understanding of how the organization operates and learn to place more trust in their colleagues, making them ultimately more empathetic to other groups’ needs.

Pursue learning and development opportunities.

At EK, we think a lot about knowledge workers – those individuals who apply what they know to creatively solve problems, develop products and services, and add value to their organization. The organizations we work with create, manage, use, and share knowledge and information to enhance their growth. When we’re working with them, we’re looking to identify how to maximize the effectiveness of their knowledge workers in order to help the organization be successful. Critical to maximizing their effectiveness is placing increased significance on education and lifelong learning. Learning and Development (L&D) provides staff with the perspective and skills they need to adapt to evolving trends in their field and within their organization as well as improve their productivity and the quality of their work. Without continual learning, staff’s proficiency on a subject will diminish.

Day-to-day work and organizational barriers can prevent staff from being able to take advantage of L&D opportunities. But, as our CEO Zach Wahl attests, prioritizing your people’s development can be one of the best ways to apply your resources and position your organization for continued growth. At EK, every employee receives an annual training budget to continue their education and professional development. There are numerous other ways organizations can provide support for L&D. For instance, start an internal skills development program led by employees who are passionate about a topic and can tailor learning material to the language and culture of the organization. AT EK, we host bi-weekly knowledge sharing sessions during our all-hands meetings. This technique has proven to be a great way to facilitate the sharing of tacit knowledge (i.e., the knowledge that is held within experts), introduce new concepts, boost morale by recognizing people for their expertise, and help build relationships across our company. Additionally, you can encourage employees to become points of contact beyond their teams by developing the capability to search for people by expertise through a company intranet. We’ve worked with companies on developing “expert finders,” which help people locate colleagues with specific expertise or technical knowledge and either contact them or post questions directly on the platform.

Give people room to adapt.

EK leverages Agile to coach leaders to create a culture of learning, adaptation, and resiliency in their organizations. Agile is a method of and mindset towards continuous improvement, and one of its core principles instructs teams to reflect on how to become more effective, and then adjust its behavior accordingly. On any given project, consistent communication and regular touch points within teams enable employees to ensure they’re on the right trajectory and pivot when needed to new requests, changing requirements, and general feedback. We always recommend that teams hold retrospectives throughout a project to provide feedback on what has gone well and what requires improvement. Though these sessions can easily be skipped in the face of mounting responsibilities, they are critical in streamlining processes, enhancing team dynamics, and improving performance as one of my colleagues has previously discussed. Regular touch points, like retrospectives, give people the space not only to discuss what improvements they want to make on a specific project, but also provide a forum for general discussions. We’ve seen teams use retrospective meetings as opportunities to institute cross-training programs and test out tools. Regardless of how they’re implemented, providing forums and building in time for people to talk with one another is imperative to creating an environment and culture of continuous development.

If you’re looking to create more transparency across your organization, foster a culture of continuous learning and feedback, and build the capability to quickly adapt to changing stakeholder needs, EK can help you transform the way you do business. Contact us to learn more.

Kristin McNally Kristin McNally Kristin McNally is a strategic communications professional and change management practitioner who is passionate about helping people work together more effectively and authentically. More from Kristin McNally »