How to nurture adaptability (and why it matters)

Adaptability can be seen as one of life’s most crucial survival skills. Afterall, change is a natural part of everyday life for every single one of us. And adapting to those changing circumstances is a vital requirement for surviving or, even better, thriving.

By: James Blair on

This is as true and relevant in our professional lives as it is in our personal lives. Even discounting the significant effects of the pandemic, changes within our work lives have been getting more pronounced and more frequent over time. Whether it’s structural and organisational changes, legal or regulatory requirements, new technologies or new competition, companies expanding or streamlining, the reasons for change are boundless.

Unsurprisingly, adaptability, resilience, and the ability to learn new skills are usually top of the list of desirable attributes for employers seeking new staff. But what about our existing people? Can we help them with their adaptability? Resistance to change is all too common. Fear of the new and the unknown is an understandable human trait. Is it possible to help those who fear or fight the change that we know is not only inevitable, but is vital for the endurance and evolution of our businesses?

The good news is that there are simple ways to encourage and nurture adaptability within our employees.

1. Communicate and connect

Effective communication is key when it comes to encouraging adaptability within our people. And that includes two-way communication at every level. Our people need to feel effortlessly connected to each other and to their leaders, regardless of any geographical or time barriers. Supporting good communication will ensure that stronger relationships are built. This will result in employees being more supportive of each other and showing more empathy. This, in turn, will lead to more of an open-mindedness when it comes to change.

2. Enable collaboration

Collaboration and teamwork are not only good for productivity, but also for individuals’ growth. Learning from -and adapting to- others’ different working styles, personalities, and approaches to problem-solving is enormously beneficial to our adaptability and resilience. This is just one reason why diversity in the workplaceis so important. Employers that set up team project groups, team working activities and even team social events, will see a more adaptable workforce.

Similarly, empowering and encouraging employees to share their knowledge and experiences will lead to greater adaptability and resilience. There are many ways to encourage this from peer-to-peer support or buddying schemes to informal learning lunches, and good practice forums.

Some extra effort may be needed for remote colleagues, especially if it is new to them, and even if it’s what they wanted. The loss of everyday physical interaction and of moral support (deliberate or subconscious) can lead to feelings of detachment, separation, or isolation. And these are the fierce enemies of adaptability and resilience. A combination of carefully selected tech’ platforms, scheduled virtual check-ins and some good old fashioned in-person get-togethers are advisable to counter this risk.

3. Encourage recognition and celebrate success

Recognition and appreciation are massively influential when it comes to employees feeling valued. A peer-to-peer recognition scheme which allows our people to express their appreciation of each other, regardless of the reason, can be invaluable for nurturing a sense of belonging. The emotional boost to both the sender and the recipient of a recognition is wonderful for wellbeing, and it can have a contagious effect on all who see it too. Publicly amplifying and celebrating the most noteworthy nominations with shout-outs, awards or rewards is also a great way to celebrate the positives, share good practice, encourage more of the same, and boost the confidence and, therefore, adaptability and resilience of all involved.

4. Invite ideas and feedback

Creating a culture of psychological safety within our people is essential if we want them to contribute and grow. Asking employees for their thoughts, feelings, ideas, and feedback -and actively listening to them- will build trust and make them feel more valued.

From two-way one-to-ones, informal “my time” sessions with leaders, open forums at team meetings, online surveys and quick polls, interactive tech’ at in-person or remote meetings, there are many ways to give our people a voice. Just as important is that leaders know to actively listen, respect, and respond. That will instil the psychological safety that is required to let adaptability flourish across our teams.