The Adaptable Organisation

Harnessing a networked enterprise of human resilience

The Adaptable Organisation is a fundamental shift in operating and management philosophy that enables large-scale global organisations to operate with a start-up mindset and drive modern people practices that enable enterprise agility through empowered networks of teams

A journey through the adaptable organisation

The Ecosystem

Historically, in stable times, organisations derived competitive advantage through progressive attempts to be more standardised, efficient and better at doing what ‘they had been doing’ for a long time. In unpredictable times, organisational survival requires the understanding that organisations exist within a broader external ecosystem, united by a specific, customer-centric purpose that is constantly evolving to remain relevant. What we have learned from clients who are embracing an ecosystem mindset:

Organisations that view themselves within an ecosystem compete better in today’s business landscape. When they leverage external communities, partnerships and alliances, they have greater visibility into the needs and behaviours of their customers. Adaptable Organisations are able to quickly detect shifts in the external environment, and flex appropriately.
In spite of constant iteration and adaption, a shared purpose is the glue that anchors an ecosystem. It defines success for the organisation through the eyes of customers, stakeholders, and society. In turn, employees, motivated by meaningful work, are driven towards the outcomes desired by the organisation.
A bold organisational purpose cascades through the organisation using customer-focused missions. Teams work effectively towards their respective missions without impeding on each other, but are united by an enduring organisational purpose.

Operating environments will only continue to become more complex. We help clients interpret their strategies and position in the ecosystem into customer-focused missions that energise the culture and organisation. This is a departure from only using industry benchmarks or popular organisational models - it’s about intimate customisation to the changing needs of customers and stakeholders.

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The Organisation

When change is predictable, stable organisational hierarchies can support order, clear decision-making, and functional silos to ensure maximum efficiency. However, in an era of exponential change, traditional organisation models cannot keep up. What we are starting to see when it comes to structure and design of Adaptable Organisations:

Organisations must align both formal and informal structures to customer-focused missions. Traditional approaches often force the organisation to work purely functionally or in a matrix environment without understanding the impact to human networks. Instead, organisations must uncover how teams naturally interact with each other and with the customer, and then build the multi-disciplinary teams, communities, reporting relationships, and communication channels that support these human interactions.
Adaptable Organisations simultaneously manage customer adaptability and scaled efficiency. They recognise that both are necessary, and achieve an effective balance through the use of functional and cross-functional, centralised and decentralised teams.
To enable an Adaptable Organisation, flexible governance models are necessary. Governance enables adaptable work when bureaucracy is limited, decisions are transparent, and individuals are empowered.
A test-and-learn approach to implementation is preferable. The roadmap to becoming an Adaptable Organisation is a series of small, incremental changes, rather than a big bang. Organisations must decide how much autonomy, flexibility, and agility is required for their particular strategy.

Static organisation charts are becoming an artifact of the past. We use advanced analytics to visualise the formal (hierarchy) and informal organisations (interactions) to uncover how people actually work. New designs are emerging that embrace natural connections and organise multi-disciplinary teams to deliver value more effectively. Traditional approaches often force the organisation to work purely functionally or in a matrix environment without understanding the impact to human networks.

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The Team

Conventional wisdom believes that high-performing individuals deliver organisational performance. Adaptable Organisations place greater emphasis on the team and unlock individual performance through team composition and new ways of working. What effective team development looks like in an Adaptable Organisation:

The understanding that individual performance is intrinsically linked to team composition. Only when the diverse perspectives, unique skillsets, and broad experiences of individuals are brought together do individuals truly thrive.
A clear focus that unites the team to the organisation’s purpose. Each team has its own mission or focus around which it can direct its efforts and motivate its members; however, all of the teams within an organisation are ultimately aligned to its purpose.
Iterative and empowered execution by teams. Teams must adopt an agile, “fail fast” mentality where frequent touchpoints, iteration reviews, and cross-team planning enable them to respond swiftly to fluctuating customer demands. This is made possible only when decision-making rights are transparent, and teams are given flexibility and autonomy.
A safe place for collaboration and connected ways of working. This is achieved through flexible communication, connecting on a human level, and uniting under the broader organisation’s mission. True collaboration can unlock latent productivity and inclusion, in order to realise greater agility.

We act as coaches for our clients and help them learn how to place greater emphasis on teams and unlock individual performance through team diversity, environment, and new ways of working using agile approaches. In understanding that agile methodology is not just for technology or product functions, we help teams accelerate on execution and become more flexible. We believe that high performing teams enabled to achieve organisational missions deliver more value than individuals focused on individual goals.

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The Leader

As organisations pivot and adapt to shifting contexts, the adaptability of leaders becomes essential. Leaders must be able to energise, empower, and connect people across the ecosystem and lead any team in any context. Leadership in the Adaptable Organisation is a departure from the traditional, role-based view of leadership:

Leaders exist at all levels of the organisation. Leaders are now multi-function and multi-context, across all disciplines. More so than traditional organisations, Adaptable Organisations require a strong pipeline of leadership; therefore, candidates must be identified and leadership skills developed at every level.
Leaders are inclusive orchestrators, not heroes. They lead not because of position, tenure, or expertise, but because of their vision and ability to connect individuals across the organisation. In an Adaptable Organisation, three paramount leadership capabilities that emerge are the ability to energise, empower, and connect. These capabilities points to raw leadership potential instead of technical expertise.
Leaders must embrace vulnerability and create psychological safety. In order to enable a culture of failing fast and taking risks, it is integral that leaders build a safe space where ideas can be shared and diversity of thought thrives. They do so through practicing and encouraging vulnerability, authenticity, and raw leadership.
Complexity and ambiguity demand versatility. Leaders in the Adaptable Organisation must constantly navigate change and uncertainty. In order to lead effectively, they must empower everyone in the organisation, particularly those closest to the customer, to make decisions and take ownership. The versatile leader can lead effectively in any context, inside or outside of their traditional areas of expertise.

Identifying, developing, and retaining strong leadership is integral to any organisation’s success, and the bar for leadership effectiveness is constantly being raised. We help our clients build effective leadership pipelines and programs that meet their strategic needs and which ensure they can navigate into the long-term.

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The Individual

The traditional view of the employee assumes people inherently resist change and talent programs provide stability. In Adaptable Organisations, resiliency and accepting change becomes part of the organisation's DNA and talent programs exist to enable that resilience. How an individual is woven into the ecosystem of an Adaptable Organisation:

Individuals must understand that adaptable is not something you do, it is something you become. Organisations must coach their people to adopt mindsets of growth, imagination, diversity, and experimentation. Only when such a mindset is adopted at the individual level, will teams and organisations be able to execute on adaptable work.
The focus is on people, not on job titles. Traditional role-based job descriptions, recruitment practices, and orientation programs are no longer relevant. Instead, talent management recognises that roles are fluid and skillsets are diverse. Recruitment and onboarding programs center around the purpose, culture, and customers of the organisation.
Growth, learning, and performance management take place on an ongoing basis. In order to reflect a rapidly-evolving external environment, learning and performance management can no longer be static, infrequent, and formal. Peer reviews and career discussions are frequent, agile touchpoints. Learning is continuous, embedded into day-to-day work, and changes based on the needs of the individual.
Flexibility is a key feature of an individual’s career development. As opposed to the traditional view of climbing the hierarchal ladder in a fixed role, organisations recognise that career paths are becoming increasingly complex, cross-functional, and latticed. They support their talent through horizontal job rotations, fluid work roles, and the activation of organisational networks.

Helping people embrace change and continuous learning is difficult. To truly be adaptable, we believe that organisations need to enable individual resilience through flexible talent programs. We help clients design and adopt leading edge talent approaches to elevate a shifting and diverse workforce that includes both humans and machines.

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In the new world of work, stability gives way to adaptability.
How adaptable is your organisation today?

Move the slider closer to the side that best represents your organisation today.

Profit Driven

50 %

Purpose Drive

Internal Focus

50 %

Customer Focused Ecosystem

Hierarchical Structure

50 %

Flexible Network of Teams

Siloed Interactions

50 %

Agile Ways of Working

One-size Fits all Talent Management

50 %

Individualised Talent Management

Resistance to Change

50 %

Continuous Change and Learning

Your organisation is struggling with adaptability. The fundamental management systems are probably outdated. A clearer purpose and change mindset will help launch the adaptable journey.
Your organisation is doing a good job of reacting to shifting strategies, but the effort to do so probably feels like a constant transformation. Focus on building adaptable characteristics that are more sustainable.
Your organisation is on the right path to being adaptable. Don’t be over confident. Be aware and intentional about sustaining the organisation’s adaptable characteristics.