Is adaptability being overlooked by agility?

by Jenny Bowes | Dec 04, 2020

time icon 4 mins

If you’re looking for a new buzz word this year, it’s probably either lockdown, unprecedented or agility. To be honest we’re fed up of hearing about the first two so we’re going to jump in and talk agility. Or are we? Today we’re diving into the concept of agility and whether what you’re actually striving for is adaptability in the context of this very unprecedented (yes we did go there) year. Many managers have been thrust into positions they may not be comfortable with, but also may not be trained for. If an organisation is committed and plans remote working, a training plan is usually worked through and the necessary aids for remote working put in place. In 2020, vast numbers of managers and teams simply have not been afforded this luxury. So, how do managers drive high performance in a remote world they simply are not trained for? 

During disruption or change the workforce tends to focus on tactical work, as Lindsay McGregor and Neel Doshi’s state in ‘How to keep your team motivated, remotely’, “teams focus on answering the right number of tickets, or following the approved project plan — rather than adapting to solve the bigger, newer problems the business may be facing.” McGregor and Doshi continue, “Some teams rise above the rest in times of turmoil, regardless of the challenges. They win market share. They earn life-long customer love. They keep their productivity high, or higher. In other words, they adapt.” 

Has adaptability been overlooked by agility?

This term ‘adapt’ is something we want to dig into. We so often hear the term ‘agility’ but is what you are actually craving adaptability? Stable Teams Founder, Stephanie Chamberlain, joins us to explore the concept of adaptability versus agility and the secret ingredient when it comes to maintaining high performance – even when your workforce can’t be seen face-to-face (and no, zoom isn’t the same). 

Adaptability or the quality of being able to adjust to new conditions is something that 24% of the UK workforce, who are currently working exclusively from home, have required. The shift from full time office work to remote work has many implications, from levels of productivity, to the emotional and mental health of your teams. 

Agility or the ability to move quickly and easily is obviously essential for the very essence of movement from one environment to another is the context of remote working. However, the adjustment to your team’s new surroundings will ultimately navigate your route to success. So, how can you as a leader help your teams to adapt to ever changing circumstances? There is one crucial element and that’s trust. 

Adapting with a focus on trust   

If as a manager you do not trust your team, or similarly if team members don’t trust each other, your ship is already in danger of sinking. Trusting people is easy, right? You just do it! Unfortunately, it is not as easy as that. Trust can be quite complex. It differs from person to person and the events they have experienced in both their personal and professional lives. Stephanie adds, “Trust is built up of three factors: Mastery, Reliability and Vulnerability. As a leader you need to know that the person you are putting your trust in has the mastery or level of skill to complete the work, they are reliable and will stick to their word and they are transparent in their views and opinions.” 

This nicely links with the practice of OKRs. We simply can’t be in the physical presence of our team at the moment, but also why do we need to be? OKRs are often used to drive a business in an alternative growth direction. For growth to truly take place, your team needs to grow with the business. Joseph Pistrui and Dimo Dimov support this thinking in their article The Role of a Manager Has to Change in 5 Key Ways. “Too many managers micromanage. They don’t delegate or let direct reports make decisions, and they needlessly monitor other people’s work. This tendency restricts employees’ ability to develop their thinking and decision making — exactly what is needed to help organizations remain competitive.” Ultimately, this forced change to remote working could push managers to allow team members to flourish and grow with the business, rather than simply stay in their lane. 

A mantra that aids the successful OKR cycle is the idea of ‘test, learn and adapt’ and this sits across cross-functional teams. Trust in your team members and the process is essential to growth success. Trusting the learnings taken from a test and empowering your teams to adapt and deliver change based on those learnings is something that’s not only powerful, but it also feels good! 



Stephanie Chamberlain, Founder @ Stable Teams, CEO of Magic Milestones: I help technology leaders establish high-performing teams so that they can build great products.

My specialism include; agile, lean, digital transformation, high performing teams and product innovation. My wider skills are in high octane business growth for all types of businesses who believe in autonomy and purpose.

Roger Longden, Founder @ There Be Giants: I have always had a strong focus on performance, and I spotted the need for businesses to hugely improve how they built their strategy/plans.

I recognised that OKRs were the answer and have since built There Be Giants into what it is today – a highly committed team of OKR professionals who are passionate about helping businesses grow.



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