It’s Time To Think Differently

Adaptive Challenges

Adaptive Challenges

Have you ever wondered why things are a bit more difficult at work recently? Do the types of challenges your team faces every day somehow just seem harder and more complex? Ever feel like it’s taking longer to get things done because you just can’t get people’s attention on the real issue? Well, it’s true. And it’s not just you.

With the acceleration of rapid, disruptive change in the world, in technology, and in connectivity, challenges are becoming increasingly complex. It’s no longer enough to do things better, faster, or cheaper when we are facing challenges that require us to do things differently. They require us to adapt in ways we’ve never had to before. All this adapting is not easy. It can cause us to lose things we have grown attached to and can cause people and organizations to make trade-offs in what has been important to them in the past. As you might imagine, these kinds of challenges also require leaders to think and act differently.  

Adaptive Leadership

Adaptive leadership requires leaders to think differently. Traditional leadership defaults to having someone in charge make decisions and then tell people what to do, but in the face of more complex adaptive challenges, this approach can fail miserably. Getting people to adapt requires leaders to exercise a more inclusive style of leadership. They must learn to mobilize people to collaborate to solve problems or face opportunities when there is not a clear path forward because these challenges are too big to be solved by one person’s expertise.

Overcoming Adaptive Challenges

With the increasing pace of change in today’s organizations, the challenges leaders and teams face are becoming increasingly adaptive. Here are a few examples of how adaptive challenges push organizations to think differently.


An organization must transform from the inside out to leverage new technology and the data it provides.

  • Challenge: A commercial real estate firm had to rethink the way they build relationships when their customers’ buying decisions became more data-driven and less relationship based. As the competition increased the amount of information they could provide customers, the deep, long-term relationships that their seasoned sales reps had built took a back seat to the market data that their customers now demanded. The Sales team struggled with how to adapt to the new needs of their customers after decades of building ‘deep relationships’ … the traditional approach was no longer relevant.
  • Impact: Imagine the kinds of trade-offs required by the salesperson whose history is no longer as effective as analyzing data or using technology. This changes in the ideal candidate HR must now recruit into the sale department. Imagine the shifts in incentives, organization structure, and training that will also be required, and the de-motivation of people who have been valued for something that may no longer be relevant.


A team must figure out how to deal with a market disruptor.

  • Challenge: Imagine the leadership team of a small retail store needing to find new revenue streams as Amazon enters their market, or a large multinational bank having to compete with new, more nimble, accessible and lower cost payment options like Square or PayPal.
  • Impact: Their expertise in brick and mortar stores that once brought them success will no longer sustain a future where their customers are online and can shop from anywhere.


A team must figure out how to build a future bigger than any one leader’s previous vision.

  • Challenge: A company, often in banking or financial services, has grown by acquisition and reaches the tipping point where they can’t increase the value beyond the sum of the acquired companies without consolidating, finding synergy, and creating an aligned organization. This likely will require everyone to deal with losses and shifts as they integrate products and services and learn to make decisions differently.
  • Impact: Skill sets will need to change, and again for some, the things that got them where they are will not get them the results they need in the new organization.


A team is suddenly asked to deliver more with less.

  • Challenge: Where the team was able to “get by” before, the margin of error and free time is now shrinking. Often, when resources get tight, it exposes an employee who is not taking full ownership for their role.
  • Impact: A leader in this situation stands to lose their credibility, suffer losses in team performance – as well their own sanity – if they cannot motivate and lead everyone on their team to take personal responsibility for their results.

Ready To Think Differently?

All of these examples are adaptive challenges LeaderShift Insights® has worked on that required an organization to abandon its traditional leadership style to find a solution. Adaptive challenges require our teams and organizations to create solutions that require us to think differently – radically differently – while seeking to understand and mobilize an increasing array of stakeholders in ways we may never have had to mobilize before. These adaptive challenges require more than “business as usual” solutions.

If your organization would like to increase its capacity to adapt in the face of rapid or disruptive change or if you can use some help mobilizing your team around adaptive challenge, call us. It’s what we do.

*This is an excerpt from Resilience: It’s Not About Bouncing Back, a new book by Jennifer Eggers and Cynthia Barlow scheduled to be released this spring. More details on preorders coming soon.