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“I adapt therefore I can”

We’re increasingly seeing a macro trend shaking up the workplace and challenging the rules of engagement. It’s resulting in the need for people and organisations to continuously adapt. Why? Because there are more and more occasions where it’s not clear how to adapt; there are more times when we have fewer past experiences to draw from, and more times when we can’t go to experts for help as they haven’t faced the specific challenges before. So what can we do? How can we adapt when there is no blueprint?

We see three necessary and ongoing cultural shifts that become more fundamental in these changing times – two of which will be familiar and you may already guess…

CONNECTION and COLLABORATION

Never before have we needed to address the issues of disconnected and siloed teams with such gusto. Just like our brains are built for efficiency by creating established neural pathways, so too have our organisations been for creating efficient isolated patterns of team working.

“The neural networks in the brain are like the creation of a riverbed. The initial flow of water is random but as soon as it forms as path, the water is more likely to follow the pathway of least resistance. As the path deepens, the more efficient is gets. It is the same with our neural connections.” Robert Burton, neuroscientist

The deeper and more entrenched these efficient team structures become, the harder it is to make new connections. Numerous organisations cry out for ‘One Company’ values in recognition of this.

A drive for efficiency won’t help us adapt. However, we can go back to how the brain works to give us our blueprint for how to continuously adapt; while our brains naturally push to lay down deep efficient pathways, we also have a remarkable capacity to make brand new connections. In fact, our brains are built to make connections:

“A typical neuron makes about ten thousand connections to neighbouring neurons. Given the billions of neurons, this means there are as many connections in a single cubic centimetre of brain tissue as there are starts in the Milky Way galaxy.” David Eagleman, neuroscientist

So, taking the riverbed analogy further, what we need is to give the streams that emerge around the edges of the riverbeds the chance to flow and make new pathways and connections that can take us outside of the existing pathways. We need new springs that merge together unexpectedly and flow into new pools.

We need to bring diverse people together to make new connections and to collaborate together. We need to stop bringing like-minded people together and instead draw together teams of differently-minded people.

And the third cultural component?

CONTRIBUTION

In a world where people are wanting to contribute more in the workplace, challenge the status quo and have an influence, we need to empower people to make their impact within their organisations and the world around them. The rigid, top-down corporate structure is becoming out-dated and employees are less likely to entertain doing things because that’s ‘how things are done.’

It helps that we are witnessing the gradual flattening of workplace structures, driven by a generation Y and Z-led attitude pervading into workplaces and pushing for more openness and transparency. Driven by a desire to shape, create and influence through their contributions, we’re noticing more workplaces that are adopting entrepreneurial cultures. Less and less do we want jobs to be prescribed and rigid.

To do this, people need workplaces where they have the freedom to contribute, give their views and offer their diverse perspectives. One way of putting this into practice (which is gaining popularity in today’s organisations) is to provide people with more mentoring and coaching opportunities. We need to establish organisational cultures that are all about teams who self-generate solutions rather than be given them and who want to shift their thinking from “it happens to me”, to “we make it happen”.

Essentially, the most successful individuals, teams and organisations of tomorrow will be the ones that have the capability to thrive when there is no blueprint.