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Lead Your Team Managing

Stay Positive! Resilient and Adaptable Teams are Key to Business Success

image for  Roman Samborskyi/Shutterstock
Roman Samborskyi/Shutterstock
  • Resilience and adaptability are needed for success in business today.
  • Resilience and adaptability are closely related.
  • Teams can improve their resilience and adaptability by following some simple tips.

In nature, resilience and adaptability are key traits for survival. Indeed, when Charles Darwin said "survival of the fittest," he did not mean the quickest, the strongest or the smartest life-forms; rather, he was referring to those that were most capable of adapting to their environmental conditions.

That principle is also true in business; the most resilient and adaptable teams succeed more often than those that are rigid and unwilling to change, even if the more rigid group boasts better talent. Research from Johns Hopkins University illustrates that very idea.

In the study, Kathleen Sutcliffe, a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg distinguished professor who specializes in organization theory, and Michelle Barton, an assistant professor at Boston University, examined expedition racing teams, which traverse wilderness courses on land and sea.

They found that the most successful teams didn't just weather the storm of an extreme situation but also pivoted to meet the challenge and even improved upon what they had been doing.

"To the extent that they could maintain a shared but fluid and accurate picture of their situation, [such as] 'where we are,' 'how we are doing,' they were likely to take appropriate action," Sutcliffe and Barton wrote of the race participants. "In contrast, when teams lost touch with the reality of their context – either internally or externally – they were more likely to drift. They would enact behaviors that brought them into worse situations, for example, rushing past a turnoff or checkpoint, taking a wrong turn … or pushing flagging teammates to the point of breakdown." 

Naturally, the researchers noted, these traits translate to the business world, particularly when it comes to the processes of "drift management" and "meaning management."

Drift management and meaning management became key indicators of the overall performance of a given team. Teams that kept an eye out for drift and meaning – and responded accordingly – were better positioned for success, the study found. Here's how the study authors defined those concepts.

Drift management: Drift management means paying close attention to the lay of the land, as well as the physical and mental well-being of team members, and keeping an eye out for any changes in conditions. In the business world, drift can include things like market changes, team member health and individual workloads. Managing these drifts may mean reallocating the burden to help a struggling team member recover or repositioning a team's efforts to better address the real-world conditions of a changing market.

Meaning management: Successful meaning management means cultivating the collective mindset that, through adversity, the team will reach a brighter future. This prevents team members from disengaging from the tasks at hand and helps them show resilience in the face of a bad quarter or an economic downturn. In short, it means growing a culture that has faith in the team's skills and goals.

When the teams Sutcliffe and Barton studied failed to act in resilient ways, the teams not only failed to produce good outcomes but also increased vulnerability and adversity.

"What teams did affected the conditions they found themselves in, and the conditions they were in affected what they did," the researchers wrote. "The extent to which teams engaged with their context allowed them to align their actions with the reality of their context, make smart decisions and take appropriate action, leaving them generally better off."

Business is constantly changing, and if you want to succeed in the global business world, you must be resilient. You also must adapt to maintain an advantage in the ever-changing world. Adaptability means being flexible and maintaining a positive attitude.

Resilience has several layers, including thoughts, behaviors, actions, skills and attitudes.

Some keys to business success are remaining positive so that you can maintain control over your own work environment. When you have emotional intelligence, you understand your feelings and how to harness them. You also have a clear understanding of how your behavior impacts others. A great way to remain resilient is to achieve work-life balance. Technology has allowed us to have constant access to work, so we have to work even harder to find balance. However, if we are to remain resilient, we must have balance. When employees are reflective, they can be more resilient.

There are a number of ways to improve resilience and adaptability in business. Adaptable teams are great at creative thinking. Thinking creatively helps teams consider different ways of completing a task, thus making them more flexible and resilient.

Most people feel uncomfortable with ambiguous and confusing work details. When teams learn to be more comfortable with uncertainty, they will learn how to remain positive in challenging situations.  

Successful meaning management means cultivating employees' emotional intelligence. Employers can offer classes that focus on self-management, which can help employees adapt to changing teams and new co-workers.

Business News Daily Editor

Business News Daily was founded in 2010 as a resource for small business owners at all stages of their entrepreneurial journey. Our site is focused exclusively on giving small business advice, tutorials and insider insights. Business News Daily is owned by Business.com.