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Updated Oct 23, 2023

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

Resilient and adaptable teams succeed more often than those that are rigid and unwilling to change. Here's why these two traits are essential to business success.

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Adam Uzialko, Business Strategy Insider and Senior Editor
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This guide was reviewed by a Business News Daily editor to ensure it provides comprehensive and accurate information to aid your buying decision.

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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 fit 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.

What is ‘resilience in action’?

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. These teams 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,’ [or] ‘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 regarding the processes of “drift management” and “meaning management.”

What are drift management and meaning management?

Over the course of the race, 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 means paying close attention to the environment, 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 means cultivating the collective mindset that, through adversity, the team will reach a brighter future. This prevents team members from disengaging with the tasks at hand and helps them display 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.
Looking out for and checking in with employees and team members is paramount to overall success. This can be trickier when you're managing remote teams, but you still can't neglect it. Use remote collaboration tools if necessary to regularly check the pulse of your team.

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

Why are resilience and adaptability important in business?

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. 

Businesses have had to undergo a wide variety of changes in recent years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, changing work styles and fluctuating market demands. The businesses that have survived and thrived are the ones with resilient and adaptable teams across all levels.

Examples of resilience in business

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

Some keys to business success are maintaining a positive attitude 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, which is a key trait of a good boss.

A great way to remain resilient is to achieve work-life balance. Technology has allowed us to have constant access to work, so it can be challenging to maintain a separation between our work and our personal lives. To remain resilient, it’s important to know when to stop working and take time for yourself. That goes for your team, too. If you’re always striving for round-the-clock productivity, it won’t be long before occupational burnout catches up with you.

Key TakeawayKey takeaway
To be your best and most resilient self at work, prioritize your own well-being. Leaders and team members experiencing workplace burnout will have a more difficult time staying positive and adapting to change.

How do you improve resilience and adaptability in business?

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, 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 take the lead in challenging situations

Successful meaning management involves 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. Leaders should also model emotional intelligence in the workplace, as the effects of a manager lashing out under stress can trickle down throughout the organization to hurt morale and encourage similar behavior from others.

Stay strong and flexible for business success

Incorporating the above tips will help your business teams survive and succeed in the current business climate. The business world is constantly changing, whether from societal shifts or new technologies. Approaching setbacks with positivity can do wonders for not just the business, but for the morale and development of its employees.

Teams that are ready to adapt to those changes will help your business maintain its success and grow. Use techniques such as drift management and meaning management with your team to see how they help your company’s performance.

Kaylyn McKenna contributed to the writing and reporting in this article.

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Adam Uzialko, Business Strategy Insider and Senior Editor
Adam Uzialko, senior editor of Business News Daily, is not just a professional writer and editor — he’s also an entrepreneur who knows firsthand what it’s like building a business from scratch. His experience as co-founder and managing editor of a digital marketing company imbues his work at Business News Daily with a perspective grounded in the realities of running a small business. Since 2015, Adam has reviewed hundreds of small business products and services, including contact center solutions, email marketing software and text message marketing software. Adam uses the products, interviews users and talks directly to the companies that make the products and services he covers. He specializes in digital marketing topics, with a focus on content marketing, editorial strategy and managing a team.
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