Episode 25: Adaptive Workplaces with Chris Creel


December 3rd, 2019

41 mins 45 secs

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About this Episode

Can you organize a company around collaborative projects and break free from your org chart? Liz and Kat talk with author Chris Creel, who says yes!

Chris Creel, a technologist and futurist, is the author of Adaptive: Scaling Empathy and Trust to Create Workplace Nirvana. Adaptive is the result of years of research and re-thinking about how work gets down through collaboration and organizational design.

The Adaptive project started in 2013, when Chris was tasked with improving productivity by 10-fold. He began thinking about what type of organization could adapt to the technology advances that were heading our way, and this research and experimentation eventually resulted in the book.

Another book recommendation: Primed to Perform by Lindsay McGregor on how organizations get good at what they do vs. changing and evolving with emerging markets.

In order for a company to be adaptive, one of its major values has to be adaptivity and change. Chris distinguished between servant leaders vs managers, and how being adaptable means giving employees the tools but also making them empowered to act on their own to drive the company's strategy forward. When professionals aren’t empowered to make change, companies can get stuck. Managers keep trains running and maintain discipline at work, but one of the aspects of a healthy and functioning organization needs to enable their people to be limber.

As a society, Americans are programmed for change; other countries, like China, are programmed for stasis. Companies need to look to see if they are designed for change or not. Change comes at us so quickly today that companies need to be designed for it from the ground up.

As you design your company, the rules of the road that you establish are important in allowing people to figure out how to succeed. Make sure that these norms and standards of the culture are practical so that people can be held accountable to them and can get better a them. As an example, look at the employee handbook of the game company Valve, where employees become characters in the story.

Historically, org charts were made to manage railroad employees for robotic precision: they’re great for precision, but they're not great for managing change.

An adaptive environment is one where employees are empowered to align their career aspirations to drive company strategy forward however they see fit. They are also empowered to take risks and try new things. True adaptive environments allow people to fail if their failure was trying to better the company and to move things forward.

In traditional companies, we are responsible for our careers and we get coaching from our managers. In an adaptive organization, everyone is rooting everyone on, and we get coaching from our whole team to make us better. For Chris, this includes quarterly 360 degree feedback based on cultural values. After the feedback process, each person would then work with a coach -- a coach that was not their manager -- to help them level up to be a better team player.

Technology platforms like Zugata and Betterworks helps with this type of 360-degree feedback. Chris talks about HR needing to rethink their role and priorities to be more about company strategy and what skills will be needed to successfully complete that strategy. This kind of approach helps avoid stasis in the company and in the company culture. It also helps with retention.

How can you as a manager get better at building adaptivity within your team and your company? One way is to help the people on your team to help each other improve their skills. Pair up people on your team to achieve goals; essentially you are crowdsourcing improvement to get the team working better together without the direct involvement of management. In this way, the team’s performance will improve faster and the managers will have more time to improve your own skills and performance. You will have more time to coach and to be coached.

In the research that Chris did that formed the basis of the book, he found that women were hindered by the org charts and rigid hierarchy of a traditional corporate structure, but they succeeded so much better in adaptive environments because of their emotional intelligence.

Chris also developed a methodology to teach people how to receive feedback so that this kind of true adaptive environment could work. The feedback training was part of the coaching and performance process. The coaches -- not their managers -- taught people that feedback was the other person’s reality and to receive it. The goal is then to see the other person’s reality, and to relate it back to the truth of how you perceive the situation. For example, someone may give feedback that your performance isn’t good and that you don’t get enough donethink you’re lazy, but the truth is that you are juggling too many things.

Christopher Creel
Linkedin profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/chris-creel/
Email: chris.creel@adaptive.team
Website: https://www.adaptive.team/
The Book: Adaptive: Scaling Empathy and Trust to Create Workplace Nirvana