Leading Self

Embrace Adaptability

This activity introduces the concept of adaptability and why it is important for building resilience. Adaptability or resilience is the ability to adjust, accept change, and handle the unknown. Leaders who cultivate adaptability will improve both their own as well as their team’s sense of enthusiasm, cooperation, morale, and creativity. Prior to the session, ask participants to read these two articles about Adaptability and Resilience linked in the Playbook.


1-2 hours

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Flip Chart Markers Print copies of worksheet or PPT slide w/ information

Step 1

Take five minutes to set up this exercise.  Share with participants that adaptable people often show three kinds of flexibility. Write each of the following three words at the top of a different flip chart page and tape to the wall, talking through the definitions of each:

  1. Emotional — the ability to vary one’s approach to dealing with emotions and those of others.
  2. Cognitive  — the ability to use different thinking strategies and mental frameworks.
  3. Dispositional — the ability to remain optimistic and, at the same time, realistic. This known as resilience.

Ask everyone in the room to count off by three and move to different areas of the room organized each of the above.

Step 2

Once people are in their small groups, ask for their full attention. Share with participants that you will give each small group 15-20 minutes to identify examples of different types of flexibility. Encourage participants to give equal time for everyone to participate.

Participants can share an example in which they or someone they have worked with has demonstrated a flexibility behavior.. That person can be a supervisor or someone they supervise.  They don’t have to name the person.  The examples should be for professional situations or work related.  Keep time while participants discuss and share.

After ten minutes, let each group know that they have five minutes left for sharing examples with one another.  When 15 minutes is up, get everyone’s attention and give the next instruction, asking them to stay in their small groups.   Tell participants that they should write the top three insights from the discussion on the flip chart page and decide who in the group will share with the full group.   Let them know they have another five minutes to synthesize their discussion.

Step 3

Ask participants to bring their flip chart pages and come back to the full group. Tape the flip chart pages on the wall next to each other so everyone can see them. Ask each group to share their top three insights with the group in three minutes.  After all three groups report, summarize any key patterns or themes you hear verbally.

Step 4

Tell participants that adaptability is being able to practice and apply these three different types of flexibility in different situations at work.    Print out copies of the worksheet and hand them out to participants. Ask them to quietly reflect on the questions and jot down some ideas.   Tell them they won’t be asked to share their answers with the full group.

Step 5

Tell participants that the “dispositional flexibility” is also called resilience and is described in the pre-read linked in the Playbook called “Six Ways To Build Resilience at Work.”   Summarize the tips mentioned in the article and ask participants the following questions:

  • Do you practice any of these techniques for boosting your own resilience?
  • If not, what technique is the most appealing to you?
  • How might you incorporate one or more of these techniques into the way your team currently works?

Facilitate this discussion for approximately 10-15 minutes.  Rephrase what participants say and write some summary points on a flip chart page.    Verbally summarize the list of tips that participants generate before moving to the next step or closing.

Step 6

Ask participants to think about one habit or approach they can put into practice next week with their team or in their workplace.  Ask them to write it down for themselves.   To close the session, ask participants to go around the room saying “Just One Word” about their key takeaway.