The top five attributes of an adaptive culture

culture perspectives Sep 21, 2016

Whenever a new CEO comes in we get restructured AGAIN. While there are always promises of a culture change, the only things that really happen is we shift from centralised to decentralised back to centralised again.


While a lot of organisations have picked up the language and concepts of complexity and adaptation, our observation is that many of their mindsets and practices continue to reinforce current paradigms and limit the capacity to genuinely adapt. In short, the talk is different but the walk’s the same.


In our research on adaptive cultures, some mindsets and practices that we have found which are much more aligned with a fluid, complex world include the following five attributes:

  1. Culture ain’t a destination; it’s an evolution! Culture is constantly evolving as the organisation adapts to its changing world. Ensure any method to measure culture accounts for its evolving nature.
  2. Prototyping and safe-fail tests are essential to learn and become more agile. Re-framing each imperfect experiment from a failure to a learning opportunity is essential to creating safety for people to appropriately test and trial new ideas and notions.
  3. Leaders have adaptive mindsets!! People are able to distinguish between adaptive challenges (without a clear definition and requiring new learning) & technical problems (easy to define and apply current knowledge to solve)and realise that their capacity to learn and grow is essential for the organisational culture to learn and grow.
  4. Communication occurs fluidly across, down and up the organisation; this allows increasing awareness of the broader organisational system, and of the consequences of actions. It also leverages diversity to build the collective intelligence of the organisation.
  5. The elephants are named. Through a combination of trust and courage, difficult issues are discussed and ideas to address these are shared.


As Otto Scharmer said:

“The quality of results produced by any system depends on the quality of awareness from which people in the system operate. The formula for successful change is not ‘form follows function’ but ‘form follows consciousness’.


To create truly adaptive organisations requires ongoing work to keep raising the awareness and consciousness of individuals, groups and collectives in order to act with alignment and integrity.


If you would like to explore how you can apply these themes in your organisation, we are running a series of workshops. To find out more, click here.

Our Adaptive Cultures Community

Our Global Community is an enriching space for culture practitioners to share, learn from, explore and develop emerging practices in support of their clients developing needs. On our community platform we share methods and tools, ask questions, conduct developmental conversations and learn together.

Join Our Community

Read the Adaptive
Organisations Whitepaper

Download our Adaptive Organisations Whitepaper and learn how to evolve through change and complexity. To receive a copy, please fill in your details below and a copy will be emailed to you.