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How to create a team of adaptive thinkers

Creating a team of adaptive thinkers means creating a learning culture that builds self-awareness, writes Karim Morgan Nehdi.

5 min read


adaptive thinkers

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Change is a constant in business today. And if it feels like change has accelerated in recent years, that’s because it has. Accenture’s Pulse of Change: 2024 Index found a 183% increase in the rate of change from 2019-23 — and 88% of C-suite leaders expect even faster change this year.

Being a leader today requires being an adaptive thinker who’s willing to meet the moment. These adaptive thinkers are open-minded, flexible and willing to learn. They have a growth mindset, not a fixed mindset. 

Becoming an adaptive thinker isn’t easy, much less helping your employees do the same. The good news is that everyone can learn, grow, and change. We need self-awareness, training and support to adjust as circumstances change. 

4 characteristics of adaptive thinking

You can’t predict how the world will change, but you can develop your ability to react and adjust. Here are four traits of adaptive thinkers.


Adaptive thinkers are receptive to new ideas, perspectives and information. They’re willing to challenge their existing beliefs and consider alternative viewpoints. Maintaining an open mind creates space for creativity, collaboration and innovation.


Adaptive thinkers can’t predict the future. But they can respond with intention when faced with unexpected or changing circumstances. They can keep their minds open to updated information, adjusting their thinking accordingly. 

When old methods of success become obsolete, flexible thinkers reorient. They seek out new pathways and possibilities to achieve their goals.

Willingness to learn

Adaptive thinkers know they can learn something new daily, both in their work and personal lives. They embrace new knowledge because they are curious. They want to solve problems, guide their teams more effectively and make smarter decisions. 

By continuously expanding their knowledge base, adaptive thinkers prepare themselves to face novel situations and get up to speed quickly.

Growth mindset

As coined by Carol Dweck, a growth mindset contrasts with a fixed mindset. Adaptive thinkers believe in growth. They know they can develop their abilities and intelligence through effort and learning. 

When you hone a growth mindset, you’ll tackle challenges with resilience and optimism rather than resignation. Failures and setbacks, while disappointing, become valuable learning experiences as you try again. Other people’s successes will inspire you rather than spark jealousy or feelings of inadequacy. 

4 ideas for helping employees adapt

We must become more resilient and adaptive to meet a rapidly changing world’s massive economic, geopolitical and social pressures. Here are four steps leaders can take to encourage and reward adaptive thinking in their teams.

Create a Culture of Continuous Learning

Adaptability is a skill you can develop through deliberate effort. This becomes easier in workplace cultures that value continuous learning — and provide learning resources, including formal professional development opportunities. 

Leaders should use regular one-on-one conversations to identify what employees want to learn and where they lack skills. Permit them to pursue learning, offer tangible support and recognize and reward their commitment to professional growth.

Embrace Ambiguity

Under stress, many of us naturally fall back on what we know. However, that response isn’t as helpful in ambiguous or novel situations. To manage uncertainty and ambiguity, we must be able to stretch our thinking, consider new perspectives, and prioritize progress over neat solutions.

As a leader, you can foster this skill by creating a safe and supportive environment where employees feel comfortable taking risks and exploring new ideas. Practice this in brainstorming sessions or project meetings when the ambiguity is hypothetical. 

For example, by conducting pre-mortems and learning sessions during projects, employees can practice reacting to the unexpected with less pressure. When a real-time situation emerges, they won’t be completely unprepared. 

These sessions won’t always go smoothly. Ensure you support experimentation and exploration in your words and actions, and recast failures as valuable learning experiences.

Understand Your Team’s Thinking

It’s unlikely that everyone on your team thinks in the same ways or brings the same perspectives or experiences to the table. These differences are an example of cognitive diversity. You can leverage these differences for better thinking, collaboration and innovation by embracing them. 

Start by exploring how your team thinks. Introduce tools or frameworks like Whole Brain® Thinking to help employees understand and appreciate different thinking preferences. Encourage everyone to challenge their assumptions and biases while respecting each other’s viewpoints.

Practice Reflective Thinking

We often think of adaptive thinking as a spur-of-the-moment response. But to react in the moment with any effectiveness, we must make time for deep reflection. Reflective thinking allows you to evaluate your thoughts, assumptions and decisions without being pressured to respond immediately. 

Encourage employees to allocate time for introspection and self-reflection. With greater self-awareness, your team gains a better sense of their strengths and values — and can adjust their behaviors accordingly. When the moment demands adaptability, they’ll respond in alignment with their thinking and values, not panicking. 

Meet the moment

How we work is rapidly changing, transformed by changing attitudes, technology and demographics. Leaders need an approach that grows with them to meet this evolving challenge. Adaptive thinking isn’t a quick fix or a catch-all, but it will give you and your employees a framework for continuous learning, growth and resilience. 

Work with your team to figure out how they think, then help them become more adaptive so they can confidently face any challenge.


Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.


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