Team Role Theory: Adaptation

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Adaptation is an important principle when looking to improve individual and team performance. It is the process whereby a team changes the behaviours it uses, to suit the circumstances.

Poor adaptation can occur when a team uses behaviours for reasons other than performance. Eg: the team may have a rigid culture (it always behaves that way) or may not understand how it needs to behave to be successful.

Example of poor adaptation

Several years ago there was a story that hit the headlines in the UK, about a crematorium.  It was a busy time, when there were several funerals throughout the day, scheduled about an hour apart.  Each funeral party was given a 20-minute slot.  The remainder of the hour was used to allow each funeral party to come and go.

One of the funerals overran slightly.  Approximately five minutes after it was supposed to have finished, the crematorium manager entered the parlour and told the grieving family that their time was up and they had to leave.  He was immediately met with protest, but insisted that they had only been allotted 20 minutes, and he needed to run the crematorium efficiently otherwise parties from different funerals might meet.

This story made national television news, and was reported in many of the national newspapers.  There was general outrage and condemnation of the crematorium manager’s behaviour.

There are times when it is appropriate to enforce rules strictly – eg: in hazardous situations where safety is paramount, or where dishonest people are trying to bend the rules for their own advantage.  But this wasn’t one of them.  The situation and role called for sensitivity and care, and the behavioural style used by the crematorium manager was inappropriate.

Choosing the right approach

The principle of ‘adaptation’ is a simple concept: in order to be effective as an individual or as a team, one has to use the right behavioural style for the situation.  However, adhering to that concept is often difficult because an individual or team is often more conscious of their own preferences and culture than the different behavioural styles required for success.

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