To enhance employee experience, teams must evolve from fragile to anti-fragile. This involves three phases: transitioning from change-resistant fragile teams to robust teams with solid but stagnant processes and anti-fragile teams that embrace change for growth. Key steps include embracing innovation, fostering cross-functional collaboration, focusing on Moments of Opportunity, experimenting to learn from failures, and creating a debate-friendly environment. This evolution is crucial for adapting to the modern workplace and turning challenges into opportunities for success.
Effortlessly Shift from Fragile to Anti-Fragile Teams! (Reading time: 6 minutes)
We live in a world of constant change, shock and uncertainty. If covid, which seems so long ago now, has taught us anything it’s that HR, people ops and employee teams need to be anti-fragile.
As humans, it’s too easy to forget the crazy dash, adjustments and pivots we had to make for the new complexity COVID brought, yet we see this pattern of forgetfulness as organisations are driving people back to the office and reverting to old ways. All of which will drive culture rot (one for another day).
As we mistakenly revert to our old pre-COVID habits, we mustn’t forget how everyone felt the stress of being caught off guard and not having the capabilities needed to design more human-centred, non-physical people products.
While the office may now have a new lick of paint and 'wellbeing pods’, we need to be mindful, as people professionals, that a new shock could come along at any moment. And when this time arrives, we need to be anti-fragile.
Here is how to do just that, not only be ready for uncertain events, but to welcome them with open arms.
If you cast your eye over your career, you will recall the teams that worked well together and those that misfired. I believe most teams have three key phases. To bring this to life I will use a concept coined by Nassim Nicholas Taleb called ‘Anti fragile’.
Phase 1: Fragile Teams
These teams are vulnerable under pressure. In the face of change, shock or even a little stress – and like a deck chair on a sunny beach – these teams fold under the slightest bit of pressure. Fragile teams are fearful of change, and new ideas and love safe and familiar routines. They tend to avoid all collaboration and cross-functional sharing. They value silos over sidekicks.
Often, they are seen clinging to old traditional models and rejecting people who bring an alternative point of view. Approaches such as Service Design, Experience Design, Design Thinking, and System Thinking are instantly rejected. This is usually because they haven’t identified that this approach can help them create better people products, services, and experiences. All in all, their lack of foresight and dependency on the past makes them instantly vulnerable when a shift comes.
Phase 2: Robust Teams
In this phase, the team has solid tried and tested processes which have been robust over the years. But here’s the kicker. Because they have been strong enough to withstand internal organisational shock, they are lured into a false sense of security and rather than see this as an opportunity to grow and amplify they instead sit on their laurels.
Robust teams tend to over-index on the delivery of outputs and rarely pause to truly identify outcomes and MOOs (Moments of Opportunity) for innovation. They are happy with the established process; this often makes them reluctant to embrace change or potential for improvement.
Phase 3: Anti-Fragile Teams
These are the teams that instantly come to mind when you say ‘high performing’. They not only embrace change, but they use it as a catalyst for growth and challenge.
Antifragile teams proactively seek to understand how methods such as speculative design can help them design the workplaces of the future. They look wider than HR and People Ops and ask the question what is X or Y doing who faces this challenge?
They are the dot connectors. They look at areas such as offboarding, reward and design with and without constraints… they have the mindset of mad scientists who first want to experiment and test, knowing this approach is less resource intense, will uproot blind spots in the thinking and will offer key lessons through failure.
You know who these teams are, they’re the ones your leaders are envious of, it is the team you would love to work for. They encourage debate and idea sharing and continuously listen to their people.
5 Tips to Move from Fragile to Anti-Fragile
As we navigate the complexities of the modern workplace, the success of teams and, consequently, organisations will increasingly depend on their ability to evolve from fragility to antifragility, embracing change not as a threat but as a catalyst for innovation and sustained success.
1. Embrace Innovation, Lean into the unknown
Teams need to move away from fearing change and embrace it as an opportunity. They need to be open to new ideas, methods and approaches to designing employee products services and experience.
Invest: The time in getting the basics down of service design, system thinking, experience design and design thinking. I will be diving more into this in 2024 however if you want the jump on some of this stuff earlier, I cover a lot of it in my book The Insightful Innovator
2. Cross-function collaboration
Being siloed sucks, and often you don’t know you’re doing it. Teams should look to encourage collaboration across the business. It can start by finding just one person
Identify: A critical friend, is someone outside of your team and function who can play the critical friend/devil's advocate to your ideas. This in turn will build the resilience and adaptability your team needs. I talk more about critical friends on this podcast
3. Don’t be a widget machine!
Instead of solely focusing on output, teams need to identify and leverage the MOOs across their organisation as well as in their professional development.
Challenge: The "we have always done it that way" process. Often we over-invest in the symptoms and under-invest in the cause. Apply an innovator's mindset and identify untapped MOOs. What are the tensions that are driving not just friction in your team but in other teams? Needle in on these drivers before patching the symptoms. Often once you needle in you will find a process driving it and a fixed mindset. Just because the process works it doesn’t mean it’s right, times change.
4. Be the mad scientist
Teams need to experiment and test ideas to understand smart failure, with this comes the awareness that the sky won’t fall if some fail. It also provides stories for their internal narrative which are the building blocks for changing behaviour and fostering a culture of lessons learned.
Give: The team time to first identify any assumptions they may have about the projects or products they are building, as well as the space to experiment to validate or invalidate the assumptions. I have written about this extensively here / here / here / here
5. Create space for debate
Anti-fragile teams are seen and heard by their continuous engagement with other teams, debating, and building on each other’s ideas. This over time creates an environment where everyone, even the shy person’s, voice is heard.
Create: Psychological safety in teams through culture crafting, this will allow teams to share their ideas, thoughts and challenges without fear of repercussions. You can get a free taster of what that looks like here