The Capacity to Adapt: A Key Indicator of a Healthy Organizational Culture

There are many elements or indicators of a healthy and effective organization.   One of these is the question of culture – institutional culture, the ethos and way of being of this particular organization.   I have made the case that a healthy organization is one that is fitting or consistent with the mission of the organization, and that is a place of joy and, as significant as anything, a way of being that is marked by hopeful realism.   But there is something else that merits our attention as well:  that a healthy organization is one where the organization is able to respond and adapt and innovate. 

As I write this, my son’s congregation in BC like virtually every other congregation in Canada, has moved from gathering in person on Sunday and now worships virtually through an on-line – yes, at the original time that they met in person, but now in real time, the folks in this congregation connect at the same time, but now from their homes they are making a Sunday connection.  Or, in my world of higher education, universities and seminaries have moved their entire course offering from an in-person classroom gathering to alternate forms of teaching and learning, most notably through some vehicle of on-line learning.   It has been fun to watch how faculty who knew nothing about Zoom are now increasingly proficient in using this on-line platform. 

In the midst of all of this, there are university students who are not happy and want to throw up their hands and give up on the semester.   They want to cancel the rest of the semester and hunker down until things are back to normal.   But we have insisted that our students also need to know what it means to adapt and innovate and learn through different vehicles of means of teaching and learning.   This is life, I want to stress:  you need to be able to adapt, we want to stress.  And we want to be an organization that demonstrates not only that this can be done, but that this is what we do.  We adapt; we make adjustments.  Sometimes this happens over an extended period of time.   A church gradually makes the adjustment to how the neighbourhood has changed – those who formerly lived in this downtown core have moved to the suburbs and new immigrants have moved into the immediate vicinity. This might happen over the course of a decade and the church makes the adjustment and asks:  what does this new reality mean for us and how can we adapt and adjust to this new reality. 

But sometimes, we need to adjust on the fly.  With the Covid-19 crisis of 2020, churches and universities and businesses had to adapt and adjust in a matter of days.   Our university made the shift over three days.   On a Saturday we made the decision that classes would not meet on Monday morning and not meet in person for the rest of a the semester.  By Tuesday of the following week – Wednesday in some cases – classes had moved entirely to alternate forms of delivery.   Churches that had all week assumed they would be meeting as usual on that Sunday recognized on the Friday prior to that Sunday that they would not able to meet.  And in 48 hours they had to be ready to meet as a congregation through an alternate form of engagement. 

The main point is simply this:   effective organizations are marked by a healthy institutional culture.  And a key indicator of a vital culture is the capacity to adjust, adapt and innovate in response to changing circumstances.

Institutional Intelligence is the capacity to work effectively within organizations.