Organizational Agility: Adaptability vs Predictability

Organizational Agility:  Adaptability vs Predictability
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Adaptability is a very admirable quality – for both individuals and organizations.  However, both individuals and organizations LOVE predictability. We tend not to like surprises!  These two characteristics – adaptability and predictability – are opposites, both admirable and desirable, and yet there is certain friction between the two.  How do we find a balance between adaptability and predictability, and somehow practice the best of both? This article explores the differences between adaptability and predictability…and how you can help your organization promote and benefit from both.  

This is the third of a series of four articles on the subject of organizational agility, where we explore key distinctions of agility at the organizational level.  This article, Part 3 in the series, “Adaptability vs Predictability,” considers the management friction between the two forces of adapting and predicting. Part 1, “Agile Instincts and Mindset”, looks at the foundational nature of agile as compared to other approaches that people and organizations adopt.  Part 2, “Team vs Organization Perspective,” looks more closely at the distinct perspectives on agile at different levels within the organization. Finally, Part 4, “Balancing Planning and Adaptability”, dives deeper into the benefits and shortcomings of planning, where an adaptive approach can help optimize planning effectiveness.  


In business, you’ve surely heard people say, “Just don’t give me any surprises.”  Now this can be interpreted in different ways, but I think what it really means is that people want regular and open communication.  If there is bad news, they want it sooner rather than later.

A desire for predictability often is a result of poor communications.  After all, reliably doing the same thing week after week, month after month, and year after year as a sort of rhythm and comfort about it that people like…and that makes life less stressful…and it can be done predictably, without too much communication needed.  However, when you add rapidly changing conditions to the equation, not only can you not do the same thing over and over, but it becomes imperative to communicate more and better…and usually to face change.

Keep that in mind when you consider predictability.  People don’t want surprises. And they do want communication.


Changing conditions require adaptability.  Whether it is changing technologies, changing competitive environments, changing consumer tastes, changing international conditions…organizations need to be adaptable.  And depending on the volatility in the industry environment, some organizations need to be much more adaptable than others.

That’s what organizational agility is all about – being adaptable.  That means that structures that are in place may need to be changed.  It means that awareness is critical so that organizations can recognize the signals that change may be needed.  Adhering to structures within organizations – roles, processes, and norms – may provide predictability and comfort, but in the face of change, adaptability is critical.

Finding the Balance

Organizations need to put agile processes in place in order to become more adaptable…while at the same time maintaining a high degree of predictability.  The agile processes need to be very communication-oriented, where conditions are monitored and discussed, and changes made where necessary.

What is the degree of predictability and adaptability needed within your organization, and are processes in place to accommodate both?

This Post is Part of the Series: Organizational Agility

Here is a series of four articles that focus on the subject of agility and mindset:

  1. Agile Instincts and Mindset
  2. Team vs Organization Perspective
  3. Adaptability vs Predictability
  4. Balancing Planning and Adaptability