Distinguish Technical and Adaptive Work

Adaptive work tends to be a problem, issue, or opportunity that requires more learning and understanding about the situation. This is when your expertise is not enough when a checklist or another technical tool won’t make the problem go away. Addressing an adaptive challenge requires motivating people to change by engaging and challenging both their hearts and their minds. Technical problems are easy to recognize because you’ve seen them before. You either know the steps to solve them, or you can depend on someone else to make it happen. Neither type of challenge is better nor more important than the other. We all need to learn to address both technical and adaptive problems.

Questions to Ask Yourself to Distinguish between Technical and Adaptive Work:

  • When considering your challenge, what concerns you the most? What makes progress difficult on this concern?
  • What beliefs and values are at stake? What belief or value does the group hold dear?
  • What behaviors created the problem? What attitudes are typical of the group?
  • What values, behaviors, or attitudes might conflict with the work that needs to be done?
  • Which aspects of the situation could you pay attention to that you may have overlooked?