Understand the Process Challenges

In the first article in this series on Adaptive Leadership we made the distinction between Technical and Adaptive Challenges. This is the starting place to explore what sort of challenge is in front of our church and the type of process that will best address it. With any challenge, you need to find the right process to make progress. With a technical challenge, the process will be pretty straightforward. The refrigerator broke, call a repair person. Learn it can’t be repaired, a new refrigerator is needed. Those are some pretty clear steps to get to an outcome. There may be some issues along the way. What to do with the food? Who to call? Can they come right away? Where to buy the new fridge? Can they deliver it fast? All technical challenges, with technical answers.

Addressing what needs to happen when a refrigerator is broken, a pretty easy process to follow unfolds. Follow the steps and get to the needed outcome of getting the refrigerator replaced. Only what about these parts... Will it be affordable? Will there be enough money to pay for a new refrigerator? Can one be delivered in time? If not, what will happen?

These types of questions bring to light that this may really be an adaptive challenge. It may take more then just locating a place to deliver a refrigerator soon. Now what are the process challenges? How will the gap between need and funds be bridged? Where will the money come from? What does it mean if there is not enough money? This easy technical challenge suddenly requires to be looked at adaptively. Meaning you will need to make adaptations to make forward progress.

This may seem like an oversimplified way to look at challenges. Yet it highlights that upon a deeper look, this seemingly easy situation presents some issues that will need to be addressed in order to move forward. Looking at all aspects of the process, being honest about what it will take to address the need, and being ready to take that hard look will help you meet the challenge effectively and in a healthy way. Start by asking what part of your challenge is technical and what part is adaptive. This will help you find the right solutions that work: a technical fix with technical answers, or adaptive work that takes talking with each other to process the challenge and identify the adaptive work needed in order to more forward.

- Amy Nissley Stauffer