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Adaptive Action, a concept deeply embedded in the fabric of organizational development (OD), emerges as a guiding beacon in the tumultuous seas of modern organizational challenges. Its origins, attributed to the innovative work of Glenda Eoyang, founder of the Human Systems Dynamics Institute, lie in the rich soils of complexity science and systems thinking. This process is a testament to the human capacity for adaptability, offering a structured yet flexible framework for navigating the uncertainties that typify contemporary organizational landscapes.


do this over. It should be less flowery and exaggerated Adaptive Action presents a straightforward yet profound approach to decision-making and problem-solving in environments marked by uncertainty. This methodology, developed by Glenda Eoyang and deeply rooted in the principles of complexity science and systems thinking, provides individuals and organizations with a dynamic framework to address challenges. At its core, Adaptive Action is structured around three simple questions: What? So what? Now what? These questions guide users through a process of observation, reflection, and action, enabling them to identify patterns, make sense of these patterns in their specific context, and decide on the next steps that lead towards greater effectiveness and adaptability.

In today's fast-paced and unpredictable world, organizations face a myriad of challenges that demand agility and resilience. From rapid technological advancements to evolving market demands and the pressing need for sustainable practices, the ability to navigate uncertainty has become crucial. Adaptive Action matters in this context as it empowers organizations to remain flexible, responsive, and proactive. By fostering a culture of continuous learning and adaptation, it equips entities to not only survive but thrive amid the complexities of the modern business landscape.

The guiding principles of Adaptive Action are deeply embedded in an understanding of systems and the patterns that emerge within them. This approach acknowledges that organizations are complex systems characterized by interdependencies and nonlinear interactions. By focusing on patterns rather than isolated incidents, Adaptive Action encourages a holistic view of challenges, promoting solutions that are sustainable and aligned with the broader system's dynamics. It moves away from traditional linear thinking, embracing the unpredictability and fluidity of complex environments.

This methodology is also grounded in a value system that prioritizes learning, collaboration, and inclusivity. It recognizes the collective intelligence of groups and leverages diverse perspectives to enrich understanding and decision-making. Adaptive Action champions a culture of openness, where questioning and exploring uncertainties are seen as strengths rather than vulnerabilities. This ethos resonates with contemporary organizational needs for psychological safety, innovation, and adaptability, making Adaptive Action not only relevant but essential in today's organizational development landscape.

Conceptually, Adaptive Action is tied to several disciplinary traditions, including organizational behavior, social psychology, business, and organizational psychology. These disciplines provide a rich theoretical backdrop that informs the practice of Adaptive Action, offering insights into human behavior, group dynamics, and organizational change. For instance, the emphasis on patterns and systems thinking in Adaptive Action can be linked to theories of organizational behavior that explore how individuals and groups interact within organizations and how these interactions influence organizational performance and culture.

Moreover, the iterative nature of Adaptive Action—where the cycle of What? So what? Now what? is continuously repeated—echoes principles of action research in social psychology. This approach advocates for a cyclical process of action and reflection, aimed at understanding and improving social practices. In the context of Adaptive Action, this translates into an ongoing dialogue with the environment, where learning and adaptation are constant.

In conclusion, Adaptive Action stands as a vital resource in the toolkit of organizational development practitioners. Its simplicity belies the depth of insight it offers into managing complexity and fostering adaptive capacities within organizations. As we look to the future, with its inherent challenges and opportunities, the principles, and practices of Adaptive Action will undoubtedly play a pivotal role in shaping resilient, innovative, and sustainable organizations.

Uses & Benefits

Adaptive Action, with its elegantly simple framework, serves as a versatile tool in addressing a wide range of organizational challenges. Its utility spans various scenarios, from strategic planning and team development to crisis management and organizational transformation. Specifically, this methodology shines in situations characterized by complexity and ambiguity, where traditional linear planning models fall short. By asking "What? So what? Now what?", organizations can navigate through uncertainty, unlocking insights and actions that are both relevant and impactful.

Organizational Uses

In the realm of strategic planning, Adaptive Action helps organizations to continuously reassess their environment, strategies, and operations in light of emerging patterns and changes. This dynamic approach allows for more flexible and responsive planning processes, in contrast to the rigidity of traditional long-term planning methods. For team development, Adaptive Action fosters a culture of open dialogue and collective learning. Teams engage in reflective practices that enhance cohesion, alignment, and effectiveness, tackling complex issues through a collaborative lens.

Crisis management is another area where Adaptive Action proves invaluable. In crises, the rapid pace of change and high levels of uncertainty can overwhelm conventional decision-making processes. Adaptive Action offers a structured yet flexible approach to identify immediate and strategic actions, enabling organizations to respond to crises with agility and resilience. Furthermore, in organizational transformation efforts, Adaptive Action supports the navigation of change processes. By iteratively assessing the current state, envisioning the desired future, and identifying actionable steps, organizations can steer transformation efforts with clarity and purpose.


Enhanced Agility and Resilience: Organizations become more adept at responding to change, equipped to adjust strategies and actions swiftly in response to new information and emerging patterns.

Deepened Understanding of Complexity: The process cultivates a deeper appreciation for the complexity within and around the organization, promoting strategies that are attuned to systemic dynamics and interdependencies.

Fostering a Learning Culture: Adaptive Action embeds a continuous learning ethos, encouraging reflection and inquiry as foundational practices. This not only builds individual and collective capacity but also nurtures innovation.

Improved Collaboration and Inclusion: By engaging diverse perspectives in the Adaptive Action process, organizations tap into the collective wisdom of their members, fostering an environment of inclusivity and co-creation.

Strategic Flexibility: The methodology enables organizations to remain strategically flexible, adapting plans and actions as they learn and as external conditions evolve.

Enhanced Problem-Solving Capacity: Adaptive Action equips individuals and teams with a robust framework for problem-solving, enhancing their ability to tackle complex issues with insight and creativity.

In essence, Adaptive Action stands as a powerful tool in the organizational development arsenal. Its broad applicability and rich benefits make it especially useful for OD practitioners who champion values such as collaboration, psychological safety, inclusion, and the alignment between the development of organizational culture and strategy. By integrating Adaptive Action into their practices, organizations can navigate the complexities of the modern business environment with greater confidence, creativity, and cohesion.


OD Application

Case Study 1: Healthcare Organization

Challenge: A healthcare organization faces the daunting challenge of improving patient care quality while managing the constraints of limited resources and regulatory compliance. The complexity of healthcare delivery, coupled with the unpredictability of patient needs and the rapid pace of medical advancements, creates a dynamic and challenging environment.

Adaptive Action Application: Utilizing the Adaptive Action framework, the organization initiates a cycle of inquiry and action. The first step, "What?", involves gathering data on current patient care outcomes, resource allocation, and compliance processes. Patterns of both excellence and areas needing improvement are identified, highlighting the interplay between resource limitations, staff performance, and patient satisfaction.

In the "So what?" phase, the organization delves into the implications of these patterns, considering the impacts on patient care, staff morale, and operational efficiency. This reflective process uncovers underlying issues such as bottlenecks in resource allocation, communication gaps between departments, and the need for ongoing staff training to keep pace with best practices in patient care.

Moving to "Now what?", the organization develops targeted strategies to address these issues. Actions include reallocating resources to high-need areas, implementing cross-departmental communication platforms to improve coordination, and establishing a continuous education program for staff. These actions are designed to be iterative, with ongoing evaluation and adjustment as new patterns emerge and conditions change.

Insights and Solutions: Through Adaptive Action, the healthcare organization gains a deeper understanding of the complexities influencing patient care quality. This approach enables the development of nuanced, strategic solutions that are directly linked to observed patterns and challenges. By embracing an iterative process of action, reflection, and adaptation, the organization fosters a culture of continuous improvement, directly contributing to enhanced patient care and operational effectiveness.

Case Study 2: Technology Organization

Challenge: A technology company struggles with rapid scaling, facing issues related to maintaining innovation, culture, and communication as the organization grows.

Adaptive Action Application: The "What?" phase reveals patterns of siloed departments, decreasing innovation rates, and dilution of company culture. During "So what?", the company recognizes the need for cross-functional teams to enhance innovation, as well as the importance of preserving core cultural values. The "Now what?" phase leads to the creation of cross-functional innovation hubs and initiatives to reinforce company culture and values.

Insights and Solutions: Adaptive Action enables the company to strategically navigate scaling challenges, enhancing innovation and culture through targeted, iterative actions.

Case Study 3: Non-Profit Organization

Challenge: A non-profit grapples with donor engagement and fundraising in a shifting economic landscape.

Adaptive Action Application: Initially, "What?" involves analyzing engagement data and fundraising trends. "So what?" helps understand the changing donor expectations and economic factors at play. Finally, "Now what?" guides the organization towards innovative fundraising strategies and engagement practices tailored to the current context.

Insights and Solutions: Through Adaptive Action, the non-profit adapts its strategies to effectively engage donors and secure funding, demonstrating the framework's applicability across different sectors.

Each case study underscores the versatility of Adaptive Action in providing strategic, actionable insights across diverse organizational challenges. By applying this framework, organizations can enhance their problem-solving capabilities, adaptability, and overall effectiveness.

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Facilitating Adaptive Action requires a nuanced understanding of the process and the ability to guide participants through its three pivotal questions: What? So what? Now what? This journey not only demands technical proficiency but also a deep empathy for the human elements at play. Let's delve into how a consultant might facilitate this process, using a hypothetical scenario in a mid-sized manufacturing firm grappling with supply chain disruptions.

Step-by-Step Facilitation:

Setting the Stage: The facilitator begins by creating a safe, open environment where all participants feel valued and heard. This involves setting clear expectations, explaining the purpose of Adaptive Action, and emphasizing the non-judgmental nature of the process.

What? - Observing Patterns: Participants are asked to share observations about the current supply chain disruptions. The facilitator encourages the group to identify patterns without jumping to solutions or placing blame. For instance, the group may note recurrent delays with certain suppliers or bottlenecks in specific areas of the supply chain.

So What? - Understanding Implications: Here, the facilitator guides the group to explore the implications of identified patterns. Questions like, "How do these disruptions affect our production timelines?" or "What is the impact on our relationship with clients?" help deepen the analysis. The facilitator keeps the discussion focused on understanding the broader context and ramifications of the observed patterns.

Now What? - Planning Action: In this phase, the facilitator helps the group brainstorm potential actions to address the supply chain disruptions. This might involve exploring alternative suppliers, adjusting production schedules, or improving communication channels. The facilitator ensures that proposed actions are specific, achievable, and directly linked to the patterns and insights previously discussed.

Implementation and Reflection: After deciding on actions, the facilitator discusses with the group how these actions will be implemented, who will be responsible, and how progress will be monitored. They emphasize the iterative nature of Adaptive Action, highlighting that the process does not end with implementation but continues as the situation evolves and new patterns emerge.

Introduction to Clients:

Via Email: The facilitator sends an email prior to the session, briefly explaining Adaptive Action and its benefits. The email assures participants that no prior knowledge is required and that the process is designed to leverage the collective wisdom of the group to navigate complex challenges.

Facilitator’s Talking Points: During the session, the facilitator opens with a brief explanation of why Adaptive Action is particularly suited to addressing the supply chain disruptions. They relate the process to everyday problem-solving practices, making it accessible and relatable. They assure participants that the goal is not to find immediate, perfect solutions but to start a journey towards more effective, adaptive responses.

Questions for Deep Engagement:

To elicit deep, latent, and surprising personal assumptions, the facilitator might ask:

When you think about our supply chain issues, what assumptions are we making about our suppliers' capabilities and intentions?

How might our organizational culture be influencing our perception and response to these disruptions?

In what ways do our communication practices enable or hinder our ability to adapt to supply chain challenges?

What beliefs about risk and uncertainty are shaping our approach to solving these problems?

How do our individual roles and responsibilities affect our views on the best course of action?

Addressing Potential Reservations:

Finally, the facilitator acknowledges potential reservations about the Adaptive Action process. They reassure participants that while the process may seem simple, its power lies in its ability to uncover deep insights and foster meaningful action. They highlight the importance of patience, openness to learning, and commitment to collective action. By addressing concerns and emphasizing the supportive nature of the process, the facilitator sets the stage for a productive and transformative session.

AI Assist

Integrating Adaptive Action into an organizational development practice can be significantly enhanced with the support of a custom GPT script. This script is designed to guide users through a personalized application of Adaptive Action, helping them to navigate complex challenges with greater insight and effectiveness. Below is a step-by-step prompt that consultants can use to facilitate this process for themselves or their clients.

Custom GPT Script for Adaptive Action:

Introduction Prompt:


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"Welcome to your Adaptive Action guide. Today, we'll explore a structured yet flexible approach to tackle complex challenges. Are you ready to identify patterns, understand their implications, and plan your next wise action? Please briefly describe the challenge you're facing."

What? - Observing Patterns:


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"Based on the challenge you've described, let's start with the first question of Adaptive Action: What? Please list your observations related to this challenge. Focus on patterns, interactions, and any recurring events."

So What? - Understanding Implications:


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"Reflecting on the patterns you've observed, let's move to the next question: So what? What do these patterns imply for your situation? How do they affect your team, project, or organization?"

Now What? - Planning Action:


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"Considering the implications of these patterns, it's time to think about action: Now what? What are the possible actions you could take to address these patterns? List all potential actions, no matter how big or small."

Prioritization and Strategy:


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"Looking at the actions you've identified, which do you believe are most critical to implement first? Why? This will help prioritize your efforts effectively."

Implementation Plan:


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"For the action(s) you've prioritized, outline a basic implementation plan. Who will be involved? What resources will you need? How will you measure success?"

Reflection and Iteration:


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"Adaptive Action is an iterative process. Once you've taken action, you'll observe new patterns emerging. How do you plan to monitor these changes and adjust your actions accordingly?"

Utilizing the Script:

Consultants can use this script directly with clients or adapt it for workshops, coaching sessions, or strategic planning meetings. By guiding participants through these prompts, the GPT assists in deeply engaging with the Adaptive Action process, facilitating thoughtful analysis, and strategic planning.

This AI-enhanced approach not only makes the Adaptive Action methodology more accessible but also enables users to practice and refine their skills in real-time. As participants respond to each prompt, they are encouraged to think critically and creatively, leveraging the GPT's guidance to explore new perspectives and solutions.

Incorporating this script into an OD consulting practice offers a powerful way to amplify the benefits of Adaptive Action, providing clients with a resource that supports continuous learning, adaptation, and organizational development.