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Troopology: Adaptive Spaces

Dr Florian Andresenand Dr Benjamin Schulte shared their scientifically sound, empirically proven insights on this topic with us during our CIHBw Troopology programme.

Challenge: dynamic adaptability

Companies and organisations face the challenge of staying dynamically adaptable: they must keep their core business running (‘exploitation’) while advancing innovation at the same time (‘exploration’). When applied to the Bundeswehr, this involves combining a formal and hierarchical system whose primary task is to ‘produce security’ (Bundeswehr logic) with an entrepreneurial system centred around handling uncertainty (start-up logic) as a requirement for maintaining the ability to innovate.

Adaptive spaces: a possible solution

Andresen and Schulte believe that the establishment of adaptive spaces may provide a way of managing this delicate balance. These are not physical spaces but social contexts (conferences, meetings etc.) involving representatives of both systems, who mediate between the two conflicting perspectives. This approach facilitates the systematic development of new initiatives that can then be incorporated into the core organisation. Adaptive spaces, then, are a vehicle for fostering cultural change within the system. The process is a negotiation of a new culture – in our case, a blend of the Bundeswehr culture and the start-up culture.

Enabling leadership

Leadership plays a central role in this approach. The objective of adaptive spaces is to create a climate in which every team member feels safe to voice contrary opinions. The leaders’ tasks, then, is to establish a common understanding and a convergence of the two logics and incorporate that understanding into the formal and hierarchical system. When it comes to enabling leadership, it is important to remember that this approach is a distributed form of leadership quite unlike what soldiers know as the ‘Highlander principle’, where everyone is responsible for their own combat zone. Instead, there are various actors who all influence the innovative processes in the adaptive spaces in their own way. According to Andresen and Schulte, an organisation should ideally incorporate a variety of adaptive spaces in order to facilitate the adaptability that innovation requires.

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