Customers are demanding more, demographics are changing rapidly, and technology is reshaping mindsets. All of which are challenging organizations to rethink how they operate.

Today's market demands innovation. Innovation inside an organization is a must if companies want to remain relevant. 

What is essential for organizations to remain agile and adaptive in today's disruption-prone market? 

Adaptive space. 

In my recent interview with Michael J. Arena, General Motor's Chief Talent Officer and author of Adaptive Space: How GM and Other Companies are Positively Disrupting Themselves and Transforming into Agile Companies, he said, "Adaptive space helps companies to transform themselves into responsive, agile organizations suited for the age of disruption by enabled individual employees to connect and create across networks--the best way for any company to unleash potential from within." 

According to Arena organizations are comprised of two primary systems: an operational system and an entrepreneurial system.  

Operational systems are found in the formal, bureaucratic organizational structures that push for order--standardization, alignment, and control. Entrepreneurial systems occur in the informal structures and systems that push for change--new opportunities, different operating procedures, new products, and services, or extensions into different business areas. 

"Adaptive space occurs in the interface between the operational and entrepreneurial system by embracing, rather than stifling, the dynamic tension between the two systems," says Arena. "Adaptive space, therefore, is essential in helping organizations become and remain adaptive."

Adaptive space allows a company to be fast and disciplined at the same time. 

In order to prepare for the future workplace, sixty GM leaders recently visited various sites throughout Detroit. During their visits, they interviewed people and explored various workplaces then applied design thinking to positively disrupt the way they work inside their organization. GM now routinely uses co-labs, Shark Tank-like environments, and hack-a-thons internally to help them remain adaptive and agile. (Read this to learn why challenging the prevailing model is so critical for companies today.) 

Read this for another example of how GM is using adaptive space to innovate internally. 

Arena has identified four key network roles that all organizations need to enable adaptive space.  

  • Brokers: They have relationships across many groups and are able to bridge silos to generate new insights; they also act as gateways for new ideas.
  • Connectors: They have many relationships within their core group and are well positioned to get ideas adopted locally, they are also highly trusted within their primary team.
  • Energizers: They are able to create a reputation that spreads quickly across the network, they tend to get the most out of others, and they are more likely to get ideas noticed.
  • Challengers: They provoke change in an organization by tapping into external pressures, they entice debates to encourage idea enhancement and moderate network buzz.

These roles help to facilitate the movement of ideas and information across the firm, and therefore, enable the organization to positively disrupt itself. (To discover your network role, click here to take the assessment.) 

Adaptive space also requires four types of connections: 

  • Discovery: interactions that trigger novel ideas, new insights, and learning that lead to adaptation facilitate by Brokers and Challengers.
  • Development: local interactions within cohesive teams to facilitate idea elaboration and refinement facilitated by Connectors and Energizers.
  • Diffusion: interactions to move concepts across the broader organization to enable scaling, facilitated by Energizers and Brokers.
  • Disruption: interactions to overcome the stiflingly effects of formal structure and enable network closure, facilitated Challengers and Connectors.

Listen to my full interview with Michael Arena here.