How Fit is Your Business? Part 5: Endurance

How Fit is Your Business? Part 5: Endurance

Endurance, the final of the five fitness indicators in the “How Fit is Your Business?” metaphor is a measure of sustained success, perseverance, and resilience.

Have you built systems, processes and a culture that supports sustained success?

Earlier this year many of us in North America were treated to a full out deep freeze, followed by the bomb cyclone hitting the east coast. This, and my own love (and I know I am in the minority here) of winter weather, has me thinking a lot about “heartiness”. Something I admire about my fellow winter sports enthusiasts is their consistent, good natured heartiness. They inspire me and in my own quest to emulate them, I came across some research on “endurance work,” which is an academic term that closely parallels heartiness, and is “defined as the ability to keep going (physically and mentally) in the face of pain, discomfort and suffering, including as a celebrated cultural practice in endurance sports such as triathlon and distance running”  (Allen-Collinson, Crust, & Swann, 2017, p. 4).

How to Be Hearty. In their study of the endurance work of high altitude mountaineers, the authors found that their participants drew on their past lived experiences of pushing past their pain and exhaustion (their embodied experience), as well as an ability to make intentional cognitive choices to push on by thinking about all they had invested in their goal and the goal itself (in this case, summiting). This is the intentional practice of endurance work and “Mountaineers must learn how to interpret sensations in order to render them meaningful, before responding to them” (Allen-Collinson, Crust, & Swann, p. 8). 

When Not to Endure. Like all guiding principles, endurance is not an absolute. Experienced climbers also know when “not to endure”. In fact, it is key to their survival. They learn to assess their bodies and the external conditions, as well as their fellow climbers to know when pushing on would be too risky—either for themselves, or their fellow climbers. All too often leaders and their businesses fail because they could not adapt their goal based on new information or discoveries.

Endurance is intentional work. Yes, it requires mental toughness, but also mindful presence and the ability to fully experience and interpret subtle cues from our bodies and environment. Endurance also demands the ability to draw on past experiences of times when we forged ahead and pushed beyond previous limits, and our ability to refocus on our value and meaning in reaching our goals. Without clear purpose, it is difficult to forge ahead when you encounter formidable challenges and obstacles.

Lessons for Leading Agile Teams

Leaders of agile teams must develop the capacity for endurance work, as well, and know when to push their teams to new levels, and when to make adjustments. They must be able to quickly assess whether or not the project pace is sustainable. If it is not, they likely need to adjust by either adding more people to the team or dialing back the amount of work they are attempting to accomplish during each work cycle or sprint.

  • How do you and your team assess your current capacity for endurance?
  • What indicators do you monitor that signal your need to adapt and adjust your team(s), workload and/or workforce?

Athletes know that their quest for success cannot lead to burnout, though all too often organizational leaders overlook their team’s capacity to endure. Ignore it at your peril. Attending and attuning to our individual and team endurance and the practices that can sustain it is a critical dimension of organizational fitness. 

Turn Challenges into Opportunities 

I have written about my passion for amateur alpine ski racing and some of the agility lessons I have learned out on the slopes. On some of the coldest days, including a day in January

Enduring sub-zero temps on race day

when the windchill hovered between 10-15 degrees below zero fahrenheit, I’ll admit that I was tempted to hunker down and stay cozy. And yet, I had signed up for two days of racing in Wisconsin. In the spirit of practicing what I preach and turning challenges into opportunities, I got out there and used it as an opportunity to work on my own heartiness.

The author sporting the spoils of endurance

I’m not suggesting winter sports are for everyone, however I am challenging you to think about how you can develop your own and your team’s endurance and heartiness.

What practices do you, or could you, experiment with to enhance your ability to “keep going.”?

How Fit is Your Business? Part 4: Speed & Mobility

How Fit is Your Business? Part 4: Speed & Mobility

Many day-to-day business responsibilities and operations are routine. In order to be prepared for the unexpected, we must constantly scan the environment for new opportunities and challenges.  Responsiveness, Competitiveness and, Innovation are key components of an organizations Speed and Mobility.

How Fit is Your Business?Are you and your workforce able to move quickly with the needs of the market?


Flexibility is not one in the same with speed and mobility as discussed earlier, physical flexibility enables broader access to your strengths. Therefore, you need to be flexible in order to move. You also have to be ready which is where speed and mobility enter.

Readiness is the Capacity for Speed and Mobility

Military troops are ready when they can be quickly mobilized to respond to an emergent need. Similarly, your workforce is ready when it can rapidly mobilize to respond to a new opportunity, a shift in the market, or even a crisis.

In The Agility Shift, I describe the events that revealed a significant gap between competitors Nokia and Ericsson’s ability to mobilize. A fire in an Albuquerque, NM semiconductor plant caused a supply chain disruption for a crucial component on which both cell phone manufacturers depended. Nokia was ready to quickly mobilize in response to the crisis, while Ericsson was not, leading to significant losses and a drop in their market share. Sometimes it takes a crisis to prioritize agility. In recent years, Ericsson has done this across its enterprise with impressive results. The good news is that you and your business can benefit from the lessons learned by others and develop your readiness by attending to these critical areas:

  • Communication, Collaboration and Coordination
  • Surface Exposure
  • Decision Speed
  • Time to Market

Four Ways to Improve Your Speed and Mobility

Improve Communication, Collaboration and Coordination. Speed and mobility require competence, as well as systems and processes for what I have identified as the three Cs of agility: 

communication, collaboration and coordination.

Often cited for its agility, fashion retailer Zara is able to respond to changing trends and customer tastes at a regional and even store level. With an integrated supply chain and innovative systems and processes to monitor sales and feedback, Zara is able to get new fashions from

 concept to retail racks in a matter of weeks. Are you making optimal use of your existing systems and processes to maximize the three Cs?  

Increase Your Surface Exposure.  One of your first priorities to improve speed and mobility is to increase what researchers Christopher Worley and Edward Lawler call “surface exposure.” (2010). Surface exposure is the degree to which members of your organization are exposed to feedback and new developments in the marketplace. Zara has developed sophisticated channels and practices for just this purpose. Another of my clients uses Slack to monitor social media and other feedback channels in real time and immediately discuss them across product development, marketing, and customer service. In these examples it is not enough to monitor the information; your team must have the commitment and capability to digest and rapidly respond. How can you increase your surface exposure and responsiveness to the feedback it provides?

Improve Decision Speed.  Agile systems and processes have little value if the ideas and input they channel get lost in a maze of confusion and enervation. Numerous studies have linked fast decision speed with organizational performance and growth. Agile organizations empower their employees to make decisions on the spot, especially when they directly affect business results. Don’t let your fear of losing control deter you from improving decision speed. Rather, use it as motivation to clarify decision rights throughout your team or organization. This recent HBR article on decision making provides an excellent guide. Are your employees empowered to quickly make decisions that can impact business results?

Improve Time to Market.  You will have a hard time sustaining your results if your competitors beat you to the market with new products and services. A study by found that developers using agile methodologies improved their time to market by 61%. Rather than adopt all of the elements of agile methodologies, especially if you are not in the software business,  you can significantly improve your timing by shifting your mindset and business practices with many lessons learned from agile pioneers. I distill and translate many of these lessons for wider application in The Agility Shift.

What business practices, systems, and processes do you have in place to increase your speed and mobility in response to shifts in your market?

How Fit Is Your Business Part 3: Balance

How Fit is Your Business? Part 3: Balance

In Part 2 of this series, we discovered that in business, FLEXIBILITY provides the ability to use core strengths to adapt and respond effectively to both challenges and opportunities. BALANCE, the focus of Part 3 of my “How Fit is Your Business?” series, plays a key role in identifying and leveraging those opportunities.

 Does your organization have access to a diverse network of skills, knowledge, talent, and resources to respond to opportunities and challenges as they arise?

With the Winter Olympics upon us, I am appreciating more than ever how balance is necessary for success in all competitive sports. Just watch Mikeala Shiffrin dance through a slalom course, or Nathan Chen leap into another quadruple jump on ice, landing perfectly on one foot, and you will see what I mean. You would be hard-pressed to name a sport where balance was not a key success factor.

Dynamic Balance in Action

Author, Practicing Dynamic Balance

We understand balance, in physical terms, as not just the ability to maintain equilibrium and focus, but to regain balance during the countless times it will be disrupted. For me, as a Masters Alpine Racer, slalom offers the greatest opportunity to practice this aspect of balance. It is the most technical of the alpine events, as the gates are set the closest together, requiring high-speed shifts in direction and balance. The event is sometimes referred to as “a series of linked recoveries”.  The skiers that excel are not necessarily those who never lose their balance, but those that master the art of recovering it.

What Does Balance Look Like in Your Organization?

By using the fitness metaphor, we can move beyond purely metric-based approaches to balance, such as Balanced Scorecard, the strategic and performance management system, and inspire fresh thinking and practices.

In this post, I highlight three key aspects of organizational balance.

  • Stability: Identifying gaps in your Relational Web
  • Reflection: Identifying Growth Opportunities
  • Quality of Life: Making Time for Work, Play and Rest

Stability: Identifying Gaps in your Relational Web

One of the keys to sustained business success is implementing management practices, systems, and processes that balance Flexibility and Stability. Both are essential, though many leaders mistake stability for control when, in fact, stability is dynamic (just watch one of the Olympic mogul competitions to see what I mean).

Rather than being static, balance is the ability to make countless adjustments and adaptations while maintaining focus on a clear vision or goal.

One of the most effective ways to ensure the capacity to make those adjustments while making forward progress is to weave a robust Relational Web. Like the spider web that inspires it, your Relational Web has the capacity to expand and strengthen as conditions require. It consists of your web of skills, knowledge, talent, and resources that you need to be able to tap at a moment’s notice when things don’t go as planned or when a new opportunity emerges.

While your web is more than your social network, it includes it, and for good reason. A recent study of 180 teams at Google found that the most productive had leaders with the largest and most diverse social networks. How did they build those networks? One notable strategy was to consistently rotate their lunch partners.

Too often, we stay within our comfort zone socially, or tend to stay within familiar experiences. Comfort is wonderful in reinforcing and confirming our value, but it does little to expose us to new knowledge, perspectives or resources.

Learn How to Identify Gaps in Your Relational Web

Identify the gaps in your Relational Web to ensure that you have the balance to be effective when things don’t go as planned. Take a few minutes to consider if you have ready resources for when you need to:

  • Create a solution for, or resolve an unfamiliar customer issue
  • Learn a new technology
  • Make sense of a complex situation (business, interpersonal, political/governmental, other)
  • Deal with a difficult interpersonal/cross-cultural situation
  • Pursue a new idea or opportunity
  • Understand a change in business strategy
  • Change course in response to a market, regulatory or other external shift

Very likely, if you thought about specific people and resources you might tap for each occurrence, you discovered some gaps in your Relational Web, or found that the same names popped up more than once. Identifying the gaps in your Relational Web is the first step to expanding and strengthening it for more stability. You can find more ideas and strategies to do just this in The Agility Shift.

Reflection: Identifying Growth Opportunities

This series began with an invitation and guide to reflect on your organization’s Strengths. This practice is both energizing and Strength-building, as the reflection process itself can help amplify your assets and inspire leaders at all levels of your organization to

The Agility Shift Book

Training, no matter if we are working out, or planning the future of our organization, means pushing performance to the next level.

live into them more fully. Often, a renewed appreciation for your strengths as individual leaders, teams and as an organization as a whole is enough to inspire innovative solutions to previously vexing issues.

Strength reflections can also lead to the discovery of new growth opportunities. For example, as you reflect on recent successes and look ahead to your aspirations to the year ahead, consider:

  • What new strategic alliances or partnerships could help you reach your goals?
  • What new learning approaches or resources will be needed?
  • What new skills, knowledge and talent will you need to foster internally or externally?
  • What leadership qualities do you want to recognize and reinforce? How will you do that in a way that positively builds on your culture?

These are just a few reflections that can lead to generative ideas and action for more Balance in the year ahead. Athletes and businesses alike must regularly shift their development focus based on current needs and long-term goals. Expect this to be a dynamic process. For example, in any given time period you may need to shift your focus from strength to flexibility, or from endurance (the topic of Part Five in our series) or to balance, itself.


Quality of Life: Making Time for Work, Play and Rest

It’s not balanced if it’s not sustainable. As innovators, we are all biased towards action. This can be our blessing and our curse. Balance is as much about effective resting and playing, as it is about effective action.

I have written extensively about the need to create space (literal, social, psychological, emotional and metaphorical) for play in my book, From Workplace to Playspace. Playspace is the space for the play of new ideas, for people to play new roles, for improvised play and for more play in the system. It is not necessarily about the “funny hats and games” kind of play, though I admit to being a fan of spontaneous silliness in the right context. Playspace is essential for any agile system. If there is no room for play, there is no room for responding effectively to the unexpected because both require space to maneuver.

Play and playspace also provide an opportunity to rejuvenate, which we all need to stay in balance!

No System Can Sustain Itself Without Rest

There is no shortage of research cataloging the diminishing returns of overworking.  When we are regularly pushed beyond capacity, our minds, bodies, and spirits lose their ability to be effective, let alone to be creative and agile. Balance includes a healthy dose of rest to off-set all of that activity. The occasional all-hands-on-deck marathon in response to a crisis or opportunity is to be expected. If it becomes business as usual, expect to see a drop off in productivity and innovation, not to mention in the engagement and retention of your top talent.

It may be tempting to concentrate all of your organizational fitness strategy on activity because that is when it feels like things are really getting done (and who doesn’t love getting things done?!). However, sustainable success includes balancing all of that action with Rest and Play as part of your organizational fitness strategy.

In the next post of this series, I will explore the fourth “fit” business indicator: Speed and Mobility. 

How Fit is Your Business? Part 2 Flexibility

How Fit is Your Business? Part 2: Flexibility

In Part 1 of this series, we’ve already learned that keeping your business “Fit” will keep your moves agile. Agility, along with adaptability and resourcefulness, are the keys to maintaining our next business performance indicator: Flexibility.

Have you developed the competence and capacity to adapt when things don’t go as planned?

Remember, strength and flexibility are interconnected.  The more flexible you are physically the more access you have to the strength in the entire length of your muscles. However, too much flexibility without strength can lead to instability. 

In the gym, if we only concentrate on strength, our muscle fibers shorten and limit our flexibility and range of motion (you’ve heard of the term ‘muscle-bound’), which can lead to injury.

In business, flexibility means being able to use your core strengths to adapt to and respond effectively to both challenges and opportunities.

This is the essence of what I have come to call The Agility Shift. Without the capacity for agility, no business can sustain its relevance or results.

Practice Flexibility

Just as our bodies need intentional practices to maintain flexibility, so do our organizations. Without intention, the muscles in our bodies and our organizations will atrophy.

We can all name brands, businesses, even entire industries that allowed their success to lull them into believing that they did not need to continue to adapt and innovate. Most athletes know they are only as good as their most recent competition. This knowledge motivates them to jump right back into the gym soon after a successful competition.  

Continuous training means you are always pushing performance to the next level, no matter whether you are working out or planning the future of your organization .

How Can You and Your Organization Become More Flexible in 2018?

I highlight several ways highly flexible and innovative organizations stay that way in my books From Workspace to Playspace and The Agility Shift. It starts with a mindset shift and extends to shifts in the ways you work and do business, as well as how you implement and use highly adaptable systems and processes.

One of the best ways to improve collaboration and flexibility only takes a few minutes.  Try it the next time you meet with your team. Kick off your meeting with a quick improv or agility exercise, here is one of my favorites.

Where and how do you and your team “work out” to maintain your strength and flexibility to meet the next opportunity?

How Fit is Your Business? Part 1 Strength

How Fit is Your Business? Part 1: Strength

Keeping Your Business “Fit” Will Keep Your Moves Agile!  

As you regroup and refocus on goals for the coming year, I will use fitness as both a metaphor and framework to help inspire some fresh thinking and approaches.

Illustrated by the “How Fit is Your Business?” graphic to the right, each of the next several posts will explore a new dimension of fitness: Strength, Flexibility, Balance, Speed and Mobility and Endurance.

Remember these are all necessary components of physical fitness and as you work toward your personal goals, consider giving your organizational fitness the same attention. Let’s start with Strength!




Strength: Do you know your strengths and consistently build on and leverage them?

As with personal fitness, organizational fitness begins with strength. The core muscles of a fit organization are:    

  • Vision, Mission, Values           

    Strength is just one of the five indicators that describe athletic, as well as workplace success. Click here for all five.

  • Core Competencies
  • Relevance

Just like the muscles in our body, our organizational strengths run throughout our entire system. Hence, strength doesn’t come to us just by purchasing a gym membership (if only it were so!), it comes from building a routine and continuous practice.

Strength alone, of course, does not amount to fitness; it must be developed along with the other aspects. If you have ever seen someone who only spends their time in the weight lifting section of the gym, you know what I mean. This is where the term muscle-bound comes from.

Focusing only on strength can literally bind your joints and inhibit your full range of motion. Strength and flexibility enhance each other. Stretching the muscles actually allows for access to the power of the whole length of the muscle fiber. Shorter muscles, would mean less strength and a smaller range of motion.  Simply focusing on flexibility without strength can lead to a total lack of stability.

Translate this to the capacity of individual leaders, teams and even entire organizations and the same is true: Only focusing on one or two core competencies (e.g. efficiency) without learning continuously to stay relevant to the changing needs and opportunities in the market limits your ultimate competitive strength.

Consequently, being overly responsive without attention to your core strengths can quickly lead to organizational instability.

If you have not already identified your strengths and core competencies, NOW is the perfect time.


The activity outlined below can be an individual reflection, or a more comprehensive growth opportunity for your team or entire organization. Start with an appreciative reflection on this past year and ask:


  •      When was I or were we at our best? (When were we best engaging our talent and having the biggest impact?)
  •      What was happening?
  •      What were we doing, thinking and feeling?
  •      How did we work together or tap our resources for the greatest impact?
  •      What contributed the most to our success?

Next, give yourself time to reflect on your answers and, if you are doing this as a team or organization, provide a chance for team members to interview their colleagues and compile their responses into themes.

Finally, with your strengths in hand, generate ideas for how you can be more intentional in developing and building on these strengths in the new year.

For example, if one of your strengths is cross-departmental collaboration and communication or working with strategic partners, how might you improve on this in 2018?

Agile Organizations Are Fit Organizations – How Fit is Your Business?

How Fit is Your Business?

Halloween, Thanksgiving, Holiday Parties, oh my! The fall and winter months are truly an indulgent time of year.

Really it’s no wonder that by New Year’s Eve “getting fit” is often the first thing on our minds!

As a result, many of us, make time to check in on personal health and well-being. I’ve found that it’s   effective to ask similar questions about our businesses and organizations.  You likely have  a vision, a mission, and proven values but is your organization truly fit for the year ahead?

Health and Fitness is the Key

The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease” (2006).  Fitness is variously characterized as a healthy balance of strength, flexibility, balance (at least for most athletes), speed and/or mobility, and endurance.  It turns out, these same characteristics lead to fit organizations!

Many day-to-day business responsibilities and operations are routine, but in order to be prepared for the unexpected and unplanned, we must constantly scan the environment for new opportunities and challenges.  

Keeping Your Business “Fit” Will Keep

Your Moves Agile!  

Get Well. Stay Well.

The connection between individual and organizational health is more than a metaphor. All you need to do is think of a time when you let your own health and well-being practices slip. Perhaps you were in a stressful period of work, or recent travels disrupted your exercise routine and healthy eating habits.

While we might be able to ride out such a disruption for a short time, we all know that longer stretches can create bad habits and take a toll.  In the long term, attending to our health and fitness prevents illness, injury, and maintains mental and emotional health.

In other words, we might be able to maintain our performance over a short stretch—to meet a project deadline, respond to a crisis, or get through a significant disruption—but our capacity to perform long-term demands requires constant attention to our organizational fitness, just as does our personal health and fitness does.

The Common Denominator is Performance!


Over the next few weeks I will share more about how these five key indicators describe athletic, as well as workplace success and how, as we kick off a new year with positive intentions and new possibilities, you can attend to both. In previous posts, I refer to these as intentional practices.

From Personal Fitness to Organizational Fitness

In the graphic above I introduce a few ways each of the dimensions of physical fitness extend to organizational fitness.

Each of the fitness indicators are interrelated. If you have ever witnessed someone  spend all of their time in the weight lifting section of the gym, you know what I mean. This is actually where the term muscle-bound comes from.

Focusing only on strength can literally bind your joints and your ability to have a full range of motion. Consequently, strength and flexibility enhance each other. Stretching the muscles actually allows for access to the power of the whole length of the muscle fiber. Shorter muscles, mean less strength and a smaller range of motion. While only focusing on flexibility without strength can lead to a total lack of stability.


Translate this to the capacity of individual leaders, teams and even entire organizations and the same is true. Only focusing on one or two core competencies without continuously staying relevant to the changing needs and opportunities in the market limits your ultimate competitive strength. At the same time, being overly responsive to changes in the market without attention to your core strengths can quickly lead to organizational instability.

In the coming weeks, I will take a closer look at each of these dimensions of fitness and link them to more Make Shift Happen practices to help you improve your organizational fitness and reach your business goals.


 Let’s Make Shift Happen in 2018!