Last night I attended the AHRI Performance and Reward network forum on the topic of Cognitive Flexibility.

If you’re unfamiliar with Cognitive Flexibility (CF), it is essentially the brain’s ability and ease to switch one’s thinking (or train of thought) from one task to another in order to respond or adapt to new stimuli. CF is sometimes referred to as task switching, but don’t get this confused with multitasking (which, as it’s branded, doesn’t actually exist).

Of course, there are different levels of CF, those that have a higher level usually “switch” or adapt at a faster rate. Individuals with higher CF are more likely to be able to adapt quickly when plans changes, obstacles come up or new information is presented, and are often better problem solvers.

Now the concept itself isn’t by any means new, but it is becoming more and more prominent in the workplace setting. As organisations (and therefore employees) are faced with more consistent change how we are able to respond to change is often a determining factor of success.

Our brains love certainty and therein lies a problem for modern businesses.

So when we’re faced with something “uncertain” we often switch on a flight or fight response.

Enhancing your own CF, and encouraging this within your team, can have material benefits to the organisation; higher productivity, less waste of resources, higher (and quicker) adoption of change initiatives to name a few.

Think about your business;

How often do you engage in routine tasks that are done that way “because that’s how it’s always been”?
What environment is created for you and your team to think (or operate) differently? Or does your culture encourage employees to speak up and challenge the norm?
If plans unexpectedly change, or your team is in some way disrupted, how would you describe the response? Calm, proactive and focus, or sheer panic and frustration?
What about when you’re faced with a complex concept or problem – is it impossible to comprehend, or do you get nowhere?

The good news is, you can grow your cognitive flexibility. In its simplest form, the more you expose yourself to new experiences, or different ways of doing things will start to increase your flexibility.

Things like; altering your everyday routine, practicing creative thinking, when asked a question you don’t know the answer to – don’t head straight to google – find different ways to source the information, go out of your way to meet new people.

And in a workplace context? Create space for teams to think differently about routine processes, and encouraging them to challenge static thought processes. If your team is stuck on a problem or faced with something involving complexity, deconstruct the issue – it’s easier to consume what action needs to be taken if you break it into smaller chunks.

Organisations that aren’t keeping up with the rate of change and innovation, compared to their competitors, will in time become obsolete.

So I encourage you to perform a quick cognitive flexibility audit on yourself, and your team (even use the questions posed above as a start).

Does this resonate with you? If so, I would love to hear from you! Whether it's an example of what you’re doing well in your business, or if reading this has really hit home for you in a not-so-positive way and you need some help!

A big thanks to Paula Holden for convening the AHRI forum and Chris Phillips from Grey Matta for presenting.