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Agility leads to resilience

3 Practical questions for ensuring your team’s ability to thrive

A photo of a long line of hurdles on a track. A pack of runners in the distance begins to race.
Agility is the ability to handle the unexpected. Resilience is what happens when you don't. Photo by alyssa-ledesma on Unsplash

You may have seen pictures of football players running through a set of tires. It seems like a crazy activity but there's actually a purpose behind it. Most gyms have an agility ladder. It is a long fabric rectangle that lays on the floor and forms a series of 10 - 20 squares. The goal is to move as quickly as possible from one end to the other while precisely stepping through the “rungs” in one of a number of different patterns.

It is a functional exercise where you train your feet to land in specific places. This, in turn, stabilizes your entire muscular system and improves balance. 

Continually challenging yourself to go faster is designed to help you become responsive. You can think of this as increasing your “agility score” — how quickly can you respond to something.

Agility ≠Resilience

Some people believe that agility is like a sine wave. The higher the amplitude of your “agility”, the more resilient you are.

Agility does not equal Resilience.

Agility helps us respond to the conditions around us. Remember I said the agility ladder is a functional exercise?

When you’re walking along (maybe looking down at your phone?) and you trip, your agility score is what determines whether or not you’re going to fall down or just look silly for a couple of seconds until you regain your balance.


What, then, is resilience?

Resilience is how we recover from things that didn’t go quite as we expected.

When you actually fall down (remember, don’t text and walk!) and twist your ankle, you’re going to have a recovery period. Depending on the severity of the injury, it might take a short time or a long time.

It turns out that agility is actually related to resilience. That’s one of the reasons so many people confuse them. But they’re not the same thing. Here’s why.

If you’ve conditioned your muscles to respond to different situations, they’re likely to be stronger than someone else who hasn’t invested in that conditioning. And, stronger muscles tend to experience less injury. This leads to a faster recovery.

An agile person recovers from injury more quickly than a person who isn’t agile.

The injury doesn’t make them any more agile. Ideally, it will encourage them to be more careful (which also isn’t a synonym for agility) but it won’t make them more responsive the next time. But the injury does demonstrate their resilience.

Agility, Resilience, and Teams

I’m hoping the conclusion is fairly obvious but, because I’m one of those highly conscientious people, I can’t just leave it there any more than I can play 7 of the 8 notes in an octave.

We all want our team(s) to be more resilient.

In an earlier post, I wrote about how falling down doesn't help you win the race.

Providing people with the “freedom to fail” and a mandate to “fail fast, fail often” depends on training for individual, team, and organizational resilience.

Somebody, somewhere, is going to fall down. They shouldn't do that because they didn't train. And they shouldn't be so broken by the fall that they can't get back up and run the rest of the race.

The systems leaders put in place must support agility training if we're going to build resilient people and teams.

Here are three questions to answer as you create an environment for your team to thrive and produce their best work:

  1. What’s the equivalent of your team’s agility ladder?

  2. Are you using it — or is it rolled up in the corner of the gym, unused, because power-lifting seems so much more cool than exercising your feet?

  3. What are three ways you can help your team train for agility in the coming week?


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