How Scaffolding Transforms Barriers into Stepping Stones

Challenges at work are inevitable. Here are five tips to navigate through them, based on Adam Grant’s Book, “Hidden Potential: The Science of Achieving Greater Things.”

One thing I’ve learned in my career is that work obstacles are part of the journey. Whether it’s communication barriers, balancing demanding workloads or navigating work conflict, it’s all part of the experience. So, how can we deal without getting too stressed?

In Adam Grant’s latest book “Hidden Potential: The Science of Achieving Greater Things” he talks about a way to get past these work problems. He calls it “scaffolding.”

Just like in building a structure, scaffolding helps workers reach high places safely. Adam Grant talks about the idea of using scaffolding as a way to provide temporary support to help us scale to heights we couldn’t otherwise reach on our own. 

When faced with obstacles, our instinct might be to “save face” and retreat inward, attempting to tackle the problem alone. But forward movement lies in looking outward, toward mentors, coaches, role models, peers, and teachers—individuals with relevant experience and expertise—to find solutions. This support network acts as the scaffolding, offering guidance, encouragement, and valuable insights to navigate the obstacles. 

Personally, navigating adverse situations with the advice of a mentor, peer or coach has always made things vastly easier. It creates a buffer between my brain and the issue and gets me out of “fight, flight, freeze” mode and into a creative problem-solving mindset. So much more healthy, sustainable and solutions-focused!

So how do we effectively build and utilize this scaffolding to overcome obstacles? Here are 5 tips: 

1. Identify Your Scaffolding Team

Start by identifying who can be part of your support network or scaffolding team. This can include:

  • Mentors: Look for experienced individuals within or outside your organization who can provide guidance and feedback based on their own career experiences.
  • Peers: Colleagues at your level who may be facing similar challenges or have recently overcome similar obstacles.
  • Coaches: Professional coaches who can offer unbiased advice and help you develop strategies to navigate workplace challenges.
  • Role Models: Individuals in your industry or organization whose career paths or problem-solving approaches you admire.
  • Experts: Professionals with specific knowledge or skills who can help you overcome your current obstacles. This can be a “virtual expert” as well – think TedTalks, YouTube, books, LinkedIn Learning and podcasts. 

Executive coaches I’ve worked with and recommend:
Maria Garrett, Melinda Stephenson, Dawid Wiacek, Julie Chase, Julie Schaller, Harpreet Kaurs, Judith Young Comer
Life coach: Sarah Centrella
Lean systems coach: Jamie Flinchbaugh

2. Schedule Regular Check-insDanielle and Melissa sharing ideas over coffee

Once you have identified your scaffolding team, reach out to schedule regular check-ins. These could be formal meetings or casual conversations, but they ideally should be consistent. I currently meet once a month with my executive coach, participate in a couple masterminds along with the Women in Revenue community.

Use these sessions to:

  • Discuss current challenges and brainstorm solutions.
  • Seek feedback on your approaches and strategies.
  • Gain new perspectives and insights.
  • Stay accountable to your goals and action plans.

3. Develop a Growth Plan

With insights from your scaffolding team, develop a personal growth plan. This should include:

  • Specific goals and milestones you want to achieve.
  • Strategies and actions based on advice from your support network.
  • Skills you need to develop or improve.
  • A timeline for reassessment and reflection.

4. Leverage Diverse Perspectives

Don’t rely on one source of advice or feedback. Different members of your scaffolding team can offer diverse perspectives and solutions. For example:

  • A mentor might help you navigate office conflict.
  • A peer could provide strategies for an approach they have already mastered. 
  • An expert might offer their “playbook” for how to approach something you are struggling with.

5. Reflect and Adapt

Regularly reflect on the feedback and support you’ve received. Ask yourself:

  • What strategies have been effective?
  • What lessons have I learned from overcoming this obstacle?
  • How can I apply this knowledge to future challenges?
  • Based on your reflections, adapt your approaches and update your growth plan. Also, consider how you can contribute to others’ scaffolding by sharing your experiences and insights.

Remember, using scaffolding is like growing and changing. It means being ready to learn, asking for help when you need it, and wanting to get better at what you do. By talking and working with friends or people who support you, you can get better at handling tough situations at work and overcome obstacles with more ease and confidence.  Download a cheat sheet with these steps here

Thanks for reading!

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Danielle Cullivan

Career Insight Studio

Danielle Cullivan is a seasoned leader in tech with over 20 years of experience in Fortune 500 companies. She is also the creator of Career Insight Studio, a career and lifestyle blog dedicated to providing insights and new perspectives for working women. Danielle lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and high-school-aged son, and visits her college-age daughter as often as possible! 

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