Intercellular heterogeneity, exacerbated by chromosomal instability (CIN), fosters tumor heterogeneity and drug resistance. However, extreme CIN correlates with improved cancer outcome, suggesting that karyotypic diversity required to adapt to selection pressures might be balanced in tumors against the risk of excessive instability. Here, we used a functional genomics screen, genome editing, and pharmacologic approaches to identify CIN-survival factors in diploid cells. We find partial anaphase-promoting complex/cyclosome (APC/C) dysfunction lengthens mitosis, suppresses pharmacologically induced chromosome segregation errors, and reduces naturally occurring lagging chromosomes in cancer cell lines or following tetraploidization. APC/C impairment caused adaptation to MPS1 inhibitors, revealing a likely resistance mechanism to therapies targeting the spindle assembly checkpoint. Finally, CRISPR-mediated introduction of cancer somatic mutations in the APC/C subunit cancer driver gene CDC27 reduces chromosome segregation errors, whereas reversal of an APC/C subunit nonsense mutation increases CIN. Subtle variations in mitotic duration, determined by APC/C activity, influence the extent of CIN, allowing cancer cells to dynamically optimize fitness during tumor evolution.