How to Help Teams Become Comfortable with Uncertainty

How to Help Teams Become Comfortable with Uncertainty
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The Unknown and the Unexpected
It doesn’t take long for leaders to discover that leading teams at work is full of unknowns. We know from our change management simulation data that most leaders are challenged by unpredictable situations where the future is uncertain, and the stakes are high. Leaders need to learn how to help teams become comfortable with uncertainty.

When the pressure increases, many change leaders report feeling over their heads. But a lucky few react with a degree of strategic clarity and mental agility that allows them to adapt with relative ease.

Change Readiness Questions to See Where You Stand
If you or your team answer “Yes” to the majority of the following change readiness questions, you need to increase your mental agility to prepare for change:

  1. Are you a habitual worrier?
  2. Do you regularly doublecheck and overprepare?
  3. Do you stray from challenges to avoid the risk of failure?
  4. Do you find it hard to make important decisions at work in the face of strategic ambiguity?
  5. Do you get frustrated when plans change?
  6. Do you take a long time to respond to new information or shifting circumstances?
  7. Do you consider most problems to be overly complex?
  8. Do you feel uncomfortable fully empowering your team to accomplish important work?
  9. Do you often request additional information before deciding?
  10. Do you try to always get it right the first time versus prototyping different options?

The Consequences and the Challenge
As you can imagine, teams want clarity, decisiveness, and calm from their leaders, not ambiguity, indecision, or panic. If you and your team can acquire a sense of psychological flexibility, change and problem solving can be exciting rather than threatening.  

The benefits of helping teams become comfortable with uncertainty are meaningful.  According to recent McKinsey research, successful agile transformations deliver almost 30% improvements in efficiency, customer satisfaction, employee engagement, and operational performance. And a study by Korn Ferry found companies with highly agile workforces have 25% higher profit margins than their less agile peers.

How You Can Help Your Team Be More Comfortable with Uncertainty
Here are some ideas from change management consulting experts for helping your team accept uncertainty and forge confidently ahead.

  • Create a Healthy Environment
    Our organizational alignment research found that culture accounts for 40% of the difference between high and low performing companies.  Because organizational change must go through culture to get executed, smart leaders establish a healthy corporate culture to create the foundation for successful change. 

    When we assess organizational culture, we find highly engaged employees are naturally more flexible and open to new ideas of how work gets done.

    Is there enough psychological team safety to make mistakes, try new things, openly debate ideas, voice opinions, and collectively solve problems in a way that drives change forward? 
  • Help Teams Accept that Change Is Inevitable
    The only thing predictable about change at work is that it is inevitable. Understand that transitions take time, and that people must understand the rationale for change before they can commit to the new ways.  

    The more transparent leaders can be about what is going on in your industry and at your company, the easier it will be for people to understand why and when change is necessary. 

    Investing in capabilities related to strategic thinking, business acumen, decision making, and navigating change all help to set the stage for organizational change.
  • Help Teams Prepare in Advance
    In addition to increasing transparency and change-related skills, you can also get teams ready for change by conducting strategic scenario planning sessions and creating the associated change management resources for each scenario.

    Strategic scenario planning enables teams to identify and plan for key change hypotheses in advance without the pressure or workplace politics to deliver immediately.  The lack of change resistance by doing it ahead of time creates the space for innovation and future acceptance.

    Once the scenarios are agreed upon, create high level change management plans and toolkits for each scenario that include:

    — communicating the vision for change
    being honest about the urgency for change
    actively involving stakeholders in the change planning and design processes
    — creating accountability to see the changes through.

    The more teams have the opportunity to talk about how they would best handle change ahead of time, the easier it will be to accept and execute change when the time comes.
  • Empower Action and Decentralize Decision Making
    Based upon the urgency and complexity faced by most leaders today, not only has the number of decisions that must be made increased, but leaders also report that it is more difficult to effectively delegate decisions to their teams.

    Invest in effective decision making training at every level of the organization in a way that empowers employees to prototype, learn, and act while balancing the inevitable trade-offs between speed and quality.   The more you can decentralize decision making, the better the chances that your change initiatives will take hold on the front lines.
  • Set the Example and Monitor Progress
    The actions of leaders tell employees what is expected.  Your team will look to you for how to handle change. Show the confidence to move forward when times are tough and be humble enough to acknowledge when you are wrong. 

    We know from our leadership simulation assessments that leaders who consistently model, reward, and communicate the desired changes are better positioned to adopt new ways of working.

The Bottom Line
Mental agility describes the ability to respond to events in an open and flexible way. Agile leaders are comfortable with complexity and are able to solve complex problems, handle ambiguity, and accept change. Do you support your team in striving for a greater degree of mental agility?

To learn more about how to help teams become comfortable with uncertainty, download Change Agility – A New Leadership Mindset

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