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July 10, 2019

5 tips to help your team thrive through uncertainty

JT
John Turley 5 minute read

“Where do you see yourself in five years”? A question most of us have wrestled with at some point in our careers. Yes, it's helpful to have life goals and some kind of plan. But in a constantly changing world, predicting what will happen in the next five days can be challenging, let alone five years. 

Uncertainty is the only certainty

Uncertainty is part and parcel of life, and when you’re running a business, it's often the only certainty you have.  In the past, leaders could set out their vision for the future and craft a robust plan to deliver it, but this approach only works when everything is stable and predictable. 

Global uncertainty is on the rise, as recently reported by CIO Magazine; modern leaders are overwhelmed by unprecedented levels of change due to rapid technological innovation. And according to Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF) “...there has never been a time of greater promise, or greater peril.” Anticipating exactly how the future will unfold may be impossible but it’s up to all of us to turn uncertainty into opportunity and drive positive change in the world.

If you’re finding it challenging to get to grips with uncertainty as the new business normal, here are five powerful tips to help support your team through the journey:

1. Let go of control  

Let’s face it; control is an elusive pursuit anyway. And it has clearly fallen out of favour in today’s workplace, with a significant shift away from traditional command-and-control leadership to more open, collaborative, and people-first approaches.

Being an effective leader is no longer about setting the direction of travel, telling people what to do, and expecting them to get on with it. Changing times calls for changing leadership. And the first step on your transformational journey is changing your relationship with power.

Sounds easy? I can tell you from my own experience; it's anything but easy, but it is possible.  

The truth is, most leaders enjoy having a sense of control and authority over others, whether they like to admit it or not. So letting go of it can challenge the very essence of their identity in the workplace. Leaving control behind requires leaders to go on a journey of self-discovery and transformation, so they are ready for whatever the future throws them. Are you brave enough to take the journey?

2. Listen more. Speak less

Think back to the last meeting you had with your team. Did you listen to what others were saying; or where you only half listening, waiting for an opportunity to jump in with your advice or views? If you’re guilty of the latter, rest assured you’re not alone.

But if you want to turn uncertainty into your competitive advantage, you need to harness the innovative power of everyone in your organisation and let your strategy emerge from those interactions. This means being an active listener, working to understand other people’s ideas, concerns, and capabilities - not simply listening to push your own views across.

3. Show - don’t just tell

Once you start to embrace uncertainty yourself, how can you ensure your team feels ok about it too? The truth is it’s not easy, and it's not something you can mandate or control. 

For those of us who have past experiences to draw upon, dealing with uncertainty may not feel so daunting. But for more junior team members, who may not have the luxury of experience behind them, it can be difficult. 

Leaders can play a critical role here in creating a culture where uncertainty is normalised as part of everyday business, and failure is not feared.  At Adaptavist we know dealing with uncertainty is part of our business, and if we can look back at the end of the year, and we have done all we can to achieve our goals and we wouldn’t do anything differently then we are going in the right direction.

4. Plan for uncertainty

When you are dealing with sustained periods of uncertainty its important to have a plan you can adjust rapidly. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what will happen in the future, create a plan focusing on what you do know today. 

Think of your plan as a central anchor point, a baseline to track change and progress. At the same time, nurture a culture where you expect uncertainty, you embrace change and welcome failure is an inevitable part of your journey to success. 

“...it’s engrained in our culture to embrace uncertainty. We plan for it, try new things, fail fast (without fear) and then try something else. Our plan is ever-changing.” Tom Lasparini, COO of Adaptavist.

5. Remember you don’t need to know everything 

In the past, admitting you didn’t know how to do something or lacked the right skills was viewed as a weakness. As leading author and psychologist, Robert Kegan claims:

“...most people are spending time and energy covering up their weaknesses, managing other people’s impressions of them, showing themselves to their best advantage, playing politics, hiding their inadequacies, hiding their uncertainties, hiding their limitations.”

Robert Kegan, Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization


Today, it’s still only the case in the most progressive organisations that admitting you don’t have the right skills or knowledge is a strength. Thankfully Adaptavist takes this approach. More work needs to be done to ensure all organisations follow suit. In uncertain times, knowing the capabilities of your team is critical for fast and informed decision-making and to prepare for the skills your people will need in the future.

 Navigating through uncertainty is challenging and sometimes not for the faint-hearted.  But hopefully, my tips empower you to thrive in the face of it and find ways to turn the unknown into your best competitive advantage. 

How do you deal with uncertainty in your business? What tips can you share for helping teams thrive through it?