If you went to school, you probably learned about external change as something that could be measured and predicted and often cycling back on itself. You may have been conditioned to see change as an expected constant and something that’s “bound to happen.”
There’s lots of evidence for this perspective on change. The calendar rolls by, bringing different weather and events that cycle through the year seasonally. Bear markets follow bull markets follow bear markets. The tides go in and out with cycles of the moon. Interest rates go up and down. Sea rise is happening in many places, and while it might be accelerating we can measure temperatures and ice thickness and plot data out accurately to speculate what tomorrow brings.
You might call this continuous change - changes that can be understood, predicted, and influenced over time. Many leaders believe themselves able to single-handedly manage continuous change, victoriously riding out the cycles until things get back to where they’re supposed to be.
Until the tsunami hits. Or the Great Recession happens. Or most of your company’s leadership decides they are ready to retire in the next twelve months.
Those changes are not continuous. They are marginally predictable, very difficult to avoid, and leave in their wake altered landscapes that will never be the same again. There is no getting back to “the way it’s supposed to be.”
This is discontinuous change, defined by businessdictionary.com as “non-incremental, sudden change that threatens existing or traditional authority or power structure, because it drastically alters the way things are currently done or have been done for years.”
If recent and current events are any indication, discontinuous change is becoming the “new normal.” Living in this new reality could be a bit scary and unsettling - unless you are ready for it.
How we as leaders can succeed despite discontinuous change
The changing future is going to ask more from everyone in every organization - from people already in leadership positions to those potential leaders currently managing and producing results.
Through experience with teams dealing with change, I have come to believe the best way to succeed through discontinuous change is to assemble and develop teams of people who:
are highly aware,
can harness their strengths and strengths of others, and
can trust each other enough to make and implement decisions together quickly.
The value in building a strong team with the qualities above is they can both navigate perfect storms and enable the growth of more leaders within your organization.
Here’s a short list of steps you can take to improve the strengths of your teams:
1. Develop a highly aware team
Imagine everyone in your company understanding exactly what's happening inside and outside the walls.
At Trebuchet Group, each week we go over key metrics and indicators of the business. Everyone has a measurement they report on and forecast what is likely to happen next week/month/quarter based on activity, results, and current trends. Understanding our key metrics - together as a team - allows us all to be highly aware of and responsible for what is happening in and around our business.
Distributing ownership of important measurements can enable everyone - including up-and-coming leaders - to be looking for opportunities and challenges before they sneak up on you.
When people other than senior leadership flag issues, it's a great opportunity to…
2. Enable the team to harness each others’ strengths
We encourage our team - and our clients - to use third-party assessments that provide information on a person’s personality strengths, conflict styles, talents, and behavioral attributes. We review our results individually to highlight what is most true about ourselves and how we tend to show up with others. Then, we share that information with each other. Finally we assemble team profiles with all the information on a single graph to compare and contrast our strengths with each other.
When team members are able to see differences as strengths, we can do much more with each other. We’re also able to practice healthy conflict, challenging each other’s ideas to surface the best opportunity or best solution to a problem.
With vigorous discussions and people bringing out each others’ strengths, leaders then need to…
3. Ensure everyone on the team can make and implement decisions together quickly
To wrestle with and commit to important decisions, team members must be vulnerable enough to ask for and offer help in meeting shared goals.
We treasure the ability for anyone on the team to say “I don’t know,” “Your idea is better than mine,” or “I need help.” Because we trust each other that these statements won’t be seen as admissions of weakness, we’re willing to weigh in on decisions and disagree. Working through disagreement - on good days rapidly and without circling back - enables the team to commit to decisions as “good enough” and let’s us try out new ways so we can get feedback on what actually works.
What about succession?
We’ve found leaders are more able to let go when they believe team members are ready to step up and take the reins. Part of the challenge is that upcoming team members are as hesitant to take business-wide risks as the leader is unwilling to allow individual team members to take them on and fail.
A better, win-win solution is not to replace the leader individually. Instead, building a strong team - people who are highly aware, stronger together, and able to make and implement decisions quickly - can prepare the business for passing the baton to the next generation of leaders.