Managing Ambiguity

Ambiguity has been increasingly recognized as a challenge for organisations and the people in them in the last 5 years. At The Oxford Group we take the view that there are specific skills and tools that can be learned to help you despite greater ambiguity in the environments you are operating in.

Our starting point is that there are complex causes of ambiguity and simple approaches and techniques to deal with it.

Causes of Ambiguity Include:

· Economic and political uncertainty

· Information overload and the challenge of interpretation

· Complex organisational structures and processes

· Disconnections between strategy and reality

· More democratic approaches to leadership

· Wide ranging choices

· Human behaviour.

Usually you only have scope to influence some of the points on that list so we focus on what you can do. This means exploring practical ways in which you can either work to reduce ambiguity or to increase your effectiveness in it.

Ways to Reduce Ambiguity

· Be clear about what you can control and influence and then start with your own behaviour. Have you prioritised clearly and communicated those priorities to others. Have you clarified what standards you are going to work to and made sure that they are tested with and understood by your colleagues?

· If you are not yet able to see the long view, consider setting a short term vision, or goals and objectives. If you and your team feel you are working towards and achieving milestones, even on a day-by-day basis, you have the satisfaction of making progress.

· Watch your language for easy over-used words and jargon. Say what you really mean. When you say “I want you to be motivated” do you mean “I want you to bring me ideas”, “I want you to work with minimal supervision” or “I want you to be happy”. It only takes an additional sentence to be much more precise about what you want.

· Think about how you can prepare people to go through change even if you don’t yet know the specifics of what will happen. Set up regular conversations where it is ok for people to be open about how they feel, reassure them that they will be included and well managed as the change rolls out.

· If you are faced with a range of choices with little differentiation between them try a technique like Dreamer, Planner, Critic to evaluate the options. This involves taking three quite different views of the same issue to give you a fresh and rounded perspective on the values and risks of each alternative.

Ways to be More Effective in Ambiguity

· Be honest with yourself about your attitudes and skills. Are you still aiming for perfection when good enough will work? Are you avoiding action because you’re worried about what people will think, rather than what will happen? Do you need to work on your decision making, planning or prioritising?

· Offer and ask for performance feedback so that you can gain a clearer sense of the impact you are making and can help others understand their own effectiveness and impact?

· Develop transparent decision making processes. You need to strike a balance between over analysing an issue and making snap decisions. Consider whether you can rely on autocratic decisions – which are best made when you need to move quickly or when you are the expert – or whether you can benefit from being more democratic in your approach.

· Work on your tolerance and skill in managing risks. Have you thought about the likelihood of risks occurring and the impact they would have if they happen? Can you plan and take action to mitigate risks before they become a live issue? Do you have realistic contingency plans in place if you need them?

· If you and your team are stuck in the face of over abundant or scarce information try a technique like Reverse Logic. Write down the issue you need to tackle and then list everything you could possibly do to make it worse. Then use that list to generate creative ideas about what positive action you can take.

For more details please contact:

Maggie Matthews

Principal Consultant T: +44 (07786) 431795

maggie.matthews@oxford-group.com

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