Uncertainty is everywhere. It’s a natural part of life.
It doesn’t mean we like it, though. Too much uncertainty is the enemy of the human brain. It signals threat and potential danger, triggering a stress response. When oxygen and energy are redirected to parts of the brain dealing with survival, there is less for other areas. As a consequence, our analytic thinking, creativity, problem solving, the ability to learn, and to work together with other people are impaired. All in all, abilities that are critical for business performance.
We do our best at turning uncertainty into certainty; trying to predict and control. But we really can’t. The only thing we can truly influence is how we decide to respond to the things happening around us – how we choose to navigate through uncertainty. Fortunately, this is a skill we can continuously develop and improve throughout life. The human brain is amazing! It’s designed to adapt to new conditions. Patterns of behavior and thinking can develop and change; we can unlearn and relearn.
So how can we help people and organizations navigate in uncertain times; thus reducing the stress response and inspiring exploration, collaboration and adaptation?
1. Create a big picture view
In times of uncertainty we often focus on the small stuff, the details and features that are easier to control. We stay in the safety of our silos when we really need to reach out and collaborate across borders and functions.
Helping people to see the bigger picture makes a difference. The brain is constantly looking for patterns, trying to make sense of reality and understand how things fit together. With a big picture view of the business and the marketplace conditions, the chaos is easier to navigate. Even if the map keeps changing and there is still uncertainty, it gives people a shared frame of reference. With a map, they can step out of their silos and look at the business from new perspectives. And seeing the value of cross-functional teamwork becomes a gut feel understanding – rather than something somebody else told you.
2. Develop an agile mindset
When uncertainty rules the world, there are no best practices to turn to. Instead we must try things and learn as we go. We need to work in new agile ways, applying agile principles. These include e.g. working close to the customer, working in small cross-functional teams, avoiding multi-tasking, delivering value on a frequent basis and speeding up feedback – and repeatedly reflecting on your work, continuously learning and adapting as you go along.
For people to adopt these principles, they need a chance to explore and discuss them in hands-on situations, truly understanding what they mean in practice. Having an agile mindset is not about knowing all the different agile tools and processes that are out there. It’s about intuitively making agile choices in everyday work.
3. Learn together
Uncertain times call for collaboration and teamwork. People with diverse backgrounds and functions bring different perspectives and knowledge to the table. Dialogue and teamwork provide opportunities to challenge assumptions. Maybe there is another way to look at things?
To continuously learn together in teams is a key element of Agile. But learning together is also highly relevant in corporate training. Whether in a physical or virtual classroom, learning in teams means that learning goes beyond what’s being shared through the materials and the facilitator. People express their views, and reflect on the thoughts of others. Together they explore and align their understanding of how things work. When people learn together in the classroom, they improve their ability to do so in the workplace, too. And building strong cross-functional teams makes it easier for people to deal with uncertainty – you are not alone, but supported by colleagues.
To achieve the above, effective business simulations and dialogue programs are of great help. They give people opportunities to explore and discover in teams. They engage people, build team performance, provide big picture views and help people reach a gut feel understanding. New neural connections and mental models develop in the brain, supporting new patterns of behavior and thinking. This is a process that should never stop.