Have you ever been involved in situation where it was not clear what you were supposed to be doing, who was in charge or how decisions were going to be made? When you don’t know where you are going, who is leading or what the path looks like, you are most likely to end up somewhere you don’t want to be. Not at all surprising but we have all been in situations where time has been wasted milling about not being productive or worse, creating something that isn’t needed.
Let’s consider a few of the different types of ambiguity and what can be done about them:
Role ambiguity – As leaders we often fail to spend enough time considering who is doing what. Teams with role ambiguity never get out of the storming stage of team development. Some responsibilities are being covered by more than one person while others languish undone. Solving this problem is easier than you might think. Start by creating a comprehensive list of the tasks your team needs to accomplish. Put them into categories by how often each task needs to be done. Consider which tasks build on each other. Does it make sense to have the same person be responsible for all of the pieces? Maybe a hand-off of information or a team effort is required. Once you understand the tasks and how the work should flow you will be able to assign clear roles to each of your team members.
Goal ambiguity – Do you understand the purpose of your team? All too often we plod through our daily grind in a fog of various little things that need to be done. Take a step back and look at the overall picture. What exactly does your team do? How does it fit into the overall plan of the department or organization? Does how you are doing things really make the most sense? Being able to answer those questions and make changes has the power to improve your team’s performance very quickly.
Decision making ambiguity – Very little will bog a team down faster than not knowing who is making decisions or having only one person responsible for the entire decision making process. I have worked as a volunteer and been frustrated by the amount of time everyone spent accomplishing nothing because no one was making decisions. Have you empowered your team to make decisions so they can continue moving forward or do you expect them to come to you (or your boss) for every little thing? Imagine a shortstop on a baseball team who wasn’t allowed to make important decisions. With runners on first and third, one out and a hit coming toward him should he ask the coach what to do? No, of course not! The shortstop knows enough about the game to quickly consider the situation and make a decision. Your team is no different. Coach them well, give them the power to make decisions, make it clear when they need to come to you and when they should go for the double play on their own.
Plan ambiguity – How much of a plan do you need? That is directly dependent on how well you have defined roles, goals and decision making. When everyone knows where they are headed, who is doing which tasks and how decisions are being made, the path is clear. You may not have to lay out the exact plan. Your team is likely to be able to come up with the most efficient, effective plan on their own. However, if you have a specific path you want them to take, don’t leave them in the dark about it. It might be clear to you that there is only one “right” way to reach the goal but they might not see it. If you have a route laid out, share it. If you trust your team and are giving them creative license to create the best plan on their own, let them know. Teams and individuals are most productive when expectations are clear.
Do you have a story about ambiguity killing performance? We would love to hear about it!
If you missed last week’s post about how naming the dragon will help you fight fear and roadblocks in your life you can read it here.