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Tolerance for Ambiguity April 2, 2012

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Management & leadership, Organizational dynamics, strategy.
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I think it’s fair to say that people are more productive at work when they have clear objectives, sufficient time and resources, and are given the right balance of space and support to get the job done. People tend to get frustrated (if only temporarily) when objectives and conditions change, requiring a re-set and possibly trashing of the work they’ve already started or completed. Change is almost a guarantee in business, often due to circumstances outside our control, so managers and leaders need to be able to help their team work through times of  uncertainty, instability, and ambiguity without becoming derailed or over-stressed.

Managers can start by helping everyone understand that changes and periods of uncertainty are sometimes necessary and can be survived. Assuming that the executive level folks aren’t using a random number generator to guide their decisions, there are logical reasons for the current state and those reasons must be shared in order to re-align the team. We may not agree with the reasons and we may prefer the way things were before, but it’s better to work in a focused, purposeful environment than to drift along without common objectives. Of course if someone finds it impossible to support the change or wait until everything is settled it’s best to find a new job rather than suffer or sabotage. Again, the manager should be attentive to the team’s level of discomfort.

Managers also need to understand each person’s tolerance for ambiguity, and, if possible, provide a higher level of stability through work assignments and job descriptions. This is another example of accepting people for who they are instead of trying to change their innate characteristics. Some people need more clarity and structure, and that shouldn’t be seen as a weakness.

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