Build a Team That Is OK With Ambiguity

Small teams require pioneers who push the status quo and can tolerate uncertainty.

Holding your team accountable to measurable metrics will give you an indication of their performance, but metrics alone won’t tell you how they handle ambiguity. Yes, metrics are important for performance reviews and the only way to give employees concrete examples of performance (both good and bad), but numbers can’t measure uncertain outcomes, or how your team deals with these situations. Evaluate performance metrics along with how your team works with limited information, how adaptable they are when faced with change, and how willing they are to take calculated risks.

Set The Foundation

I’m not saying that you can be ambiguous in your direction from day one. Allowing ambiguity early on will lead to miscommunication, decreased focus and anxiety, and is just weak leadership in general. Leading with an ambiguous management style requires teams to starts with a strong foundation. Create a proper onboarding plan with clear instructions and include projects that align learning to the ins-and-outs of the product. By 90 days the trainee will have an understanding of how the organization operates, but still has a fresh perspective. This is the prime time to enable them to think about how to deal with uncertain outcomes — which means working on, and not just for the business.

Look At The How Not The What

Once the foundation is set, and your team is relatively comfortable in their new roles, it’s time to throw them into the deep end.

Ability to Work With Limited Information

By forcing your team to make decisions with limited information, you are enabling them to be more decisive and take ownership. The reality is that some decisions must be made before you have all the information at hand and you are forced to make decisions on the fly. Empowering your team to be the expert shows that you trust them to make decisions that contribute positively to the business. If the outcome doesn’t provide positive results, then it is a learning opportunity for the team to improve next time. If you don’t give people the chance to try and fail, or succeed, you will constantly be looking over their shoulder, which doesn’t give you the opportunity to move the business forward.

Adaptability to Change

While decisiveness is necessary, the ability to roll with the punches is paramount, especially for a company that is hyper-focused on growth. Circumstances change frequently and the capacity to keep on your toes and stick to the ‘new way’ is essential. People who view change as a threat are tough to work with when trying to build, grow or expand. Resistance is a normal response to times of change, but to survive in an environment that hasn’t settled with the status quo requires pioneers that are willing to dive head first into constant transformation.

Willingness to Take Risks

Your team won’t take risks if you don’t create an environment where contrary opinions are welcome, and failure is a regular part of the job. Most people have a habit of playing it safe, especially at work, so you need to encourage them to f*** up, and often, in a calculated way. If the team knows that risk-taking and divergent thinking are a part of the culture, they can bounce back from failures with a focus on what needs to be done next, instead of dwelling on why the failure happened.

Rockstars Versus Superstars

As a side note, it’s important to point out that you need a diverse team to succeed. I’m not implying that all people on your team need to be on the hunt to find new ways of doing things. People that aren’t adaptable to change are necessary for jobs where inputs and outputs are consistent over time. They are the rocks of the organization and are equally as valuable to the team. But put your rocks in the wrong roles, and you’re bound to sink.

It can be tough to be a ‘hands-off’ leader or admit that you aren’t the expert in everything. It can also be unsettling to be one step removed from all decisions. However, by building a team that can make use of limited information, is adaptable to change, and is willing to take risks — you’re enabling them to be experts in their role and leaders in the organization, which takes pressure off of you to manage every little thing.

Sample 3 Month Onboarding Plan