Make the Unknown Known

Dear Dr. Jim,
How do I prepare my team for the unknown?
– Valeria*

Hi Valeria,

This comes up a lot–when you’re trying to change the organization, or you’re trying to change a process, or when starting a new project.

Here’s one of the things people have recommended to me:

Get everybody involved using post-it notes (or a similar virtual tool), and have them just throw out all the things that could go wrong, so that people have a voice, and in a way it’s preparation for what might happen.

When you get a lot of people involved, they may come up with items that you hadn’t thought about, and now you’ll be prepared for it, if it does come up.

This tactic also creates space for the pessimists in the group to offer their input and, at the same time, the optimists are challenged to think about things that might go wrong. It’s a great conversation starter and everybody gets a chance to participate in the process! After you’ve done this, the next step is to prioritize the potential challenges in terms of their impact.

As the project is going along, whether it be a change project, or just a regular project, stop every once in a while, take a look at what’s going on, i.e., what’s working well, what needs improvement, etc. and take a look at your list–you might add to it, or you might realize: “Oh we’ve covered that, we thought that might happen, and we’ve actually handled that really well”. Sometimes discussing negative potentials is actually a way of preventing them.

Hopefully that’s helpful. Go for change!

– Dr. Jim

*names have been changed