The year 2020 is like no other we’ve seen in our lifetime. When normality has fallen by the wayside and systemic change is necessary, questions abound. How will campus reopen in the fall? What changes are necessary to support students, staff, and faculty on campus throughout a pandemic?
Transformative change has distinct challenges, regardless of cause. Characteristics of an environment in the throes of such change include consistent uncertainty, high complexity, and impactful work. This article will briefly cover five challenges encountered during transformative change with suggested solutions.
Important discussions often need to occur concurrently, which means not all necessary team members will be available to take part. This can lead to information not being effectively disseminated. In normal times, effective delegation resolves this, but when systemic change is taking place, this is not sufficient. It is necessary to build a centralized ad hoc team with broad authority that serves as a nexus point to organize activities and summarize communication.
Necessary tasks can become delayed due to work that is dependent on decisions being made. It is often nuanced who should be involved and who is responsible for making a decision. This can lead to situations where discussions are repeated without appreciable progress. A decision log is a helpful remedy for this challenge. Identify all issues that require a decision, blockers, dependencies, and groups/individuals that have made specific decisions.
Unanticipated challenges arise during systemic change. Complex and important challenges take time to untangle and solve. This means that problems will persist in ways that are harmful and impactful. This creates pressure for reactive and incomplete responses that may lead to further issues. Thorough remediation of problems requires rapid escalation, prioritization, and perseverance.
When so many things are urgent and demand attention, it is tempting to focus solely on immediate concerns. This can create a silo effect in which different teams focus on the issues most important to them or a single issue may override all others. The value in planning is to identify the full scope of work to be done, to reassess frequently the overall landscape, and to rebalance priorities as time passes. Planning is never perfect, but it provides the space to ensure the team is on the right track.
Voluminous information, complex problems, difficult decisions, and effective planning are all time-consuming. Over-communication is often expressed as a virtue, but during transformative change, it is not. Information in an uncertain environment can reduce confidence when events change. The volume of work creates a kind of time distortion: On Wednesday, a discussion from Monday can feel like it took place weeks ago. This is an indicator of fatigue and exhaustion. During times of ceaseless work and dramatic change, taking time to rest and reflect is essential.
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