VUCA is a term that has been around for around 20 years. Like the term Emotional Resilience, that first came to prominence in a report from the NHS 15 years ago, VUCA is a term that has taken time to come to prominence. Until now, that is, where it it feels like a significant term to sum up some of our business environments.
VUCA stands for and describes environments that are Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous.
It was first used by the US Army in the early 90’s to describe how they viewed the post cold war era. An era that was characterised by a seismic change in defense needs compared to the previous 50 years.
It is a term that is apt for the environment that a lot of us have found ourselves in post 2008 financial crisis.
Some of us thrive in these environments. Many of us get an initial buzz and then suffer the inevitable attrition of continually being exposed to risks, be they real or perceived.
When teams exists for a period of time in an environment characterised by the term VUCA (a VUCA environment) over time behaviors start to embed themselves and may of these can be unhelpful. The irony is that they are behaviours caused by the need to protect ourselves and enable us to survive and yet they are precisely the behaviours that will stop us thriving in this environment.
These behaviours include the following –
- Self focus – as individual team members struggle to cope often the first thing that goes is that which they perceive to be a discretionary behaviour, that of being a team player. They figure that by just working on their bit and delivering their part they are being a team player, but they are not playing their full part and it will weaken the team at a time when it needs strength.
- Conflict – Conflict is not bad, in fact we encourage it. The challenge is when it is acted out in an unhealthy, aggressive or passive aggressive way. This leads to divisive elements in the team with people carrying their hurt and anger around all the time. This, again weakens a team just at a time when it needs cohesive strength.
- Conflict avoidance – Yes we hold our hands up to wanting it both ways. Seriously, when people avoid conflict the difficult decisions are avoided and the big issues are not committed to because all sides have not been aired. Those avoiding conflict are often afraid that they will appear weak or that the power of the way they may express themselves will damage the team, and it may (see above). Conflict avoided however is a recipe for big blow ups and missed issues later down the line.
- Procrastination – There is nothing better for causing issues than a decision put off that needs to be taken. When individuals are under pressure and they are in changeable environments they will often wait to let circumstances takeover rather than take positive action. This lends another element of unpredictability into the environment that is unpredictable enough already.
- Risky decisions making – This can be the other side of procrastination and can also accompany it. For example those not coping with their environment may put decisions off (pretending they are reflecting but instead hiding) until they are forced to make them. Then they make ill considered impulse led decisions. It goes further than that though. When we are not feeling resilient the balance of chemicals in our body caused by stress can lead to irrational decisions. Not good in an environment that will punish you for poor decisions.
- Behaviour setting and flipping – Lots of our behaviours that we develop over time are ways we have of protecting ourselves or surviving. These, for the most part, can be really healthy coping mechanisms. When times get really challenging though we often rely more heavily on these. For example a reflector will reflect deeper and withdraw into themselves even more. When the pressure gets too much we see people flipping. In this example and introvert becomes an extrovert.
What does all of this mean?
VUCA environments are becoming more prevalent. The environment is unlikely to settle. This is likely to be the norm.
Teams that are resilient perform better, have healthy conflict and make better decisions together.
Ask us about our VUCA workshop and better still ask us about the guarantee we will give you.
Email Julian@calmpeople.co.uk or call 01332 869211