Level of Resources versus Urgency of Problem
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Level of Resources versus Urgency of Problem

Douglas Duncan, CIO, Columbia Insurance Group
Douglas Duncan, CIO, Columbia Insurance Group

Douglas Duncan, CIO, Columbia Insurance Group

A useful tool for developing leadership insights is to create plausible scenarios and work through the implications of the extremes. While the use cases I am providing are fairly common, you can introduce your own into the framework and work out the logical options for your particular situation.

This third installment of my series on a leadership framework for building elite teams focuses on resources and urgency. I previously introduced the framework and two practical use cases around the newness of the leader versus organizational buy-in and pressure to change versus staff appetite for change. This installment will explore how your level of available resources interacts with the urgency of the problem you are trying to solve.

Building Your Team to Full Potential Requires Situational Awareness

IT leaders all rely on effective teams to be successful. Tactically, you can hire new talent, buy consulting, conduct training, increase awards and more to improve performance. However, success often requires a more strategic approach, and you must understand the work environment to create the right conditions for improvement.

Your situation will be unique. Just like every IT technical environment is unique, so are the interactions between your team and the organizational environment in which it operates. We will consider the relationship between the levels of resources available versus the urgency of the problem that must be addressed.

Resource Constraints are Common but Manageable

Many times throughout my career I have felt under-resourced for what I needed to accomplish. At other times it was not unusual to have sufficient resources, but not necessarily with the right skillsets. Too rarely I felt I had everything I needed to easily accomplish my goals. In every scenario, my responsibility was to find a way to get the job done. And in every scenario, it all depended on the team and how effective they could be.

The method I used was very much impacted by the urgency of the mission I needed to accomplish. Plentiful resources need to be handled differently in an urgent situation than they do in a calmer environment. The same principle is true when resources are scarce.

‚Äč Just like every IT technical environment is unique, so are the interactions between your team and the organizational environment in which it operates 

The quadrants of this Use Case show the four key interactions and help determine the best strategy given the environment.

• Phased Approach: Luxury! You have plentiful resources and the main problem you are facing is not urgent. Take your time and be methodical about making the changes that are needed. Go step by step and improve your team incrementally. Fully understand what is needed to optimize the performance of each individual. Where possible, focus first on internal improvements so that the foundation from which your team operates is at a high starting point. One caution… keep the team focused and motivated. Some hard chargers will not respond well to the lack of urgency.

• Big Bang: Take a pause and thoroughly evaluate your desired changes. Once you are comfortable with your plan of action, take the plunge and make any needed shift in how you organize your team. This will be disruptive, but you have the resources needed to bring in extra support as necessary. The mandate is to act quickly, but effectively. Why change your team structure? Even if only a small change, it will send the message that the situation is urgent and you are responding accordingly. Just be sure the change makes sense and better enables your team to act.

• Quick Wins: Ouch! The house is on fire and you are short-staffed. This all too familiar scenario requires decisive action. Be impactful and drive immediate change. Wake up your team and focus them around the driving priority. A long, drawn-out process will exhaust your limited resources. Find quick wins that set a positive and achievable momentum, which will cement the support of your team and the business, and that lay the groundwork for the key changes that will take more time and resources to accomplish.

• Incremental Changes: This scenario poses risks to team morale and effectiveness. You can’t afford to sit idle lest the team stagnates and losses effectiveness. In order to progress, go slowly and methodically to conserve resources while still showing improvement and the hope of a more energetic future. It will be important to insure the changes you make hang together as part of an overall strategy but there should be no crisis mindset, only an attitude of continuous improvement.

Customize the Framework to Work for You

These are only examples to provoke thought, certainly not every situation you will face on your leadership journey. Modify the examples I have given, or create other use cases that will help you work your way through challenging barriers your team faces. Maybe you will over-simplify a complex situation, but in most cases creating and utilizing this sort of framework will bring clarity and a way forward. Leadership is a practice, sometimes art, sometimes science, but always a skill that can be continuously improved.

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