Ambiguity and uncertainty are complex issues, especially in the workplace. People’s responses to ambiguity (referred to in formal circles as ambiguity tolerance-intolerance) vary widely — what some individuals find challenging or stressful, others view as an opportunity.
Those with ambiguity tolerance have the ability to accept unclear, uncertain, or new situations and work effectively in these environments. They willingly take on new tasks without much prior experience, act even when they’re unsure of the outcome, are able to make a judgment call with incomplete data, and feel comfortable with new co-workers, teams, and collaborators.
On the flip side, those with a low tolerance for ambiguity are fixated on structure and have a constant need for affirmation. They avoid taking proactive steps, such as looking for solutions to problems, stepping into a leadership role when there’s a vacuum, or taking on tasks that are not strictly part of the KPIs.
Regardless of a team’s reaction to ambiguity, it does exist, and developing skills to navigate workplace uncertainty is essential. In today’s blog, we take a look at the causes of ambiguity in the workplace and how to upskill your teams to create a resilient workforce.
Understanding ambiguous environments
Ambiguity at work can be internal and external and is compounded by issues such as unemployment, uncertain job futures, recession worries, and shrinking financial resources. These are the factors that are having the biggest impact right now:
Automation, artificial intelligence, and other emerging technologies have disrupted traditional job roles, causing employees to feel uncertain about how relevant their skills and competencies still are. This can lead to ambiguity around career paths and professional development opportunities.
If not managed and communicated well, big transitions, change, or restructuring of processes or management can cause ambiguity among remaining employees. They may find themselves working with reduced resources or taking on additional responsibilities, leading to unclear reporting lines and ambiguous roles.
When there is a difference between a job description and the realities of the job, it creates an ambiguous situation, leaving the employee stressed, confused and frustrated because they cannot meet their KPIs.
Poor or no handover or onboarding, unchecked office gossip and a lack of clear communication policies and processes can lead to ambiguity. In the age of digital communication, text messages and emails don’t allow for the interpretation of non-verbal cues and group dynamics, leading to miscommunication and messages being wrongly interpreted.
Key Skills for Navigating Ambiguity
When it comes to career progression and workplace success, managing ambiguity is an essential skill, and it’s one hiring managers will be looking out for.
Soft ‘power’ skills that individuals need to thrive in ambiguous workplaces are stress-tolerance, good communication skills (both verbal and written), problem-solving and critical thinking skills, and adaptability. While some employees will naturally have one or some of these skills, anyone can and should learn them. Our Power Skills Essentials course is the perfect solution for leaders and managers who want to increase the resilience and sustainability of their teams.
To handle ambiguity well in the workplace, these three skills are essential to thrive in ambiguous work environments.
A good sense of self-awareness will reveal a skills gap that you need to work on and helps you exploit your strengths and cope with your weaknesses. It can increase your motivation to seek out rewards, such as additional responsibility, a sense of accomplishment, an opportunity to help others, or a flexible work schedule.
Self-aware leaders are better intuitive decision-makers and can process unstructured and ambiguous data and information more effectively.
Self-leadership is the commitment to life-long personal and professional development and the foundation of leading others. It is also about managing up (developing rapport and trust, decision-making, communication skills, conflict management and goal-setting with higher-ups).
Being able to lead yourself is important, especially when company leadership is lacking. It means regulating yourself in the workplace – how you respond when your back is against the wall or everything is falling apart around you. It’s also about being able to assert yourself clearly, without disregarding the feelings of others. This could be setting boundaries, living by your values, and advocating for the great good of yourself and your team.
3. View your job holistically
Today’s workplace demands resilience, initiative, and creativity, but also a drive to exceed expectations. Instead of just sticking to your day-to-day responsibilities, put a little extra effort into tasks, and take initiative in areas that will benefit you, your team, and the business. Keep up with what’s happening in other departments and make friends at all levels of the organisation.
By venturing outside of your core responsibilities, you’ll get more of what you want, including a feeling of accomplishment and personal satisfaction. You’ll build a strong reputation and make a positive difference for individuals and groups within your organisation.
Strategies for team upskilling
To thrive in our new reality, organisations and individuals must embrace ambiguity, foster effective communication, and prioritise adaptability and continuous learning. Ultimately it’s up to team leaders and managers to put together a strategy to manage ambiguity as a collective, and that will have a ripple effect at an individual level. This includes:
- Continuously engaging employees to understand their priorities
- Conducting teams skills analysis, deciding on skills to prioritise, and setting tangible outcomes
- Formalising upskilling through digital career-enhancement platforms that are easily accessible and conducted on an ongoing basis
- Making mentoring a company policy and value
- Encouraging self-led career development through online courses, certifications, organisation memberships and conference attendance
- Partnering with an ed-tech provider that can facilitate training requirements and increase your Return on Learning Investment (ROLI).
By upskilling your teams, you give them a chance to build expertise and help them advance their personal and professional growth. This directly enhances employee engagement, satisfaction, and performance – factors that are critical to managing ambiguity.
Cultivate a learning culture with MasterStart
As humans, we are naturally continual learners, and in a fast-changing workplace, it’s the very first ‘skill’ we have to acquire to stay employable. At MasterStart, we work with our clients to implement a skills gap and needs analysis that is in line with their business requirements.
We then use the MasterStart portfolio courses as interventions to meet these needs and close the gaps. Our services also include providing individual learner consultations and a learner competency framework analysis to ensure the correct interventions are implemented through the right course, at the right time.
To find out how MasterStart can help businesses reduce ambiguity in the workplace and help leaders create resilient employees that can weather any kind of storm, browse our online short courses or contact us if you have any questions.