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Chaos Management: 4 Steps to Manage Change in Your Team

If you’re part of corporate management, have your own small company or are in any leadership role, then your life is marked by change. High-pace movement has been a staple of the business environment for decades due to the rapid progress of technology, but what can you do when unpredictable events come into play?

From the Covid pandemic to the more recent war in Ukraine from 2022, big world events have a butterfly effect on every field, throwing a wrench into established business models. So how can you manage these unforeseeable incidents while meeting customer expectations of 24/7 service?

The quick answer is adaptability to change to respond to customer wants. There’s a lot that goes into it though, so read more as we unpack this into 4 easy to understand steps to make sure you and your team are ready to face everything and anything the world might throw at you!

Embracing the Chaos and Why It Matters

The saying that the only constant is change seems to be the only static thing in our constantly shifting business landscapes. This however presents opportunities and challenges.

For example, pre-pandemic times the Uber mobility service provider challenged the established taxi services and completely overtook them in many parts of the world. The Airbnb platform came out and provided short term rentals that found the perfect niche that wasn’t properly exploited by established lodging companies that couldn’t keep up with technology.

Post Covid: Uber Eats & other takeout services capitalized on the new normal where people were quarantined while working from home. While restaurants, bars and pubs were closing down as no business was coming their way, delivery companies took the initiative and brought their business to their customers.

For an untrained eye, this might seem like a stroke of luck, but if we go deeper, we’ll see that all of this is the result of well directed efforts and counterintuitive shifts in strategy that everyone can learn by following the below steps.

There’s no shame in writing down an idea on sticky notes, before moving it to flowcharts, or diagrams, or even better to an online decision tree, which are a staple of Chaos Management.

Understanding Chaos Theory

Chaos Theory is a scientific theory focusing on the patterns behind what at first look might seem random. In business management, this is used to think of organizations as systems that organically gravitate towards complexity due to outside stimuli.

Nobody could’ve predicted the Covid Pandemic, and while some climate experts were ringing the climate change alarm for decades, they didn’t expect emerging business opportunities from Carbon Offsetting. While it is true that unforeseeable factors cannot be controlled, they can be accounted for.

What Chaos Theory applied to management teaches us, is the need to not have a rigid hierarchy as it cannot adapt to these factors and the changing customer needs. A system needs effort to maintain their form, otherwise they will break down – what can’t bend will break.

How to Start

Picture this: you start your day as usual, with a cup of coffee and seeing what happened from the previous day. As soon as you open your email or step into your office, you’re bombarded by notifications, calls and requests for help and direction from your team as something big just hit.

It could be a supply disruption from the pandemic that finally broke the already overstrained supply networks, or unrest in some far away country where your business has production centers which is causing labor shortage. Or some other unexpected world event which trickled down to your neck of the woods. What do you do?

First thing to realize is that you’re not alone in this situation. Leaders big and small start their days looking at the updates of what happened in their absence and over the years a pattern for success has emerged. Being assaulted by everything all at once can be overwhelming, but by following the below steps you are sure to get in the best shape to tackle any challenge:

Step 1. Breathe. – Accept from the get-go that when change happens, chaos happens and things slip between the cracks. This might sound counterintuitive, however on a normal day, things can slip without anyone doing anything wrong, since no system is perfect. Not to mention in a chaotic world-changing environment. As the leader, you need to have a clear head to direct the team’s effort so make sure you set time / energy aside for yourself and your mental state.

Step 2. Filter the noise. – Just like not everything that glitters is gold, not every emergency is the end of the world, not every screaming customer has something productive to say. You need to distinguish valuable feedback from everything thrown at you from your team and customers.

Step 3. Organize! – Don’t let chaotic shifts push you into making superficial decisions, when creative and well-thought out strategies are needed. Make sure to take note of the important bits of information in whatever way you might be comfortable with or that might suit the situation.

Step 4. Process the feedback. – The information is useless if you don’t do something with it! All of the precious information you’ve collected and organized needs to be capitalized on – make a Business Case for your company’s higher management or develop a new strategy to tackle the change for your own company. You now have a roadmap of what to expect instead of blindly making decisions based on obsolete business environments.

Utilize Your Team.

Regardless of the day to day tasks of your team, if you’re in a leadership position one of the best ways to gain feedback on what the new change entails is to listen to your team. Allocate more time to team meetings and implement data collection systems so you get the rough information from which to filter those change indicators.

Once you have this, and you go through the steps to apply the feedback from your team, not only will you adjust the existing company structure to the new challenge, but your team will also see a direct impact from their contribution. This will help with company cohesion and bridging the gap between management and the team.

Positive Feedback Loop and When to Stop

So you went through the steps, you filtered the rough data into precious feedback that you then applied to adjust your organization to tackle the change. Are we done now? Not at all, this is just the beginning. After you process the feedback, you start all over again.

Just like the process of alcohol distillation, where multiple cycles are needed to purify alcohol into heavy drinks, this process can be repeated to provide a more accurate and encompassing perspective that you can use to deal with change more efficiently. This is your end goal: a self-perpetuating positive feedback loop, where with every cycle improvement is achieved.

Conclusion

It might seem daunting at first, as going through the steps in the first few cycles will not provide accurate results immediately. Don’t lose heart, the purpose of this at the beginning will be to lay the groundwork for long-term improvement that by the end will work by itself like a well-oiled machine with almost no input needed from your end – an investment in the future. Monitor the results of every cycle, and the initial rough idea resulting from this will slowly but surely turn into a clear picture that will help you navigate any change.

Huynh Nguyen

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