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How to support a team to effectively manage shifting priorities

Leading & managing change 22nd September 2020

Free download

Building team clarity on what to prioritise and where to focus effort (right now)


About the speaker

Miranda has spent 20 years immersing herself in organisational change. During this time she has delivered significant change projects that have helped transform organisations.

Miranda co-founded Rubica, has an MSc in Organisational Change from Ashridge Business School and is skilled in organisation design and development. She is also a qualified coach, and leads many of our organisational change programmes – from strategic development right through to activation.

Find out more about Miranda


00.00 How to support a team to effectively manage shifting priorities

Hi, my name is Sophie and I’m part of the team here at Rubica – an organisational change consultancy.

For many of us right now change may seem pretty constant, and business priorities may feel like they are perpetually shifting, which can be disorientating and conjure up a raft of feelings and responses.

We all know we can’t control the future, but what is within your control is how you and your team respond to change and shifting priorities as they come about. And that is what this video will help you to do. In just 6-minutes, Miranda, Director of Organisational Change here at Rubica will share some top tips to help build that muscle that will help you and your team to effectively manage shifting priorities as they come about. So let’s take a look…

00.55 3 ways to improve your team’s ability to effectively manage shifting priorities

Our number 1 tip would be to increase the governance you have around prioritisation. I actually think this report from McKinsey really highlights the reason why. McKinsey did a survey into organisation’s that consider themselves agile a couple of years ago. It included over 1000 organisation’s, and this is the high level outputs of that report. Essentially, agile organisation’s have a balance between stabilising practices and innovative practices. And we would say bearing in mind disruption is so high at the moment, as a line manager it is critical that you attend to your stabilising practices.

What does that mean? That means you need to give actionable strategic guidance, which is why increasing your governance around prioritisation is really important. Anchoring people back in ‘what is your shared vision?’, and your purpose (the why) – ‘why are you doing this?’ and ‘why are you choosing to focus on this?’. We need to do that because we need teams to be action orientated and really focus (even though the majority of them are working from home in quite an isolated way). And this is because we need teams to be taking ownership for the results that they have committed to at the beginning of the year but at the same time believing that we are doing this in a cohesive community.

So, from our perspective using clarity and an increased governance around prioritisation is critical to stabilise focus in today’s world.

02.47 No. 1 tip for a team to effectively manage shifting priorities

My number one tip here is don’t overcomplicate the process – use the simple stuff. If you overcomplicate the process when people are feeling frazzled and disoriented, you are not going to get the quick win that you could get. Never be afraid to use a really simple matrix – get the team to pick what they’d like that to be.
We’ve recommended what is easy to implement virtually vs the likely impact of one you’d like to start with. Just with the team on a 10-15 minute call to talk through Priority 1 and Priority 2 for the week and what to deprioritise right now.

03.32 Agree guiding principles and trade offs in order to effectively manage shifting priorities

That’s a quick win. But I would also like to offer some guidance from Holacracy, who some of you may be familiar with. Really it is a team management system, that relies less on managerial hierarchy and more on the ownership of the team. This is ideal for prioritisation but also collective ownership.

This approach takes longer to contract with the team, but we would say it is actually worth it. Essentially what we are suggesting to line managers is to contract with your team to agree some guiding principles around your changing priorities. And be really clear on what the opportunities are, but also the trade-offs.

In all our work in organisational resilience and organisational change, we’ve noticed that leaders and managers often forget to be really clear on what the trade-offs are. We can talk quite openly about positives and benefits, but we are less clear and a little bit murky around what are we are actually agreeing that we are going to trade-off. So we’d encourage your guiding principles to really accommodate that – these are some examples of guiding principles that team’s tend to talk through:

  • We are currently focusing our effort on ‘X’ over ‘Z’. That’s not to say that ‘Z’ is bad and ‘X’ is good. It basically means that you think the impact of ‘X’ will be greater than ‘Z’ at this current moment in time.
    And know when doing this and describing to others – what are our real positives. When you are going out of your actual team environment and into a matrix team environment, can you explain why you are focusing your effort on ‘X’ over ‘Z’, by describing to others the real positives of this and importantly the trade-offs that you’ve agreed as a team. And ultimately that is your litmus test. If you can’t go to another team and describe that, you need to go back and recontract.
  • We would really encourage you to define your current projects as outcomes and really avoiding milestones of ‘by when’ e.g. I’ll get this to you by Monday. Instead, aim for urgency and pace by focusing on the next action, right now.
    So, by working virtually we want people to still feel pace and urgency so do that by stipulating: ‘what do we do right now?’ vs ‘I’ll do that in 2 weeks time’.
  • Essentially, we need to plan in sprints vs. waterfall – saying ‘ok this is the project outcome that we want to achieve in the next 1,2,3 or 4 weeks’. But get people to focus on outcomes in sprints and actions now rather than traditional, more waterfall planning.

06.22 Next steps to support your team to effectively manage shifting priorities

If you’d like to put into action what Miranda has discussed in this video, download the free toolkit at the end of this video, via the link below. It shares some great ideas for putting her top tips into action.