How I Work: The art of balancing

Tatramajjhattatā is the Buddhist word for neutrality of mind. It speaks about a balance that helps an individual keep their mind calm and healthy. This is crucial not only for individuals but also for eco-systems. Organisations are not any different and it is a microcosm of this complex infinite universe we live in. My experience working as […]

Tatramajjhattatā is the Buddhist word for neutrality of mind.

It speaks about a balance that helps an individual keep their mind calm and healthy. This is crucial not only for individuals but also for eco-systems. Organisations are not any different and it is a microcosm of this complex infinite universe we live in.

My experience working as a consultant across different organisations made me realise the importance of this aspect irrespective of the size and the domain of an organisation. This also made me understand a trick or two about leading teams for the future.

Leadership might mean many things to different people. In reality, it is pretty much about striking this balance for your teams.

Once you have learnt the art of managing priorities, stakeholders and timelines for yourself you have to do the same for the group that you are responsible for. Sooner or later, you will realise that what worked for one, may not work for another person and particularly for a large group.

This complex ecosystem is made of systems, processes, practices and people who operate as one. While it might seem like a singular unit, there are forces that pull/push in all directions. It is important that we align these forces to restore the balance in the system. Often no one would explicitly want you to do this. However this is very essential for a system to function efficiently.

In my opinion, a true leader is a trapeze artist, who is constantly doing this act of balancing and rebalancing. Be it any kind of problem statement (Strategic goals Vs Tactical goals or Retention Vs Attrition), it is fundamental to do this over and over to enable ‘flow’ in the teams.

Here, in this blog, I want to discuss this art of balancing in the following 4 steps process:

Problem identification

One of the primary reasons to do this exercise is to avoid the noise and preempt failures for the future. The simplest way to identify the problem is to listen to your people, be it your team members or stakeholders or peers or leaders. At this stage, you are still working on the symptomatic evidence. Most often you will identify the effects of the issue and not the cause. However this step helps in zeroing on the problem statement.

Gemba walk

At this stage, you deep dive and identify the root of the problem. You collect data, information and triangulate the observations made. During this process it is important to be mindful of your own biases and look out for both qualitative and quantitative inputs. This is also the step where you understand the lay of the land, key players, followers and systems that contribute to the current equilibrium . While you are doing this exercise it is beneficial to understand what keeps the system going. An easier way to do this is by being on the floor, participating in the daily rituals/ceremonies, talking to key people across all levels/functions and digging on data to get better insights.

Balance Matrix

Once you are done with your data collection step, you abstract the information and make meaning out of it. I use this model (which I call the ‘Balance Matrix’) to plot the key observations and derive insights. In the X and Y axis you have two equally powerful/important forces. Based on the strength of these forces, a particular system might fall in a certain quadrant. Here the key is also to identify the definition of ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ in your ecosystem. The previous step in the process will help you determine that.

For example, if your line of inquiry is balancing between various deliverables and initiatives. The two forces here would be ‘Tactical’ and ‘Strategic’. The four possible quadrants and the set of actions you can pursue are stated below

The figure above is only indicative, depending on the context it is important that we customise this list for solid wins.This can also be extended for different problem statements and situations.

Check-Act-Repeat

The last step in this process is to figure out the feedback loop. Once you have identified the key areas of work, you need to establish a framework to measure the progress made. This can be easily managed with mechanisms like OKRs, check-ins and team/stakeholders feedback.

Conclusion

While I have tried my best to simplify this into a 4 step process, in reality, this is a complex ecosystem. Every external variable (be it a systemic change or a change caused by one or many individuals) will distort the equilibrium of the system. Hence it is crucial to be mindful of these changes and keep adapting to it. Although it might look daunting to do this exercise in the beginning, over time this becomes your second nature.

Karthik Kamal Balasubramaniam heads Supply Engineering at grofers. Follow him on LinkedIn


How I Work: The art of balancing was originally published in Lambda on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Source: Grofers