Sometimes we need to ‘get off the river’

July 11, 2018
Robert Gunther and my book, Your Job Survival Guide, discusses various benefits of time ‘off-river’. Many of them involve one’s own well-being. One set of benefits, however, accrue both to you as leader as well as to those you would lead.
One use of going off-river is to talk. The rush of whitewater can make conversation all but impossible. The combination of noise and the need to tend to one’s own immediate and very pressing business can preclude anyone really talking with anyone. Time off-river can provide an opportunity to review where you are, share how things are going, and, perhaps of most importance, to plan what comes next. Standing on a promontory with one’s fellow travelers and looking downstream provides the chance to scout and to plan even as you know that the future will likely not unfold according to plan. The planning will, nonetheless, offer the necessary context to adjust the plan as needed in the unplanned moments ahead.
Ongoing creation and sharing of context enables improvisation and local decision-making. Keeping that context up to date makes the unplanned moments far more manageable. Trying to infuse both context and plans into one hectic moment can easily overwhelm both the ‘presenter’ and the receiver. Often it’s just too much in too little time, time often stuffed with the stress and anxiety of getting through the moment. Stage setting should be just that, stage setting, something that occurs prior to stepping onto the stage and into the action.
We train our people to come to the table with solutions when problems arise. It is a skill many of us have acquired through many years working in the trenches. The skill is honed, refined over time, and often useful.  Yet, what about context? Context provides meaning and in a white water world context and therefore meaning changes regularly. What constitutes a problem and what a solution depends on the shifting nature of context. Keeping yourself and others updated regularly about context, about what lies down river expedites the communication and evaluation of problem definition and solutions proposed.
Restated, find regular time off-river to look downriver with your co-workers and to agree on the context, on what lies in front of you. Doing so will enhance your shared working understanding and your working relationships. Doing so will also help you and those who depend on you to navigate better those unplanned and often critical whitewater moments.
Below is a link to a short video that discusses this notion further.