VUCA Countermeasures vs Circuit Breaker Classes

VUCA Countermeasures vs Circuit Breaker Classes


Yoga, tuition centres and gyms move online as Singapore gets used to operating in the virtual world

In the world of management, changes have been inevitable in every organisation. With changes occurring, the trendy word ‘VUCA’ has been the talk of the town. So “what is ‘VUCA’?” you may ask. VUCA is an acronym and a concept that originated with students in the U.S. Army War College to describe Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity.

COVID-19 on the economy

Unpredictable events occurring in organisations will be seen positively and negatively. Leaders are put in difficult positions in making unprecedented decisions for the organisation’s advantage. This is reflected through the current COVID-19 situation that has affected the international economy, operations and even the daily lives of every single citizen in the world. As we all know, not even our little red dot has been spared.

Being a first world country with developed market economy, many operations especially the service sector that requires physical presence have been badly affected in Singapore. For instance, going for tuition lessons and work out classes is the norm for a lot of young and working adults before the pandemic struck us.

Going digital

With the Circuit Breaker being implemented by the government to counter the spread of the virus, VUCA is predestined for such business owners. It has resulted in having all classes cancelled and operations to be seized immediately.

However, with adaptability, businesses are still able to counter to the stay home advisory. Tuition, yoga or even gym classes began to operate online for their clients to carry on in the comfort of their own homes via online platforms such as Zoom.

Being a market leader by going digital

Looking back on VUCA, an example of positive complexity is having the breakthrough to carry on their classes on an online platform, and keeping the business running during this harsh period. Being the fastest to adapt and emerging as a market leader, many businesses will realise that classes can be done online. On the other hand, an example of negative complexity refers to businesses that are not grasping the occurring changes and are refusing digitalism; resulting in a loss of clientele and business.

Going digital in Singapore

As Singaporeans carry on to stay home during this Circuit Breaker period, many have begun to look for ways to carry on their daily lives and usual activities. This has led to many businesses here to use the opportunity to move their operations online. The moment many organisations have reported that meetings have and can be conducted via Zoom, yoga instructors and teachers began experimenting as well. Based on a news report by CNA, one of the tuition centres has invested in 40 iPads for its teachers to bring home so that they can leverage technology to carry on conducting classes for their students. Yoga instructors have also began promoting their online classes on their social media platforms. That being said, most Singaporeans have also been receptive towards this change.

Understanding VUCA for your business

Through the current pandemic situation and implementation of the Circuit Breaker, let’s look into how VUCA can be seen for the yoga and tuition companies. Volatility can be seen through the rapid changes that were made by the government that affected the businesses’ operations. The more volatile the pandemic is, the quicker our government would have to make changes to tackle the virus. While this is happening, everyone is uncertain on how long will this COVID-19 last or if the Circuit Breaker be extended. Additionally, businesses are also uncertain on how long things are going to be affected for and what is going to happen next. As mentioned earlier, complexity can be seen in these businesses trying to operate via online platforms where their struggle is to use non-conventional methods to their advantage. On ambiguity, the instructors and tutors would face a lack of clarity and incomplete information about the situation, hence facing the difficulty in making decisions for their operations.

VUCA counterweight – VUCA Prime

Through the news report on the classes’ prevailing in online businesses, it can be seen that they have that they have adapted to this VUCA situation. It has helped them to better manage and overcome the situation better. A distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future, Bob Johansen managed to develop an effective leadership framework as a “VUCA counterweight” which is known as VUCA Prime to cope and overcome the unnerving VUCA world.

VUCA Prime focuses leaders on making decisions based on having Vision, Understanding, Clarity, and Agility.

Vision for the future

Let’s look into what these instructors and tutors did and how they do it to overcome the limitations imposed on their operations. Volatility can be countered with Vision as leaders look for ways to navigate through this turbulence to achieve success. Based on CMC Organisational Agility Practice Leader, Tom O’Shea mentioned that vision requires three vital questions: Why are we here? How will we be successful? What are our success measures? Without this vision, most of these operations would have to surrender to the hands of this pandemic and call it quits. As a business leader, once they can see where their business is going along with the situation, they would have begun preparing for countermeasures to ride through the wave. Knowing that classes cannot be resumed with people being present in class, the tuition centre mentioned earlier has decided to prepare for online classes with the sale of the iPads for its staff before the Circuit Breaker kicked in.

Understanding the situation at hand

Next, Understanding overcomes Uncertainty. As the saying goes “you will not know what you do not know”. As business leaders, you may have your vision, but this mindset needs to be shared and understood by everyone in the team on how they can contribute to the organisation’s success. Employees being the biggest stakeholder of the company, it is important to have two-way communication to shape new individual and team transformation towards the situation. It also helps to capture the elements of vision which include the strategies and success measures. Back to the tuition centre, now that the tutor’s vision has been aligned, they understood why the company had invested so much for so many gadgets during this period for everyone. With this understanding, all the tutors need to do now is to carry on providing classes using this alternative method, creating new strategies to engage students through the screen.

Creating clarity to manage a complex situation

On Complexity, this can be countered by having Clarity. As O’shea mentioned, Clarity comes from building disciplines around the core basics, reinforcing the real priorities. Though many of these instructors have never conducted classes using online platforms which can be daunting, a yoga instructor spoke that one of the best ways to weave out of the complexity of this method is to have internal and external feedback. This helps to eradicate the unnecessary complexity in their operations and conduct on the online platform. After some time, Clarity can be shown through re-examining and rebooting course conducts and even ownership, why are certain things being implemented in online classes and who is responsible for its success.

Being agile to be fast

Finally, Agility counters Ambiguity which is very crucial in this VUCA world and situation that we have right now. Being agile is all about creating quicker processes to sense and respond to inevitable ambiguous changes. Only through Agility, leadership can be strengthened, developing new and interesting strategies and methods to position themselves at a competitive advantage in the increasing face-paced market, better yet in this VUCA World. For example, after seeing how other organisations have been utilising Zoom to carry on their daily meetings, yoga instructors began experimenting with conducting online classes for their clients. One of the instructors that we have spoken to even told us he had offered to hold his first few online classes for free as he gets to test it out. After getting the hang of it and gaining the confidence of his clients, the business was back to usual for him. For the businesses that manage to have the quickest breakthrough to conduct courses online, their business would be able to be operational ready quicker to mitigate any further losses during this Circuit Breaker period.

Of course, with so much being shared about how these companies carried on operating using online platforms during the Circuit Breaker and adapt towards the VUCA situation imposed on them, the real question is: Why did they do it? The answer is pretty obvious, if they did not adapt and evolve enough out of this situation, many would be out of a job in only a matter of time. As we know that no one knows how long this COVID-19 pandemic will last. It is only right for them to work their way through this harsh time, turning disadvantages to their advantage. Disadvantages will always remain as it is if we do not find a solution to counter them and it will only be more stumbling blocks if we are not agile enough.
Change is the only constant

COVID-19 will pass and things will get better for everyone. But in this VUCA World, changes are bound to happen. So how are you adapting to these changes? How are you doing in implementing the VUCA Counter measures in your organisation? Hopefully, you are prepared, as change is the only constant.


Adapting Tuckman’s Team-Development Model into our own household during this Circuit Breaker period

Adapting Tuckman’s Team-Development Model into our own household during this Circuit Breaker period


Boy, you so free, come and help me mop the floor!”

“Ma, I will help you later. I am working. I’m in a conference call.”

“But you’re home every day and just facing the computer! Why can’t you take 5 minutes to help me?”

“Ma, why can’t you understand that I am working, not on leave?”

The government’s Circuit Breaker measure has got all of us to work from home. However, based on the conversation above, it is safe to say that many of us might be facing the issue of having such distractions at home that would lead to possible quarrels and unhappiness. At this point, some of us might start to think about whether staying home together for such a long period is even good for us physically, mentally and emotionally. All of a sudden, going back to work, seeing your colleagues, getting swamped with the workload after workload upon your boss’ constant requests does not seem so bad after all.


Teambuilding at Work vs Teambuilding at Home

In the span of our lives in the workforce, most of us have been to at least one teambuilding programme. What were the objectives behind these programmes catered to the workforce? Most of the time, it is to achieve team cohesiveness by motivating peers to work together by expanding each other’s strength and the importance of addressing weaknesses among ourselves. For corporate teambuilding programmes, this motivation is usually being enforced through positive reinforcement as well as improved communications. However, like we always emphasise to our participants, teambuilding does not stop after the programme. The learning and new habits should be brought back to their workplace, in continuation to forge a stronger working relationship with one another for the long run.

Now, if work is part of our daily lives, and we have subconsciously always tried to accommodate one another to form a better working relationship, what about the relationships we have at home? Is it not true that home is the most significant part of our lives? Is it not true that our family members are one of the most influential people in our lives? If we can put in the effort to work on our work relationship, could we incorporate teambuilding learning back at home?


Tuckman’s Team-Development Model

In a teambuilding programme, it is hard not to share about the Tuckman’s Team-Development Model. “What is this model?” you may ask. In 1965, American Psychological Researcher, Bruce Wayne Tuckman, carried out his research about group dynamics. Through this research, he published the theory “Tuckman’s stages of group development” which have significantly been used till today. This model comprises four phases of group development, namely Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing.

This theory has not only elegantly explained and elaborated on team development, but also recognizing team behaviours and feelings. Other models such as Tannenbaum and Schmidt Continuum, even Hershey and Blanchard’s Situational Leadership have shown similarity to Tuckman’s model. However, back to Tuckman’s model, it has helped many teams to understand why situations are happening in a certain way that can be an essential part of the self-evaluation process. By recognising behavioural patterns, it has proven useful as a basis for team conversation, instead of placing team into “diagnosis” (Stein, 2020).

Bringing this model back at home, regardless of colleagues of family members, everyone is only human, and human and team development is not always linear. A great example that Judith Stein from MIT’s Human Resource (2020) mentioned – imagining a five-year-old kid reverting to his or her thumb-sucking habit when a newborn arrives.

Let us look further into Tuckman’s stages of group development in our home setting with our family members, how we can understand this framework during this Circuit Breaker period, and ultimately achieving the performing stage together as a family.


Stage 1: Forming

Forming is “honeymoon period” of every initial get-together. Back in an organizational team setting, primarily when the team is newly formed, and a new member has joined, most people are noticed to be more polite and positive to one another with occasional “Hi, how are you?, How was your day?”. This cordialness usually happens due to people being a little awkward with each other since no one is used to each other’s presence and working habits. Additionally, this is also when people decide to “have a mask on” to cover their true self.

You may be wondering, “But, forming a family will only happen when we have a new baby or relative joining the household, isn’t it?” Before Covid-19, we would usually spend about 9 hours or more at our workplace or even in school during the weekdays. During the weekends, some would enjoy their days out socialising and meeting friends. With that, it only leaves us with dinner time for the family to be together before bed time. Little did we know during this Circuit Breaker where everyone are encouraged to stay at home all day; being present and seeing each other for almost 24 hours a day, have become the forming stage for each family household.


Stage 2: Storming

During this stage, people will usually start to push each other to their boundaries. This could be due to collective displeasure and frustrations regarding working styles and even habits. At storming stage, people tend to feel more comfortable to confront the other party to address the issue directly. Confrontation during storming stage is usually done in either the loud or quiet approach. In the working environment, loud approach happens when it is done face to face while the quiet approach is through gossiping or addressing issues passive-aggressively via emails. This is where people would usually notice each other’s “true colours”.

Bringing this back to our situation at home during the Circuit Breaker, the lack of understand or empathy in the household could aggravate and cause the storming stage to happen. For instance, parents might have a different set of expectation for their children at home – parents could be constantly nagging at them to complete the housework even during their Work From Home working hours. Additionally, being cooped up at home could lead to mental and emotional distress that sparks quarrels at home.  At first, a noisy approach may be regular as family members might be unhappy with one another or taking each other for granted, but as time goes by, it could lead up to the quiet approach where they conclude that their family members do not understand them.

Before moving on to the next stage, take this time think – “What caused this to happen?” and “What is it that they do not understand?” If most of the storming at home right now is due to the lack of understanding, how can we better communicate with one another to create a better understanding for us to work at home? However, it is important to note that storming stage is vital in any relationship; disregarding or avoiding it could possibly lead to more misunderstandings, exacerbating relations.


Stage 3: Norming

Teams that managed to reach this stage showed that they have started to resolve their differences, embracing each strength and weaknesses, and also compromising each other to move towards a common goal. This is a stage where team members are more inclined to socialise together, offering and asking for help, as well as providing constructive feedback.

Regardless of the working environment or in a household environment, members that achieved this stage would make a more conscious effort to resolve issues harmoniously and through positive reinforcement. Since everyone is starting to feel genuinely more comfortable with one another, we would easily express our real feelings and thoughts more carefully. Ultimately, with these meaning conversations at home, we can focus on making our home not only a comfortable place in the comfort of everyone’s presence, but we could also be working from home in a conducive and efficient manner.


Stage 4: Performing

At this last stage, team members would already be satisfied with each other’s progress as they are more aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. This would lead to them feeling the attachment of being part of a wonderful team. Members are confident in each other’s abilities and traits. Along with these feelings and emotions, team members could focus on shared goal and ultimately achieve it together.

Moving forward, during this Circuit Breaker, together as a family, our shared goal is to ensure that we strive through this tough period safely, maintain both roles as a family member and an employee. Only by being committed to one another, we can support each other at home mentally and emotionally to ride through this storm.

In conclusion, as cliché, as it may sound, “blood is thicker than water”. During such tough periods, we have to be healthy and be there for one another; ensuring each other’s safety and wellbeing in our household. As the saying goes, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” Having constant squabbles at home? Why not try implementing and practising Tuckman’s Team-Development model at home? Who knows, not only we can survive through this global pandemic and Circuit Breaker, we could also forge a stronger relationship and bond with our family members.

Let us know how did this framework has worked out for you at home during this period, or is there any other method that you tried. Always remember, if we can maintain a quality working relationship, we should not neglect our family relationship, as well as family, comes first. Take care, and stay safe.