Why your IT organization needs pausers and pouncers

Why your IT organization needs pausers and pouncers

You're handed a new flavor of ice cream: Do you eat it? CIOs and IT leaders need to identify the pausers and pouncers on their team – and establish a strong relationship between the two

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Teams that are diverse in skills, backgrounds and attitudes tend to be more resilient and adaptive to change. They are increasingly essential to maintain a competitive advantage.

People’s first reaction to change can vary widely. Some people tend to naturally embrace change when first approached by it. Others pause before leaping in to consider the consequences. This does not mean either group is resistant to change, but it does help us classify tendencies. Both characteristics are immensely valuable. 

You probably already have a sense of who the people are on your team that jump at the chance to be a part of change. They’re your “pouncers:” People whose natural initial response to change is to leap head first without hesitation. 

You also likely know which of your teammates are naturally inclined to spend more time thinking about the ramifications of change before reacting. These are your “pausers:” People whose natural initial response to change is to pause and analyze before making any moves.

Great teams need both pouncers and pausers, agreeing to work together on a common goal.

Great teams need both pouncers and pausers, agreeing to work together on a common goal. I saw the power of this first hand after my own team completed an internal workshop to identify the right counterbalance of pausers and pouncers on a team. Like Woz and Jobs, the yin and yang between these two natural tendencies can create harmony and really successful products. 

CIOs and IT leaders who can identify the pausers and pouncers on their team and establish a strong relationship between the two will be surprised at how much more smoothly their key initiatives can go. 

[ What’s next for the CIO role? Read CIO role: Everything you need to know about today’s Chief Information Officers. ]

How to identify if you're a pauser or pouncer

At conferences, I’ve run executive workshops featuring an exercise adapted from MaryJo Burchard's contribution to the Open Organization Workbook. As part of that exercise, we ask a progressive series of questions and tell executives to raise either a "pounce" or "pause" card based on their initial reactions to those questions.

  • You’re handed a new flavor of ice cream — do you eat it?
  • We’re leaving for the weekend - to a city you’ve never been.
  • We’re painting your living room in a radically different - but wonderful - color tomorrow.
  • A famous hairstylist is coming to cut your hair in a new style after work today.
  • You are being transferred to a new team next month.
  • You’ll be moving to a new country by the end of the year.
  • You are changing clients – and your new client has a different primary focus than what you are used to.

Through this exercise, they learn about their natural tendencies. 

Once they have a firm grasp of the pouncer and pauser characteristics, we ask them to name a key strategic initiative. We then ask them to identify key team members for that initiative, and map them to their best guess of  "pauser" or "pouncer" based on observable behavior patterns.

[ Want more details on how to run the pausers and pouncers exercise? Download the Open Organization Workbook ]

Next, we ask them to rate the initiative in terms of two factors:

  • Urgency
  • Significance

Then, we have them plot their project on an x/y axis. We draw a circle around hot spots, and typically note that the grouping of projects contain a blend of urgency and business significance, requiring a balanced approach to enacting the change. (See my sketch below as an example). 

The location of their project on this x/y axis provides clues as to where change agents will need to focus time and energy. For highly significant change, inclusivity is key. Therefore, it is essential that pausers are engaged in the decision-making process, and are given the time required to process the change. For highly urgent change, speed is essential. Identifying and enlisting pouncers from the offset will help drive change more quickly. And for most projects, it’s important to recognize that a combination of pausers and pouncers must be engaged to make the change successful, and to make it persist.

Be prepared for eye-opening results 

This exercise can be eye-opening, because it helps executives understand that unbalanced teams of "pouncers" or "pausers" may be a poor fit for achieving their toughest business goals, and that a balance of both may be a much better fit.

The exercise also allows the group to understand how context and personal experience play important roles in embracing change, and how people’s natural reaction to change can be an asset.

To tackle today’s toughest strategic challenges, your teams must leverage their unique characteristics together. You need teams of pausers and pouncers.

[ Modernizing application development can be overwhelming. Get the Red Hat Open Innovation Labs eBook to learn how an iterative approach can help. ]

Portions of this article are adapted from The Open Organization Workbook (CC BY-SA)

One comment

Great article, Mike! Thank

Great article, Mike! Thank you for showing how important collaboration is to culture change. And, for showcasing the work of LDR21, the Open Org Community and Dr. Burchard! :)

Mike Walker is the Senior Director and Global Lead for Red Hat’s Open Innovation Labs, whose mission is to accelerate innovative business solutions and team transformations, the open source way.

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