Debouncing the Signal

Ripples on a lake

A big part of leading teams is identifying issues to address and opportunities to exploit. The bigger the team, the harder it is to sense trends that need attention. Your job is to help ferret out the signal from the noise—like a human high-pass filter1.

It’s tempting to jump in at the first sign of difficulty—this can send you around the bend as you chase an increasing number of tails. It can also lead to intervention bias.

The trick, instead, is to slow down and “debounce the signal”. Wait for input around a topic to collect, then take stock of your response.

Having a broad purview and taking the time to think means you can internalise things that others haven’t yet. Typically, the challenge isn’t whether something needs resolving but which of the many opportunities you should direct your constrained capacity towards.

Letting some time pass and banking a couple of nights of sleep can soften your view and reduce the effect of tilt. Working with trusted advisors in your team can also help establish perspective and modulate your response.

What happens when you slow down?

Sometimes, things resolve themselves. The team steps up and sorts things2. Internal or external factors change and obviate the issue.

Sometimes, new information comes to light that contradicts what you’ve previously heard. Follow-up conflicting information is particularly prevalent with interpersonal issues within teams. Welcome to the Rashomon Effect. Regardless, you need more information to establish what is happening.

Sometimes, you don’t hear anything more on a topic. Given a large enough team, this scenario is pretty standard. The risk here, of course, is that low-frequency issues can still have a high impact.

Sometimes, things are chronic and severe enough that they need more attention. It becomes evident that you need to do something.

Finally, some issues or opportunities are significant enough that you need to act immediately.

The art is in knowing when to act and when to wait.

  1. Or human shock absorber. ↩︎

  2. This is my favourite outcome. ↩︎