Context Setting FTW by@jeremygupta

Context Setting FTW

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Jeremy Gupta

There is an old saying that “Content is King” and it is in the publishing/media/organic search world. Powerful content is a huge acquisition and retention tool — the better the content, the more likely it is to be picked up and syndicated, referred around between networks and then result in repeat visits.

In the same way, context setting is a huge acquisition and retention tool but it applies to teams, not users. Teams and organisations built around the dissemination of critical information while leaving details to those closest to the source of the problem to solve (and hence who have the most context)are far more likely to solve real problems and not turn into feature factories better suited to assembly lines. The trick that most teams and organisations miss however is trust and context setting — how do you trust those with the most customer context to make the right decision when the time comes to make a decision. Trust comes from many facets or team dynamics and more or less manifests itself in a few forms, namely;

  • the ability to make decisions without running it past “management” (particular one way decisions)
  • the ability to set and own “roadmap” in whatever format is most applicable — JTBD, problems to solve, Kanban boards, Scrum backlogs or aligned to something such as OKR’s
  • the ability to work in a manner that makes the team the most effective
  • the ability to input and (ultimately) own team objectives

but none of the above is possible unless the team gets context. Context also comes in a few forms, namely;

  • business context
  • customer context
  • market context

and teams can quite often only obtain customer context by themselves, because they know the customer they are solving problems for and hence understand the pain points. Business and market context however are also vital to teams being successful and obtaining alignment and autonomy through the org. Autocratic/commander leadership styles and traditional “top down” decision making doesn’t provide context, they are far more well known to be functional in highly tactical complicated environments where a strategy has been set and execution is the name of the game.

Put that leadership style into a complex environment which is where most technology organisations reside in and it quickly fails to scale, creates unnecessary overhead and bottlenecks any momentum that teams could otherwise build on their own. A lack of context leads to a build up of resentment which in turn reduces trust in leadership and starts the flywheel of negativity. You don’t want to start the flywheel of negativity. That’s a hard spiral to come out of and takes a long time to repair the broken trust

Next time you’re in a leadership position, understand what will make your team(s) more effective. Chances are it’s a combination of setting clear context and trusting your teams — one without the other won’t work.