Escalating issues cleanly
Everyone bumps up against conflicting priorities sometimes. Escalating openly and rationally reduces uncertainty, delays, and damaged relationships.
USE THIS PLAY TO...
Unblock teams stuck on decisions, conflicts, or issues.
Establish a rational and collaborative escalation path.
If you're struggling with Health Monitor, running this play might help., or on your
suitable for any group size
3 - 5 days
Running the play
Expect to spend a few days reaching alignment on what the heart of the matter really is, plus another day or two to get through the actual escalation process.
Acknowledge and align on the problem
Acknowledge there is a disagreement or decision that is stuck. Sometimes it isn't even clear what's happening, and one person/team (Party A) may be unaware of another person/team's (Party B) worries.
Clarify the options
Use plays like the DACI Decision-Making Framework to outline the viable options, including the pros and cons of each. Ask each party to flag their preferred option (these will likely be different).
The goal is for Party A to describe Party B's position in a way Party B feels is accurate, and vice-versa. Use language like "I heard you say...".
Understand the trade-offs
Try to understand the reasoning behind each party's priorities, listing each option's pros and cons if you need to. Differences are often due to team- vs. business-level goals, different target customers, lack of clarity on resources, or misaligned expectations of the ideal customer experience.
Figure out who you'll be escalating to. Often this will be the manager of both/all parties, or it could be an individual in a project leadership role.
Let the other party know you intend to escalate the issue. E.g., "It looks like we still see things differently. I'd like to escalate to (Party C) – would you like to be part of that conversation?"
Ask your escalation point-person to analyze the situation from a systemic perspective (which they'll probably do instinctively anyway). If their help is enough to resolve the issue, great. If not, escalate the issue up to the next level. This continues until the issue is resolved – even if you have to go to the CEO.
Tips for escalators
- Escalations are a tool to help you resolve issues quickly. If you've made your way through the first 3 steps, you're ready to escalate.
- If you need more than 3-5 days to gather critical information, that’s ok, but try not to let the alignment period drag on.
- Always assume good intent from all parties. Escalations are simply a means of ensuring you are optimizing globally rather than locally. Do NOT use them as a weapon.
Tips for escalation point-persons
Leaders can help by de-stigmatizing escalations, encouraging their team members to participate in the process, and coaching them to see its benefits.
Leaders may need to ask for more information from the parties who are escalating, which may result in them rethinking their options. That's okay! Sometimes all you need is for someone to ask the right questions, and boom: everyone's perspective shifts.
Be sure to run a full Health Monitor session or checkpoint with your team to see if you're improving.
Run a quick retrospective at the end of each escalation. This will help the organization learn how to reduce future escalations.
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