Tame turbulence with the Uncertainty-Disagreement Framework

Posted on October 02, 2018
Tame turbulence with the Uncertainty-Disagreement Framework

Operating a business within today’s VUCA business environment (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) can be extremely disorienting. Making business decisions under these conditions can seem like rolling the dice.

Fortunately, there is tool that allows you to orient yourself within such a space, and help you select the most appropriate management and leadership approach to employ: The Uncertainty-Disagreement Framework. The model proposes identifying management decisions along two axes: the degree of certainty and the level of agreement.

Degree of Certainty about the outcome of a decision or program of action is driven by the quality of available information. If cause and effect linkages can be clearly determined (for example when the outcomes of past similar decisions are known), there is a high degree of certainty about what outcomes are likely to be.

Degree of Agreement about an issue or decision within the group acknowledges that organizations are social enterprises, and negotiation among constituent parties with differing interests forms part of their fabric.

The matrix formed by these two dimensions allows the user to plot projects, decisions or activities in one of five zones, as shown in the illustration, and adopt a specific style of management and decision-making and leadership as a result.

  1. Technical-rational decision-making
  • High agreement / High certainty
  • Style of management to adopt: Telling
    Plan specific paths of action based on past experience to achieve outcomes and monitor the actual behavior by comparing it against these plans.
  1. Political decision-making
  • High certainty / Low agreement
  • Style of management to adopt: Selling
    Coalition building, negotiation, and compromise are used to create the organization’s agenda and direction.
  1. Judgemental decision-making
  • High agreement / Low certainty
  • Style of management to adopt: Consulting
    Work to develop a strong sense of shared mission or vision; head towards an agreed upon future state even though the specific paths cannot be predetermined.
  1. Complexity zone
  • Low agreement / Low certainty
  • Style of management to adopt: Co-creating
    This zone offers the opportunity for high creativity, innovation, and breaking with the past to create new modes of operating, but demands being comfortable with less understood, and seemingly less ‘solid’ models of management.
  1. Chaos (this zone should be avoided!)
  • Very high uncertainty / Very low agreement
  • Style of management to NOT adopt: Avoidance
    While this may be a protective strategy in the short run, it is disastrous in the long run and will likely result breakdown, anarchy and collapse.


This material has been drawn in part from Schulich ExecEd’s upcoming program Leading in a Turbulent World (Oct. 29- 31, 2018). Designed for leaders on the fast-track who understand the need to manage complexity, the program teaches new models for dealing with complex issues in your organization, and the leadership techniques to move your team forward in rapidly changing economic, social and technological environments.

Illustration adapted from Brenda Zimmerman, Schulich School of Business, York University, Toronto, Canada