What does it mean to be a leader during a crisis? The pandemic caught all of us off-guard but when you’re a manager, you’re responsible for the well-being and productivity of your team. So how do you balance achieving your goals and targets while keeping your distance from the people you need to work with? It can feel challenging to make the right decisions or know the best way forward but there are ways to manage through a crisis that gives you a better chance at success. Let’s explore what tactics great managers are turning to that are helping their teams stay productive.
Tip for managing teams
Running a team has it’s own unique challenges at the best of times. But when faced with leading through a crisis, what can you do to help your team stay on the right path?
Be honest: Probably the most important element of good leadership through a crisis is to be honest. You team needs to know what’s going on and they need to hear it from you. Right now, there may be a lot of uncertainty around when work is going to resume as normal, what the new normal will look like, and how everyone will find their footing again once this passes. When things are rough, it’s human nature to withdraw rather than communicate and that’s an urge managers need to fight. Instead, reassure employees about any updates or decisions they may not be aware of, especially if it relates to protecting jobs, so they have a sense of what is happening beyond their team or department. And let them know you are someone they can come to with questions if they are worried about things that might be beyond the scope of their regular duties.
Set an example: One way to motivate others is to lead by example. Colleagues or direct-reports might be looking to you for a sense of normalcy so it’s important to set the tone for what is expected. There are many ways to show others the best ways forward without given them direct instructions. You could try discussing how you’re handling stress and wellness openly with your team to create space for those conversations or you could share what your working on or what strategies have been useful to you in finding a work-from-home routine. Because of the nature of our current environment, much of leading by example will be communicating what you’re doing and why. Which brings us to our next tip.
Over communicate: It may seem like there’s nothing to say but there’s no harm in sending out a company-wide email anyways even if updates are minimal. Right now, many employees are working alone and their chances for social interaction are likely low. For teams that aren’t online everyday video conferencing, it can be a challenge to keep people feeling connected. Instead of feeling adrift, you want to build a sense of community. Weekly updates are a great way to provide a sense of belonging. On weeks where there’s nothing major to report, swap in well wishes or funny stories of dogs photo bombing company Zoom meetings. The idea is to keep your company culture strong and your workers connected as much as you can and good communication is a cornerstone of that goal.
Consider mental health: Times are hard right now on everyone but for employees struggling with mental health concerns they can be even tougher. Leaders need to dig deep and embrace their inner empathy. On the average team, assume at least a few people are struggling and react accordingly. You can help by sharing employee support hotlines or insurance covered wellness numbers your team can call if they need to talk to someone. You could provide an online chat or video session for employees wanting to share with each other or trade stories. And you can take a look at how work is currently being structured to see if there is any way to introduce more flexibility into the day to help employees balance their lives outside work.
Adapt as needed: There is no one right away to address the challenges we’re all facing right now. Come up with a plan to manage your team and then adapt it as you go. Many of us thought working from home would be numbered in weeks not months, so there’s one change we’ve already had to adjust for. If you’re team is burning out or feeling increased stress, see what can change in how you’ve been working. Maybe everyone needs to meet online one Friday afternoon to simply let off some steam or maybe there are larger issues to sort out surrounding workloads or resource allotment from a distance. Soliciting feedback from your team can help you keep on top of what your team is experiencing and allows you to adjust course as needed.
Stay positive: It can be hard for everyone, including managers, to stay positive right now. But your employees will be looking to you and you want to present as positive and confident an image as you can. Try to focus on what has been achieved week to week, rather than what was missed. Bump up your employee appreciation efforts to let your team know you see their hard work and recognize it. Send personal messages to team members thanking them for an important contribution or a great new idea. And try to think about the work being assigned. If possible, try to work on projects that are more engaging or require a higher level of creativity to keep employees focusing on what’s good about their jobs.
Leading isn’t always easy
It can be hard to know what the best way forward is but really the only wrong path is to do nothing. Don’t try to sweep away the realities of living through a pandemic but be upfront about the challenges teams and companies are facing. The most important aspect of managing right now it to make sure everyone feels connected and no one is left on their own. Crisis leadership isn’t about having all the answers but rather about having the skills to try and find alternatives ways of moving forward. Stay on top of team dynamics and if things start to skew negatively or if engagement levels drops dramatically, don’t be afraid have open conversations about it. Maybe together the team can find solutions to the problems they’re facing that they wouldn’t be able to on their own. Times of crisis catch everyone by surprise so it’s important to prioritize what matters: keeping your team safe and healthy. Only then can you move on to completing work and projects in a more productive way.