Leading the Tired Team

Jim Collins’ definition of the Stockdale Paradox teaches us that our faith that we will prevail in the end must be balanced with confronting the brutal facts of a situation—and given the challenging reality that we have all been living through since early 2020, this idea now seems more relevant than ever. At the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic, we were running on pure adrenaline. Many of us were uneasy about the impact it would have on industries, businesses, and people. Millions of livelihoods were at stake and numerous organizations knew that they would have to evolve or die. So we changed. We reacted quickly and adapted to the new reality. We found new ways to do our jobs, new ways to serve our customers, new ways to function and work and live and socialize. We were flexible, creative, and resourceful, and it showed. But then it started to wear on us.

Many leaders find themselves leading team members who are hopeful—but also exhausted, anxious, and discouraged. This is true not only in less-effective teams but also in high-performing teams and in teams that have a history of being resilient. Teams everywhere are coming to the realization that change is here to stay, and if we are to continue to be successful, we will need to persevere in a highly volatile, tumultuous business climate.

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“Tired teams” are widespread across a broad range of sectors, organizations, and levels, and the exhaustion of team members up and down the organizational ladder is the result of a whole host of factors: devastating setbacks, low demand for goods or services, a surge in business, lack of candidates to hire, lack of team coordination or organizational agility, unbalanced workloads, burnout of existing talent, supply-chain issues, unexpected or unrealistic customer requirements, layoffs, reorganizations, remote-team dynamics, and extreme personal and professional pressure.

We have been living through a period of prolonged anxiety and uncertainty and this stress—combined with the sheer volume of demands on people—have taken their toll at the individual level as well as on overall business and team performance. It is now falling to leaders to bolster team-member resilience, but where can we find the energy and resolve to reenergize our people and successfully lead them forward when we are also struggling so significantly? As leaders, what is required of us now is no longer crisis management, it’s leading ourselves and others through transformational change.

Change means loss, but it also means opportunity. We believe that the healthiest way for teams to navigate through this change and use it to our best advantage is to give team members a chance to reset, recharge, and realign—to help them see where we need to go now and how we are going to get there together. Here are 5 tips for taking charge of the situation, putting people first, and summoning the strength to help yourself and your team members find the resilience needed to navigate through the current changes and prepare for whatever comes next.

1. Monitor Your Mentality

The way we perceive and react to an obstacle is strongly influenced by our beliefs about the obstacle itself. If our thoughts about the challenge we are facing are negative, dysfunctional, or absolute, our behaviors are more likely to be self-defeating. In contrast, when our thoughts and beliefs about an obstacle are more flexible, our behaviors and emotional reactions are more likely to produce positive outcomes.

Much of the adversity we are currently encountering is outside of our direct control, which can be quite frustrating for leaders and team members alike. It’s important to remember that even in extremely trying times, what you can control is the way you think about and react to your team’s challenges. Visualize success and let that guide your day-to-day decisions. Try to embody composure by responding to challenges as calmly as you can. Breathe. Know that you can’t control everything and that not everything needs to be managed today. Try to model the mindset that you’d like your team members to have.

2. Take It One Step at a Time

There are a lot of challenges that need to be thought through and dealt with at this point in time, but no one can resolve everything today. Successfully navigating through upheaval and ongoing change requires great stamina as well as a short- and a longer-term outlook.

When helping your team to realign, it’s crucial to identify where you’re really trying to go. Enroll your people in defining a realistic vision for the future and then begin to put a short-term plan in place by identifying which critical priorities your team needs to attend to right now. Encourage your team members to focus their time and effort on these short-term priorities so you can reserve some of your own time to focus on planning for the mid-term and longer-term future. Don’t waste anyone’s time on things that aren’t within your sphere of control, and don’t micromanage; empower and enable people to get to work on the priorities you’ve identified together—and then get out of their way.

3. Stay Connected and Communicate Openly

During times of great stress, some people find it easier to focus inward or disassociate altogether—but in challenging times, team members need an engaged leader. More than anything else right now, people need to feel supported and maintain their connections with others so they can stay grounded.

In teams of all kinds, people tend to fill an absence of communication with inferences and fear. As you work to reset, reconnect, and realign your team, it’s crucial that you keep the lines of communication open between and with your team members. Acknowledge the realities of the situation you are facing as well as its positives. Build stronger connections with people by sharing what you know, being open and vulnerable, voicing your own concerns, and creating an environment where your team members feel comfortable doing the same. Try to remind yourself and others that improvements to the situation may be gradual so it’s important to recognize small steps in the right direction, even if they seem trivial at first. Even modest gains help to buoy our spirits in a rough sea.

4. Treat Yourself and Others with Compassion

The challenges that we have faced have been harder than many of us could have imagined and reached across all boundaries, touching every facet of our lives in one way or another. These changes have been dramatic, rapid, and ongoing—and they aren’t over yet. Outside of the workplace, chaos is swirling, but the team environment has the potential to provide a reprieve from all that noise. We must be kind to ourselves and our team members. We must be patient.

As a leader, you have the power to create an insular environment where you and your team members can feel safer, calmer, and more focused. Some of this comes from mindset management (as we mentioned above), but more of it will come from being an authentic servant leader and leading team members from a place of genuine caring about their wellbeing. People must continue to perform their duties as employees; that’s an inarguable fact. But they also need to be given the freedom to express how they are feeling as people. In a positive work culture where employees feel seen and understood, people are more likely to return the caring and support they feel from their leaders and colleagues in kind and give their very best to the team.

5. Institutionalize Agility

The current business environment requires leaders and teams to be able to quickly adapt and respond to new needs, and we see no signs of that changing. If we are to continue to meet the demands of a turbulent market now and in the future, having the agility to respond to changes and challenges, keep pace with the shifting needs of clients and other stakeholders, and change direction on a dime must now become part of a team’s core culture. The keys to making this work are team communication and trust.

All members of the team must keep their ears to the ground and be willing to share what they are seeing and hearing so new demands are better anticipated and there are fewer chances for unexpected surprises. This will allow the team to maintain as much stability as possible, while still leaving room for flexibility and last-minute adjustments when needed.

As a leader, you can help your team members respond to this constant state of flux by helping them quickly assess situations and reframe their options, responses, and next moves. Encourage them to find the best way around an obstacle instead of letting it stop them in their tracks. Remember, agility has more to do with the speed at which you recognize and respond to a needed shift in direction than the number of solutions you devise.

Right now, in this moment, you and your team members are capable of achieving much more than you may think. Let your passion for the work you do and your team’s long-term success quiet your mind and provide the momentum you need to push through. Be a resource for your team members and allow them to be a resource for you. We are stronger together. If you take this opportunity to concentrate on the health of your team and help them to recapture and refocus their energy, there is no telling how much you might accomplish together down the road.

If you and your team are feeling tired and need to reconnect, realign, and reenergize, contact CMOE to learn about our Team Alignment process and Team Effectiveness solutions. Our seasoned facilitators and consultants can help your team overcome challenges and refocus on how to work together to achieve success over the long run.

About the Authors

Emily Hodgeson-Soule

Emily Hodgson-Soule has worked with CMOE since 2009 and is the Director of Program Design and Development. She holds a Master of Professional Communication (MPC) degree with dual emphasis in writing and multimedia. Emily works closely with CMOE’s client organizations to assess their internal training and development needs and provide learning solutions that fulfill the requirements and the strategic goals of each organization.

Stephanie Mead

Ms. Mead has experience in operations management, leadership development curriculum design, organization development consulting, and international operations. Stephanie has developed complete leadership development curriculums for some of the world’s leading organizations. Her experience also includes creating specialized learning experiences and blended learning programs aimed at maximizing human and organization performance. Stephanie has also co-authored 4 books with other CMOE consultants.

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CMOE

CMOE’s Design Team is comprised of individuals with diverse and complementary strengths, talents, education, and experience who have come together to bring a unique service to CMOE’s clients. Our team has a rich depth of knowledge, holding advanced degrees in areas such as business management, psychology, communication, human resource management, organizational development, and sociology.