Crisis Managment: Part two. Nothing to do…

In this blog, we’re going to be talking about the management of people who have had the rug pulled from under their feet, where projects dry up and teams are facing uncertainty.

For managing teams during the type of crisis where everyone is run off their feet, have a look at our previous blog here

It’s so common as a manager to find yourself in this place: mergers and acquisitions, economic downturns, changes in strategic priorities, the occasional pesky virus – there are many ways you can be managing a thriving and busy team one minute and a stressed, unhappy and unproductive team the next. Needless to say, it’s your job to try and counter the stress; balance out the mood and stimulate creativity. Not easy if you feel in the same position, but certainly possible. Here are our top 10 tips.

  1. People will react in different ways, some stoically keep coming in to work as though nothing has changed; some react by thinking they’ll ‘work from home’ and disengage; and so on. Ensure there are formal channels of support that can support the entire spectrum. Communicate these.
  2. Where possible, bring people together. You may need to work hard on those that want to stay at home, but the more you can bring people together the more you can harness their collective creativity and work out next steps that leave everyone feeling more energised.

Design Thinking is a powerful framework that helps identify and design new products and services. Your team are now the customer and they need to design a new product (themselves) for the leadership team.

  • Empathise – not just with them, but with the Senior Leaders that have made this decision. What are the different characters viewpoints? How do they see the world.
  • Define what you want – (in the case of a merger): we want Senior Leaders to recognise that they now have two marketing teams but we want to position ourselves as a new Strategic Marketing Team which creates room for both teams to remain employed.
  • Ideate – using the ‘How Might We…’ technique

Your role as leader is then to ‘sell in’ the ideas of your team, appropriate to the circumstance.

Notice the effect of these sessions on the team stress levels and mood. Schedule further sessions to maintain the momentum and keep the mood of the team as upbeat as possible.

  1. Similar to point 2, but more within your direct control: Bring the team together to imagine an ideal future. What new skills would they as a team need? What would make them as a team the best they could be? What would make them as individuals the best they could be?

    Providing the team with the education required should not be a costly venture. At best you will have a team ready to fly and who present themselves to decision makers as being positive, engaged and ready for a future within the existing organisation; or you are giving them the skills that help smooth the path to a new role.
  2. Hopefully as a manager you have had some exposure to coaching tools and techniques. If not, it’s not too late to learn! Find an experienced coach in your organisation, sign up for a course and ideally do both! You need to build trust and rapport in your team and ensure the individuals are able to express their feelings about the future.
  3. Look at the status of the rest of the organisation. Are there tangentially related teams that are unaffected and thriving? If you have a lull, consider asking for ‘shadowing’ days where your team members can learn about other roles in the organisation and expand their knowledge and overall company awareness. Encourage them to network internally and follow up on things that interest them.
  4. Look outside your company. Now probably isn’t the time to organise an evening in the pub (even if it were allowed) as it may not turn into the hoped for morale booster; but what about a visit to a non-competing company? Let’s say your team is the digital team for an airline booking system; it’s pretty unlikely another airline will let you come and see how they do things, but what about an online clothing retailer that handles delivery logistics, what could you learn from them? Again, this serves the purpose of creating the best chance of your team securing an internal position, but also gives a positive learning experience, new contacts and new experiences to talk about in future plans.
  5. In Agile Delivery we often talk about having ‘T-shaped Teams’ , spend time with your team explaining the theory and how as a team you might improve that given that you now have a window where you can learn new skills and try out new things in a risk free environment. This is similar to step 3 but instead of the answers being AI, Robotics and other large ticket items this is more in the realm of improving the understanding of automated testing options, learning a new programming language, or developers increasing their understanding of the Scrum Master or Product Owner role. This works equally well for non- development teams. Imagine you’re an HR team. Often these are split into specialisms: Acquisition, talent management, rewards and benefits etc. Having oversight and basic competencies in more than one area can be hugely beneficial.
  6. Build the crazy prototype! Get the team to come up with a wildcard solution to a recent problem where they built the expected and ‘safe’ option. It doesn’t have to be software related, all teams identify and overcome problems. This isn’t just a crazy exercise; it may have real company benefit. Explore how you prototype it, how you might test it (safely!) and build on the feedback. This will enhance the team understanding of Design Thinking; highlight any existing process flaws and may deliver a significant improvement on the current process.
  7. So far, we’ve focused on keeping the team busy and engaged, but of course, it’s important to recognise that team members may be looking elsewhere for roles; internally or externally and may need time to prepare or interview. Encourage transparency and offer help.
  8. Similarly, be as transparent as you are able to be about timescales and magnitude of change. Sometimes you can give all the information you have (such as dealing with Coronavirus). Sometimes (Merger and Acquisition information that might affect share price) you aren’t able to be as transparent as you would like; but treat your teams with respect and openness to allow everyone to make the best of the situation.

That’s it from us on this topic. What would you add? Let us know how you would handle this. It’s not written about frequently, but it’s a topic we feel is really important to address.