Hard times? Focus on the mission

RBLP Staff – Building and Leading Resilient Teams Series

When the going gets tough, it’s up to the leader to take charge. By focusing your team on the mission, you can rechannel that stress and anxiety into productivity.

No team project or workplace endeavor exists within a vacuum. Your team is vulnerable to all sorts of distractions, both at work and outside it. Sometimes, events occur that you can’t control that sow the seeds of doubt, anxiety, and even fear throughout the entire team. That’s when they will look to the leader for direction, for a sign that everything will be okay if we just stick to the plan.

Your ability to focus your team on their mission during times of high stress will set you apart from the pack. Common stressors include changes in the corporate structure, such as an acquisition or filing for bankruptcy; replacement of high level leaders by unknown newcomers; corporate downsizing; the downsizing of your team; and budgetary cutbacks.

These and more will distract your team for as long as you allow them to be distracted. You can start by allaying their fears. If fear or anxiety is triggered by a change in corporate structure or leadership, first tell them what you know about the situation. Then break it down for them. How do we know how the changes will affect us? Maybe we will finally have the ear of the top brass and resolve some of those issues that have been bugging us for months. But for that to happen, we have to produce like never before.

It’s the clarion call to pull together and kick the project into high gear that will get your team’s attention. Our mission has to be completed successfully, regardless of what is going on around us. Do we want to create instant credibility with the new regime? Then let’s knock this out of the park. What if we’re sold or spun off? Again, let’s make sure our new owners see us as outstanding performers. Really, what’s our alternative? So let’s get it in gear!

By rallying your team in times of stress, you establish yourself as the problem solver, the cool head, the confidence builder. Adversity frequently leads to innovation; let this be the challenge you set for your team. How can we complete this mission in a way that demonstrates we are able to outperform under fire?

Another big stressor: loss of a key customer. Even if that customer is not directly tied to your current project, everyone on the team understands that a big chunk of revenue doesn’t disappear without consequences throughout the organization. You have to explain that key customers come and go. Perhaps this is the opportunity for the team to prove to remaining customers that they are working with the right partner. Could we be doing more business with them? Let’s find out by showing them how creative, innovative, and customer-focused we can be.

After the storm has passed, it’s good to take the time to reflect with the team on their performance during the difficult period. Rewards may be in order for those who stepped up. Perhaps the whole team deserves a bonus. The way you celebrate weathering the storm will also make an impression. Keep them focused right to completion, then allow folks to blow off steam, to take pride in their work, and to get ready for the next challenge. If you keep them focused, you will achieve the best outcome possible in a trying situation.