Uncertainty & the art of getting your team back on track (Part 1)

Uncertainty & the art of getting your team back on track (Part 1)

How teams thrive, survive or even implode during periods of uncertainty has been a conversation with a couple of quite different clients recently.

I’m fortunate that I’m working with SMEs who are definitely in the first two categories. But still, getting teams (and managers) to consistently roll with uncertainty requires good leadership and the ability to help people see past distractions. I thought it would be worth having a look at few questions that came up in these recent chats:

  • Why is is that sometimes you cope well with and uncertainty, and yet sometimes it will floor you?
  • What is the primary skillset you need within your business to ensure that people act with resilience rather than reacting negatively and derailing others?
  • What habits does your business need around dealing with uncertainty?
  • Are you aware of the impact you and your surrounding leaders have on work disruption when you feel in flux/pressured

Anyone who has been around for a few years will have had their own examples of working through uncertainty. Whether it’s the fall out from the financial downturn, the challenges faced after 9/11 or (more recently) the massive upturn in competition and disruption across the field of content and events. What worked, what got us through and how can we instil this in our teams?

Why do our teams (and us) sometimes cope well with uncertainty, and sometimes not? 

Working with a range of different clients, and also having read around this a lot, the #1 issue that comes up time and time again is resilience. Not the kind of fake-resilience where you hold fast/rigid in the face of a challenge, but an ability to flex and rebound without losing the most essential processes of a business.

Highly processed businesses can sometimes overlook this factor within their teams and people. If the process works, it becomes a rigid fact of life – its consistent and unchanging, and this can give a false sense of security to a manager.

Processes are valuable, essential even, in our industry – but are you encouraging a culture & a way of thinking within your teams that allows them to bend and flex, to regroup and reassess rather than doggedly pursue short term goals.

I’m a little obsessed with a book on resilience that I came across a few years ago by Eric Greitens, a former Navy Seal. As you can imagine, Greitens was trained to the nth degree in systems, process, habits. The book layers on to these essential habits the concepts of identity (in business terms, who we are as a group as well as individuals) and the need for clarity of mission:

“One of the reasons you are suffering right now is precisely because the purpose of your struggle is unclear. What are you working toward? What are you fighting for?”

For me, this is where the meat of managing uncertainty kicks in:

What is the bright, shiny, compelling purpose – what will invigorate you and your people when times are tricky? 

I know, I know. For a lot of people, the idea of ‘purpose’ or ‘mission’ results in a jaded eye roll. Maybe a few years ago, I’d have agreed. But I’m convinced now that I, You, all of us benefit from something that triggers motivation and energy, especially when work is hard and times are tough. Combining this purpose or mission with a habit, a way of re-grouping is an essential habit.

For some people it will be the provision of a service or product that changes their clients world. For others it will be innovation with a purpose.

The trap is to think that a company’s financial goal is a mission your team will automatically support through thick and thin. It’s not. Telling your staff that their purpose is  to “ make the boss/the investors £100m” will get you so far. To get through the rough and the smooth, the vision needs to be stronger and something they can identify with.

To give an example within my own business, I could have set a mission for a certain amount of revenue. It would have worked, after all money is a driver for me. Instead, I’ve put a lot of thought into a mission about driving high performance within client businesses by instilling resilience & rigour along with genuine enjoyment for the work.

This combination of service (to human beings) and hard results (the core of the business) really does reinvigorate me. One without the other would be less powerful

Even if you think you have a compelling purpose for your team or business – revisit it:

  • Do they buy into it? And this means can they articulate it?
  • Is it communicated across the whole team and can they be clear on how they personally contribute to it?
  • Is it compelling enough that in truly tough times, it will motivate them on to the next action?
  • Is it about being in service to something as well as money? (Talk to any successful sports team to see if they think financial goals are the sole mission of their team).

There’s going to be a second part to this (its already broken the rules of content marketing in terms of length!). In Part 2 I’ll explore how to continue the work of refocusing a team with more nitty gritty actions. Simply put, we’ll look how your “re-set meeting” with a team can take the purpose and then refocus on next step goals and then bite size actions.

Hopefully the idea of refreshing, reassessing your mission will be a good prompt. In the mean time – let me know what you think.