4 Things Leaders Can Do to Support Their Teams in Times of Complexity, Uncertainty and Ambiguity


I’m writing this post during the COVID-19 crisis, but the truth is, active and conscious support of team members is essential to great leadership, even when we’re not fighting a global pandemic.

So, no matter what crisis you may be facing at this moment, be it big or small, remember: this just might be the making of you. The thing about crises, is they often prove to be a crucible. You will walk through a fire and emerge transformed. The nature of that transformation is up to you.

Will you contract? Will you let fear be your motivator? Will you allow old habits and patterns to hold you back?

Or, will you expand? Will you be courageous? Will you consciously grow your talents and abilities?

The choice is yours.

If you’re reading this, I suspect you’re choosing expansion over contraction. Courage over fear. And growth over limits.

Good for you. Now here’s four things you can do to help your team choose those things too.

1. Find Your Rallying Cry

During times of complexity, uncertainty and ambiguity, teams need something purposeful to unify them. Something to guide them through the tough stuff and something to indicate when they’ve been successful.

That thing could be called a Rallying Cry.

During crisis, it’s not always possible to hold our old-reality priorities. A Rallying Cry is a temporary goal that serves as a bridge between an organization’s long-term goals and short-term tactical strategies. It’s a great way to keep the long-term in mind while focusing on what needs to be done right now to ensure we emerge from the current crisis. Rallying Cries are also great for resetting direction when things get out of sync – like when you’re behind on a goal, or encounter an unexpected obstacle.

They can be things like “Let’s get our churn rate below 5%.” Or, “Let’s get that product launched by June 1st.” Or, “Let’s not have to furlough a single employee.”

Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, and President of the Table Group consulting firm, suggests that you gather your team and ask, “What is the single most important thing that we must get done this period in order for us to succeed?”

Once you have a mutual understanding of what the single most important thing is, determine the 5 defining objectives needed to hit the goal stated in your rallying cry.

Here’s a link to a great Table Group exercise on how to do that.

2. Maximize Face-to-Face One-on-Ones

Now that you have your Rallying Cry, you’ll want to support your team as they go about addressing it. And that means you’ll want to maximize face time with them.

You may be underestimating the amount of one-on-one time your employees need, and the benefits you will receive from it too. If you only meet your team members in group meetings or group video calls, you’re missing out on a lot. One on ones provide you with an opportunity to ask questions and receive answers that may not be appropriate for the rest of the team to hear. Your employee may want to give you a heads up on something, or confess that they’re struggling, or to give you feedback on how you’re doing.

You want to hear these things.

Phone calls are great, but sometimes they just don’t cut it. Face-to-face is how we truly get to know each other. And it’s how we truly bond. If you’re working from home, video calls are very effective. I might even argue in some ways, they’re better than in person meetings. I’ve certainly noticed in my practice that when we’re on video calls, we spend more time looking directly into someone’s eyes without it feeling awkward. This is how we bond.

3. Validate. Validate. Validate.

In times of crisis, our needs for certainty and significance tend to be at the forefront of our psyches. Even if we’re doing everything right, it’s still easy to fall into an abyss of fear. I think leaders often underestimate how much validation our team members require. We tend to hold it for the moments when a goal is reached. But during times of crisis, many of us need validation throughout the process.

I’m not talking about being disingenuous or praising people for silly things. But a simple, “That’s a great plan of action”. Or well done on getting started on that so quickly” can really go a long way.

Validation isn’t just for your employees either. Thoughtful validation of your peers and your boss are important as well. Something like “I know this is hard, I just want you to know that I really appreciate the leadership your displaying,” can give them a boost when times are tough.

4. Remember to Laugh

I’m a big fan of gallows humour. Sometimes, you’ve just gotta laugh. Because, it’s not what happens to you that causes trauma, it’s how you experience it.

And besides, what’s the alternative?

Self-absorption. Self-pity. Self-loathing.

No thanks.

Want more? Check out my free online course on How to Support Your Team in Times of Complexity, Uncertainty and Ambiguity. You’ll find 3 modules, each with an instructional video, downloadable exercises and a reading list.

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The Unstuck Leader book is now available.
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