Dealing with Stress and Uncertainty when Unexpected Challenges Arise

7 Ways to Support Your Team's Mindset

Here are 7 Ways to Support Your Work Team's Mindset when stress and uncertainty arise due to an unexpected challenge:

  1. Get their world. Acknowledge the discomfort.  Treat all the responses to the unexpected challenge at hand as “reasonable.”  This could look like fear, grief, embarrassment or avoidance. Do not dismiss someone’s reaction as absurd or stupid.   With many unexpected challenges, few have dealt with the situation before.  Remember, each team member is trying to do their best operating from their own collection of reasons and confirmation bias.  
  2. Don’t try to “fix” it instead simply listen with compassion and empathy. Have compassion for yourself and for each of your team member’s experiences. Listen and simply allow people to share what it’s been like for them and give them permission to be with the discomfort.  It’s normal to feel out of sorts.  You don’t need to fix it or try to make them “feel better.”
  3. Communicate often and don’t sugarcoat it.  When appropriate, consider providing a daily update – which could look like letting your team know there is no update.  Keep them in the loop and be straight about the facts and the impact on your organization.  Also be straight about what you don’t know rather than trying to guesstimate on how it could go. Don’t catastrophize about “what ifs” while also setting aside some time to do thoughtful scenario planning. Lastly, if you have to make tough choices, make them and don’t sugarcoat it.
  4. Share your humanity AND be emotionally steadfast.  Let your team in on what it’s been like for you – both personally and professionally.  Let them know this is an unexpected challenge for you too.  This makes you relatable and allows any other messaging to be heard because they have the experience that “you’re one of us, you get what it’s like” – and that you’re not just “the boss.”  While sharing your humanity, you also have to be emotionally steadfast. Be grounded in, and present to, the right here and the right now.    The sky is not falling.  It’s actually not the end of the world.  And there’s still plenty to be grateful for – even if it’s simply for your next breath.  Savor the present moment and remember, your team is a reflection of you.   They will find reassurance in your fortitude.
  5. Acknowledge your team for their strength, commitment and resilience. Your organization would not exist without these three traits in your team members.  Appreciate and acknowledge who they are, their contribution and how they keep showing up.
  6. Be patient and powerfully share the mission and vision. Your team may be riding an emotional roller coaster.  One moment trying to be optimistic and seeing how this time is a unique opportunity and then another moment feeling like it’s all going to come crashing down.  No surprise - when people are distracted, their work productivity is impacted. They may be even thinking, why does this even matter right now?  Powerfully share why it matters.  Plug everyone into the heart of why you exist, into your meaningful mission.  Presence them to how they continue to contribute to, and are a part of, something that’s bigger than themselves and bigger than the challenge at hand.
  7. Provide clarity of focus and celebrate small wins. What is THE priority right now?  What makes a real difference in supporting the sustainability of your organization?  And what bite-size tasks can different team members take on in creating that future?  Being productive right now is possible – and it feels like “just keep putting one foot in front of the other.”  Support your team in seeing what that next step is and give a shout out for each one taken.
  1. Encourage emotional intimacy and the experience of togetherness.  Allow your team’s “whole” self to show up – both personal and professional. Our personal and professional lives are showing up more intertwined than ever.  Last week one of my client’s - whose makeshift home office is in his boys’ bedroom - was on a Zoom call making an important point to his colleagues, when one of his sons leaned down from the top bunk and had his Tyrannosaurus Rex “eat” his dad’s head.  His colleagues roared.  He had to giggle.  Capture and highlight these memory making moments - they will bolster your team’s camaraderie and sense of shared identity for years to come.

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