Recent events have made leading a team more difficult than ever, but, these five strategies can help bring order to the chaos.
Have you ever found yourself in an environment that seems totally unprecedented, say a global pandemic, a recession, or mass rounds of layoffs? Such events tend to plunge both company priorities and resourcing plans into disarray.
As a leader, it becomes difficult to keep teams motivated through such turbulent and uncertain times. Not knowing all the answers and an inability to predict directions in the near future can leave leaders wondering what they are doing, and what the right thing to do is. With that in mind, we have identified five strategies to help you start to bring order to the chaos.
Analyze the change
When it seems like everything around you is changing and there are a plethora of factors to consider, analyzing the impact of these changes might seem daunting. To break out of this mindset, start with a few basic questions about what isn’t changing at the macro level and work your way down to your individual area of work.
Analyze what in the company stays constant, and ask: are we still in the same business domain? Do we retain our competitive advantage? If not, what are we pivoting towards? If we do not know how, think about how your team can help in that effort.
Remember, an idea can originate from anywhere in the company. Here are a few things to consider:
- Spend time to understand the impact of events and evaluate the impact on your specific market.
- Ask about the company’s response, and if one is not available, ask for a timeline.
- Align your team’s goals to the company’s new strategy. If the company is looking to reduce costs, think about developing plans to reduce ops, and prioritizing a few critical projects.
- Act early and keep the financial balance sheet ready to identify areas of improvement.
Effective communication is the key
You need to think about how you are communicating with your team and the organizational leadership. During tough times, communicating with your team is often given more weight, however communicating effectively with your leadership is just as important, as it will guide you towards a strategic direction and allow you to lead the change.
- Communication with the team: As a leader of the team it is important to empathize and acknowledge the situation. People feel more connected when their leader is not insulating them from the world. Instead, acknowledge what the existing challenges are. Increase the frequency of check-ins with your team members, along with giving them more opportunities to communicate with each other. Remember, turbulent times bring people closer together. Establish optional practices like retrospectives, anonymous ways of sharing feedback, and encourage mental health breaks. There may be some people who get overwhelmed by too much communication, so give them space by keeping these events optional.
- Communication with your leadership: Preparing strategically to meet with your leadership is transformational. Dividing the sections into updates (team and charter), and requests is an effective way of building strong allies with leadership. Consider asking for justifications, expected impact of organizational decisions, plan of communication, and success metrics. Sometimes your leaders may not know the answers, or are in the middle of figuring it out. If so, ask them the same questions as the analysis above.
Navigating shifting priorities
Once we have some understanding of where the company may be headed, it’s useful to understand how it affects the roadmap for your team. Ask yourself if you had a brand new team what features or projects would you prioritize? Are the features in the backlog aligned to the new strategy? If not, how do we reprioritize?
In some scenarios you may find that the core product needs to change due to changes in user behaviors or company strategy. Work with your product partners to develop new success metrics that are aligned to these. Think about what to optimize for new customer growth or customer retention.
While you work on this realignment to come up with a longer term strategy, you can focus your team on improving operational efficiency. This can lead to changes in scaling strategy. Ask yourself: are we going to grow fast enough to continue the scaling initiatives? What are the tech debt or manual processes that we can live with while we figure out the strategy?
Keep the momentum going
The most negative impact on motivation is an inability to move forward. Assuming there are no clear updates from the organization about what’s next, invest in medium term goals which are generic enough to pivot following any updates from leadership.
For example, focusing on cost analysis and plans to reduce the cost of operating your system. Or focus on building tools to boost developer effectiveness, so that once priorities come through, the team can deliver blazing fast results.
This is also a very lucrative opportunity to invest in team member’s weaknesses. The team can work through delays in delivery if members are spending time learning about the systems that they interact with, but do not understand much about.
There are many factors that may result in changes to the size of your team, such as a reorg, attrition, a merger, or even layoffs.
As a leader, it is your responsibility to not only implement such changes, but also own it, even though you may not agree. Letting your team members go can be the hardest decision a manager has to make. Ensure you have done everything in your control to help your team members through such times.