All teams go through times when anxiety is high. Maybe there are extra pressures in the business, or concern about someone’s health, or a pending deadline.
When teams share office space, it’s easy to stop by and see how someone’s doing or run into them at the water cooler or maybe share lunch. But those natural relationship-building conversation spaces aren’t available when you lead a virtual team. Here are some things you can do to help.
Manage your emotions first.
The leaders first responsibility is to set their team up for success. That means creating space for them to own and work out their emotions during anxious times. You must lead the way by naming your own emotion and freeing them to name and work through theirs.
In order to do this well, you will have to process your emotions privately and with other trusted sources. It is not your team’s job to help you manage this trying time. Talk with a coach, close friends, other leaders at your same level in the organization. Practice skills you’ve developed to mature your own emotional intelligence.
Tell them what you know and set clear intention.
During anxious times, it’s natural to ask, “What if’s.” When people have information, even the simplest information, it can help limit their fears. So tell them the facts you have on hand and what you’re doing about it.
It might sound like “Here’s how long we can expect this high anxiety time to last, and here’s what we’re going to do next.” Never lie. If you don’t know, say “I don’t know. I will tell you as soon as I do.”
Connect these trying times to your values.
Those values you wrote out at a corporate retreat a few years ago should be the driving force and your moral center in all of a company’s decisions. That’s even more true when anxiety is high.
When we’re under stress, it helps to remember why we’re doing something. Living out of a higher purpose gives meaning to both life and work. As you give assignments, be sure to link the task to your company’s value system. For example, “We’re prioritizing this project because it takes care of the customer first and one of our main values is ‘every customer has implicit value and should be treated that way."
Start problem solving processes by naming what’s going well.
When anxiety is high, we’re usually trying to fix something. We’re trying to solve a problem - or maybe multiple problems. Start this process by having your team name what’s working. That affects the momentum of the conversation and probably educates members of the team about strong elements in other departments. It also sets you up to problem solve from a strength’s perspective. When you’re clear about what’s working, you have better information to pull from to fix what isn’t working.
Have a daily touch base phone call.
Get on the phone with your people and check in. It doesn’t have to be a long conversation. Let it take the time it takes.
Here are some conversations starters.
“How are you really?”
“What’s on your mind?”
“Thank you for ______,”
“Your contribution to this project was helpful because ______.”
Take pressure off where you can.
Re-evaluate job responsibilities where possible. The best way to do that is to prioritize by the project, not by the clock.
With fewer distractions, working from home can be more efficient. Or depending on the person and the home they’re working from, there may be many more distractions during times of stress. Talk with your team members about what really needs to be done. Help them prioritize what’s most important and focus on those tasks.
Use what you know from other team building work you’ve done.
Most leaders have offered training in Myers Briggs Personality Type or the DISC assessment or StrengthsFinder or some other self-awareness tool.
Use what you know of your team to help them. What does their profile mean for working alone or for understanding how they respond to stress or for motivation and feeling validated? Put those tools to work as you coach each person in the way they need.
Celebrate when it’s over.
When this high anxiety time is through, throw a party. Congratulate them on getting through. Thank them for their contribution. Do all of this with lavish sincerity and with everyone in the same room. Such an important thing needs to be done in real time and real space.
Read more articles about leadership, self-awareness, and team building.
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