Every team goes through times when it experiences levels of stress and pressure. Each team I’ve worked with this year is dealing with forces and levels of change that challenge the certainty of its effectiveness or even its existence. Lack of skilled staff, an organisational change which brings uncertainty, lack of time, unrealistic workloads, conflicting views on priorities, change saturation, a new leader, a restructure that means it’s merging with another part of the organisation, not meeting sales targets, pressure to do more whilst reducing costs… shall I go on?
Can you relate to what clients have said to me recently?
“There are conflicting views in the leadership team about what the top priorities are and we are all going in different directions to achieve them”
“I know we should step back to work it all out, but we’re just too busy to stop. There’s no time”
“We’re constantly treading water and not getting anywhere. We’re getting to the point where we almost don’t care any more, because there’s just too much change”
“We’re used to being really busy, stressed but in control. Now we’re really busy, stressed & out of control. That’s a really scary feeling”
“We’re trying to do too many things at once and not really focusing on where we’d get the best results”
For many people, this level of change and pressure is the new normal.
So just how do you step back to get ahead? What can a team do to step back? Is it possible to step back and create a different dynamic? Is it possible to step back and exert influence in the midst of change and uncertainty? The times when we are running headlong into change or in the words of a client “treading water and getting nowhere” are the times when we most benefit from stepping back. The thought of stepping back to reflect can feel impossible to achieve when you just need to “get things done”. Here are 5 ways you can step back to get ahead.
1. Schedule time to step back… it won’t happen unless you plan for it
This is valuable time for the team to reflect on what’s important. If you haven’t already done so, work out the purpose of the team, why it exists and who it serves. Invite feedback for the team, for each other, from inside and outside the team. Do this regularly. Make it part of the team culture
2. Ask yourself, ‘What is the vision for this team?’
When a team steps back to work out its vision, things start falling into place. When you achieve that clarity of direction, you start to give precedence to the activities that will drive toward the vision, not the other way round.
3. Use colleagues in the team as a support structure
The likelihood is that if one of the team is under pressure, others are too and if they’re not, they may be concerned that one of their colleagues is. Taking time to listen to each other, sharing the stories of each other’s fears & vulnerabilities and also hopes and ideas for how to work better as a team, is invaluable. Knowing that others share and understand how you’re feeling is very helpful. Use the understanding to spur each other towards solutions and offers of support. When we strip away the image of perfection and reveal that we are worried, feeling overworked, struggling to say no, what follows is often an influx of help and support. This team culture of support can only happen if team members open up in a trusted atmosphere. Otherwise, who wants to really say, “This is tough” and risk feeling exposed?
4. Create a team plan
Some of the ‘solutions’ for a team under pressure are often very obvious, but not when you are in the weeds, tangled in lack of clarity. Step back to create a team plan to address the things that are causing frustration and to match up strengths and skills with areas for development. Having a plan can build confidence and marking progress against actions can really boost the team to greater certainty in times of pressure and stress.
5. Check in on the team mindset
The collective mindset of the team can have a huge impact on progress and how it perceives the challenges ahead. Are you being too polite? Afraid to “upset” others with your views? Not voicing an opinion on the best way forward? Sometimes, unhelpful legacy behaviours exist in a team and it can be difficult to challenge them. Stepping back to review which behaviours you want to nurture as a team and which you want to abandon because they are obstructing your success as a team is a brilliant thing to do. You can create powerful mindset changes when you focus on behaviours that support the outcome
How will you step back so that you and your team can get ahead?