As a leader, it’s your job to provide your team with direction and hope in good times and bad. Having a plan for the future – a clear and unified path to achieve a goal – can keep your team engaged and productive.
But what happens when times are not only bad but uncertain? That’s when your team most needs you to lead from hope.
Even in the bleakest moments, there are positive areas you can focus on.
Here’s how to use hopeful conversations to help your team find silver linings even when the storm clouds seem overwhelming.
Give your team a reason to come to the table
The first step is showing your team the value in planning for the future together despite the crisis. Some team members may wonder why they should engage if the situation feels hopeless or if they’re busy putting out fires.
Let each team member know you need their ideas and partnership now more than ever. Remind them that their skills and creativity are vital to the overall health of the organization over the long term.
It’s possible to talk optimistically with your team while still acknowledging that things are tough. And it’s important to do so, because your team will trust your hopefulness more if they know you’re in tune with their reality.
For example, you could open a conversation by saying something like, “We’ve all been touched by this, myself included. There’s a lot of uncertainty out there. I feel it, and it’s shaken me, too. I think it’s time to start looking toward our future and working on the things we can control.”
When you’re sharing, balance your acknowledgement of the crisis with your team’s need for hope. Even if you’re losing sleep and freaking out in private, it’s best not to go into that much detail. As your team’s leader, you still have to be their rock.
With the stressors acknowledged, you can talk about the need to find meaning beyond the immediate problem. Yes, your organization may be trying to keep its head above water. But everyone still needs to feel that they’re doing work that’s connected to something larger over the longer term.
What should hopeful conversations look like in a crisis?
One-on-one conversations with each team member are important — in general and especially amid a crisis. You can use these talks to check in with your people and to help them focus on their long-term goals. For example, use this time to review and update individual development plans.
In group discussions, you can also provide a forum for folks to plan their own future. For example, you can identify what you have control over and how you can leverage that.
You can also take some specific steps in your team conversations to move the group forward.
1. Identify and reiterate your team’s strengths.
Who are your team’s planners? Visionaries? Practical problem solvers?
Acknowledge those capabilities and talk about how together, your strengths can help you get past the present moment. Connect their work to team or organizational vision, goals and results so they see how their contributions make a difference.
2. Plan a path out of panic.
Everything feels urgent in a crisis, and that can muddy the planning waters. But there’s a difference between things that need to be done right away and things that are important over the long term.
Including some longer-range planning in your discussion does more than just move your team out of the crisis mindset. It also shows them that your organization plans to survive.
3. Use slow times to solve old issues.
When business is slow, it can be a good time to review your systems and your processes. Talk to your team about what works and how to fix it.
For example, if your inventory tracking system doesn’t give customers and your sales staff real-time data, now might be a good time to address that. When the economy recovers, you’ll be ready to deliver a better, more efficient customer experience.
4. Help your team prepare for a new normal
After a major disruption, it’s comforting to think, “I can’t wait till we get back to normal.” Your job is to help your team understand that the new normal won’t be like normal was before.
How can you share that idea in a hopeful way? Focus on good things that can emerge from the disruption. For example, you may need to develop a new plan to communicate as a team that balances the desire to continue remote work with the need to avoid videoconferencing fatigue.
You could also look beyond your internal processes to find ways to drive growth or deliver better customer service now that conditions have changed. The key is to make these discussions inclusive and collaborative so the entire team is engaged.
Coach team members who have negative conversational styles
Most of us default to our ingrained behaviors and habits under stress, even if they’re things we’ve tried to change over the years. For some team members that can show up as more negative and pessimistic talk – just at a time when you’re trying to get your team out of the doomsday mindset.
How can you address this issue before it brings the whole team down? Try different approaches, depending on your team member’s negative communication habit and their awareness of the problems it can cause.
Self-aware negative team members know they tend to be glass-half-empty people. Ideally, they also try to avoid discouraging their teammates with negativity. However, under stress they may do it anyway.
To help them stay on track in a crisis, check in with them one-on-one before team meetings. You can remind them that you need their contributions and expertise and that you need them to be “a force for good” in the conversation.
Persistently negative team members who aren’t self-aware are another issue. These employees need close management during a crisis to prevent them from upsetting the rest of the team.
Talk with them individually before meetings to remind them that negative remarks don’t serve the team or them. Check in with them again after meetings to review their contributions and offer feedback.
Set goals for your hopeful conversations with your team
As you’re setting goals for individual team members and your team, remember to set some for yourself, too. Additionally, conclude conversations with specific, actionable plans and assigned accountability.
For example, at the end of each conversation about moving forward, you may want to develop a plan that includes:
- A summary of meeting topics and decisions
- A list of who’s going to take on which tasks
- A timeline for when the tasks will be done
- A date for the next meeting to report progress
With that action plan, your team has something to work toward and look forward to – something hopeful to focus on.
Looking for more ways – like having hopeful conversations – to boost your leadership skills? Download our free magazine: The Insperity guide to leadership and management.