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4 ways to keep your team motivated as the crisis drags on

May 5, 2020 — Written by Molly Sands PhD

With the lines between work and non-work disappearing and uncertainty at an all-time high, your team is more and more likely to look to the future and see only doom, gloom, and Zoom.

At Humu, we help people and organizations build resilience. Resilience, or the ability to bounce-back in the face of challenges, is the key to keeping your team motivated and engaged during difficult times. Resilient people manage their emotions effectively, feel more optimistic about the future, and tend to be the most generous versions of themselves.

Here are four science-backed steps for how you can help your people build resilience and make it easier for them to cope with continued uncertainty.

Prevent silos from forming

Don’t assume that your team will automatically band together in a crisis; science suggests the opposite is actually true. When people feel scared or unsure (as most do right now), their first instinct is to retreat into themselves. Combine that with the fact that spontaneous interactions—running into people in the kitchen, chatting between meetings, etc.—have taken a nosedive, and it’s easy to see why inclusion and knowledge sharing might have dropped over the past weeks too.

To combat this at Humu, we have Slack channels for non-work related topics, like #pets and #random, which help people bond from a distance (sometimes the best friendly face to see is a furry one). As a manager, you can lead by example by participating in similar channels, which help create a shared social identity. It’s more important than ever to send the message that you’re all in this together, and then back it up by rewarding collaborative, community-building behaviors. 

Make it okay to talk about feelings

Chances are high your people are feeling anxious or stretched too thin. When emotions run high, they can bleed into every interaction and conversation. That means members of your team need to be able to pinpoint and regulate their feelings, or run the risk of becoming more judgemental and less generous over time.

Emotional regulation is a muscle that gets stronger the more you use it. No one goes from the couch to running a marathon in 24 hours, so you can’t expect your people to become emotionally resilient overnight, either. As a leader in a crisis, part of your role is to help your team strengthen their ability to understand and effectively harness their emotions. 

Make it okay to express difficult emotions by setting an example. Acknowledge that things might be harder than normal, but then emphasize that you’re confident you can make it through together as a team. Sharing a bit about your personal struggles (whether that’s with childcare, productivity, or difficult business decisions) can be a surprising strength. 

Keep it simple, and focus on follow-through

This is the time to get everyone on the same page about expectations and set straightforward goals. At the end of team meetings, be sure every ongoing task or project has a specific point person whose job it is to make sure the work gets done. It may seem simple, but ending all conversations by outlining roles and responsibilities has a big impact on team cohesion. The clearer your expectations for everyone, the easier it is for your team to work together and avoid burnout.

To help individuals stay motivated and continue making progress, make it a priority to reward effort. One concrete way to do this is to focus on and celebrate “learning goals” rather than “performance goals.” For example, in Humu’s Organizational Resilience nudges —tiny, personalized coaching moments— we encourage people to experiment with new behavior each week, and then share back what they learned from the experience.

Reinforce your team’s “why”

It might be tempting to focus on the “what,” or all the things you want your team to accomplish. But those efforts will be uninspired without a “why” to back them up. Emphasizing the positive impact of your team’s work is a powerful way to combat burnout and cope with work-related stress. 

In your next meeting, set aside time to talk with your team about why they find their work meaningful. Ask each person to reflect on the question: What positive impact does what you do have on others? This could be anything from helping customers to simply helping out a teammate. Then see if anyone would like to share their thoughts, and set an example by telling your team what you find meaningful in your own work.

Uncertainty can quickly cripple a team. But if you focus on building resilience—person by person, habit by habit, and day by day—you can help your people emerge even stronger.

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