If you’ve been in the workplace long, you can quickly detect the difference between team members that pull together when the going gets rough and one whose members kick against each other, adding the proverbial insult to injury.
Groups of “happy campers” stand out. Cultures that foster malcontent spin off these symptoms that simmer just below the surface: dour body language, angry voice tones, rumors, rising complaints in HR, increased absenteeism, high turnover.
So if you’re the leader, how do you build a strong, resilient team that faces tough times and emerges stronger on the other side of adversity?
1. Model positive thought patterns.
Psychologists tell us that nervous parents raise nervous toddlers, who grow into high-strung children and teens lacking confidence. The offspring simply feel the parent’s emotional state and react accordingly. The same thing often happens on the job. Negative news comes down from the top of the organization. The manager or project leader reacts to it negatively. Even though he or she may deliver the message neutrally, the negative “vibes” come through to the team in tone of voice and body language.
Changing your words does not help. Changing your outlook is what matters. To inspire a team through challenging times, you yourself have to believe in a positive outcome.
2. Suggest positive thoughts to your individual leaders.
Find your other strong leaders in the group and encourage them to look at the positive in a challenging situation—what your team can do, not what the team can’t do. When you hear them grumbling, step in to give the “flip side” of an argument. Appeal to their leadership skills to pull the team forward. Make your 2 or 3 strong leaders believe, and they in turn will influence their circles of followers.
3. Encourage habits known to manage high stress.
Unchecked stress of any kind can destroy emotional strength and physical stamina. Make sure your team members are not trying to pull any all-nighters to get work done. Continually remind them of the importance to eat nutritious meals, sleep 7-8 hours, and exercise. Even if you have to cater in healthy lunches and have walking staff meetings so people have time to exercise on the job.
4. Insist on time away.
Insist that team members are taking vacations and are not working all their weekends. If that has become a requirement to get the job done, fight for more workers, a longer deadline, or better equipment to improve the workflow. Stay on top of scheduling.
5. Remind your team to keep strong outside networks. Even a brief phone call or text from someone in another organization grants a small relief from the hour-to-hour pressure against deadlines. Outside communication (an article, a joke, an amusing white paper or anecdote) breaks monotony and provides conversation fodder during lunch on topics other than THE PROJECT.
6. Adopt the philosophy of strength through adversity.
Only serious illness makes most of us appreciate good health. Only going without employment for a year or two makes someone deeply appreciate having a job. On occasion, remind yourself and team members that difficult times build character and makes them appreciate good times. Of course, we’d all like to learn such lessons without the hardships—but we seldom do.
7. Celebrate victories in a big way. Look for small successes to celebrate along the way to the big win at the end of the project or the end of the tough time. Celebrate with lavish recognition, with rest, with attention from senior executives, with time off, with notes to their family. Consider celebrations like that cool splash of water during a long, hot marathon.