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  • Andy Stillman

How to keep a team together and productive - when its apart and stressed

Updated: Jul 6, 2020

In the best of times it is difficult to keep teams focused and operating at a high level with a unified vision. These are not the best of times. The teams we have been building carefully, with precision, looking for the right set of values, skills and personalities have now been so completely disrupted personally and professionally that it may be hard to recognize them as a team. It is our job as managers and business owners to figure out a way to preserve and protect our teams and find a way to help them thrive. The problem is particularly acute for smaller companies. All is not lost – sometimes the best teams are forged in battle. Yes, there may be individual casualties, but those who survive will be stronger and feel a closer bond to you, their teammates and the organization overall.

Here are several initial steps that will help you, as a leader to get through this:

Empathy - Understand and recognize that this is like nothing we have ever seen before and expect that behaviors that worked in the past may not work right now. People are nervous about themselves, their families, their co-workers, their jobs and any number of other things. Let your team know that you understand this and that your first concern is for their well-being, followed by the well-being of the company. You are going to do everything you can do to help everyone make it through this crisis and move the business forward. Be positive and help ensure your team understands the need for a work/life balance that includes some time giving back to the community.

Transparency, empowerment and prioritization– Never has this been more important to your team. Tell them what is going on with the business to the best of your ability and what you see as the short-term strategy moving forward. Prioritize actions that are needed now to help the business. If you don’t have a short-term strategy, ask for their help pulling one together. Your team knows more about the business than you probably realize and will be a powerful force for you once they are engaged.

Reset the rules – for most companies, working from home as the de-facto standard will require an adjustment for both employee and employer. While this may not last forever, it is critical that you work with your team and agree a set of rules and tools that you will use. It is entirely possible that this will become a new way of working for many people and companies. If your technology skill set is not that strong, ask your teammates as they will likely have some excellent suggestions on how to set up a secure and productive new work environment. If no one on the team is strong technically, look for some help outside the organization and deputize a teammate to take the lead on gathering the information needed to make a decision. Natural leaders will emerge from this process – often from places least expected.

Everyone knows what to do – think through all the roles that you need in your new business model and ensure that you have the right people in those roles. Inevitably, this will mean changes in people’s responsibilities as new skills are needed and others may no longer be required. Make quick decisions on who should be doing what and let them know your expectations – make sure they feel comfortable in their roles and with your expectations. Also, let them know that there will likely be adjustments and changes as the organization evolves in the new economy and that they should be prepared to be part of the evolution of the business. You must work as a team to be successful.

Communicate, communicate, communicate – each step of the way, engage and involve your team in decisions and let them know what decisions you are making on behalf of the business. Some of these decisions will be painful, but are for the good of the business overall. These are not normal circumstances and accelerating key decisions will be necessary for the health of the business. Meet often with the team both individually and as a group. Make it a point to listen twice as much as you speak – you have two ears and one mouth, try to use them in that proportion.

1+1=3 Try something new - build more meaningful relationships and connections with your team and others. Historically, the standard way of working has been mostly hierarchical - where strategies and plans are developed at senior levels and moved down the chain of command to execute. In an environment where our ways of working and what we are working on is rapidly changing, it makes sense to consider leveraging the knowledge and problem solving abilities across the entire organization to help re-shape the future. The leveraged power of radical collaboration is enormous and can be transformative to an organization and its people. This will involve working in different ways. A former colleague of mine, John Stepper, has started a movement that addresses many of these issues (and more) called "Working Out Loud"- I encourage you to read about it, watch his TED talk and adapt some of his principles to your own organization. There are many other approaches to engaging teams in different ways, find one that appeals to you and try it out.

- Andy Stillman has built world class teams over the course of his career and has learned many lessons from both his successes and failures. He has founded AG Stillman Advisory to help business adapt and adjust to changing circumstances and solve difficult problems. If you would like to speak with Andy, please reach out to him at

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