After two years of leading your teams through what seems like crisis after crisis, you may feel overwhelmed watching the storm clouds of continued uncertainty gathering on the horizon.
No one really knows where the world will be in six months — so how can managers confidently come up with and communicate any kind of future-proof plan?
It all comes down to building the right habits: the consistent, everyday behaviors that make it easier for teams to confidently respond to shifts while remaining resilient.
The world may change, but the fundamentals of a supportive, high-performing team culture do not. Here’s how to equip your team to weather uncertainty, now and in the future.
1. Focus the team on what matters most
Uncertain times are the times to set straightforward, short-term goals — and make sure everyone knows what’s most important. (Heed the saying, “If everything is a priority, nothing is.”)
At the end of team meetings, make sure every ongoing task or project has a specific point person who’s responsible for getting it done. This may seem simple, but eliminating confusion by assigning crystal-clear roles has a big impact on team cohesion and efficiency. The clearer your expectations for everyone, the easier it is for your team to work together and avoid burnout.
For a quick focus boost, conduct a meeting audit to remove unnecessary time-eaters, like recurring project syncs. Ask yourself, “Could this meeting be an email or other asynchronous check-in?” If not, does everyone on the invite list actually need to attend? Curating the attendee list creates crucial breathing room for overwhelmed employees.
2. Personalize support
If your employees are struggling to stay focused and productive in the face of uncertainty, you can help them feel more confident and in control by providing them with personalized growth opportunities (or with technology like nudges). Getting a little bit better every day inspires people more than lofty goals alone, especially if those improvements are related to their personal goals.
This type of support can also come in the form of sincere individual check-ins. To make the most of your next 1:1, take a few minutes to ask how your employees are feeling outside of work before diving in to your agenda. Listen with an empathetic ear, then act on what you hear—re-prioritizing tasks to better align with their interests, offering flexible working hours, or taking tasks off your employee’s plate—as needed.
3. Communicate, even when you don’t have an update
When managers are silent during trying times, employees often assume the worst. To get ahead of unnecessary anxiety spirals, make clarity a priority and set aside time in team meetings to walk through what you and the team should be focused on. Even a non-update update (e.g. “I don’t have more information about this yet, but will let you know as soon as I do”) is better than no update at all, which can leave employees feeling anxious.
You can also create a team ritual around having your reports to share anything they might be struggling with, whether it’s professional or personal. By giving people a chance to discuss the challenges they’re facing with each other, not just their manager, you boost team-wide understanding and empathy, helping everyone feel more supported at work.
When facing a crisis, it’s the seemingly small actions that empower organizations to quickly support their people, mitigate productivity dips, and innovate by taking smart risks.
It’s not just about having a plan—it’s about readying everyone for change. This is no longer a nice-to-have. It’s an imperative for business continuity.
- Laszlo Bock, CEO and Co-founder, Humu
4. Lean into recognition and inclusion
Cultivating inclusion, when individuals feel valued, heard, and empowered to succeed, doesn’t just make people less likely to want to find a new job. People whose colleagues regularly take inclusive actions--like asking others for input or explicitly recognizing unique contributions--tend to also be more productive and better able to cope with change.
To boost inclusion in your team’s day-to-day experiences, ask an employee who rarely shares their opinion for their thoughts on a project. You’ll benefit from a different perspective, and that employee will feel more valued for their contributions — especially if they’re already worried about their job security or economic outlook. Then, at the end of a project, be sure to recognize individual employees by name for a job well done. By improving recognition and making employees feel valued, you can reduce attrition risk while boosting resilience on your team.
5. Ask for what you need
At every level of your organization, people are feeling the pressure of uncertainty — but managers like you feel the pinch from above and below.
You’re probably being asked to do more with fewer resources. Leadership relies on you to communicate big initiatives, when you’re already busy with the day-to-day work of hiring, improving team performance, and addressing burnout.
If that’s the case, don’t be afraid to set new boundaries with leadership, even if it means saying no to new projects or de-prioritizing existing ones because your team lacks the bandwidth.
Remind leadership that your employees are motivated by more than just a raise: they also want opportunities to grow, gain skills, and get better at their jobs. The good news is, you can give employees much of what they want even when budgets can’t budge — but you need enough time in your busy schedule to create those learning opportunities. Share with leadership that the more learning opportunities you’re able to give your people, the more likely they’ll be to stick around.
And if you, as a manager, are feeling the strain of burnout, remember to put on your own oxygen mask first. Research shows that top managers’ teams are 20% more resilient to burnout than teams with uninvolved managers. You’re less helpful to burned out employees if you’re already burned out yourself. But when you’re inspired to take action, your reports are 80% more likely to take action themselves — and less likely to feel paralyzed by uncertainty.
It’s alright if you don’t have a detailed plan for the uncertain road ahead. How could you, when everything changes so quickly? Instead of focusing on a plan, then, focus on the small, supportive actions above. Small behavior change by small behavior change, you’ll prepare your people for the big unknowns to come.