5 tips for motivating your team during uncertain times

Here are our 5 tips for motivating your team during uncertain times.

Including –

Managing upside down, Tailor your approach, Embrace the f-word, Use the f-word and keep looking forward.

1. Manage upside down 

We’re talking about inverting the classic hierarchical model which has the CEO directing things from the top. Set the direction then trust and empower your team to make decisions which will benefit your clients. Clarity of direction will ensure increased flexibility and agility don’t result in mis-alignment. 

This will work even better if you embrace your human-side, and talk about where your (or the organisation’s) blind spots are as things change rapidly. You’ll be surprised by how willing the team are to step up and help. What does this sound like? Leaders saying ‘You’ve got this! But I’m just here if you need anything’. What does it look like? Leaders joining calls with their team and getting updates from them on what they’ve been doing for your clients – not receiving instructions. 

2. Tailor your approach 

You know your team and their quirks right? But do you know their drivers – what gets them up in the morning? Dedicate a few minutes to thinking this through for your team. What can you offer them as a manager? It’s likely one-size won’t fit all. Need ideas? Research shows we are guided by four drives: acquiring, bonding, learning and defending (more on this in Driven: How Human Nature Shapes Our Choices, Nitin Nohria and Paul Lawrence). 

Put simply: – Acquire – satisfied through rewards, status or receiving esteem from others, like a thank-you in meetings. – Learn – satisfied through problem-solving opportunities and achieving that ‘a-ha!’ moment. – Bond – satisfied through having time with your long-term, rich relationships: work-besties! – Defend – satisfied by being safe and treated fairly, and seeing this for people we care about. 

3. Embrace the f-word 

I’m talking FEELINGS and EMOTIONS. There’s no escaping them right now, whether your industry has just rocketed or stalled. As a leader, it’s up to you to bring feelings to the table as you and your teams make some serious decisions. Help your team make better choices by first creating opportunities to process feelings and consciously set aside un-related emotions. Psychologist Tasha Eurich also recommends reframing questions about our emotions.

Rather than asking ‘why am I so sad?’ try asking ‘what is sad about this?’. The second helps us externalise our feelings, focus on the reality of a situation and open up options to change it. As a manager you can reduce negative emotions by limiting uncertainty. Be responsive to questions, transparent about the organisation’s response to the crisis and prepared to talk through possibilities and probabilities of different outcomes. And when emotions become overwhelming? Try the next tip. 

4. Use mind control

You are not as in control of your brain as you ‘think’. When we’re stressed, a game of ping pong happens in our brain between the frontal lobes (logic and processing) and the amygdala (fight/flight/freeze response).

In moderate levels of stress our frontal lobes have the upper hand – but when we perceive a strong threat our amygdala takes over, resulting in angry outbursts, irrational thinking or shutting down completely.

Right now, people are under stress and may be more influenced by their ‘naughty’ amygdala than usual. Recognising changes in behaviour at this time for what they are, biologically driven responses to external threats, and not being overly punitive will go a long way in building trust and respect from your team.

And when we say mind control? You can lead by example on this one. Subduing your amygdala and activating your frontal lobes can be improved through awareness (recognising triggers) and interventions (slow breathing, delaying or distracting e.g. calculate 26 x 5 – 12). Looking for a quick win? Up your levels of positive feedback. Feeling valued, recognised and important to the group/organisation will boost the psychological safety of your team and help to reduce their stress. 

5. Keep looking forward

Extraordinary circumstances can lead to extraordinary results, but it’s easy to get distracted by the immediate challenges and lose sight of your vision. People want and need to hear that there is a way forward, however difficult, and that the key purpose driving your business hasn’t changed. Many successful organisations have pivoted in response to external forces, without losing their purpose. Take Netflix, who originally posted out DVDs and now provide online and often original content but still stay true to their vision of ‘bringing entertainment to the world’.

Regularly reminding your teams that they are working on a bigger goal that benefits the wider world also boosts intrinsic motivation, pride and team cohesion. Finally, optimism for the future will encourage more thoughtful resource planning and cost cutting measures now. A gain in the short term is useless if it later cripples the business – think scalpel not chainsaw.