Teams, the Economy and Stress

Moving forward during this challenging economic time requires everyone to step up and work effectively. This is when we most need everyone to pull together as a team.

Moving forward during this challenging economic time requires everyone to step up and work effectively. This is when we most need everyone to pull together as a team.

Yet this is also when individuals and team relationships are under the most stress. Spending a lot of time and, certainly, money on team building is probably not high on the to-do list, but what can we do to support and build our teams during this critical time?

Teams that are working well are productive and creative. Diverse voices have space to offer ideas and perspectives. Strong teams have solidarity and spirit that can support colleagues during difficult times. Alternatively, weak teams may experience poor communication (including rumor-mongering), tension, and unproductive conflict—exactly what our nonprofit organizations don’t need right now.

In an environment of pressure, work may be done in haste and with poor collaboration, leading to lower quality and silos.

Here are some ideas that team leaders and members can use to encourage strong and productive teams during the crisis.

Clarify Your Intentions

...always a good first step for leaders. See fostering healthy teams as part of the work, not a distraction. Without strong teams, the work may not get done.

Take a long-term view: stressed-out and conflict-ridden organizations with weak teams will have more difficulty now, and will be at a disadvantage when the economy improves.

Focus Organizational Priorities

Bring the team together and identify what’s most important now. Clarify the roles of different teams in carrying out the priorities. Consider using these times for creative thinking and experimenting with new ways of doing things. (For additional thoughts on setting priorities, see my earlier Consultants Corner article.)

Make It a Point to Use Diverse and Cross-Functional Teams

Under stress it’s a natural tendency for individuals to hunker down and work in isolated “silos.” Yet creatively riding this economic wave and maintaining solidarity and spirit require employing the ideas, experiences and different perspectives of everyone.

Bring diverse teams together for brainstorming and problem-solving.

Practice Effective Communication

Without open and honest communication, you don’t have a team. It’s essential to minimize rumors, false assumptions and other symptoms of poor communication. Leaders and team members often unintentionally provoke fear and water-cooler gossip by not talking openly about difficult topics.

Given the economy, people cope better with the fear and pain of cut-backs and layoffs when honest and timely information is shared. And don’t forget: the anxiety and sadness for those who stay with a nonprofit after lay-offs are often underestimated.

Don’t Be Seduced by Denial

In general, make the stress everyone is feeling part of the team’s ongoing conversations. Hiding and denying it won’t make it go away---rather this will increase the tension. Pay attention to how stress is playing out in the organization and among team members. Discuss patterns you may see, such as expressions of frustration or increased and unresolved conflict.

Also, if no one is talking about stress, explore whether it’s due to an elephant in the room, rather than assume it’s not on people’s minds. Silence can speak volumes.

Bring the Team Together Regularly

Give each team member a chance to check-in and share more than the day’s tasks, but also how they are coping with the stress. Identify as a group what kinds of support would help. Not coming together as a team to regroup is like driving a car without conducting regular maintenance. It may seem easier in the short-run, but it leads to break-downs.

Make doing frequent check-ins, even if they’re brief, a habit like brushing one’s teeth.

A Radical Thought: Have Some Fun and Get Some Rest

We aren’t capable of carrying the world on our shoulders, though many of us try. Remember Emma Goldman’s famous statement: "If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution." We all need to recharge in healthful ways. And research is increasingly showing the importance of a good night’s rest. Don’t confuse working 24/7 with efficiency and productivity.

What are you doing to help your team cope in these difficult times? Do you have creative ideas to offer your colleague? Please share them in the comments section below. And if you want to talk about how to implement some of these ideas with your team, contact me at, subject line Consultants Corner.

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