How to Help Your Team Stay Focused During Chaotic Times

By Emily Roner | Updated: 26 Mar, 2020

Rapidly changing socio-economic environments are inherently stressful. They eliminate business opportunities, challenge people’s beliefs, and overall create an abundance of uncertainty. In severe crises, it’s easy for employees to succumb to the idea that their goals are no longer attainable.

To keep your team on track during tumultuous times, you need to provide strong guidance, so your employees have a clear path forward even when everything else around them seems shaky.

Providing direction is intuitive; however, many leaders struggle since they don’t know where to begin. Here’s how you can help your team stay focused during chaotic times.


Reevaluate Your Team’s Goals

When a crisis strikes, as much as you may want to move forward with the same strategies, you have to reflect on how your new business reality affects your team’s ability to achieve their goals. Otherwise, you’re setting them up for failure.

Research shows that companies that pivot quickly when turbulent business signals initially appear are significantly more likely to succeed through the crisis than those who stick to their original plans.

This doesn’t mean that you have to start from scratch every time your market shifts - if you did you’d never achieve any goal - but it does mean that you need to be aware of how crises may impact your team and make changes to their goals and/or the resources they’re given.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself when you’re assessing a new threat:

  • What impact has already occurred? If there have been changes, try to figure out what caused them. Be aware that sometimes changes are due to your team’s performance, not the crisis, and these cases require a different approach.
  • What additional changes could occur? Look for clues in your market and envision a few likely scenarios. You should hope for the best case scenario and plan for the worst.
  • Are there any resources you could provide that would mitigate the impact of the changing business environment? If so, can they resolve your team’s challenges, or will they just give temporary support?
  • Does the changing business environment present any new opportunities that your team is more likely to pursue successfully? If so, what actions do you need to take to shift strategies?

When you’re asking yourself these questions, be as brutally honest as possible. You may have to confront the fact that your existing goals are no longer feasible. However, it’s better to realize that early and pivot to a more successful strategy then kill your team’s morale as they struggle to achieve a goal that’s no longer attainable.

Related: How to Improve Organizational Agility and Thrive with Volatility


Address Your Team’s Concerns with Confidence

Once you’ve decided the best path forward for your team - whether that’s continuing to pursue their existing goals or shift to new ones - you need to have a transparent conversation with your team that clearly outlines the next steps.

Psychological research shows that uncertainty causes neurobiological changes that trigger anxiety. Giving your team a clear sense of direction will subdue their anxiety and help them move forward confidently.

Here’s how:

  • Be candid about where your organization stands. If they just need to make a few changes to their existing projects, this conversation should be quick and easy. However, if you have a difficult time ahead, acknowledge that fact, so your team doesn’t come to their own, often worse, conclusions.
  • Explicitly state what their goals entail. Give your team a clear overview of the metrics and milestones they’re going to be held accountable for, so there are no questions about what they’re supposed to focus on.
  • Explain any other changes that are going to occur. This can include new meetings to help everyone stay in the loop, adjustments to standard processes, and any other actions you’re taking.
  • Provide updates as the situation evolves. You may have to shift your team’s processes and strategies several times throughout a widespread crisis. Update your team as quickly as possible to help them stay on track.

Doing everything that you can to resolve uncertainty will boost your team’s confidence and ensure they stay focused on the best path forward.

Related: 6 Principles that Are Helping Me and Prialto Stay Centered During the COVID-19 Crisis


Remind Employees Why Their Goals Matter

In a chaotic socio-economic environment, it’s easy for your employees to become jaded and feel like their work doesn’t matter. As a result, one of the best forms of motivation you can provide during difficult times is giving employees regular reminders about how their work makes a positive impact.

Organizational psychology studies show that employees who believe their work is meaningful are more engaged, satisfied, and productive than those who think their work doesn’t serve a higher purpose. Keeping your team focused on the bigger picture helps them stay on track even when they’re dealing with a challenging environment.

There are a variety of ways you can help your team find meaning in their work, including:

  • Starting or closing team meetings with statements about how the progress they’ve made so far has made a positive impact.
  • Sending employees individual messages about how their work, in particular, is vital to your company.
  • Tying project updates and instructions back to your company’s core values.

For best results, you should use all of these motivational tactics so that you constantly give your employees reasons to stay positive and focused on their goals.


Closely Monitor Progress, But Don’t Micromanage

One of the biggest challenges of working in a rapidly changing business environment is that there are always new issues that can affect your team. To prevent them from being derailed, closely monitor their progress so you can catch problems before they become overwhelming.

When they start slowing down, look for opportunities to:

  • Offer additional resources. Sometimes teams just need a little bit extra funding or a more robust tool to overcome a roadblock.
  • Provide quick advice and words of encouragement to motivate them through particularly difficult periods.
  • Lead brainstorming sessions to solve messy problems. If what they’re doing isn’t working, you need to help them step back and think of a new approach.

As you offer support, be careful not to micromanage. For your team to achieve their goals, they must work independently. Your goal should be to help guide them toward more effective solutions, not provide all the answers.

Related: How to Know if You're a Micro-Manager and What to Do About It


Foster Personal Connections with Your Team

Finally, as you’re pushing your team to achieve their goals, don’t forget about the human side of leadership. If you’re dealing with a business crisis that spans multiple industries, many of your employees are going to be affected just as much if not more severely in their personal lives as they are at work. Their loved ones may be laid off, suffer from physical and mental health issues, and experience other challenges that stress your employees out.

Take a few minutes in your 1:1’s to ask your employees how they’re doing and encourage them to give you an honest answer. Though you can’t afford for your team to slack off, if one or two people are experiencing particularly severe personal challenges, see if there are ways to temporarily provide extra support.

Making your employees feel supported will pay off. A meta-analysis study found that employees who have strong relationships with their managers go above and beyond their required responsibilities significantly more than employees who don’t trust their leaders. During rapidly changing times, you need your team to be as committed as possible.

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About the author: Emily formerly led Prialto's content production and distribution team with a special passion for helping people realize success. Her work and collaborations have appeared in Entrepreneur, Inc. and the Observer among others.