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Three leadership tips for guiding teams through challenging times

Is your organization ready to weather the next big crisis? These best practices can help keep teams humming along no matter what.

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Even on the best days, managing large organizations is hard, complex work. Factor in the added challenge of an external crisis—be it economic, political or even public health-related—and that complexity can quickly spiral into disastrous territory for any company–and these days, the next crisis can feel inevitable.z

Fortunately, there are best practices that business leaders can employ to keep their organizations resilient and their teams motivated, no matter how tough things get outside the company’s walls.

In a recent study published in the journal Organizational Psychology Review, co-author Evangelia Demerouti—a professor and chief diversity officer at Eindhoven University of Technology in The Netherlands—explores the resiliency-building benefits of creating an autonomous environment with ever-evolving social support.

But as Demerouti concedes, this approach is just one of the ways leaders can help employees stay motivated and inspired through challenging times. Here are three leadership tips for keeping teams resilient and performing at their best, no matter how turbulent things get outside the organization’s walls.

1. Start preparing now 

While crises are unpredictable by nature, many aspects of an impending threat can be planned for in advance.   

“What is the initial plan when a crisis comes knocking at the door?” Demerouti asks. “Will a top-down approach to communication be incorporated? Is there a plan to free up resources? Will production change?” 

For enterprise leaders, planning ahead isn’t just good for peace of mind; It actually makes good business sense. According to a 2021 literature review published by the American Business Review, future crisis planning makes employees feel respected and immediately improves financial performance.

Not sure where to start? A crisis management plan template can help take the guesswork out of getting ready for a challenging period. The template prompts users to take necessary steps, such as determining the company’s unique risk, creating a communications strategy, and recruiting a crisis response team.  

Making such arrangements in advance enables leadership to publish plans—including predictable side effects—so that the approach doesn’t surprise anyone on the team as events unfold. 

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2. Reconsider expectations 

No matter how supportive and autonomous work policies become, employees undoubtedly experience greater pressure during uncertain times. The reality and impact of a crisis can evolve as events unfold, so meeting the same expectations that were laid out prior to a crisis may be impractical. 

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“Additional resources can help deal with demands, but demands have to be regulated to make sure they match resources given—so that demands aren’t too high,” Demerouti explains. “It’s about meeting the employee where they are.” 

To be sure that role requirements are appropriate for the time, Demerouti advises “keeping channels open to employees” and “empowering them” to “shape and redefine their job to create a better person-job fit.” 

Job crafting helps team members cope with new challenges and gives them an opportunity to determine what will keep them most engaged. For instance, a theoretical study published by The Journal of Occupational Psychology suggests that employees can find ways to gamify tasks—like creating a rewards system—to foster healthy competition and a dose of fun. 

3. Embrace a global mindset

Even though leaders should always include employees in the conversation, some answers can be found when we look at how others provide social support. 

“This way, leaders can come to group discussions with their own ideas about what might help their workers,” Demerouti says. 

For instance, it is not commonplace for United States corporations to provide child care, but it is in the Netherlands where Demerouti works. And when employees face school closures during a future crisis, it’s not difficult to predict that they could use extra help at home. 

Demerouti notes that daycare was abruptly closed on her university campus when Covid-19 hit. When it did reopen, a childcare worker shortage created new obstacles. With this knowledge, she hypothesizes, maybe Americans can prepare for child care and develop safeguards to prevent a similar shortage. 

“There is no exact answer to be found, but which decisions will have a more positive impact? What can help people do their jobs in the least detrimental way?” Demerouti asks. “If we keep learning from each other, then we’ll keep improving.”