4 Ways Successful Leaders Can Help Their Teams During Crunch-Time

When your team is drinking fully from the fire hose, this is when leaders are needed most

We’ve all been there. When you are working towards a significant milestone, there never seems to be enough hours in the days and tensions can be high. Everyone feels the pressure to perform, especially when the project requires multiple employees to come together to accomplish the task. When immoveable deadlines approach and days get shorter, workloads explode and so too can the patience of your hardworking staff. During these times, some team members – particularly those new to the task – can run the risk of falling apart.

Stress at work is nothing new, but its effects can be significantly diminished in environments where leaders make the wellbeing of their team members a consistent priority. According to Dr. Jane Dutton and colleagues at the University of Michigan, managers who demonstrate compassion enable their employees to better cope with challenging environments and circumstances, and are themselves more strongly perceived as real leaders.

Here are a few ways leaders can keep their teams motivated as the pressure to perform inevitably builds.

1) Remind team members why their contributions matter.

Motivating a group of people to work tirelessly together requires more than the plan itself. To continuously fuel the passion necessary to make a vision reality, leaders must help employees understand how their roles directly contribute.

By enabling your employees to understand the goals of the project, what success looks like and how their work is critical to that success, you not only better engage your team members, you can also stoke their desire to play an active part in achieving success.

When time is running out and the to-do list is only getting longer, it might feel necessary to resort an order-taking model, but crunch-time is when employees need to feel the most engaged. When time short, reinforcing with employees that their work matters not only energizes team members in the short-term, but also reconnects them to your organization’s mission.

2) Recognize success along the way.

The best – and most respected – leaders are more concerned with making their team members the heroes rather than receiving individual accolades. But recognition shouldn’t be saved for only the project’s completion. Taking the time to recognize and celebrate individual contributions along the way can be an ingredient in the glue that holds a team together.

To make recognition meaningful, it needs to be specific to the individual and show how his or her work made real contributions, and it needs to be public. It is important for leaders to acknowledge the ongoing contributions of team members individually, but being recognized in front of their peers delivers another level of satisfaction for employees.

When we were working on Super Bowl 50 as part of the San Francisco Bay Area Super Bowl 50 Host Committee, we held monthly All-Hands meetings to not only ensure every staff member was up to date, but also to provide the opportunity to recognize someone in front of the group. We created the “Team Member of the Month” award – which recognized one person’s specific contributions in helping us to meet the organization’s goals – and gave each awardee a bobblehead.

While it might seem like a small way to recognize our employees, those bobbleheads were displayed proudly on employee’s desks because they were a symbol of something much bigger. Those moments helped us to thank our team members personally and publicly for their efforts, and reinforced the importance of each person’s role in helping us to redefine the Super Bowl.

3) Break down siloes.

In busy times, it’s easy to have tunnel vision, and focus on just accomplishing your own tasks and not the bigger picture. But when the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, it can be catastrophic.

Nothing can derail a plan quicker than a siloed organization. To keep a project moving forward successfully, one of a leader’s most important responsibilities is ensuring the other departments are aware of developments, progress made, problems needing to be solved and any other bumps in the road.

The most successful organizations are driven by interdepartmental dialogue and cooperation. Every leader should actively encourage cross-departmental collaboration and make sure their people were talking with one another. Besides, having a “boundaryless organization” – as former GE chief Jack Welch calls it – also promotes teamwork and is a much more fun way to work.

4) Step in when necessary.

If team member is struggling, you owe it to everyone on your team to step in. As a leader, having empathy for others is not a weakness, it’s strength. Effective organizations demand commitment, focus and teamwork, but exceptional ones do all of that as well as adopt a culture where people look out for one another.

Whether it be professional or personal, adversity can come at unexpected times and from unexpected places. Being an effective leader demands that you act swiftly to help get that team member back on track. This doesn’t necessarily mean solving the problem for them, but instead providing coaching about possible paths forward or sometimes just being an active listener and sympathetic ear.

It’s also important to remember that if you fail to intervene, you not only let your struggling team member down, you let the rest of your team down as well. By helping individual team members regain their footing, the team will recalibrate as well.

As Sheryl Sandberg said in her book Lean In: “Motivation comes from working on things we care about. It also comes from working with people we care about.”

In summary, leaders can have a marked effect on the wellbeing of their employees, particularly during times of stress. By enabling team members to see how they play a critical role in the organization’s success and recognizing that role, leaders can enable employees to better handle the pressures of work, and ultimately develop stronger, more resilient teams.