Recently, Karen (real story, fake name), a successful manufacturing executive, was asked to lead a different area of the organization. The group had been around for three years and was responsible for one of the most significant growth areas of the company.
Prior to Karen’s promotion, this team had been assigned a herculean task with high expectations and visibility. While the crew was proud of the effort they had put in, the general feeling was that the progress they had made was unappreciated and even attacked. The many setbacks they had encountered along the way left them suffering from burnout, pessimism, dissolution, and dissatisfaction.
As a naturally optimistic person, Karen was determined to tackle this new role with a positive attitude. She recognized they were disengaged and came with heavy baggage, yet she knew that each team member was remarkably talented. Karen knew she needed to get them unstuck, but she struggled to figure out what would work.
Have you found yourself in a similar situation with a discouraged team? With the high rate of change and frequent re-use of the same workgroups, it’s not a surprise to find yourself leading a group that needs to be recharged and re-energized. It’s likely that it will happen multiple times in your career. It is usually not an easy fix and requires a focused type of team leadership to help people manage the disappointments of the past while digging deep for new motivation to continue.
If, and when, you find yourself in this situation, use these three methods to rally your team.
Identify What Can (and Can’t Be) Controlled
There is power in identifying what one cannot do anything about, what one can influence, and what one can control. Typically, we assume we can control and affect more than we can, thus setting ourselves up for frustration. Being conscious of the current reality doesn’t mean we don’t shoot for the sky. It simply means that when we do shoot for the sky, we have created a more detailed calculation for how to get there. It’s like launching a rocket. You know you are aiming for the moon, but to get there safely, you must take factors like wind resistance and launch windows into account.
It is very helpful to shift our own expectations and reactions to focus on(and worry about)the stuff we can control, to create influencing strategies for the things we can influence, and to let go of (or develop contingency plans for) the things we can’t control (and stop feeling ineffective about them).
The Circle of Control
One activity that helps a team do this is called the Circle of Control. Each person draws three concentric circles on a sheet of paper (like a bull’s eye target image). In the smallest circle, each person identifies what they can control. In the next, bigger circle, each person determines what they can influence. Finally, in the largest circle, each person identifies what they cannot control. Doing this individually and then discussing it as a team, helps validate (or not) the current reality.
Too often, we put more in the control circle than we really can control. We also tend to overestimate our ability to influence things, especially things like our environment, industry, or organization. This activity helps a team perform a reality check. From there you can identify causes of frustration and begin to set realistic plans with appropriate stretch targets.
The Pride Conversation – Discussing Actual Accomplishments
Another conversation you could have is for each person to identify what they are proud of about their work on the team. Each person can individually identify the top three things that the team has accomplished and then share with the rest of the group.
It is interesting to see how many of these accomplishments get mentioned by multiple team members. This can become the basis of rebuilding a stronger foundation as you reboot the team. It is a strengths-based, positive psychology spin that can re-engage the team to focus on what is working.
Capturing the Past and Future Together—The Team Timeline
Another helpful team activity is to collectively identify significant past and future milestones. This Team Timeline activity involves drawing a single, long line across several flip charts or on a whiteboard. Mark off a mid-point as today and create tick marks in years or months toward the left (past) and toward the right (future).
Each person identifies three to five significant past events on post-it notes(one per post-it) and puts it on the whiteboard or flip chart paper between the year or month marks. The milestone can be any event the team member recognizes as important. The timeline activity will bring you up-to-speed and help clarify what ups and downs the team has experienced. With this information, you can identify the main milestones that can happen in the future, and help unify the team around what can be done.
Identifying and discussing past team experiences is a way for the team leader to get to the real pain points, know what to be careful about in the future, and help the team learn from these events. Moreover, identifying agreed upon future milestones enable the team to regain confidence in what they are striving to achieve.
Returning to Karen’s situation, she took these three ideas and implemented them with her new team. She invited each member of her team to create their timeline and bring it to a team meeting. The ensuing discussion enabled the team to talk about their frustrations openly.
They also talked through what they are most proud of, sharing with their new boss all the work and accomplishments they achieved. As they completed their Control Circles, it provided a realistic base from which future accountability discussions could be had—with each other and with their new boss. The team’s confidence started to improve and they felt more empowered to tackle future challenges.
Like Karen, as you lead teams that are down and out, consider these three activities to reignite the motivation and focus on doing great work. We all want to be and feel successful in our jobs. By assessing the controllable versus uncontrollable factors and working through how the team has approached them in the past, you can orient your team toward a brighter, more hopeful future. This is a powerful way to lift up a deflated work team. Use these three activities to reboot your team and watch them rally again!