At some stage every leader will have to manage a team with too much work to handle. For some of you, that time is now, with the fallout from COVID and the ‘great resignation’ as well as staff shortages due to the current holiday season.
The situation isn’t good for anyone and it’s a difficult way to start the year, but there are ways to manage it and come out on top.
Before you do anything, you need to understand that any problems are not going to be about managing the work: they are more likely to come from your people. Tired, overworked, frustrated, overwhelmed?
Here’s how to lead your way through the situation and keep your team motivated in the face of the workload.
- Focus on your people, not your numbers.
I know you’ll have targets and deadlines to meet, and those are quite likely to be the priority for your CEO. However, you and I both know you’ll never achieve your targets without your people. They must be your priority.
Author and leadership specialist Jon Gordon says, “It’s not numbers that drive people, but the people that drive numbers. Too often, worried leaders approach this relationship backwards. However, this is not a time to ignore your people. Place your attention on them and on the process! After all, numbers are just measurements and indicators of how well your people are executing. Remember, culture drives behavior, behavior drives habits, and habits drive results.”
Look after their needs – personal, professional and emotional – and they will be better able to get things done.
- Prioritise and reduce the load where you can.
Look for those tasks which are high-priority and focus on those. Examine the work and try to eliminate those sections which aren’t important or won’t contribute to your success. Over time we build up systems and processes which work well during normal times, but which can hold us back when the situation changes. Prioritise, break the work into chunks where possible, and keep the focus on what matters.
Look for alternative ways to get the job done. Put forward a business case to hire a freelancer such as a VA to support with admin or marketing work. It’s not easy to find experienced staff these days and the costs of recruiting and training new people is expensive and time consuming.
- Encourage and model positivity.
Your approach to the situation matters. If you seem overwhelmed or stressed, the team will pick up on that and become even more worried. As leader, you need to present a positive outlook when you’re with them. That means focusing on ideas and solutions rather than problems. It means encouraging input and listening to it. It means working cooperatively rather than as individuals, supporting each other when needed. It means throwing the rule book out the window if you need to. For example, allocating responsibilities to people with the skills, not titles. Not only does this get the job done, but it also gives your people the opportunity to shine. Individual successes bring team success.
- Emphasise the team.
It’s easy for a team member to feel like he or she is the only one struggling. We tend to keep that sort of thing to ourselves, don’t we? Protect your people by emphasising the nature of teamwork and making them fee psychologically safe to say so.
- Model behaviour that makes your team feel safe to say they need help.
- Allocate joint projects or shared responsibilities.
- Encourage whole-team communication and sharing.
- Reward people who step up when they see others struggling. The old saying, two heads are better than one, is true. Teamwork increases creativity, positivity, and cooperation. It’s an ideal way to get things done when there’s too much to do!
- Communicate and appreciate.
When everyone is struggling to keep up – including you – it’s easy for messages to become confused or misunderstood. Spending longer than normal to share information will save you time in the long run. The more regular and clear your messages, the more confident your people will be. They’ll trust that you’re honest with them and they’ll have all the information they need to get the job done. Make time and space for regular and open discussion.
And when they do, acknowledge it. These people are doing the hard yards for you, so show your appreciation. It doesn’t take much. You know how good it feels when someone tells you you’ve done well. It makes you want to do it again and do even better. Take the time to tell your people how well they are doing.
The reality is that overwork is not unusual. It’s something we’re all going to face regularly at work. It’s how we manage it that matters. Take care of your people first and the work will fall into place.
If you would like to find out more about being a leader everyone wants to follow, get in touch to find out more about our leadership development programs. Designed for new, emerging and seasoned leaders our programs will ensure your and your team has everything they need to ensure they are motivated all year round.