How to Lead When Your Team is Exhausted

That Moment When Your Team is Exhausted

Most of us get there from time to time. You’re stuck in a season where everything feels urgent. It’s one thing to push yourself, but what do you do when you know your team is exhausted too?

That Moment When Your Team is Exhausted

“I’m so sorry,” Karin whispered before he could even say hello. It was Sunday afternoon, and the third time she called that day. After a long week of crises, the senior team needed more updates  – on top of the heroic efforts the team was doing all weekend to improve the situation.

Her Ops Director, Tim, graciously spoke what they both knew was technically true, “Karin, no worries, this is my job.” But after a long couple of weeks,  she knew he was tired. They all were.

She hated to keep pushing, but Tim was the guy with the answers. She needed him and he knew it. But it was a Sunday and his family needed him too.

Has this ever happened to you? How do you lead well when your team is exhausted?


7 Ways to Lead Well When Your Team is Tired

You can’t possibly lead well from a constant state of urgency.  And if you’re living in a world where chronic urgency is the norm,  something’s wrong. But when the going gets tough, plan your triage.

1. Strategize Failure

Sure, the business needs you to do all the things. But the truth is that not all activities will have the same impact on your results. Help your team understand what matters most. Be frank about what can be lost without sacrificing your mission. Make it okay to be less than perfect on some deliverables so they can focus on the behaviors and activities that will have the biggest impact.


2. Visualize the Win

To offer hope, help them visualize what’s on the other side of this stressful mess. Brainstorm creative tactics and alternative approaches to achieving success, including leveraging talents and skills outside their normal job description. Help your team visualize and talk about what it will feel like when they’ve succeeded.


3. Celebrate Progress

When you’re under intense stress, it’s hard to think about finding time for celebration and recognition—after all, every minute not spent working on the work comes at a cost.

And, your team needs to notice you noticing.

Find small ways to celebrate and have a bit of fun along the way. Your team will be more energized and productive when know you care about them and the work they are putting in. It can also be good to plan and communicate a “when we get through this” celebration plan that gives the team something to collectively look forward to.


4. Manage Your Own Stress

If you’re freaking out, your team will too. Stress amplifies as it rolls downhill.


5. Provide a Little Leave

The normal response to overwhelmed is longer hours and fewer breaks. Review their calendars and help them find white space.  Eliminate unnecessary meetings. Stepping back will leave room for creativity and more efficient approaches.


6. Check-in on the Whole Team

Your highest performers won’t complain. They’ll take on more, and work longer hours to get it done. You may not even know they’re tired. Initiate the conversation. Establish regular check-ins to see how everyone’s doing.


7Encourage Collaboration & Sharing of Best Practices

Fast-paced pressure creates silos. Catalyze best practice sharing. Eliminate redundant work. Benchmark how other departments are approaching similar issues. Ask for help from unusual suspects. You’ll get support and it will enhance their development.

And most importantly, if you’re thinking, “yeah exhausted is just a way of life around here,” it might be time for a “How can we?” conversation. “How can we achieve the high-performance we want, without leading a frantic lifestyle and burning out our team?” Or as Basecamp founders Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson say “choose calm over crazy” and find sustainable practices that can run for the long-term.


 Your turn.

What are your best practices for leading when your team is exhausted?

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