Managing Your Team Through Turbulence

Inevitably, teams go through times of turbulence – unsteady movement, conflict or confusion. What is the best way to manage through turbulence?

The starting point is to acknowledge that the energy of your team has changed and you are managing in an unusual environment. Then, you can shift your focus to managing in that environment. When I was working for a federal agency, I was managing team turbulence as a new Presidential administration came in with a very different policy focus from the previous administration. At that time, considering we were a policy team, team members were understandably concerned for their jobs and uncertain what was to come. There were early signs from the new administration that our division could be eliminated.

As I focused on managing the team through this time, I openly acknowledged to them the uncertainty we were in and validated their feelings and concerns. We had a lot of pressure on us in our programs, so I had to find a way we could keep going and get our work done. Some team members were looking for transfers within the government or new positions. I met with the team and told them we had to strike a balance. I asked them to commit to spending the major part of the day on our programs. I told them I would be flexible if they had to spend some work time addressing their future. We charted our path forward together. I also emphasized the need for open communication. I would keep them informed of developments within the agency and asked them to let me know if they were seriously considering another position. I said that uncertainty was just that – uncertain. I did not want us reacting to something that would not materialize. We made it through. One team member did leave. Although the nature of our work changed to conform to the new administration’s policies, there were no layoffs.

When managing team turbulence, keep in mind the importance of acknowledging change, being flexible, setting a focus for the team and maintaining close communication. With this approach, you have good prospects for keeping the team functioning and achieving the best results for all of you.



Managing Within Uncertainty

Managers make decisions within uncertainty daily. Sometimes, critical decisions made within uncertainty involve high risk for a manager. When I worked as a manager at The US Environmental Protection Agency, one of our team’s most challenging projects was to develop guidance for scientists and regulators addressing decision making under uncertainty. In the project, we put a lot of our focus on the assumptions scientists and regulators made for each decision. Good assumptions can mitigate the risks inherent in decision making within uncertainty. Ideally, you have the time to make solid, well-researched assumptions, but that is not always possible. So, what do you do? Fly by the seat of your pants? No, you do the best you can in the time available to you. Some strategies for making critical decisions in uncertainty: bring your team together and use all your brainpower to identify first the unknowns involved and then the risks; devise the best course of action in the time available to you; document the assumptions and identified risks involved in your decision; get the concurrence of upper management both on your decision and on going forward within uncertainty. The unknown can become a bit more known with time, but will often remain, and decisions must be made. Get as comfortable as you can with uncertainty. Create a strategy that helps you deal within it.


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