navigate the chaos

How to Help Your Team Navigate the Chaos

How do you help your team navigate the chaos, particularly when you’re feeling frustrated, overwhelmed (and maybe even a bit frightened)?  In this article, I share three ways to help your team navigate the chaos of reorganization, shifts in direction or toxic leadership, and why it matters.

Help Your Team Navigate the Chaos: A Team Member’s Perspective

I received a LinkedIn message from  “Brian,” a director that worked on my corporate team over six years ago.

“Do you have a few minutes to talk?”

Of course! I love catching up with old friends and colleagues. (Although the request did seem a bit random since we hadn’t spoken in quite a while.)

“I’m just calling to tell you how much I appreciate your leadership and the opportunity to work with you. I learned so much.”

Wow! What an incredible gift. I was really touched that he’d taken the time to call.

(Side note: if you have these feelings about leaders you work with,  please call them. It matters! Leaders need to know what’s working so they can do more of it.) 

“Brian, you know growing leaders is my passion, so I’ve got to ask: What specifically did you learn from our time together and why?”

It came down to this.

“I didn’t realize it at the time, but now that you’re not here, I understand how much you buffered us from the chaos and politics so we could focus on doing the right things to get results.”

My mind flashed back to the turmoil our organization was going through at the time, and all the anxiety I felt. It was a daily struggle to decide what to buffer and what to share. I did see a big part of my role as battling the bullies and pushing back on stupidity so my team didn’t have to.  I’m sure I didn’t always get it right.

I wanted to unpack this for you. So, I searched for clues of what I was doing at the time. And then I remembered blogging about it.

An excerpt from a blog post I wrote at the time called Chaos Curtailed: How to Shield Your Team

Your team does not want to …
  • see the stress on your face
  • know about the indecision in the meeting you just left
  • understand the stupid hoops you just jumped through
  • have their schedule jerked around because yours is a moving target
  • have deadlines that creep closer as you get more nervous
  • hear about the pressure you have from those above
  • know about your political or career struggles
They do want to …
  • understand the big picture
  • know where they fit in
  • understand what they need to do
  • know which decisions are final
  • understand what is up for discussion
  • know what could still change
They are looking for you to …
  • do what you said you would
  • stay the course on your big plans
  • be there to support
  • explain the reasons behind any changes
  • follow through on your commitments

3 Ways to Help Your Team During Tricky Times

So, through a little further discussion, this is what the things Brian appreciated boiled down to. I share this to help inspire your own thinking as you help your team to navigate the chaos.

  1. Build Human Connection – Be sure everyone knows you really care about them as people–and that they can trust you to have their backs. Be genuinely interested in them beyond what they are bringing to the immediate project.
  2. Shield Them From Stupidity –  Sure, you need to help them navigate the politics and learn how to get things done, but over-exposure to the drama a level above creates unneeded stress, makes them question their career choices, and distracts them from the important work at hand.
  3. Encourage Action – I learned this one early in my career from one of my favorite bosses, Gail Parsons, who said, “Where there is chaos, seize control.” Meaning, don’t let the chaos paralyze you.  Be the team that is known for positive action to move the business forward. You can read more about that in one of my very first blog posts here.

The truth is, what Brian also appreciated were the transformational results our team was able to achieve during that time. Leadership is always about the “what” and the “how.”

Your turn: What advice do you have for helping leaders to help their team navigate the chaos?

See Also: How to Navigate Yet Another Office Shake-Up (Wall Street Journal)

7 Ways to Help Your Team Deal with Ambiguity