You're leading a team — an executive team, a project team, or a group of some kind. Even if you aren't formally supervising the team members, you are nevertheless responsible for the work they do together.
One of the team members — call him Andy — has been severely injured or has been stricken with a serious illness. His condition is not work-related. His teammates don't know about it yet. Some have worked closely with him for years. Everyone knows him personally and when they hear the news, everyone will feel loss or worry.
A team meeting is scheduled for 10:00 AM. Nearly all will be in the room with you, but one team member is on vacation, one is traveling, and two will be phoning in. It's 9:20, and you just now found out about the injury. What do you do? What do you say?
You do have some responsibilities as team lead, and they do require care. But even more important are your responsibilities as a human being. Here is Part I of some guidelines for dealing with severe injury to or illness of a member of your team, emphasizing preparation before you talk to the team. In Part II, we'll continue with suggestions for the meeting itself.
- Follow company procedures
- Check with Human Resources to determine exactly what your responsibilities are. Understand clearly what constraints apply, especially with respect to Andy's privacy.
- In some rare cases, HR will provide little if any guidance. If that happens to you, use your own discretion. For instance, if Andy faces criminal charges, or if his injury is the result of his own drunk driving, you might want to withhold that information.
- Talk to the team members' supervisors
- Contact the supervisors of your team members. Some of them might already have spoken to their subordinates. If they have, frame your own message so as to be consistent with what has already been said, if you can. Conflicting messages tend to exacerbate the problem.
- If some supervisors haven't yet spoken with their subordinates, explain to them that you intend to do so, explain what you intend to say, and ask them for confidentiality until after your meeting.
- You do have some responsibilities
as team lead, and they do require
care. But even more important
are your responsibilities
as a human being.
- Consider suspending the work schedule
- If you think enough people might be upset enough, consider suspending work, for two reasons. First, compassion requires that you give people some time to deal with their emotions and help each other. Second, the quality of the work done under these conditions is suspect. It's possible that by pressing on, people will do more harm than good.
- If you do suspend work, you'll need a schedule adjustment and possibly a budget adjustment. Be certain that sponsors, managers, and business advocates understand this, and enlist their support to make it happen.
- Lois Bergstrom
- One additional thought on employee retention: there has been a lot of research done around the idea that people take a job for the company and leave a job because of their manager. It would seem then to follow that training managers to be better managers would reduce employee turnover. I can tell you that in my own organization, I support two groups that do very similar work, but turnover in one group is much higher than the other. Since benefits, pay, perks, etc. are identical, one of the clearly differentiating factors is the two different managers.
- Keep the good stuff coming!
- Rick: Certainly sounds right to me. And sometimes managers who report to different managers get different direction and face different constraints. So even though one seems to do better than the other, the source of the differences can be higher in the organization. In some sense, nearly everyone who gets promoted is a "first-time something" and needs training or mentoring to do that job well.
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More articles on Emotions at Work:
- Getting Home in Time for Dinner
- Some of us are fortunate — we work for companies that make sure they have enough people to do
all the work. Yet, we still work too many hours. We overwork ourselves by taking on too much, and then
we work long hours to get it done. If you're an over-worker, what can you do about it?
- Hot and Cold Running People
- Do you consider yourself a body linguist? Can you tell what people are thinking just by looking at gestures
and postures? Think again. Body language is much more complex and ambiguous than many would have us believe.
- Believe It or Else
- When we use threats and intimidation to win debates or agreement, we lay a flimsy foundation for future
action. Using fear may win the point, but little more.
- Irrational Self-Interest
- When we try to influence others, especially large groups or entire companies, we sometimes create packages
of incentives and disincentives that are intended to affect behavior. These strategies usually assume
that people make choices on rational grounds. Is this assumption valid?
- Heart with Mind
- We say people have "heart" when they continue to pursue a goal despite obstacles that would
discourage almost everyone. We say that people are stubborn when they continue to pursue a goal that
we regard as unachievable. What are our choices when achieving the goal is difficult?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming February 28: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: I
- Briefly, when people exhibit narcissistic behavior they're engaging in activity that systematically places their own interests and welfare ahead of the interests and welfare of anyone or anything else. It's behavior that threatens the welfare of the organization and everyone employed there. Available here and by RSS on February 28.
- And on March 7: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: II
- Narcissistic behavior at work threatens the enterprise. People who behave narcissistically systematically place their own interests and welfare ahead of anyone or anything else. In this Part II of the series we consider the narcissistic preoccupation with superiority fantasies. Available here and by RSS on March 7.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.