Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 8, Issue 50;   December 10, 2008: The Injured Teammate: Part II

The Injured Teammate: Part II

by

You're a team lead, and one of the team members is suddenly very ill or has been severely injured. How do you handle it? Here are some suggestions for breaking the news to the team.
Shackleton, Scott and Wilson, of the British Antarctic Expedition 1902

Lieut. E. Shackleton, Capt. R.F. Scott and Dr. E.A. Wilson, of the British Antarctic Expedition, before starting south in Spring 1902. They eventually set a Furthest South record at 82 degrees south latitude that stood until Shackleton's expedition of 1907. On this journey, all three fell ill with scurvy, but Shackleton was the worst afflicted, and became the "injured teammate." However, he and Scott had by that point had interpersonal difficulties, and Scott's management of the situation created by Shackleton's illness, letting his personal feelings dominate his leadership, was a model of what not to do. Scott humiliated Shackleton in various ways, by word and deed, with respect to his illness. When the party of three returned to base, Scott sent Shackleton home early, a year before the rest of the party, using Shackleton's illness as an excuse. Read the story in detail in Roland Huntford's biography of Shackleton, Shackleton. Photo courtesy the Museum of New Zealand at Te Papa Tongarewa.

You're leading a team of some kind, and one of the team members has been severely injured or or has been stricken with a serious illness. I'll call him Andy. The team doesn't know about it yet, but, everyone knows him personally and when they find out, everyone will feel loss or worry.

In Part I, we explored what to do to prepare before you talk to the team. In this Part II, we look at what to say and how to say it.

Tell the team what you can about Andy's near future
Whatever you say, must respect organizational policy and Andy's personal preferences. You might know his condition, and you might know his location and whether he's receiving visitors (he probably isn't yet). If you can, provide an address (or tell them when you will) for those who wish to send cards or good wishes.
You probably don't know when or whether he'll be returning. It's best to say this as, "I don't yet know when Andy will be back." Telling people that you don't know whether he'll be back is probably unhelpful.
Offer team members what they might need
Some team members might benefit from counseling, though this is rare in the case of injury or illness. It probably isn't necessary to offer counseling to everyone, but be attentive to special cases.
Beware: the event might have exposed previously hidden factors. For instance, Andy might be involved in an affair with another team member, who could be severely upset, and who might also be unwilling or unable to visit Andy because of privacy concerns. Private counseling might be desirable for both. Sensitivity on your part is a valuable asset.
Beware the complexity of virtual relationships
Some team members might have close virtual relationships with Andy. They might be thousands of miles away, and perhaps they have never met, but the emotional impact of the event can be every bit as painful and disruptive as if they were co-located.
Contact remote or traveling team members in advance by telephone, and give them the news privately. Don't leave anything in voicemail other than a request for a return call. Ask for confidentiality until you talk to the rest of the team.
It isn't necessary to have a new
plan immediately. Indeed, if you
do, you risk appearing over-eager
to replace the one stricken
Announce that you'll be re-planning the work
It isn't necessary to have a new plan immediately. Indeed, if you do, you risk appearing over-eager to replace Andy. Announce that some assignments might change, and that you might introduce new resources. Estimate a date by which you expect changes, and ask for their patience.
Beware asking for input from the team generally, because resource allocation and scheduling is your job. Consulting some team members is fine, but do so with discretion.

Most important, leave space for team members to talk to the team and to each other. Not everyone will want to, but space is important for those who do. Go to top Top  Next issue: The Perils of Piecemeal Analysis: Content  Next Issue

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrencDTzpyvnzERZzNhUner@ChacjLMPoUprLSdkFVzWoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Emotions at Work:

Kayakers enjoy exploring Apostle Islands' sea caves on calm Lake SuperiorPlanning Your Getaway
For many of us, taking a vacation can be a burden. We ask ourselves, "How can I get away now?" And sometimes we have the answer: "I can't." How can we feel relaxed about taking time off?
An iceberg in Antarctica's Gerlache Strait, March 1962The Uses of Empathy
Even though empathy skills are somewhat undervalued in the workplace context, we do use them, for good and for ill. What is empathy? How is it relevant at work?
Richard Posner, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in ChicagoSome Subtleties of ad hominem Attacks
Groups sometimes make mistakes based on faulty reasoning used in their debates. One source of faulty reasoning is the ad hominem attack. Here are some insights that help groups recognize and avoid this class of errors.
A diagram of effects illustrating these two loops in the Restructuring-Fear CycleThe Restructuring-Fear Cycle: Part I
When enterprises restructure, reorganize, downsize, outsource, spin off, relocate, lay off, or make other adjustments, they usually focus on financial health. Often ignored is the fear these changes create in the minds of employees. Sadly, that fear can lead to the need for further restructuring.
Henny Youngman in 1957Quips That Work at Work: Part I
Perhaps you've heard that humor can defuse tense situations. Often, a clever quip, deftly delivered, does help. And sometimes, it's a total disaster. What accounts for the difference?

See also Emotions at Work and Project Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A vizsla in a pose called the play bowComing April 26: Why Dogs Make the Best Teammates
Dogs make great teammates. It's in their constitutions. We can learn a lot from dogs about being good teammates. Available here and by RSS on April 26.
A business meetingAnd on May 3: Start the Meeting with a Check-In
Check-ins give meeting attendees a chance to express satisfaction or surface concerns about how things are going. They're a valuable aid to groups that want to stay on course, or get back on course when needed. Available here and by RSS on May 3.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenDOnbqZoMlreahosWner@ChacXpqrncugihyYzzPqoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Changing How We Change: The Essence of Agility
MasteChanging How We Change: The Essence of Agilityry of the ability to adapt to unpredictable and changing circumstances is one way of understanding the success of Agile methodologies for product development. Applying the principles of Change Mastery, we can provide the analogous benefits in a larger arena. By exploring strategies and tactics for enhancing both the resilience and adaptability of projects and portfolios, we show why agile methodologies are so powerful, and how to extend them beyond product development to efforts of all kinds. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
Many Creating High Performance Virtual Teamspeople experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage, and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.