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.
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- 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.
Your comments are welcome
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About Point Lookout
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Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Emotions at Work:
- Coping and Hard Lessons
- Ever have the feeling of "Uh-oh, I've made this mistake before"? Some of these oft-repeated
mistakes happen not because of obstinacy, or stupidity, or foolishness, but because the learning required
to avoid them is just plain difficult. Here are some examples of hard lessons.
- When Change Is Hard: I
- Sometimes changing organizations goes smoothly. More often, it doesn't. Whatever methodology we use
— and there are many methodologies available — difficulties can arise. When change is hard,
what's happening? What makes change hard?
- Changing Blaming Cultures
- Culture change in organizations is always challenging, but changing a blaming culture presents special
difficulties. Here are three reasons why.
- Compulsive Talkers at Work: Peers II
- Our exploration of approaches for dealing with compulsive talkers now concludes, with Part II of a set
of suggestions for what to do when peers who talk compulsively interfere with your work.
- Contribution Misattribution
- In teams, acknowledging people for their contributions is essential for encouraging high performance.
Failing to do so can be expensive. Three patterns of contribution misattribution are especially costly:
theft, rejection/transmigration, and eliding.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
- We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.
- And on October 19: Bullying by Proxy: I
- The form of workplace bullying perhaps most often observed involves a bully and a target. Other forms are less obvious. One of these, bullying by proxy, is especially difficult to control, because it so easily evades most anti-bullying policies. Available here and by RSS on October 19.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrensDaBMTItJCwaKsgNner@ChacCrQTBGMzBwhIqYTXoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
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