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.
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More articles on Emotions at Work:
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- Humor is fun — that's why they call it "funny." If you add humor to your own work environment,
you'll reduce your level of stress, increase your creativity, and drive your enemies nuts.
- Your Wishing Wand
- Wishing — for ourselves, for others, or for all — helps us focus on what we really want.
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- The Fundamental Attribution Error
- When we try to understand the behavior of others, we often make a particularly human mistake. We tend
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- Ethical Influence: I
- Influencing others can be difficult. Even more difficult is defining a set of approaches to influencing
that almost all of us consider ethical. Here's a framework that makes a good starting point.
- Unintended Consequences
- Sometimes, when we solve problems, the solutions create new problems that can be worse than the problems
we solve. Why does this happen? How can we limit this effect?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 24: Big, Complicated Problems
- Big, complicated problems can be difficult to solve. Even contemplating them can be daunting. But we can survive them if we get advice we can trust, know our resources, recall solutions to past problems, find workarounds, or as a last resort, escape. Available here and by RSS on April 24.
- And on May 1: Full Disclosure
- The term "full disclosure" is now a fairly common phrase, especially in news interviews and in film and fiction thrillers involving government employees or attorneys. It also has relevance in the knowledge workplace, and nuances associated with it can affect your credibility. Available here and by RSS on May 1.
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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.