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

The Injured Teammate: 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? rbrenmbQIYWWyhkmptTQqner@ChacIfFnnysdEFGwjmiAoCanyon.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:

Aerial view of the Charley River at its confluence with the YukonHow to Prepare for Difficult Conversations
Difficult conversations can be so scary to contemplate that many of us delay them until difficult conversations become impossible conversations. Here are some tips for preparing for difficult conversations.
Computer-generated image of the third stage ignition for Mars Climate OrbiterConfirmation Bias: Workplace Consequences Part II
We continue our exploration of confirmation bias. In this Part II, we explore its effects in management processes.
U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond OdiernoWhen 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?
Amundsen's team working on personal kit during the winter before the trip South to the PoleHandling Heat: I
Heated exchanges in meetings are expensive to both the organizational mission and to the careers of the meeting's participants. Preventing them — or dealing with them when they happen — is everyone's job. But what can you do when they persist?
A ray of light passing through and reflected from a prismWhen Somebody Throws a Nutty
To "throw a nutty" — at work, that is — can include anything from extreme verbal over-reaction to violent physical abuse of others. When someone exhibits behavior at the milder end of this spectrum, what responses are appropriate?

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Puppies waiting intently for a shot at the treatComing June 27: Interrupting Others in Meetings Safely: I
In meetings we sometimes feel the need to interrupt others to offer a view or information, or to suggest adjusting the process. But such interruptions carry risk of offense. How can we interrupt others safely? Available here and by RSS on June 27.
A VoiceStation 500 speakerphone by PolycomAnd on July 4: Interrupting Others in Meetings Safely: II
When we feel the need to interrupt someone who's speaking in a meeting, to offer a view or information, we would do well to consider (and mitigate) the risk of giving offense. Here are some techniques for interrupting the speaker in situations not addressed by the meeting's formal process. Available here and by RSS on July 4.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbreniITbISRunvWpPUbcner@ChacCOqNojNEitqOQndSoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, 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

The Race to the South Pole: The Power of Agile Development
On 14The Race to the Pole: An Application of Agile Development 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. Lessons abound. Among the more important lessons are those that demonstrate the power of the agile approach to project management and product development. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople 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.

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.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
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.