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Leading teams during a permacrisis: How to look after your people in the face of ongoing uncertainty

By Claire Gallagher | |6 minute read

Climate change, rising interest rates, war, spy balloons... In these times of uncertainty, how do organisations take care of their most important asset: people?

Under pressure, people revert to type. Flight or fight? When the cards are down, you see people’s true colours.

In the face of uncertainty, what are your true colours?


If you’re a leader running or owning a business, how do your true colours shape your culture? What does teamwork look like? What type of organisation are you overseeing? How would you describe the employee experience?

All these things are within your control. They don’t just “happen”; they are a direct consequence of leadership behaviour. So how does your behaviour affect the working environment of your colleagues and business performance?

What we’ve learnt from the pandemic

The need to belong often arises as a natural reaction to stress. It is critical to our mental wellbeing. As learning and development expert Yaron Spektor noted, the trauma of COVID-19 has resulted in an increased need for belonging and connection.

So now, as we try to settle into a new rhythm of work, organisations need to create environments and have leaders that provide meaning, the opportunity to do good, certainty, clear expectations and finally, community.

That might sound complicated, but it’s really not. All you need to do is focus on three things.

  1. Communicate

Have a clearly communicated, unifying goal for people to rally around. Make it aspirational, but also make sure it inspires action.

A well-crafted purpose statement is not enough. The purpose, vision or collective goal must connect to each function, team and role.

Put simply, every individual should be able to see the contribution they make to the shared goal. Doing this enables your people to feel “we’re in it together”, to understand the part they play and where they fit in. According to author Daniel Pink’s theory of motivation, we need to feel inspired and that we are adding value.

We must also be open. Communicating the inspiring stuff is great, but don’t forget to keep everyone up to speed on priorities, pressures and changes.

The only thing worse than bad news is an unpleasant surprise or not knowing specifically what’s happening. Effectively communicating the good stuff and the not-so-good stuff takes courage and is the hallmark of great leadership.

  1. Connect

Take time (real time) to connect in meaningful ways. No more long emails or PowerPoint presentations. Spend time with people. If possible, face to face. They are people, after all.

Through the pandemic, we’ve learnt firsthand the benefits and pitfalls of online communication. We also know that relationships are the basis of creative thinking and complex problem-solving, while empathy is fast emerging as a key leadership attribute.

In today’s talent market, it’s more than a job. People are looking for connections, want to be seen as a person and are tuned to how they feel. This is well articulated in Gartner’s HR research, The Human Deal. Or we can rely on the age-old wisdom of Maya Angelou, who said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Find ways to connect online or remotely if necessary. Build into your routine opportunities to share information, ask questions, invite ideas and listen to understand.

These formal and informal connections forge a real sense of team and tap into our need to belong. In the Oxford Dictionary, community is described as “a body of people who live in the same place, usually sharing a common cultural or ethnic identity”. The key words here are “sharing a common”.

  1. Say thanks!

Easy right? Did you know 69 per cent of employees say they would be more engaged if they felt appreciated?

The act of saying thanks PROPERLY should create a genuine sense of pride, positively reinforcing us at our best and building a coalition around what’s good and what’s not.

When leaders do this, they are not only showing appreciation but also demonstrating they understand your world, what you are doing, and the challenges and successes it brings. It’s a simple way to create focus on the good, ideal or stand out. And what you focus on is what you get.

None of this is new news. If anything, the past few years have reminded us that we are human, and to thrive, we need to understand what’s expected of us, be part of something and feel that we belong.

So while the headlines scream “meltdown” and “crisis”, let’s not lose our heads (or our hearts) in the workplace.

Focus instead on communicating, connecting and acknowledging the positive. You’ve got a much better chance of weathering the ongoing storm if you do.

Claire Gallagher is the employer brand director at branding agency Principals.