How to motivate a team when everything’s going wrong

by Joanna Pieters | Follow her on Facebook here

It’s a bad week. A major supplier has let you down. A big client is unhappy and demanding a meeting. Your sales figures for the month are 20% behind. Meanwhile, your son is having school problems and you can’t remember the last time you slept for 8 hours.

Yet you’ve got a team meeting later this morning, and you need it to go well.

Just as laughter is contagious, so are stress and anxiety.

Whether you’re talking to one person on the phone, or a whole team face to face, you’ve got one role.

It could be the toxic boss, who walks in, snaps, demands, and walks out.

Or it could be the leader who overcomes their own stress to motivate and inspire everyone.

Which are you going to choose?

How to be inspiring, when you feel like cr*p

No matter how much you want to be the positive, uplifting boss, your brain is in fight-or-flight state.

You need to get your brain chemistry sufficiently under control to guide your actions. Then you need a clear plan to help you deal with the unpredictability of a conversation.

Finally you need to get everyone motivated, focused, and productive. Even if it’s the last thing you’re feeling.

However, you don’t want to be inventing a fire-fighting system when you’ve got a blaze on your hands. So here’s a rock-solid process to keep for how to motivate a team or individual, even when everything is going wrong.

1: Start with yourself to motivate others

You may not be able to control what’s going on around you. But you can choose how you respond to it.

Firstly, it’s time to look inwards. Firstly, you need to calm your mind.

Ask yourself why the particular situation is causing you such stress. Is it taking you into your Vitally Productive pitfall areas, or is it demanding you work in a way that’s innately stressful for you? If so, look at your strengths to see how you can approach things differently and regain some motivation. If you don’t know your Vitally Productive type, discover it here in just a few minutes.

Then it’s time to turn to the job of how to motivate your team members.

At least 15 minutes before your meeting or conversation, ask yourself:

‘What three positive words can I associate with this meeting?’

Write them down and repeat them to yourself several times. Even if you don’t feel them at first, you’ll start to create changes in your brain simply by the use of positive language.

Stuck? How about some of these: insight, motivation, empowerment, focus, energy, collaboration, commitment, clarity, intelligence, momentum, engagement, fun, laughter. Look for the characteristics of your most successful conversations, and choose three that resonate for you.

Turn your brain to the positive

Write down your thoughts about what you want to achieve, briefly. Notice if they’re driven by anxiety or fear. Have you got a longer list of concerns than usual? That’s a good indicator that you’re looking for the negative. Instead, try to turn things round to a positive vision. So instead of writing, ‘find out how Rachel sent out the wrong information’, change it to, ‘ask Rachel how we can ensure clients always get the right information’.

Take yourself away for a few minutes to clear your head before start the meeting. A short walk or a few minutes of mindful breathing can make all the difference to the levels of fight-or-flight chemicals in your brain.

If you’re resisting making the time for this, consider one thing. What’s the impact of spreading your stress? If 3 members of your team lose just 30 minutes a day this week by feeling stressed, insecure, unable to ask for help or working below their potential, you’ve lost 7.5 hours of time in a week.

2: Trust your team, not your brain

When you’re under threat, your instinct will be to seize as much control as you can.

If you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself demanding concrete answers, exact action, extracting unwilling agreement and adding even more to your own to-do list because you’re frustrated.

Resist it.

You need all your energy to sort out the big things on your plate. Your brain is already in a fired up state, but if you use it in the wrong way, you’ll have nothing left for later.

Instead, step back.

You’ve recruited and trained your team. Now it’s time to believe in them.

  • Start with a quick-fire round asking each person what they want from the meeting or conversation. That encourages everyone to focus and engage with what’s in it for them, and helps them to quickly identify opportunities to help someone else.
  • If it’s appropriate, share the fact that you’re feeling under stress, and that you don’t want it to affect your team in this conversation. That will help people understand that, although you may be feeling negative, it’s not about them.
  • Consciously ask people to help problem solve. Even if you’re traditionally the one who provides answers, make a point of encouraging other people to chip in with solutions. Again, your brain is likely to be searching for certainty, but in this state, you’re unlikely to be at your problem-solving peak.
  • Make a point of giving credit and positive feedback as you go for everyone’s contributions and ideas. Forcing yourself to react positively will help your brain to calm its stressed state, and acknowledging people’s contributions will help keep energy higher.

3: Focus on big shared outcomes to motivate a team

A good rule of thumb is that everyone should come out of a conversation or meeting knowing exactly what they need to do, and empowered to do it.

If you’re under stress, it’s easy to get caught up in detail. It’s often easier for the brain to see nothing but the small parts.

  • Consciously zoom out to the big picture. Bring alive your shared overall vision and purpose, and ask people to use that as context for the rest of the conversation. Ask them to mention how their work or concerns feeds into that big picture.
  • Force yourself to stay away from detail as far as possible, especially if it’s about someone else’s area of expertise. If you find yourself getting into the nitty-gritty, ask yourself whether it’s essential today, or whether it can wait for another time, when your brain is more relaxed and creative.
  • Encourage people to share their recent successes. It will help remind you of what’s positive, and act as a barrier to protect your team from taking on your stress.
  • If you notice you’re getting irritated, impatient, or it seems that no one is doing what you want, remind yourself of your three words, to ground you back in what you want the meeting to feel like.

4: Help your team develop their own resilience

The more confidence the members of your team have in their own working style and objectives, the more they’ll be able to rise above your mood fluctuations to motivate themselves. Discovering how to use their own Vitally Productive type to increase their flow and motivation can reduce their reliance on you to keep things rolling smoothly, and encourage them to take responsibility for their own development.

We can also run team workshops that help everyone to understand their own ideal working style, and create a team dynamic that helps everyone to do their best work in the most effective way. Contact us now to find out how your team can become more Vitally Productive.

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