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Leading High Impact Teams: Coping with Uncertainty
by Cynder Niemela and Rachael Lewis


Coaching is a recent phenomenon in American business that is producing startling and dramatic results. From employees and bosses struggling with the pace of change in a shifting economy to companies grappling to meet demands from market forces that they can no longer predict, all are finding that coaching is the competitive advantage they need to stay ahead of the curve. Cynder Niemela and Rachael Lewis have coached executives, managers and teams with diverse companies and have written an outstanding book - Leading High Impact Teams: The Coach Approach to Peak Performance . Here are several practical "to dos" from their outstanding book to help cope with uncertainty in these troubled times. (ed.)

Leading the Walking Wounded at Work

1. Take care of the people still in the company. Give them counsel. Train your managers in the natural process of change and loss that people go through. Most leaders don't know the predictable stages of: denial, resistance (lowest productivity stage), exploration, and commitment. If you know how to recognize it and help people to the next stage, you've won half of the battle. If you don't, half of your team will get stuck in resistance, which is also where productivity is the worst.

Understand that your employees will commit to the change at different stages. Take time to reflect on each of your employees' unique reaction to the change. Consider how they might be feeling (or reeling). Remember, they are not you and don't necessarily share your reaction. Then ask them.

Ask this simple scaled question: On a scale of 1 - 5, with 5 being completely on the new game plan and complete with the old, where are you? Ask the follow up question if they are less than a 5: What would you need to do to go up (from a 3 to a 3.5 or a 4). Most managers think that everyone is like they are. It is much better to a) know your people's unique talents and styles, and b) ask them what they can do/what they need rather than assume you know or that they're okay and on board.

2. Have a clear vision and plan to get through tough times and get the management team and supervisors on board. When there is change, the only way managers are going to be able to deal with it effectively, is if they are on board with where the company is now headed. Managers, who may not as be as business savvy as the leader who instigated the change, need counsel on setting new goals, finding new ways to contribute, and of letting go of the past projects. Their employees will never follow if their manager is not leading towards the new vision. They might be skeptical of the mismatch between their manager's convictions and the CEO or senior leader's conviction. If there isn't alignment in the management team, you can almost guarantee there won't be alignment of the troops towards the new common goal.

Time and time again, we ask people to align behind the new goal regardless of their agreement or opinion of it. When people are asked to agree, they are are asked to give up their own opinions and no one wants to say their opinion is 'wrong.' Our ego fights strongly not to be wrong. Ask people what they would do if they were aligned behind this new vision.

Of critical issue is the congruence of the leader as they deliver the message. If there is incongruence, a mismatch between words and the leader's conviction, employees will sense it within a nanosecond and loose trust in the future.

3. Give people permission to move on. People almost always have a loyalty to what they know and who they know who left. When what they know has ended, they still hold onto it as if it were alive. 'I know it may seem disrespectful to jump into this new project when some of your friends are no longer with the company. It's okay to move on. More likely than not, they would want you to enjoy what you're doing and do your best at it.'

4. Don't NOT talk about stuff because it may be emotional or awkward. In other words, don't not talk about the elephant in the room. If you have people who have left roles, talk about how their work will be reallocated or redefined and talk about how their belongings will be dealt with. Don't leave those things for the cleaning person to deal with -- that would be disrespectful.

5. Provide information, information, information about where you are, where you're headed, the consequences of not changing and also what's working as a result of the changes. Identify 2 or 3 channels of communication, using one and two-way communication channels. For example, use weekly email updates or intranet messages from the President. Hold bi-weekly teleconference calls with the organization. Request that your mid-level managers have weekly small group meetings.

Remotivation During Uncertain Times

In the wake of the tragedy of September 11, there has been significant impact on work. Motivation may be lacking in some. In others, the conviction to make things happen is high. In addition to feelings of sadness, fear, or anger, we may have less confidence or direction for the future.

Try this on. MOTIVATION is the emotions, desire, physiological need, or similar impulse that incites action. It is WHY you act. From this premise, it is clear that motivation is not external. As leader, you are responsible to produce results through others. Use this unique opportunity to grow as a leader. Here's the challenge: include sensitivity to the needs of individuals (yourself included) with the goals of your team and your organization.

Leaders go first. Look inside for your compelling visions, values, purpose, hopes and dreams. What positive impact do you want to have on people? Start by redefining or articulating for the first time, what MOTIVATES you personally. Once this is clear, you can turn to your business.

Rachael says, "To move forward, go back to basics." Work is more enjoyable when it is meaningful. People follow leaders who are motivated in meaningful ways. This is certainly a time when leadership is needed most. Set aside reflective time for this challenge. Write down your values. Describe the impact you want to have on people, your community or the world. Clarify what it looks like when your work has meaning and substance. Refine a vision for your life that includes that which you have articulated.

Getting People Back on Track

Right now companies are looking for ways to get people back into action. It is natural after any kind of change (good or bad) to experience low productivity. People want and need to take time to reflect and that often means lower productivity.

Executives and managers are concerned about holding meetings with individuals and groups because they don’t want to hear emotions expressed. So, strategies to help executives and managers that aid them in getting the workforce back into action as quickly as possible without creating resentment are wanted and needed.

Executives and managers must communicate with their workforce now. Even if they don’t know what the future holds or if there will be some reduction in force, they must communicate or the rumor mill will take off on its own. Holding brown bag lunches, giving presentations reinforcing the values, vision and purpose of the organization go a long way in helping people be productive and go back to work.Developing a communication strategy that includes visual, auditory and time for Q&A will be effective.

Communication is Critical

Communication can follow this simple formula:

This is where we are ...
This is where we're headed ...
This is what we're doing to get there ...
This is what we need your help in doing ...
If we don't do x, this is what will happen ...
I think we can because of these strengths ...
These are the wins we've had so far.

It is important to provide accurate information and not more than is necessary. Communications from leaders can follow this simple model. It should incorporate specific information rather than ambiguous promises. At a time of change, most people want specifics and have less tolerance for ambiguity.


The Authors


Cynder Niemela and Rachael Lewis are widely recognized as experts in the “Coach Approach” to developing High Impact Teams. They develop high impact teams in a variety of industries for companies like Hewlett Packard, Oracle Corporation, Ernst & Young, Northern Light Technology, Lucent Technology, and many others. They’ve coached teams through acquisitions, new product development projects, large-scale business application initiatives, and culture change initiatives. Together, Cynder and Rachael coached over 100 organizations and individuals in the past 20 years. They are faculty members of Corporate Coach University, and are accredited as Professional Certified Coaches by the International Coach Federation.

For additional information visit .

Many more articles in Coaching and High Perfomance Teams in The CEO Refresher Archives
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Copyright 2001 by Cynder Niemela and Rachael Lewis. All rights reserved.

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