5 Tips to Engage Your Team in a Crisis

Even prior to the crisis, demands in the workplace were accelerating and highlighting the need to be agile. This crisis makes the need to be ready even more urgent. Organizations that emerge stronger from a crisis do so because of their people and their leader’s ability to engage them in the midst of challenges.

Change, crisis and challenge trigger the primitive survival instinct of the stress reaction and if not checked, this runaway reaction will inhibit the behaviors that enhance healthy performance and engagement.  Resilient leaders understand the importance of, first, tuning into their own reactions to avoid promoting fear, panic and misinformation. Check out this article on Coping in Crisis.

In this article, I want to share 5 tips to engage your teams, to not just get through the crisis, but to also build a foundation of resilience.

Ready? What can you as the leader do to turn this challenging time into an advantage during a crisis?


Keep in touch with your people.

Reset your check-in routines. This can be a 15-minute morning huddle, virtually or in person. Do not use texts or emails, make this face to face with a screen or onsite. You can stay updated on emerging issues, critical and relevant information, as well as opportunities for improvements. These brief interactions become powerful social experiences letting everyone know, “we are all in this together.”


Do not ignore the fear and anxiety that may be showing up in your team.

Ignoring emotions only makes them stronger and this sends the message that the problem is much bigger than anyone on the team. Remember, the primitive survival instinct has been triggered and everyone has their own way of dealing with this stress reaction.

When you acknowledge people’s emotions, you demonstrate empathize in an open conversation about their feelings. You do not have to fix any feelings or explain, simply let people state how they feel, and you acknowledge it. You may want to have a flip chart in the department and have people write in one word about how they feel. This allows people to acknowledge their feelings and then let them go and focus on their work. It is a clearing exercise.

Now that you have acknowledged where people are, have a conversation with the team and have them identify what is in their control and what is not. When you do this, you are rebooting their attention by asking them to look at what they can control with fresh eyes. This opens the door to find the opportunities in the midst of the challenge.


Provide the “big picture” and context for any changes or restructuring of work.

Just like ignoring emotions only makes them worse, when you do not talk about what is happening, the unknown takes on a life of its own. People will begin to fill in the blanks and this is how misinformation, fear and anger spreads. This is not the time for a “pep” talk. Presenting the facts about where the department (or organization) is, will allay people’s anxiety about what might happen.


Celebrate the wins and highlight the progress.

Once you have the foundation of facts, it is time to look ahead and celebrate progress that includes big and small wins. Recognizing the small wins is significant because it encourages people to keep putting their best effort into their work. This promotes an optimistic outlook.

Optimism is one of building blocks in resilience, along with grit, energy and awareness. This is what helps people focus on what is possible rather than getting stuck on what was lost.


See the crisis as an opportunity.

The previous tips will help you shift your team’s mindset around what is happening. As you empathize with your people and provide the context and the facts around what is happening, reducing the unknown and mystery, you help people focus on what is possible. The urgency in the crisis is an opportunity to reach deeper understanding of the issues and have open conversations about what is possible. Use the urgency to unify your team around a compelling vision for what is possible.

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5 Tips to Engage Your Team in a Crisis

About Cynthia Howard RN, CNC, PhD

Performance Consultant. Unleashing potential in leaders and organizations through innovative performance development.