Leading Teams Through Disruption

To say that we are going through uncertain times would be the understatement of the year. Around the world, every company today is being disrupted. Many organizations are feeling vulnerable as their revenues come under pressure from the pandemic. Reorgs and restructurings are predicted to exceed 2008’s record high.

HBR reports that “crisis-driven reorganizations are a net benefit in just two thirds of cases; 19% actually damage the company, and only 8% fully deliver everything they aim to in the time planned.” So, what can leaders do to increase not only the success of the reorg, but also navigate the inevitable drop in morale?

Here are four key strategies from some of our Roundtable members.


1. Prepare for Questions

Managing and supporting your team through the change is essential to help thwart disengaged or disgruntled employees. There will, no doubt, be a lot of questions.

Leaders can’t be caught off guard says Fiona Ellis, AVP, Dealer Relations at Canadian Tire. She advises putting yourself in your direct reports’ shoes. “Ask yourself, ‘What questions would I have?’ Prepare answers to all those questions,” she states. “The more preparation you do in advance, the more confident you will feel going into the meeting, which will foster a genuine and empathic discussion.”

Sylvie Doré, Sales Director, Central & Western Canada at Jobillico, agrees and says, “Since everyone is different, they will have different things they want answered depending on their personal situation whether it be financial or other.”


2. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

News of a reorganization travels fast, especially in our era of SMS, texts and emails. Any lack of communication only accelerates the rumour mill. Sylvie Doré recommends having a clear agenda for the day and gathering the remaining team quickly to let them know of the lay-offs. Then meet with them on a one-on-one basis to let them know why they are still on the team so they know that their talents have been recognized and they feel appreciated. She points out that body language is key, and it can help you identify the people who need reassurance right away after news of the reorg.

In times of change and volatility, consistency can be an anchor for your team. It’s not the time to cancel or move your update meetings. Instead, Fiona Ellis suggests that you use scheduled meetings to ensure objectives are clear and to focus your team on moving forward. These meetings are an opportunity to keep dialogue open and check in our how your team is processing the reorganization.


3. Rebuild Trust

When a corporate reorganization is announced, teams are often frustrated and angry that they had no say in the matter or no heads-up that the types of decisions that were being made. They feel betrayed. It’s important to be as open and honest as possible.

“Transparency and authenticity are critical in rebuilding the trust with your team. Share as much information as you can around the reasons for the change and plans for transition to the future vision,” notes Chad Crago, Senior Manager, Leadership Development at Walmart Canada.

This type of two-way communication not only helps build trust with the team again, it shifts the focus less on the restructuring and more on business objectives.


4. Lead with Empathy

As Chad Crago points out, “The best leaders I’ve worked with have been intentional in considering how they will show up from a more human aspect, to support their teams.” He says it’s also an opportunity for leaders to be vulnerable and share how they’ve been moving through and handling the change as well.

“In my experience, people instinctively know when leaders are holding back, and when they are being genuine,” he says. “Sharing some of your personal reflections can help others on the team to process their own reactions and reinforce that you are all moving through the change together.”

Getting clarity on how you can best serve your team members is essential to a more servant leadership approach. Fiona Ellis says, “I love finishing my update meetings with one question: ‘What support do you need from me?’ This does two things; it lets your employees know you are there to support them and it allows them to raise any issues with you. They may not want to talk about the restructuring anymore, but if they do, this gives them a window of opportunity to do so.”