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2022 was a year of unexpected challenges. Runaway inflation, war-driven energy and food shortages and rising interest rates conspired to make 2022 the most volatile year for the U.S. economy since 2008. In recent executive coaching engagements, I’ve heard more than a few leaders say, “I’ve never been more excited for a year to end.”
But, though 2022 will end, our problems will not. If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that we do not know what 2023 will bring and we cannot control the whims of the outside world. We can, however, support the health of our teams. As leaders, we need to start preparing our teams today to enter the new year with energy, focus and motivation — no matter what new curveballs 2023 may bring.
Related: How to Lead With Resilience, Empathy and Vision Despite an Uncertain Future
Refill your tank
Leaders are no strangers to difficult decisions; business ebbs and flows, and we often have to make cuts to rebuild a healthy company. But what we often neglect to recognize is the effect those cuts have on the remaining members of our team. After the last few years, many of them are feeling exhausted and emotionally weary, unsure just when that light is going to appear. Our engines are sputtering as we approach the finish line, but 2023 will require a full tank of gas.
As simple as it sounds, take a moment to check in with each individual on your team. Working to understand their individual context will help you understand how much gas is left in the tank and what you need to do to help them refuel so your team is ready to go full speed once the new year begins.
Related: How to Get Comfortable With Change and Build It Into the Foundation of Your Business
Balancing culture and productivity
Though the last few years have turned life as we knew it upside down, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel when building strong teams. The elements of a great team remain the same whether we live in 2003 or 2023. Business leaders need to optimize team culture and productivity to work effectively.
Team culture is the collective emotional state of our team, including all of our interpersonal relationships and the climate that is created through our exchanges. On the other hand, team productivity is how effectively and efficiently we complete our goals as a team. When teams have too little team culture but high productivity, employees may become burnt out and resentful. Conversely, when teams have too much culture and too little team productivity, employees may be unable to execute at their highest capacity.
Both scenarios make us vulnerable to our competition — disgruntled employees jump ship in search of a better culture, or our team becomes too comfortable and falls behind the latest innovation. The team leader’s role is to ensure their teams maximize both culture and productivity levels, allowing employees to feel supported, cared for and connected while also inspired and motivated to push the ball forward. If productivity and culture are not balanced, our team will not have the energy we need to succeed in 2023.
Related: Creating a Vibrant Office Community in Our New Working World
The day-to-day work
Countless articles speak theoretically to the importance of culture and productivity. But what can we do daily to ensure both elements are optimized?
Let’s start with team culture. Consider this: When was the last time you brought your team together? If you can’t remember, now is the time. If possible, gather in person to connect face-to-face. However, whether your gathering is in person or remote, ensure the discussion goes beyond trust falls and team-building exercises from leadership 101. We need to facilitate a robust and honest conversation that allows us to take stock of the past and prepare for the future. If you’re looking for a playbook, there are three crucial elements:
- Complete a retrospective on your year. We have to understand our past to dive into the future.
- Celebrate team successes. Our past wins, no matter how big or small, can motivate us to press on amidst hardship and instability.
- Turn your gaze to the future. Ask, “What are our goals, and how can we achieve them together?” and, “Which team behaviors will set us up for success?” Establish operating principles and shared agreements to support everyone in the coming year.
Team productivity comes when we have clarity of purpose. Without a clear shared goal, the team will scatter, running in opposite directions like chickens with their heads cut off. Once that is clear, we can focus our collective energy on the same finish line, and the path we must take to get there suddenly comes into view. With purpose established, leaders should work with the team to establish priorities and build strategies that stem from it. But we cannot address everything at once, and we should be careful not to overextend ourselves. When it comes to effective change, less is more.
Finally, the value of proper communication cannot be overstated. Wars have been fought over miscommunications, and our teams are not immune to such mishaps, especially in the era of a remote and increasingly global workforce. Establish effective communication structures and cadences so your team can communicate with ease.
Put your oxygen mask on first
The past few years have taken a toll on all of us. The pandemic may largely be coming to a close, but that does not mean we will wake up tomorrow to sunshine and roses. Even the strongest teams are composed of individuals with unique needs and life circumstances. If even one employee is burnt out and frazzled, the entire team will suffer — this applies to leaders, too. The safety advice of flight attendants is more true than ever: “Put your own oxygen mask on first.” No team meeting or strategy session will do much good if we struggle to breathe. We must recharge and recuperate (and ensure our team is doing the same) to succeed in 2023.
We can’t be sure exactly what the year will hold, but I have a feeling it might be an uphill climb — take the time to rest your muscles, pack your bags and prepare to join your team at the base.