Observations from the War Room

IMG_7209I was recently involved in a project that spanned almost two years and culminated in a “big bang” kind of moment. People were gathered; additional resources brought in; the requisite food and caffeine provisions were on hand. The command center was established – and with it all the buzz that comes from excitement, anticipation, exhaustion, uncertainty, and ultimately, relief at the completion of a successful endeavor.

Knowing the kind of round-the-clock stress this event would bring to hundreds of staff and outside support personnel, leadership made a conscious decision to address the tension directly, offering team members some tips and strategies to expect and (more importantly) manage the situation. There was nothing earth-shattering about the advice. However, it continues to serve as a reminder that we need to take care of ourselves to take better care of each other – which can just as easily apply to our personal lives as it does in the workplace.

Here are the top five observations from the War Room:

  1. Take care of yourself.

It sounds silly to tell grown adults that they should get a good night’s rest, remember to eat (preferably the healthy stuff), and get some exercise. But these are often the very basic duties that we shirk when feeling overworked and stressed. How counterproductive is that?

Get outside, breathe fresh air, walk around, talk about anything other than work. You will return to the task at hand in a better mental state.

  1. Keep your sense of humor.

No matter how well planned and executed a project may be, there will be bumps in the road. You just can’t please all the people all the time. They may have project-related woes, or they may not like the selection of salad dressing options you’re offering for their free lunch.

You need to care and you need to take your job seriously – but if you fail to laugh – then the days will seem endless and the tension will grow to uncomfortable levels.

  1. Cut each other some slack.

Exercising patience will go a long way. We all react differently to stressful situations. It is important to keep in mind that everyone has the best of intentions when it comes to the success of the project. Approaching colleagues with an attitude of understanding and cooperation will be contagious and will break down many of the barriers that can be created in a high-stress environment.

  1. Communicate clearly and directly, but respectfully.

Reporting progress or asking for resources is best done without a lot of extra information. But using ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ can go a long way. Making sure that colleagues or team members are feeling okay, getting breaks and taking care of themselves is still possible when you are trying to work toward a specific end. Appreciate the time that others are devoting to the project.

That said, group dialogue can often get off track quickly. One question or comment can take the conversation in a different (or wrong) direction. It is important to understand what your team is looking to accomplish with each meeting or report out.

If you see the conversation steering off course, or the larger conversation is being taken derailed by sidebar conversations, don’t hesitate to redirect. Encourage colleagues to take a sidebar conversation into another setting at a different time. Making sure the team is clear about meeting objectives and project status is paramount to keeping everyone in lock step.

  1. Celebrate success as a team.

It is never too soon to begin the recognition of team accomplishments, both large and small. Be sure to use every opportunity to celebrate and call out great work. Don’t just wait until the conclusion of a project. This can be as simple as offering some public thanks in a meeting; a hand-written note card (electronic notes are nice too if they are sent sincerely); or supplying your colleague with a favorite snack or drink are very simple ways to show appreciation.

Open a meeting with a couple minutes of upbeat music, capture some photos, and use these opportunities to decompress and celebrate. Finally, once the project reaches a successful conclusion or milestone, make sure to take the time to reflect, recognize, and celebrate the teamwork, long hours, and accomplishments.

And then, if you’re like most organizations, you pivot your focus and get to work on the next project. So, congratulations and good luck!

Contact me at kim@vanink.ink to talk about how VanInk can help you enhance your communication strategy.

sid cash collage
*Outtakes from our photo shoot…dogs are not always cooperative!


Observations from the War Room

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