There are times in every supervisor's work life that you can feel everything going off the rails -- projects don't sync up as they should, laughter feels forced within your team, and the energy levels are low.
While it may feel like everything is falling apart at the seams, and you're not sure what you can do, don't give up! There are ways to bring teamwork back to your team, but it will take some work to rebuild trust between team members and realign your focus to the future.
Even the most high-performing teams have moments of doubt that can be introduced by stress or fear. These negative emotions could overtake a team or its leader, but the first step is re-imagining the future and then casting that vision to your team.
Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure
While it may be too late if your team has already entered a downward spiral, preventing negativity from happening is always the best alternative to a team that's coming apart at the seams. Getting to know your team, understanding their motivations and stressors, and working hard when you need to will help you become a trusted member of your team -- and not just the leader.
Spending time together bonding in good times will help sustain your relationship during times of difficulty, both with each individual team member and the team as a whole. This trust doesn't come overnight but is worth the time spent building it in the long run.
Slowing the Negativity
Perhaps your team has just begun showing signs of stress, such as team members being unwilling to contribute in meetings, leaving early, or losing energy early in the day. If you look up in the afternoon and everyone is wandering around looking aimless instead of focused on work or building relationships, it's past time to get more involved in your team's dynamics.
Start by talking to someone on your team, either the person who is seemingly the most stressed or one with whom you have the most trust built up. See if you can determine what the root cause of the uncertainty is, and look for potential options for resolution together.
Returning from the Brink
If your team is truly on the brink of collapse, with your best and brightest team members disengaged and actively looking for other opportunities, it's time to take more drastic measures. Consider asking your human resources department if they're hearing any rumors about what's happening, or pull the team together as a whole in an offsite meeting to add to their comfort level.
Request that they be open and honest with you about challenges that they're encountering -- either within the team, outside the team or even outside the organization.
Take Charge of Results
You also must face the possibility that you as the leader are the problem, which can be painful and difficult to accept. However, you must first look to make changes in your own leadership style in order to help salvage your team's success.
Take responsibility for finding a solution, and don't be afraid to claim accountability when things aren't going as you had planned. Too often, leaders find themselves in a situation that feels hopeless and attempt to look externally to find the problem.
If there is truly someone on your team who is causing the excessive negativity, know when it's time to make the difficult decision and make a change in personnel. Sometimes, all it takes is removing a negative influence or underperformer to bring your team back to center.
Today's organizations are moving quickly and chasing many different initiatives at once. Managing people is always a balancing act: creating a culture of learning and accountability while allowing people the space they need to take appropriate chances. Fortunately, nearly every team can be brought back from a downward spiral with time, effort, and loads of positive energy from its leader.