Lead Them Back To Work (Part 1 of 2)

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lead them back to work

Your team, maybe your entire organization, just took a major hit, but you need to get them back on track. You know they are skittish,justifiably so. You also know that you have a lot of responsibility and potential liability to manage. But you can’t focus on compliance-related and legal aspects of bringing your team back to the neglect of the leadership demands and opportunities to intentionally develop the culture of our organization and teams. 


Moving forward requires that you (1) address the disrupting factor, (2) effectively communicate how you plan to overcome it, and (3) institute a plan for how you will address the blindspots of your plan. The recommendations below will support your credibility with your team as they speak to the strength of your plan and your willingness to adjust it to respond to evolving conditions and flawed assumptions. 


  1. Over-communicate and set up group and individual reporting/discussion opportunities about how the “come back” plan is working.
  2. Communicate the goals and standards, but relax your early expectations. 
  3. Become the chief of feedback to reinforce the new standards and expectations and to reassure your team of your compassion.
  4. Have a schedule and strategy for gradually increasing expectations, including establishing new routines.
  5. Build your own “kitchen cabinet” so that you have a team of people to confide in and consult with as unexpected problems arise and old problems re-emerge.  


As you do this, you’ll also need to enlist the support of the person to whom you report. Here’s why. Your employees want information from you about what’s going to happen to them because they have more access to you and know you better. From your upline, your team wants to hear an overarching plan that speaks to the direction of the entire organization and that reinforces the information you’ve given them. Ultimately, they want a clearer and hopeful vision of the future from your leader, but they want the day-to-day plan from you. 


Employees need to see alignment and accountability just as much as they need to know there is a plausible vision that provides for stability. This translates into employees paying closer attention to how resistant employees are treated. Do not confuse resistant employees with those who express differing opinions or raise tough questions. Resistant employees tend to focus on actual and potential problems without being interested in or willing to either offer or try solutions. Employees who express differing opinions and raise tough questions for the purpose of helping the team to evaluate its path forward and to work through blind spots are godsends because they are not afraid to speak up. Finally, the need for alignment and accountability speaks to the credibility of the plan for restoration: if compliance is optional, are the leaders confident that the plan will work?  


As you plan for getting your team back to work, spend time thinking about which parts of your plan are “must-haves” and why, i.e., the parts of the plan that are inflexible. This helps you show respect to your team by not giving them false hope about what they may be able to impact. On the other hand, sharing the why may help you all brainstorm solutions and work-arounds. Meanwhile, you’ll also need to be prepared to coach employees who express resistance, and you’ll need to have a plan for deciding when coaching needs to turn into discipline. Ultimately, coming back from a setback demands emotional safety and trust for both the actual work and interpersonal aspects of the organization.

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