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Leading Teams Through Crisis

Now is a defining moment for leaders. Now is your time to demonstrate and model how to be a leader. Now is the opportunity to show vulnerability, transparency and value. Now is your moment to step into your “leadership legacy” and define it because this is a time in your career that will be remembered. Now is your time.


In the last two weeks, as teams and organizations have transferred to a work-from-home (WFH) culture due to the circumstances surrounding COVID-19, we have all had to redefine our working cohorts and the ways in which we meet. While this looks and feels different for each person depending on our environment, one thing we do know is that people have been committed to “forming” in new ways. We have seen people “show up,” (even with kids, pets, etc. in the background) commit to being present, form new alliances, deliver work, and reach out to connect, empathize, and support.

This, in many ways, replicates how a new team shows-up and starts to form. While maybe not as enthusiastic, people have been open and understanding. But how long will this last before we start to see WFH teams transition to the “storming” phase? And what will be the implications, costs, and red flags?


As individuals and teams start to find a new rhythm and the rapid changes in cultural expectations begin to dissipate, we will start seeing teams move into the “storming” phase. Why? Because reality will set in.

Once we accept this is not a temporary change, and the realities of a chaotic WFH environment and isolation set in, we will begin to see team members disengage. This is natural and will look different for each person. However, some patterns we will start to notice are a lack of online engagement and participation, more audio vs. video calls, heightened tempers, tiggers and potentially a decrease in productivity. We will also experience more conflict, communication challenges and push back in team dynamics.

So, in order to be able to move through the “storming” phase, it is critical as leaders to be ready for it. We must establish systems and operating principles to support our team and commit to showing up in a more vulnerable, authentic and supportive way.

  1. Ask Yourself: What has been working with WFH? What are the best practices? What is not working, or where can we improve our effectiveness and efficiencies? Where can we pivot?

  2. Create new team WFH operating principles that can support the team and create alignment (limit to under 6). Ideas include: 1. Meeting time and cadence 2. How people engage (video vs. audio) 3. Strategic vs functional meetings 4. “Lifeline” call to the team when someone needs a day of support or a break.

  3. Establish ways in which you are showing, expressing and demonstrating recognition and appreciation to your team members. What does this look like? Make it explicit. Make it real.


Once every team goes through the “storming phase,” we will get to the "norming" phase and this process will look different for each team as well. If we take the time to invest in redefining our operating principles and creating new systems, we will set ourselves and our team up for success.

During this phase, the team will experience a transformation and heightened level of engagement and contribution. Teams will begin to experience a new “stride” and most importantly, start working more effectively together. In this time, we can reinforce the behaviors we want to see and coach the team to the next level as we invite them to be our “partner” in the process.


Once we move to the “performing” stage and the team is thriving, we will most likely be close to the next transition of what our working environment looks like--perhaps back to the physical workspace and new expectations of how we engage and show-up. Once again, we will be forced to circle back to the beginning of the cycle to the “forming” stage. However, this time, because of the investment, coaching and commitment, it can be fast, effective and efficient.


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