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How To Manage A Team Through Difficult Times


How To Manage A Team Through Difficult Times

Becoming a great business leader and manager is no small task. Being an expert in your field is one thing, but to supervise a team requires the extra skills of people management, strategizing, and a large amount of self confidence. So what can you do when your business has hit a rough patch, and your confidence has taken a knock?

In my work helping companies apply the principles of corporate wellbeing, and my experience with my own business, I’ve seen many of the challenges a business can face. These challenges can have a big impact on the emotional health of everyone within the company, and those at the head of the team often feel the most pressure – but there are ways to navigate even the stickiest of issues.

A Crisis Moment

Like everything in life, you can’t expect a business to always run smoothly. Particularly in the early years, it can feel as even the smallest setback could spell the end of the whole enterprise, with many businesses having to conduct a careful balancing act in order to keep growing. A few common issues entrepreneurs can face are:

  • A slow period, where it’s a struggle to find new business.
  • The sudden loss of a key member/members of staff.
  • Being dropped by a major client.
  • A client failing to pay for the work that you’ve completed.
  • Poor business practices that have resulted in hefty and unworkable bureaucratic systems.
  • Bad publicity, perhaps through a controversial advertising campaign or allegations of poor work.
  • Financial pressure and cash flow problems.
  • Success being met by a unsustainable uptick in workload (this a good problem, but a problem nonetheless!).

While there are particular solutions to each of these issues that you will have to enact, the task of managing your team through this difficult time is an important consideration – and one that certainly shouldn’t be de-prioritised in the face of immediate challenges. Here’s how you guide your team when the company is in choppy waters.

Taking control of your own fear

 While trying to lead your staff through a delicate situation, you will be the one who is taking on the lion’s share of responsibility. As previously mentioned, being a entrepreneur and managing a team is hard work at the best of times, so any extra demands could really push you to the edge of your tolerance.

Unless you are a particularly laid-back, you will likely be worried and even a little fearful. Fear can be a motivating force, and the adrenalizing effect of stress may carry you through for a short time, but too much of either is hugely counterproductive in the long run. You won’t be able to think rationally, are more likely to make poor choices through panic, and may take out your feelings on your staff – stressing them out and impacting how they view you. The term ‘self-care’ may sound a little flimsy, but it is truly important if you aren’t going to ruin your chances of solving the issue by becoming burnt out and no longer able to work effectively.

This means that while you will undoubtedly be working harder and longer hours, you must remember to take a break. I (perhaps predictably!) would recommend taking up a meditative practice, to clear your mind and reduce your stress. But simply ensuring you get to bed at a reasonable time every night and allocate one completely work-free day each week will do a huge amount for your peace of mind. Taking control of your fear means being kind to yourself, and as much as your first impulse may be to micromanage, you need to allow others to support you.

Be honest and straightforward

While there’s no need for everyone to know the minute details, you should be honest and straightforward. Make sure each member of the team is aware of the problem, and create an atmosphere of transparency where people feel able to express themselves. The alternative is having staff find out only half the picture through word-of-mouth, encouraging gossip that may well panic employees and undermine your goals.

Your staff need to be able to come to you with their own worries and problems, without feeling as if they are adding to the stress the company as a whole is experiencing. The last thing you need is people not working to their full potential or – even worse – leaving, because they have issues they feel won’t be resolved, or their point of view is going unacknowledged. You should also allow for a certain amount of initial negativity and even (in individual cases) drops in productivity. While some people will become motivated under the stress, others may find it more difficult – this is inevitable and pilling on the pressure won’t help.

Show your appreciation

When your mind is focused on problem solving and you have a million things to think about, you may fail to see when someone has been bending over backwards to help you out. Let your staff know that you truly appreciate their extra efforts in weathering the storm, and as far as possible, make sure the day-to-day running of the business is unchanged. This means that all procedures are adhered to, you don’t take shortcuts, and you uphold all the values you carefully crafted in better times.

Arguably the most important thing; always pay your staff on time and in full. This may seem obvious, but you would be surprised at the amount of businesses who have hit a bad patch and think their employees should be there out of the goodness of their heart, and will quite understand their paypacket being a week late. Unfortunately, they absolutely will not, and then you’ll be dealing with a workforce that is both stressed out and very annoyed.

Conflict resolution

Raised tensions can lead to conflict, especially when people start to apportion blame. You will not only be responsible for your own emotional state (getting annoyed is understandable, letting this annoyance drive your interactions isn’t), you will have to manage other people’s. This is not always easy, especially if you are the sort of person who feels uncomfortable dealing with confrontation.

Firstly, ensure you have an outlet outside of work where you can express your own concerns safely – perhaps a friend who can lend a sympathetic ear and give an outsider’s perspective. If you can, try to find a mentor who’s been there and done it before. Having advice from a trusted confidant who’s experience similar pressures can help give you perspective, and if needed, a little ray of hope that things are likely to change. Good self-care, as outlined earlier, can also help you manage stress and irritation.

Conflict amongst staff can be harder to solve. Minimise how much time any warring employees have to spend working together, and speak to both individuals separately in order to understand how they feel – helping them to see the other’s point of view. Then you can bring them together in a meeting, in order to seek resolution and make it clear that any further disruption will not be tolerated.

Learn and move forward

Once the moment of crisis has passed, set in place practices and processes that will make any future issues easier to face. Creating a company culture where employee wellbeing is a priority will increase staff resilience, as well as their ability to adapt to an evolving workplace. Furthermore, by investing in your staff and demonstrating their importance to the company, their appreciation and loyalty will help you through whatever future challenges the business may encounter.


Will Williams is a teacher and entrepreneur who founded the meditation centre Will Williams Meditation London, that teaches a form of Vedic meditation. They have worked with the BBC, Tripadvisor, American Express and many others in implementing corporate wellbeing programs,  helping companies reduce absenteeism and increase productivity.


I am the founder of Startup Today. I am the main writer and have put in many hours of work into creating this blog. If you want to find out more about me then lets get in contact.

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