Blizzard Warning ... At Work: 5 Ways to Improve Responsiveness and Keep Your Sanity

* Travel is strongly discouraged because of dangerous conditions.  A blizzard is occurring, imminent, or likely. Travel in blizzard conditions poses a threat to life.

* If you must travel, keep tire chains, a flashlight, blankets,  food, water, medications, and a fully charged phone with you.

* The safest place during a blizzard is indoors. If you stay home, have a backup plan in case of power outages.

Imagine a hotel lobby full of guests eager to return home, yet unfamiliar with harsh winter weather, and therefor terrified by the warning.  Result?  For some, panic – perhaps caused by unfamiliar conditions, lack of adequate clothing, the looming deadlines and meetings that await them at the office the following day, and a mindset that has them repeating over and over, “I have to get home before work on Monday.”  The mindset is undoubtedly fueled by chatter among like-minded individuals, constantly refreshing the NOAA app, and calendar reminders buzzing 24 hours prior to your big meetings.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) defines a blizzard as blowing snow for 3 hours or longer reducing visibility to ¼ mile or less AND sustained winds or frequent gusts of 35mph or greater.  Without question, these conditions can be life threatening and take the lives of people on the road or in their home yearly.  There is no question as to why the warning above is as serious as it is.

Somewhere lurking in the lobby are a few quiet guests plotting how to take advantage of the conditions.  Perhaps they are heading out to ski or snowshoe.  They may even be giddy at the thought of massive amounts of snow.  What’s their secret?  Why are they not so concerned about the marketing meeting at 9am, or making it back to see their children’s sporting event?

While there may not be an actual blizzard in your workplace, we’re all too familiar with what “dangerous conditions” can look like at work.  These questions may as well be, “why isn’t my teammate as worried as I am about…”:

The newcomer on the team? The new office configuration?  The increased reporting expectations of our executive team?  The increased sales quota in a shrinking market?  The obvious tension whenever our team tries to discuss next steps on our project?    

So what is the secret of the teammates who handle change and “dangerous conditions” with apparent ease?  While there may be dozens of explanations, it is likely that these teammates utilize the five following approaches in their work.  With practice, any individual can do the same.

Self Awareness and Shared Awareness

Most of us know our pet peeves, those behaviors or actions of others that cause us to “snap”.   List them out and ask your team to do the same.  You may love your pen, and absolutely churn inside when someone on your team borrows it, even with asking.  Keeping that a secret isn’t helping anyone.  Being aware of what makes you tick is essential to not letting your reactions control you.

Centering Practice

When your teammate does take your pen, take a breath, find balance in your body, count to three or go for a walk. Whatever you choose to do, having a strategy for disengaging the reactive part of your brain is crucial.  Who knows, when you get creative about it, you may just have more fun with creating a solution (like buying him a pen and tying it by string to a giant wrench, so he feels like he is at a filling station restroom).

Open Mindset and Focus

Approaching blizzard warnings with the mindset of “I can only control my actions and reactions” is a great reminder that the environment around you will often change without any input from you. If you dedicate your energy to a healthy response, then any environmental change will almost certainly lead to growth.  Focus on how you respond in a way that will help our team and contribute to the fulfillment of the organizations mission and experience enjoy increased productivity.

Assess and Adapt

Once you have read the warning, looked at the timing of the storm (and factored in that it could be off completely), assess the actions you can take, the risk associated with those actions, and the real (not perceived) outcome of not taking those actions.  Your adaptations to schedule and behavior should reflect the reality that most people (even the harshest critics) can understand the value of life.  No meeting is worth your life, but perhaps you can video conference in and hunker down for the storm.  In the workplace, that means pushing off the conversation about the product for 15 minutes to give your team enough time to check in, and get a sense of the pulse of the group.  Perhaps in that 15 minutes, a team member vents a frustration about the product that leads to great changes and a better result.

“Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.”  Stephen Hawking (Rest in Peace)

Laugh

When you go to great lengths to hustle out of the hotel, get the car packed and get on the road, only to discover that 5 miles down, it is closed, and you have to turn back to the hotel anyway, what do you do?  I hope you laugh.  Sometimes, despite our best intentions and greatest effort at work, things don’t work out the way we envision them.  Find the humor in it.  Especially as a team, help one another laugh, the good ole belly laugh that has you wondering why you ever tried the other way in the first place.

When your done laughing, go back and practice the first four strategies.

As you reflect on these strategies and tools, ask yourself what the NOAA report of your team would be if it was written as a forecast for the next 7 days?  Then, ask yourself how you could apply the tools and strategies above to ensure that you don’t turn the Blizzard at Work into the life threatening situation it could be.

You may be thinking, “Yeah, but our team just doesn’t have the level of trust to be so calm about changes.”  You may be on to something, but trust won’t grow without effort and time.  Psychological Safety is necessary for a team to be it’s most productive.  Look into ways to develop trust in your team, but be cautious of the games and activities that simply further alienate outliers or introverts, while lifting up further the alpha members of your team.

 

About the Author

Charlie White founded Move Mountains in 2013 to offer clients experiential and engaging leadership and communication trainings and team building adventures and workshops. Designing programs with emotional intelligence, neuroscience and mindfulness at the core, and gathering data around productivity in the process, Charlie believes you can increase your workplace productivity, embrace a more fulfilling life, and have fun getting there. Through carefully crafted experiences, a person’s strengths can be drawn into the open and serve participants in their personal and work lives. Through Move Mountains and independently, Charlie has worked with Fortune 100 companies, small businesses, non-profits and educational institutions, providing expert design and facilitation and creating palpable change in the way teams interact and individuals thrive. Charlie graduated from Lehigh University with a B.A. in Psychology (2002) and an M.A. in Education (2003).

Move Mountains helps teams discover their unique style, uncovering talent and empowering individuals to thrive.  To learn more about Move Mountains, visit www.movemountains.com.

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