Transition and Uncertainty

Published June 23, 2020.

We’ve been in a state of uncertainty for months now, with no signs of relief. Supervision is never easy, especially not now. It can be helpful to name some of the things you’re experiencing and acknowledge the difficulties. Dr. Brandon Sullivan, Senior Director of Leadership and Talent Development shares his insight into the transitions we’ve been experiencing. 

Feature Insight

Transition and Uncertainty

Supervising can feel pretty messy in normal times. People are complicated and often a changing mix of emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Being a supervisor is a journey with some guardrails and guidance, but there are few easy solutions. The past few months have added twists and turns to the road, moved the guardrails, and affected the people you supervise in profound ways. No one has been trained for the crisis we’re in. I teach MBA courses on leadership and I promise there’s no chapter in any leadership textbook about how to be a supervisor during a pandemic, along with the protests and unrest that grew out of the murder of a Black man at the hands of police. 
So, what can we do? Well, we can start by acknowledging our challenges, assess where our teams are at, and identify where we need to focus. I’ve reflected on all of the challenges my own team has faced over the last few months. I realized that moving everyone to a remote work environment is only one of several significant transitions happening simultaneously. 

Perhaps you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, frustrated, anxious, or just plain exhausted. All of those feelings are valid and hopefully some of the challenges and transitions that I’ve experienced will validate your own experiences.

Becoming a virtual team. 

The most obvious transition is the move to everyone working remotely. We moved our team and project meetings, and one-on-one check-ins from conference rooms to Zoom. We also had to figure out how to deliver our in-person programs and services using Canvas, Zoom, Google docs, and other tools. Some people needed new equipment or software and we had to make sure everyone knew how to use these tools.

Redesigning our work. 

This transition was about the work itself. For example, we used to deliver many leadership development sessions in-person. However, we had to take a close look at how to redesign these sessions to achieve the same goals. That required a new focus on instructional design skills. We debated whether we just needed a “band-aid” approach to get by until we can go back to in-person delivery, or whether it couldn’t be done effectively online and we should postpone the work. This forced us to examine our goals, priorities, resources, and challenge our past practices and assumptions with new thinking. Then we had to make some tough decisions about what to stop doing.

Increasing collaboration and teamwork. We already worked together as a team, but in order to redesign our in-person programs and complete a reorganization we were in the midst of, we had to collaborate even more than ever before. Many of us were in Zoom meetings for most of the day because it took different parts of our team to share expertise, make decisions, and get the work done quickly. 

Managing uncertainty, stress, and fear caused by a crisis. 

So much about work and life changed within a matter of days. Many people wondered if their jobs were secure, if their income was at risk, and how they would adjust to working virtually. Then when George Floyd was murdered, some on my team worried about their personal safety and the safety of their homes, not to mention the emotional stress of processing it all. These crises created a perfect storm of stress—uncertainty about big things like safety, health, and financial security coupled with a lack of control over the future. 

Blending of work and home. 

Whether we like it or not, the pandemic has mushed together home and work for most people. This has affected each person on my team differently and required a lot of flexibility, adaptability, and new thinking from me and all of our team members. Some of the more traditional and common norms about work hours and separation of work and home are simply moot and impractical now. While some people are feeling isolated and cut off from family, friends, and colleagues, others are struggling to figure out where work ends and home begins. Some are trying to work while their toddler crawls around on their lap or teenagers roam the house bored and moody. Some have older parents they are worried about and taking care of. Many are home with spouses and partners who are also trying to navigate all of these things. This is a huge transition and if it isn’t acknowledged and addressed, it will be impossible to navigate the other four transitions successfully.

The crisis isn’t over. The coast is not yet clear. There are many more changes to come. The important thing is to acknowledge that none of this is easy. I encourage you to examine the challenges you’ve been experiencing and focus on the things you can control.

I hope that you'll join us for the next Supervisor Development webinar, “Engaging Virtual Teams.” [Aired: June 25, 2020] We’ll talk more about the challenges of managing a team virtually and what you can do to keep your team engaged and motivated.