From an organizational perspective, September is a strange time of year. You and your team are supposedly tanned, rested, and ready to get back to work after a summer filled with outdoor activities, a vacation or two, and some time soaking up the latest novel by the pool. The kids are back in school, colleagues are answering emails on time, and the pressure is on to double down on those targets in the dwindling days of Q3 and Q4.
In practice, of course, the summer months might not have been very restful at all. Even if your industry does see a drop in activity during that time of year, your own work life, and that of your team’s, might have been just as hectic as ever. Still, it’s important to remember that there’s a transition in many organizations from the drifting, drowsy days of summer to the focused, frenetic days of autumn. Here’s how to regroup, pull your team back together, and get set to tackle the four-month run ahead.
Start by asking your team three simple questions:
- What are we here to do?
- Are we getting it done?
- If not, why not?
It can be tempting to drag out your company’s mission statements (and sometimes that’s the right thing to do), but a purposeful discussion focused on the end results you’re trying to achieve together is less likely to get bogged down in politics, emotions, and victimhood.
Purpose-based conversations sometimes cause some eye-rolling, but if you can stay on course through those first three questions, you’ll be ready for the next step.
By now we’ve all seen the studies from Gallup and others detailing the extent to which our workforce is disengaged. Even short-term plans to boost engagement can help rebuild a sense of teamwork, encourage better coordination, and counterbalance the negative influence of the workplace skeptic.
A great way to do this is to review priorities. Spell them out for the team, and ask each member to develop three personal goals as well. Challenge each one and change a few as needed. It will reveal opportunities for coordination, get employees thinking about what comes next, and give them something to talk about with their groups. Beware–without real engagement and accountability, snark rules the day.
As a manager, how much time do you spend thinking about the future of your organization? And when was the last time you shared it with your team? There’s no need to get too abstract or theoretical–in fact, it’s probably better if you don’t. But it still helps to envision where you see the company headed, and how you expect your team to help get it there.
A leader’s forecast of what’s next should include realistic assessments of the possibilities that lie ahead and what’s being done already by the organization to make them real. Having this chat with your team helps remind them what matters, tying back into the sense of purpose you’ve already sketched out together: Is it growth? Customer satisfaction? Employee recruiting and retention? Imagine a future, and share it.
As the days get shorter and colder, it’s important to stay connected with one another and keep up morale. Go bowling, have a picnic, take the team to lunch. Share your stories of summer’s biggest fail, your kid’s first time at the beach, or an insight from a book you read. Have a conversation about someone you met, an unexpected development, or the hazards of mountain biking. No matter what the topic, simply making time to have fun is an important step towards keeping your team focused and energized as the summer winds down. They’ll see you as human, and vice versa. Socializing breaks down barriers and challenges (often inaccurate) assumptions.
Many of the leaders we’ve worked with return to the workplace after a vacation-packed summer under the assumption that they can pick up right where they left off. They assume their teams still know what’s important, how the organization is doing, what their peers are up to, and what they should be doing next. Many of those assumptions are wrong, of course, and it’s ultimately up to managers and company leaders to address those mismatches.
Now is the best time to do it.
Dennis Brouwer and J.P. Kelly are cofounders and managing partners at Crew11, a leadership development and business advisory firm. They formerly served as members of the original Crew11, flying from the decks of USS Ranger and USS Enterprise in search of Soviet fast-attack nuclear submarines during the Cold War.