Helping Teams Through Chaos and Uncertainty

My guiding principles for navigating 2021

Should we make any plans around handling work if there is another insurrection on Inauguration Day?

The cadence and normalcy of this type of question over the past year have deeply shaken me. Teams have faced an enormous amount of challenges and change. A global pandemic has left us without seeing each other for almost one year. Those of us in positions of privilege are confronting the realities of systemic racism and oppression. There is unprecedented defiance of a democratic election by violent Nazis, white supremacists, Confederate sympathizers, and conspiracy theorists.

Like everyone else processing these events, I’ve been emotionally drained and exhausted by the news - and that’s okay. It can be challenging to figure out how you can support others as we all navigate this - and it’s important to know you don’t need to have all the answers right away.

Honestly, I don’t even know what to say. Probably? How do you even make a plan for something like that? What’s most important to me is our health and well-being. If there’s something I can do to help support you, make space for you to process events, or if you just want to chat, please let me know. I’m also going to clear out anything non-essential next week - and if it looks to be necessary, I’ll clear out the essential things too.

A few things that I’ve found helpful when talking with others about collectively living through the events of the past year:

  1. Don’t ignore the world. These things don’t stop happening when you show up to work, and it’s important to acknowledge the impact they have on you and your team.
  2. Be comfortable not having an answer. You alone are not able to change macro-events. It’s okay to admit you don’t know how to navigate things. Expressing support doesn’t need to be a massive treatise on the world’s state and your view of events.
  3. Don’t presume to have information or perception that others don’t. It’s possible to be supportive without being able to completely understand the lived experiences of others. It’s equally important not to expect others to provide you information or their perception.
  4. Prioritize the health, safety, and well-being of you and your team. That is something you can do to help. People may want different levels of support - some prefer to continue with work as a distraction. Some just need to get away and focus on their personal lives. Some are looking to their colleagues to help them process things. Have an open mind, and make the time to accommodate this.
  5. It’s essential to also keep all of this in mind for yourself. If you need time to process, make sure you take it. If you want to work as a distraction, make sure it doesn’t mean you are forcing others along with you.
  6. Recognize that this is the long-haul. The issues you are confronting for the first time could be things that others have been facing their entire lives - and just because they fade in memory for you doesn’t mean they will fade away for them. That said, things feel exceedingly terrible now, and supporting each other is one of the few things entirely within our control.

I don’t have all the answers here. These principles have been my guide for expressing my support without putting an additional burden on folks. I’ve love feedback or ideas on other items to consider (and I’ll update this post with any I receive) - please send me an email or tweet if you have thoughts!