Steps to recharge burned-out teams

Even in the best of times, creating and maintaining a high-functioning team is work. When the team is burned out, the task is infinitely harder. But it can be done.

Step one

The first step is accepting a list of truths.

  • People have different levels of buy-in, a range of professional goals, and varying home and work demands.
  • Not everyone experiences burnout in the same way, nor is work always distributed evenly in most organizations. Some people probably are more burned out than others.
  • Great teamwork will compensate for a lack of resources in the short term. However, teams that are stretched too thin for too long begin to show signs of wear and tear after a while.
  • If the leader isn’t a believer in what the team needs to accomplish, or isn’t working as hard as they can to bring the team over the finish line each day, team members will know it and react in a range of ways — most of which are neutral at best.
  • Transparency matters. People don’t like being left in the dark, or worse, lied to.
  • Too many changes at once usually don’t go over well unless there’s a logical flow to them, a sense of fairness about what’s being changed, and the absence of unnecessary chaos or drama.
  • Elephants in a room stay there if they’re allowed to do so. If a team is not prepared to operate with candor and address any unspoken issues, there’s only so much that can be done to save the group.
  • Team members’ perceptions of the team’s condition are their truth. You may have plenty of data to argue to the contrary, but until people are ready to listen and believe what you show them, what they currently think is what is.

Step two

Once you’ve got a firm understanding of the basic truths, the next step is taking a long and hard look at what’s working, what isn’t and why.

  • Does everyone understand and buy into the team’s mission? 
  • Is work distributed fairly?
  • Are some people doing more than they should have to do and others doing less than they should?
  • Are people resentful of each other?
  • Is there drama, and do you know the source?
  • Is the team’s burnout a recent phenomenon, or has its decay been long in the making?
  • Is the burnout caused by internal factors, external factors or a combination of both?
  • Have people been misled or lied to in the past by those in positions of authority?

Those questions are just the tip of the iceberg and some ideas to get started. In fixing burnout, asking the right questions is as important, if not more important, than taking action.

A good list of questions will help you reduce the likelihood that you are treating symptoms or curing the wrong disease altogether.

See more essential steps in the Round the Table story.

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