How To Keep Your Team Motivated When You’re Understaffed

You’re exhausted, your team is exhausted.  You’ve got too much on and not enough people to handle it all.

There are a number of reasons why you end up understaffed.  In the best case you’ve won new business and are ramping up, the hiring process is just lagging behind.  In the worst case the company finances aren’t good and they are trying to cut staff costs while things improve. Either way, it’s your job to manage through it.

Here are six tips to keep you staff motivated and engaged while they are seriously overworked.

Health warning – these won’t help forever; some companies try to run too lean for too long and just end of losing their good people.  That’s a more serious problem.  These tips are for the “If we can just get through this” kind of understaffing.  If you manage this well, it can leave your team stronger than ever.

Even if you are in the thick of “doing” work, your most important role is still managing the team.  It’s up to you to keep them motivated and moving forward.  Take time to work with them as their manager, this is not the moment to retreat, close the door and do it yourself.

Six tips to keep the team motivated
1. Show your appreciation, regularly and generously.  Let them know that you recognise how hard they are working. Your acknowledgement that they are going over and above makes them feel valued and helps them believe it is all worth it.

2. Ask and listen – where are the bottlenecks, the time drains? What’s creating more work or slowing the team down? Prioritise brutally – if it isn’t adding value put it on hold. As the manager, you are best placed to change a process or create short cuts to get you through this stressful period.

3. Communicate to the team and get them talking to each other.  Again, make sure everyone knows what work is a priority and what can wait. When you’re understaffed and overworked you need to eliminate duplication.  A morning stand up meeting to divide and conquer makes everyone feel productive.

4. Help them recognise each other’s skills.  When you’re overly stretched it helps to let people work to their strengths. If your Junior loves presenting and does it well, let her take that role. If your second in command has a good relationship with the client, send them to the meeting on their own. Look across your team and use their natural skills, this is the time to let people do what they do best.

5. Explain the hiring plan and timing.  Look for opportunities for existing staff as you make plans, who could take on a new role, who could have a chance to manage someone?  They’ll be more motivated if they feel they’re being considered as the team grows. Tell them the timing you are aiming for, while hiring is unpredictable at least they’ll know help is on the way.

6. Plan for down time – your team can only keep going for so long before they rebel.  Build in some fun things, some enforced quit times or some treats.  People will work more efficiently if they know the whole team is knocking off at 5pm for a drink or you’re encouraging everyone to go home on time on Wed and Friday.

If you stay in your role, leading the team, you’ll come out the other side with their respect.  You’ll have gotten them through it because you focused on them and that’s what made it possible for them to push through and deliver.


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