Tips for Project Managers: How to Lead Your Project Team Through a Crisis

Annalena Simonis, Wednesday 10 June 2020 | Reading time: 7 min.

The Corona crisis is currently keeping the global economy in suspense. Many companies are facing major changes and challenges. In this article you can read how you, as a project manager, can lead your team through the crisis in a confident and motivated manner.

In many cases project managers find themselves in critical or uncertain situations, as every project has some unknown factors that have to be taken into account. Nevertheless, the current Corona pandemic creates an even bigger insecurity than anything project management has experienced in the last decades. Project managers have to make decisions without knowing whether they will still be sustainable tomorrow, employees show new strengths and weaknesses dealing with the crisis, and in addition, the only tool to ease the situation - constant, trustworthy communication - becomes even more difficult because of teams work remotely. This article will show you how you can instill a sense of safety and calmness in your employees even under the new, unknown conditions and how you can steer the boat, your project team, professionally through the crisis.


Consider the crisis as a new project

A change of perspective helps to bring clarity and structure into the chaos. So consider the crisis as a project. At the beginning of every project there are some elementary questions that need to be answered in order to clarify the framework and working conditions for the whole team. Similarly to regular projects, you have to ask yourself the following questions at the beginning of a crisis:

  • Who am I dealing with in the project?
  • What is the goal of the project?
  • What role does each individual play in the project?
  • What strength, what know-how do the individual members bring with them?
  • What is the code of conduct?
  • What do we have to consider in case of disagreement with each other?
  • How do we ensure a successful feedback process?

Use these questions to create a general awareness and understanding of the situation and, most importantly, in which position you find yourself, your company, your employees and your projects The crisis is chaotic for everyone. Remote work, travel ban and childcare are just a few of many new challenges that currently define the working day of most employees. Accept these changes and consider them as influencing factors for your project "Corona".


Firm as a rock

In times of crisis there is an even greater need for a leader who is prudent, authentic and has the power to make decisions. Project managers face the challenge of having to make decisions without having enough information about tomorrow. Many conditions change weekly, daily or every hourly. Decisions must therefore always be reflected upon, questioned and, if necessary, adapted to new developments. Project managers bear an even greater responsibility in a crisis than usual. The following five tips will help you guide your project team through the project in the current situation:

#1 Be a role model in terms of self-care

The crisis can mean a lot of uncertainty and overwhelming demands for some of your employees. What they need now are role models and honest discussions. Reflect on your own situation and open yourself up to your team. People recognize pretensions quickly which will weaken their trust and makes you inauthentic and unreliable. Give your employees positive impulses and motivate them to do things that are good for them in the crisis. Sports, nutrition or meditation can be a good balance to the stressful working environment.


#2 Leadership is personal

Many teams currently work together virtually. Which means that personal communication is limited to a minimum. Therefore, take the time to check in with your team on a personal level as well. Have conversations with individual team members and ask how they experience the situation, what concerns they have and what solutions they see. These personal conversations create trust and ultimately strengthen the entire team spirit.


#3 Communication is everything

In times of crisis, a clear and straightforward commutation is one of the most important tools for managing the chaos. However, particularly in the current situation, many teams are severely restricted in their communication by remote work. As a project manager, you must now pay even more attention to communicating your expectations of the team precisely. Who takes over which tasks? What is the project objective? Which tasks have priority and why? The more information the individual team members receive, the more detailed and independent can they work on their tasks.


#4 Rituals provide a sense of safety

Create a space where the sense of community is maintained. A 15-minute morning update strengthens the team's cohesion and provides support and orientation in a crisis. Exchange ideas, listen to each other and motivate each other to find the way out of the crisis together as a team. Read how you can implement the Daily Standup in your dispersed teams in this blog post.


#5 Having the courage to act

The most important thing you can do is to act! In crisis situations, some people tend to freeze and they don’t dare to take the first important, decisive steps. Have the courage to take responsibility and make decisions with the necessary mindfulness. Your employees will thank you for giving them a feeling of security through honesty and steadfastness.


The current crisis is occupying many people’s minds - both professionally and privately. You and your team members and many others in your industry are sitting in the same boat. In many places budget cuts and structural changes have to be considered, which often creates a feeling of insecurity. That is why it is even more important now to put more emphasis on the human factor instead of blindly focusing on reducing resources. Take time for your team members, weigh up who shows which strengths and weaknesses in this crisis and how you can manage to get out of the crisis as a team, as a community and as humans.

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