Three Tips for Coping when Change Might Make You Nuts (Support Others)

Three Tips for Coping when Change Might Make You Nuts (Support Others)

We're still living in substantial uncertainty and chaos. We don't know when we might be able to return to work. The kids are home from school for the foreseeable future. Where I live, in Massachusetts, all “non-essential” businesses are closed. (I did not get the haircut I need. Oh well.)

I've worked in my home office for 25 years, so I know what works for me for my daily schedule. And, I'm supporting my family and colleagues in various ways—mostly with phone and video.

In the previous newsletter, I quoted Virginia Satir:

Problems are not the problem; coping is the problem.

Here are three ways you might support other people as we all learn to cope.

Tip 1: Checkin at Each Meeting

Back in the 90s, I facilitated a process team for a client. (They knew waterfall didn't work for them. They didn't know what would work.) We had trouble focusing. We couldn't agree on much—not even the problems we needed to solve.

We added a small, simple addition to our process: we each checked in at the start of each meeting. The checkin was one word or a short phrase. I heard all kinds of things: “optimistic,” “pessimistic,” “thankful for the sun,” and “exhausted from the four-year-old with her fifth ear infection this year,” and more. Yes, we all sighed at the child's ear infection.

We had the chance to see each other as humans. We connected as people first.

Checkins are not about the work. Checkins are about what's going on for us as humans. We can't get to the work until we acknowledge our humanity.

Tip 2: Offer to Facilitate Collaborative Learning

I've long been a fan of teams or groups learning together. When we're all together, we can brainstorm a list of topics, organize them, and rank them. Each person can take the responsibility for a topic or two. We understand how to learn together.

When we're dispersed as most of us are now, we might need two “phases” for this work: asynchronous data gathering followed by synchronous decision-making. Here's how one team did this:

  • Asynchronous preparation: The team created a shared document to collect data. Each member of the team added the ideas for what they wanted to learn. The team decided to give themselves not more than three days to add to the content. They agreed to let each other know in their backchannel when they were done adding content. (See 7 Tool Tips for Your Newly Distributed or Remote Team for a discussion of the backchannel.)
  • Synchronous decisions: Conduct a meeting with two parts:
    1. Rank the content in the order in which the team wants to learn. You might need to simulate dot-voting or rank in some other way.
    2. Decide how you will acquire the knowledge: various web sites, a book, online learning, or coaching/workshop? (You might see even more options.) Yes, you might have to live within your organization's financial means.

You now know what everyone wants to learn first. You have responsible people to shepherd the topic. And, you have a backlog for the future. Now, let me use just a book as an example:

  • Asynchronous prep: Acquire and distribute the books to everyone. (Or, ask people to buy the book, and reimburse the people.)
  • Asynchronous & Individual prep: Ask people to take work time and read a chapter a day. (If you think you can't spend that much time on a book, change the “day” to “week.”)
  • Synchronous discussion: Discuss the chapter together and explain to each other what you learned. You might use: the Things to Discuss, Obvious Ideas, Learnings. Or, Liked, Disliked, Surprised. I suggest choosing three ideas that encourage everyone to reflect and then participate in the discussion. I tend to use a round-robin approach: “Share one thing from your list.”

In my experience, book allowances offer an inexpensive approach to group/team learning.

Tip 3: Practice Reinforcing Feedback

When was the last time you acknowledged something great that a colleague did? Sometimes, we forget the “small” things—which are not small at all. Those small things help the entire team progress.

In Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management, we offer a model of peer-to-peer feedback:

  • Create an opening to offer feedback. (You might ask, “Is this a good time for a short conversation?”)
  • Describe the behavior or result in a way the person can hear. (“I'm so glad you spoke up about your confusion about that story.”)
  • State the impact using “I” language. (“I didn't realize what was confusing until you explained.”)
  • Make a request for changed or continued behavior. (“Thanks, and let me know the next time you're confused.”)

You can use this model of feedback for reinforcing or change-focused feedback. And, people tend to respond better to things they should do or continue to do.

I've found that telling people what they did well helps us create a more collegial relationship.

Go Meta…

These tips help us to go “meta” about the work. When I'm concerned, nervous, and frustrated, I often find it useful to go meta—think about the work environment, not the work.

When we address our work environment, we can smooth the way for the work to proceed better. We help ourselves—and each other—cope. When I support others, I cope better with my changes.

Note about this series: Part 1 is about how you start with yourself. This part is how you might support others, regardless of your title or position. The last installment will be how to think about your business when planning might seem useless.  If you have other requests, email me.

Learn with Johanna

See Distributed Agile Success for all of my self-study classes with Mark Kilby based on our book, From Chaos to Successful Distributed Agile Teams: Collaborate to Deliver.


New to the Pragmatic Manager?

Are you new to the Pragmatic Manager newsletter? See previous issues.

Here are links you might find useful:

Till next time,


© 2020 Johanna Rothman

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: