Leading Your Team Through Disruption

Our Unpredictable World

Never in the living memory of anyone except the very elderly has the world faced such threat and disruption to our way of life.

No one can predict what will happen over the next six months as the pandemic continues its spread across the globe.

Understandably, governments are clamouring to address the health risks as the number one priority. Inevitably the economy will be amongst the key casualties, and we will see more examples of politics keeps getting in the way, and the media stoking the natural reactions of people to be fearful.

You are a Leader

As a leader or key member of business team you already know that the wellbeing and performance of your team(s) is at risk because of the Covid-19 outbreak. You are also facing down the personal and family implications. 

That's not an easy set of challenges, and that's why this article is the first in a series devoted to supporting Team Leaders at all levels of organisations.

We have prepared it for clients and for others who will benefit from professional support and tools to handle the challenges that lie ahead.

Five Essentials to Lead in Disruptive Times

In this opening blog, let's briefly touch on each of the five elements I have found to be critical in equipping leaders and teams to deal with fast changing, high pressure environments.


The HUMAN CHALLENGES of Covid-19 include dealing with the emotional response and the interpersonal implications of people being confronted by an out-of-control threat, and then isolated or removed completely from their usual routines and relationships.

Emotional response:  expect many people to show emotions and behaviours similar to a grief response with mixed reactions including shock, denial, anger, fear and despair.

Interpersonal implications: expect many positives in the initial phase as people rally around a cause, but as the virus spreads, people catch it and / or are isolated, there are huge risks of dislocation in relationships, conflict and blame, and depression amongst people who are separated or detached from their daily rituals and connections.

The BUSINESS CHALLENGES range from threats to the viability and survival of the organisation through to complete overload (as will occur in health settings). In amongst these it's hard to imagine any business not experiencing some level of disruption.

It is essential as a leader to recognise this as a set of complex adaptive challenges, which means the  traditional planning and problem solving skills and practices just don't work in such volatile conditions.

Adaptive challenges tear at people's emotions because they lack the clarity of answer we all crave, and instead present imperfect solutions and trade-offs. We are seeing that already as businesses weigh up when to close down offices, how to deal with sharp drops in demand, and what messaging to provide their staff.

I'll have much more to say on Adaptive Challenges in future blogs and in the Free Course - Leading Your Team Through Disruption.

At this point be mindful that adaptive challenges do not have a right or wrong answer, and they require learning, testing and making judgement calls. Inevitably they challenge people's beliefs, assumptions and underlying habits. Decisions on where people work, who stays and who leaves, how to address loss and so on are just a few of adaptive challenges that leaders will be handling.


It's easy to forget about your own health and wellbeing when faced with a crisis, however this one is going to be more like a marathon than a sprint, so you can't rely on adrenalin to get you through.

Four aspects of your mindset require attention to create the mindset you need to be the best you can be.


In such uncertain times, and with the ever present media frenzy, it is easy to lose composure and become emotionally reactive, instead of calm and balanced


You will be scanning constantly, but I always believe that a key to performing well in the moments that matter is the ability to bring your focus back into the present so you feel in control of the now.


It's so easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information and challenges coming at you, so that's why having a regular debrief and reset with a coach is extremely important


Agility and adaptability are not purely about speed. The best performers know the value of pausing to learn and adapt. 

Who is helping you to look after these vital elements, so you are still going strong in the latter stages of this marathon?


When coaching business or sportspeople at any level I always anchor back onto the four essential elements of sustainable high performance: Achieving meaningful outcomes; Developing and growing; Enjoyment and satisfaction; Partnering and collaboration.

Join me for a coaching session to create your own 'ADEP True North Plan' for the next 90 days, or explore the Performance Partnering process designed by Think One Team Consulting to learn how this framework is used to replace traditional performance management processes.


When you drive on the freeway things move fast and cars and trucks weave in amongst each other with very few collisions.

One of the reasons they don't collide more often are the physical and psychological guard rails in the form of lanes, barriers, signs, and a host of road rules about speed, indicating and merging.

Teams need the same structures and guard rails, and from my experience the most important is operating rhythm.  That means the cadence of aligning plans and expectations, collaborating in 'shared space' to make that happen, and learning regularly from what's working and what's not.

Our free course - Leading Your Team Through Disruption explains more on this approach to scaffolding, and gives you examples of a Team Canvas which I find extremely valuable when coaching leaders of teams to get their purpose, dynamics and shared tools all working together to support the adaptive ways of working.


 As mentioned the operating rhythm is an essential part of the Team Scaffolding, and at the heart of that is what I call the ACL, which is shorthand for the loop of Alignment - Collaboration - Learning.

One of the key characteristics of top performing teams is their ability to spin the ACL at the right cadence for the context in which they are operating.

Take a moment to reflect on teams that deliver consistent performance in high pressure situations: orchestras, special services military, emergency medicine and sport are all examples, and they all have a cadence of Align - Collaborate - Learn that enables them to do what the skippers of yachts do all the time ... navigate through adaptive challenges.

Set Yourself For Success

We are facing extraordinary times, which means we need leaders with the composure, confidence and skills to guide  teams and communities through whatever lies ahead.

You have that opportunity with your team, community and family, however this isn't a short-lived challenge, so I do encourage you to step back and reflect further on the five steps that have been highlighted in this article. Each step increases your chances of successfully navigating the challenges, and gives your people the sense of confidence, purpose and connection we all need in these times. 

To learn more you are most welcome to do the Free Leading Through Disruption Course in our Digital Academy. 

Graham Winter