I have a friend whose company has been in crisis mode since the sudden departure of the two top leaders over a month ago. As often happens in these situations, things are coming to light that wasn't known before. And on top of needing cohesive leadership, they are also cleaning up a huge mess that had been swept under the rug for years.
The thing that is making this stressful situation manageable is the sense of camaraderie she has with her co-workers. They all trust each other, and believe in the importance of their work. Above and beyond that, they all care deeply about each other's well-being and know everyone is doing their best.
Some days their best looks like taking a personal day to maintain their mental and emotional well-being.
Other days, their best looks like going above and beyond to support the ongoing investigation into what happened under the former CEO's leadership so they can right the ship.
Either way, they've got each other's backs. Either way, they're consistently showing care and concern for each other. Either way, they're assuming everyone is doing their best.
Oftentimes, stressful situations like this that are peppered with a lot of uncertainty perpetuate fear. When unchecked, such fear can cause one to make up stories about other people not pulling their weight. Assuming the worse in others leads to confirmation bias - as in what's witnessed serves as evidence of ill-intent, which fuels disagreement and conflict.
Part of the reason this is not happening with my friends' co-workers is because they have open conversations about their feelings. They have a precedence of embracing vulnerability in their office.
As a result, when a co-worker is having a bad day, they talk about it. That's not to say that people are expected to disclose information about their personal lives. But they have an appropriate level of transparency with each other.
If a co-worker has a short fuse one day, they know not to take it personally. What's more, they feel comfortable offering their support to ease each others' burdens.
Creating a culture where team members are invited to express genuine care and concern for each other is powerful. It builds trust and lays the foundation for people to see each other as fellow humans, which enables them to collectively navigate such circumstances.
It's hard enough to be in the throes of a stressful situation. It's even worse when you don't trust the people who are in the arena with you. In addition to being overwhelmed with uncertainty, there's the persistent worry that others' are throwing wrenches into the gears.
In those types of scenarios, judgment, ridicule and blame run rampant. It's easy to assume the worst and to treat each other accordingly. There's so much friction and tension among the people who are supposed to be working together, that progress is nearly impossible. And people get stuck in a perpetual loop of frustration, overwhelm, and disappointment that leads to disengagement and burnout.
In her book, Daring Greatly, Brene Brown said, “All I know is that my life is better when I assume that people are doing their best. It keeps me out of judgment and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be.”
The foundation for assuming everyone is doing their best is trust. We are much more likely to posses such trust when we have open, caring relationships with others. When we are willing to share a piece of ourselves, we are inviting others to partake in our shared humanity. Through such acts, we become capable of collectively navigating even the most difficult of situations.
Assuming that people are doing their best is a choice we get to make daily.
My friend didn't know that nurturing her relationships at work over the last 6 years would bode well for her in the face of a crisis like this. In fact, she used to be the type of person that showed up, did her work and didn't talk about personal stuff.
But as the result of a journey of personal growth and self-discovery, she realized that allowing herself to be a little vulnerable eased the burdens she carried. As she opened up more, so did her co-workers. And the dynamics of the office shifted.
Whereas before, there wasn't much trust among colleagues and so people assumed the worst in each other. Now they see each other as people first. Their genuine care about each other has deepened the levels of trust they have, which has inspired everyone to do their best.
And the ultimate paradox is, if you want people to do their best, you have to assume they already are!