How to Lead an Exhausted Team


How to Lead an Exhausted Team

If there's any certainty in our working lives, it's that there will be ebbs and flows of challenges that take differing tolls on us...

If there's any certainty in our working lives, it's that there will be ebbs and flows of challenges that take differing tolls on us. Whether it's big-world events like knock-on pandemic impacts or startup culture-specific challenges like constant pivots, back to back sprints or stressful management decisions (or all of the above!), there will inevitably be times when your teams feel exhausted.

As leadership, your team will naturally be looking to you to guide them through these times which can feel like a tall order, especially when you are likely feeling the same.  

Your team is exhausted, and in truth so are you. So, how on earth are you going to lead and help your team recover?

Before we begin, there's a difference between being fatigued, exhausted and burnt out. Essentially, a good rest can help alleviate tiredness, a break of a week or two which a focus on unplugging can relieve exhaustion, fatigue might take some consistent effort to address the underlying lifestyle and wellbeing factors but burnout is more difficult to address. There are many causes and variables that affect the resolution and recovery. For more on burnout, take a look at our previous blog post titled Burnout: what causes it, how to avoid it and how do we recover? 

So, what exactly are we looking for? 

There might be a range of emotions, tensions, a team which is behind (but not disengaged), a drop in creativity and/or agility and greater leave or sickness absence - and fatigue amongst the team.

Ways to lead when your team is exhausted:

It might sound cliche, but you simply can't be performing well yourself when you're running on empty. This is a key time to prioritise your own wellbeing so that you can restore energy to put back into your teams. Further, setting the example from the top down will encourage your team to foster a culture that encourages and recognises the importance of wellbeing. 

Acknowledge your team's challenges, observe and listen to what they need from you at this time. As with change or instability, what your team needs from you might change over the weeks. Continuous engagement with your team really is the key to understanding your people, and being able to offer guidance and support where they really need and want it.

With an exhausted team, it's simply not realistic to expect the same high levels of quality output that you would when your team is on top form. Try to look at the bigger picture and prioritise tasks, projects and goals that are achievable yet still contribute to going forwards. 

This will enable you to maximise productivity and the sense of accomplishment will help your team to recover faster. 

Remember to celebrate the wins, too, however small they might be.

Try including your team in solutions - what do they see as most helpful? Can they come up with some solutions, too? Including your team will inevitably make everyone engaged, feel included and 

Do you need every meeting in the dairy? Can some be cancelled or postponed for later? Can you engineer some blank space for a little extra leave? Where possible, acknowledging your team's exhaustion and making time for recovery will without doubt be well received by the team, and will set your people on a faster trajectory to restore and recover. 

Whilst periods of stress or exhaustion are normal across our careers, it's important to watch out for chronic fatigue or long term stress that tips your team into becoming burnt out. 

It's important to be aware of the balance, and intervene before burnout has a chance to take hold - we promise it's much easier, and more effective, to resolve a problem like exhaustion before it turns to widespread burnout. 

Want to learn more?

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