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How to Embrace an Experimenter’s Mindset

Person sitting at a computer with two children in the background

The last few months, we have been working with a leadership team developing their coaching skills and held our final session with them last week. We gave them an opportunity to ask questions they’re still curious about related to coaching. The same question came up multiple times:

“Amid everything going on, productivity is decelerated. How do we help people navigate the challenges of our current situation in a way that does not burn them out?”

Truthfully, this is a question I’m constantly exploring for myself and my own team in addition to the teams we work with. Knowing this isn’t a unique challenge, I’d like to offer a perspective and a few questions that you can utilize as a leader when talking about this topic with your own team.

First, we need to remember that we are in a truly unique time as organizations, leaders, and humans. There isn’t one answer to solve this challenge. If there was, we would all be getting much better sleep than we have the past 7 months!

As leaders one of the most important tasks we have right now is to  keep our finger on the temperature of our colleagues and have regular conversations around stress levels and management of tasks. Not only are people managing more cognitively with less energy; with the uncertainty and economic challenges, we are seeing people take on more work than they might have the energy or capacity for in order to keep their job. Simply asking, “How can I help you right now?” will likely be met with, “I’m good, I’ll figure it out.”

As someone who has experienced burnout, people can be really good at hiding or trying to make it work until they can’t anymore.

One of the leaders in the group shared a particularly powerful perspective: “There is nowhere to put anything. When we’re overworked, where do we put it? We can’t ask our overworked colleagues to step in. When we’re sick, where do we put it? We’re already at home with kids trying to manage work and life.” 

How do we make space when our container and everyone else’s is already busting at the seams? 

First, we need to shift our mindset with how we approach a situation like this. Looking for a quick fix or thinking there is a finish line when this will all be better will only cause additional frustration and disappointment because it doesn’t exist. 

Our goal is not to solve the problem, our goal is progress. 

One of the ways we can start to make progress is to experiment. Exploring and experimenting with different tactics or strategies helps us gain insights, find possible options, and keeps us nimble as situations change. 

Here are two questions to help you embrace your experimenter’s mindset:  

What could we try for the next two weeks that would make things a little easier?

See if you can brainstorm as a group to try a few micro experiments and then debrief afterwards to see what you have learned. Pay attention to limiting beliefs that will come up that will make boundaries that might not be there.  I.e. “We could never do that because…”  

Also, consider the language “How might we approach the work load we have to manage in a way that feels a little lighter?”

Another way I like to approach this time is, “Knowing we are navigating a storm and there are some things we cannot change, how do we want to show up during this time?”

Example: An experiment I am running is one night per week I am planning a non-work activity in the evening. This might be a social distanced, mask wearing outside chat with family or working on a creative project with my husband or scheduling walk and talk meetings with friends. I’m trying to learn about ways I can keep from working all day and understand what recharges me right now. 

What “rules,” spoken or not, might exist about how work get done that we might need to challenge right now?

Sometimes we create rules as humans, as leaders, and organizations about what work gets done, how, when, and by who. But in many cases the things that feel like rules (i.e. we must work 8-5, we have to work 40 hours a week) aren’t rules at all, just a possibility.

When we are facing a disruption like we are right now, we need to be willing to disrupt the “rules”. This is a foundational practice of powerful innovation. Being willing the ask questions, challenge norms and look for new possibilities. 

Example: One dental office recognized that a challenge their team members were having was navigating virtual school for their kids. They challenged traditional employee benefits and hired two tutors to create an onsite, socially distant, safe online education for team members.

I recently saw a video where Simon Sinek said, “A leader’s job isn’t to create results, but take care of the people who do.” What is one thing you can do as a leader to honor the challenges we are facing, experiment with creative ways to do work differently, and role model recharging?

One of the most powerful ways to help someone recover from or avoid burnout, is to care, deeply care. 

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